What Warren Buffett said about Ethics

I recently read Warren Buffett’s authorized biography The Snowball. It was a chewy read, at just under 900 pages with copious footnotes and fine grained details about what he ate, parties he attended, and vacations he took, in addition to background profiles of many of the companies he bought and larger-than-life personalities he associated with.

The bits I found most interesting concerned Buffett’s concerns about corporate ethics. In general he sought to put his money behind individuals he felt he could trust, not only because he believed they could make money, but because of their ethics in business dealings. Of course, he didn’t always choose well. And sometimes he compromised—and later regretted certain choices. Continue reading “What Warren Buffett said about Ethics”

Brand Risk Management in Social Media

Over the years I’ve discussed social media strategy with quite a few executives from large organizations. It’s no wonder so many approach social media with caution. They’re well aware of worst case scenarios, and as a byproduct, the majority of executives today still hesitate to play a highly visible personal role in social media, despite the best efforts of evangelists such as myself to drag them kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

shardsNonetheless, every major brand now recognizes the opportunity and necessity of engaging in social media conversations. And none that I know of are still relying exclusively on interns or just-out-of-school new hires to manage their programs. Projecting a brand presence into social media is a serious undertaking that requires communication skills, a certain amount of finesse, and common sense. This is where training and coaching come in, which is a topic for a future blog post, along with crisis preparation, which is the topic of a post I wrote that was published today in the Trapit blog.

Social media flips the status of big brands from their privileged position Continue reading “Brand Risk Management in Social Media”

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: Continue reading “How you benefit from customer comments you were pretty sure you didn’t want”

Machiavellian boyscouts get more influence in social business

It’s not just courteous and kind to help little old ladies cross the street: it pays.

Last month I attended an excellent presentation concerning social media analytics and ROI by the esteemed Chuck Hemann, Director of Analytics for WCG, sponsored by the Social Media Club of Seattle. Chuck made an important point about social media influence that I want to share with you.

Both quantity and quality are important for social influence

On one particular slide Chuck showed us an image of Edelman Digital VP Michael Brito accompanied by a few bullet points scoping out his social media influence. At the sight of this slide the standing-room-only crowd murmured approvingly. More than 30,000 folks, myself included, follow @britopian on Twitter. He’s a well known thought leader and published author in the social business realm.

Chuck’s next slide showed a sweet looking woman wearing a straw hat with a flower on it—Chuck’s mom. She has around 1300 Twitter followers: very respectable…but she’s no @britopian, at least at first glance.

Flower power: social influence means talk gardening to gardeners Question: Given the choice, would you rather have @britopian or @susanhemann tweeting about your brand? Answer: It depends what your message is.

In Chuck’s hypothetical, your message is about gardening. You’re trying to influence people who are into gardening and have personal networks of like-minded people. Low and behold, Chuck’s mom is a well-established gardening Twitter personality and blogger. Many of her 1300+ Twitter followers are, presumably, rabid, over-the-top gardeners and gardening influencers. So naturally the person you want tweeting about you is Chuck’s mom.

Not that there’s anything shabby about Michael Brito or his followers, thank you very much. But they’re not focused on gardening. Yours is not a high Continue reading “Machiavellian boyscouts get more influence in social business”

3 ways we fool ourselves with social media metrics

This is part three of a series of posts about using social media metrics.

This is not the porn industry here, kids, and this is not about buying a house… SIZE DOESN’T MATTER!

– Steve Olenski, Too Many Social Media Marketers Still Believe Size Matters

An optical illusion: our brains add information that isn't there.
Would you believe the squares labeled “A” and “B” are identical shades of gray? Click the image for proof. (Developed by Edward H. Adelson of MIT.)

Don’t worry, it’s normal (statistically speaking) for people to fool themselves with statistics. So normal, in fact, that the fields of psychology and statistics can tell you exactly where things go wrong. Read on to find out how you and your organization can avoid being fooled by the Fundamental Attribution Error, Sampling Biases, and Information Cascade when you are evaluating social media metrics.

But first, what are we being fooled to believe? People would like to believe that more social media followers are better, more comments are better, more shares are better, etc. This might be, but isn’t necessarily, true. In fact the opposite may be true. Sometimes less is more. Consider the following hypotheticals, based loosely on real world examples:

Ignore social media metrics: what to focus on instead

This is the second in a series of posts about why I advise certain clients to adopt a “dynamic brochure” social media strategy, focusing on publishing, active listening, and measuring “pulse” without attempting to meet numerical goals for metrics such as “likes”, comments, shares, page views, Klout score, etc.

You can read part one here. In this part I discuss the benefits of a dynamic brochure strategy. In part three I’ll discuss false assumptions about the relationship between social media activity volume and ROI. And in a future post I’ll circle back to how social media ROI can be measured effectively, and some of the frameworks that can be used to measure it.

If you can’t connect social media investment to revenue generation, aka calculate ROI for social media, how does a social media  program help you? Let me count the ways. But first, a new metaphor. In part one of this series you were a rock star. This time you are a rock star’s stalker. You want to get to know a rock star online — really, really get to know a rock star online — what are you going to do? You’ll take a spin through all of that rock star’s (brand’s) web properties, gathering information, and saving or sharing the tasty bits with like-minded friends.

In real life (which for most of us means not being rock stars or having stalkers), who’s going to take this information gathering approach?

  • Prospective customers evaluating your offerings, either before or after hearing about you from other sources.
  • Current customers, and other brand fans, who want to share information about you (referrals).
  • Customers and brand fans just checking in to keep up with the brand.
  • Journalists and bloggers considering the brand for a story.
  • Conference organizers considering your people for speaking positions.
  • Potential employees, either before or after contact with your recruiters.
  • Current employees staying connected to the company, or sharing information with potential customers or Continue reading “Ignore social media metrics: what to focus on instead”

Unwittingly funny GOP social media experiment failed by being generic

A recent US Republican Party social media experiment misfired not because of poor moderation, as some critics have assumed, but because site managers failed to recruit and motivate the right community. This post explores ways to create an open, uncensored forum that can more constructively represent both loyal followers and potential converts who were (presumably) the intended targets of the site.

Saying they want to “give the American people a megaphone to speak out,” last week GOP Congressional leaders announced a new web site, AmericaSpeakingOut.com, an open “town meeting” where everyone has an “[o]pportunity to change the way Congress works by proposing ideas for a new policy agenda.”

Despite an enthusiastic introduction by GOP leaders, wackiness ensued. Notable submissions on the site included unlikely suggestions, like: Continue reading “Unwittingly funny GOP social media experiment failed by being generic”

Social media and retirees

The owner of an online-only business recently asked me whether I thought social media should be used to reach out to retired people. Because he had received a number of telephone calls from older customers having trouble with his online application, his fear was that very few retired people were computer literate enough to complete a transaction on his web site or to use social media.

A recent Nielsen survey revealed that 17.5 million people aged 65 years and older now use the internet. Of that group, approximately half (8.75 million) use the internet to send email, read news, do online banking, and use social networks. (Citation: http://mashable.com/2009/12/10/seniors-online-habits/ ). As such, one would have to assume that at least 9 million retirees are computer literate enough to be high value customers for any online business. They can be acquired through the same combination of media outreach as other consumers online, and they can be serviced at the low marginal cost of an online transaction.

I also asked for input from a friend who held a  strategic role during a formative period at Amazon.com (for a number of years Amazon didn’t even publish a telephone number for customer service inquiries, as you may recall). He harumphed, then opined that besides being more than capable of completing online transactions, retired people can be quite viral because they are likely to use their leisure time to share product and services information with their friends.

Certainly, some number of people from any given demographic – including retirees – will have trouble with every web site. But so long as you focus on making your site user friendly, don’t be afraid of reaching out to retired people through social media. They may just find you, and tell their friends.

Generating B2B sales leads using social media

The 2009 Forrester Research report about what influences IT buyers in a B2B context presented the following list of the most influential sources of information for technology buyers. As it happens, the positive impact of all of the sources of influence on Forrester’s list can be enhanced through social media efforts. Starting from the top, in order of influence, the sources are:

  1. Peers and colleagues
  2. Vendor, industry, trade web sites
  3. Your direct vendor salesperson
  4. Technology or business magazines
  5. Consultants, VARs, or SIs
  6. Industry trade shows or conferences (in person)
  7. Industry analyst firms
  8. Forums, online communities, social networks
  9. E-mail or electronic newsletters
  10. Web events or virtual trade shows
  11. Interactive media: podcasts, video, online demos
  12. Blogs

(surveying 1217 technology decision makers at companies with more than 100 employees).

B2B sales lead generation - fitting the pieces togetherAlso according to Forrester, 91% of B2B technology buyer decision makers use social media to gather information.

It’s critical to recognize that a successful social media lead generation strategy doesn’t require reaching out to every customer on a one-to-one basis. Instead, the most powerful online strategy is to use existing communication channels by reaching out to the influencers who already have a one-to-one relationship with customers. Here’s how this strategy maps to Forresters list:

Peers and colleagues” – People will go out of their way to share good news with their friends. It’s human nature to tip off friends about big finds. The right tools can make it extremely easy for people to share information about products and services via email, Twitter, and other channels. State of the art viral messaging hooks can be built into the sellers web site, including a subscrition email messaging system and connections to other transmission mechanisms on the web (like Twitter). These are all trackable, incidentally, to provide feedback about the spread of a seller’s messages via various channels.

Technology or business magazines,” “Consultants, VARs, or SIs“, and “Industry analyst firms” – I lump all of these together under the category public relations (PR). The experts and commentators in almost every B2B community are constantly trading information. More and more of this discussion happens using social media. Social media like Twitter and blogs are now a key conduit for building relationships with journalists, bloggers, analysts, consultants, and other experts, who in turn influence IT decision makers. (See my post earlier this week for more about this.)

Your direct vendor salesperson” – Social media can reveal which specific people working for potential buyers are looking for a seller’s solution. For instance, LinkedIn provides a virtual directory of who does what inside many companies. Twitter and blogs can provide a blow-by-blow account of the projects specific people are working on.

Web site“, “E-mail/newsletters“, “Web events“, “Interactive media“, and “Blogs” – Initial contacts are stickier, stronger, and last longer when people can effortlessly keep in touch with a seller using the form of online communication – email, blog, Twitter, LinkedIn, webinar, etc. – that they are most at home with. But a surprising number of B2B sellers aren’t using these off-the-shelf subscription and interaction options to convert contacts into leads.

Forums, online communities, social networks” – These three are pure social media. But a company must actively and consistently participate in them to have an impact.

Last but not least, within every communication channel mentioned above it’s important to listen and learn what people are saying about your company, its competitors, and its markets. Companies that don’t make an effort to become aware of what influencers and customers are saying are likely to miss both sales opportunities and criticism. It takes an effort, but a wide variety of tools are available to automate the process.

PR in the 2010s: reach bloggers to feed journalists

It’s important to recognize how influential bloggers have become in the PR food chain. Journalists typically follow bloggers to spot news and trends for them. When journalists first hear about a new story, they’ll Google it to see what people are saying. If the only one talking about a new product or service is the company promoting it, journalists are less likely to pursue it.

On the flip side, many bloggers are highly motivated to stay ahead of the curve and are quick to break new stories. It’s comparatively easy to get noticed by bloggers via strategically re-tweeting their tweets and by submitting useful comments to their blog posts. To the extent that you care about the same things that a blogger does, and show it by contributing to their impact via your own tweets and blog posts, most bloggers will reciprocate. Then, when they receive news from you that is relevant to their audience, they will Tweet or blog about it. And after your information has been vetted by bloggers, journalists will be more likely to pay attention also. Of course, journalists may have received your message already via the bloggers by the time you contact them directly.

Last week I presented a hybrid social media and PR (public relations) proposal to a prospective client who is rolling out a new online service across the US. Obviously the financial success of this business will depend upon being found by customers, which he believes (and I agree) will depend upon a strong PR component, although I personally think the customer-to-customer viral component will wind up being huge as well.

The term PR as I’m using it here translates to “Reaching out to journalists to encourage them to write about your product, service, or company, which amounts to free advertising but can be much more influential because it isn’t paid for.”

There are two interesting twists to this online service, either one of which makes it more challenging from both a social media and a PR perspective. First, it’s hyperlocal, which is to say, the content delivered by the service is different depending upon where you use it. For this reason it needs to be developed on a city by city basis. (By way of analogy think Yelp, which spread from city to city and accumulated a critical mass of reviews in each city, rather than Hotmail, which could be used as-is all over the world right out of the box.) Because of the time and expense of adapting the service for each locality, he expects to go live in only a handful of U.S. counties per month over the the next year or so, depending upon how fast he can scale. This already presents an interesting PR challenge. But it gets better: this online service isn’t just local, its seasonal. In each city his service is only useful for a month or two each year (think “back to school,” “spring break,” or “holiday shopping” by way of analogy).

The curse of this combination of hyperlocal and seasonal is that, just because this service becomes news in one city – which is to say, it becomes available and valuable to people living there – it isn’t necessarily news anywhere else.

The beauty is that this combination of hyperlocal and seasonal creates a relatively small news window, which in turn drives a sense of immediacy for local bloggers and journalists who learn about the online service. They are under pressure to cover this story quickly. No one else is going to cover it, and if their readers are going to benefit from it they’d better report it soon before the window closes again. (Think about how much reporters value “breaking a story” and “an exclusive”.)

It’s tempting to take a “boil the ocean” approach and attempt to blanket every blogger and every media outlet in each city. But here we’re talking about a large number of cities and a startup PR budget. It makes more sense to cultivate a reputation in each community via a select group of bloggers first, then pitch the big local news outlets. Between the two, all of the other interested bloggers and news outlets should hear about the service and will have the opportunity to add their coverage.

Building social media connections with as many qualified bloggers and journalists as possible also increases the likelihood of getting their attention again during the local service season in subsequent years.

The process I suggested for each city was, beginning with the bloggers, then a week later with the traditional news outlets:

  • identify the right people to approach using a combination of search and lists (the expense of soup-to-nuts PR services like Vocus and Cision are unnecessary for this purpose alone, and because their media databases rely on user-contributed information, they are not necessarily reliable for this type of project);
  • subscribe to bloggers’ feeds, including Twitter, retweet each author at least once, and attempt to comment on posts on each of the blogs;
  • make confirmed contact with each blogger via an exchange of email, blog posts, tweets, or phone calls in an effort to get coverage near the beginning of the service season; and,
  • follow up with each blogger just before the end of the local service window in an effort to get a “reminder” mention or a second chance at getting full coverage.

While this online service may be tempted to put resources into obtaining national media coverage, like the Wall Street Journal, the Today Show, or Oprah, their story won’t be ripe enough until a larger portion of the audience these outlets serve is covered. And even if it did receive coverage—for example, as a business story (“innovative Seattle startup”)—if most of those exposed to the story were unable to use the service within the next year, the startup would have largely wasted their PR efforts. For these reasons, I recommended approaching national media outlets at a later date.

On the other hand, it will make sense to pitch national trade publications within the sectors covered by the online service if the online service provides a way for interested bloggers and journalists to subscribe to be notified once their city is covered by the service. Follow up stories can be placed with those trade publications as the online service reaches milestones like 25%, 50%, etc., of the percentage of the US population gaining access to the service. For this reason I suggested adding a press page with a subscription option to the online service’s web site.