Happy Employees Make For Strong Communities

Photo cred: Lee Chisholm
Photo cred: Lee Chisholm

With the growth of social media came the increased power of the customer voice.  Everyone is now focusing on establishing strong, loyal relationships with their customers in order to create “brand evangelists.” Employees’ voices have enjoyed the same increase in power and should not be disregarded.

My good friend was recently fired from Lids in a less than respectable manner.  Without getting into too many details, he was brought in as a store manager of a location that was experiencing very high rates of theft to try to reduce those rates. After a few months, the store was audited, and he was able to reduce theft by 30% which apparently was not enough. This store had no cameras, no sensors, and my friend worked on his own over 50% of the time.

They told him he was fired, searched his belongings before he left the store, and sent him on his way.  The way my friend was treated was unfair.  His story left a bitter taste in my mouth and got me to thinking about how important it is to treat your employees well in the age of social media.

One of the the hardest parts of establishing a presence online is the time commitment it takes to build strong and meaningful relationships.  Once you have established a good amount of legitimate relationships, it becomes easier to build more, because customers trust their community members.  Starting off however, this can prove to be a bit more difficult unless you already have strong, established relationships with community members. Your employees provide exactly that.

Your employees can be brand evangelists too and although some customers might assume a bias in their viewpoint, in an age of transparency they will be more inclined to trust their opinion.

If your employees are loyal, enjoy working for your organization and believe in the value of the services or products that your company offers, they will represent you well in online communities or they can help you establish your own communities.  Well treated employees are employees that care and are willing to speak up for your company. If you treat your employees like crap on the other hand, you better hope they don’t have the internet.

What are your thoughts as employees / managers?

3 T’s of TwiTTer

Whether you’re new to Twitter or just need a reminder on why you’re on Twitter, here’s a simple way to remember why we Tweet.

twitter-bird-21. Tell

  • Tell people what you’re thinking
  • Tell people what you’re reading
  • Tell people what you’re writing
  • Tell people what you’re doing

2. Talk

  • Talk to people about what you’re thinking, reading, writing and doing
  • Talk to people about what they’re writing, reading, thinking and doing

3. Take

  • Take away feedback on what you’re thinking and writing
  • Take away new ideas and viewpoints
  • Take away new friends and contacts


Stay productive, remember the 3 T’s of TwiTTer.

Web 2.0 Class: Day One

computer-labThis semester my school, SUNY Geneseo, has FINALLY created a class that discusses web 2.0 and emerging web technologies.  Previously named the “e-commerce” class that taught the traditional systems of online business, Professor Horn is revamping the course to teach students about using different web 2.0 platforms for business purposes.  As a developing field, obviously there are no set guidelines or systems to teach social media.  This class will be highly experimental and will involve web 2.0 values such as collaboration and student feedback to develop the actual class material.

First Day Introduction

After giving a brief introduction of web 2.0, the rest of the class was used to see exactly how familiar the students were with emerging technologies and different web 2.0 terms.  A survey was taken to see how many students are familiar with different tech terms.  Outside of the big terms like facebook and youTube, as expected in a Fine Arts focused school, the level of familiarity with terms like “RSS“, “wiki” and even Twitter, in the class was very low.

Professor Horn provided this chart to show the class how each web technology has developed into web 2.0

picture-21

Course Goals and Objectives:

  • Define and use different Web 2.0 technologies
  • Explain and demonstrate the business benefits of podcasts, wikis, blogs, virtual worlds, simulations, social networking software, etc.
  • Make recommendations regarding Web 2.0 business initiatives
  • Critique articles related to emerging technologies
  • Use online resources and portals to find useful materials

Books:

Professor Horn’s Ideas

  • All students will create an account on google to gain access to google apps. Students will learn how to use adwords, calendar, docs, and other relevent apps.
  • Students will use Secondlife to build on the land that the school has reserved.  Possibility of holding a class online through Secondlife (I love this idea)
  • Students will learn how to build and maintain a wiki.
  • Final project: Students will use everything they learned in class to revamp the Information Systems class (teaches students how to create and maintain databases) to incorporate web 2.0 technologies.
  • All students’ ideas and feedback will be applied to the course.  16% of the student’s grade will be based on team projects that have yet to be determined.

My Ideas

  • Have each student start a blog about something that they’re passionate about on a free platform like wordpress or blogger.  Have them update the blog weekly and provide feedback to other student’s blogs in their groups.
  • Students will sign up for google reader to allow them to read each other’s blogs and any other blogs they find interesting.
  • Have students sign up for twitter and follow each other.  Use twitter to collaborate on projects and share ideas.  Can also be used to complement blogs and drive traffic.

I am very excited about Geneseo embracing social media in such an open minded manner.  With something as new and unfamiliar as social media, the only way that it can be successfully taught is with an open mind and respect for innovation.  Prof. Horn is very open to everyone’s ideas and values collaboration in the classroom.  It will be very interesting to see how the class develops throughout the semester.

Do you know of any social media classes?  What kind of projects did they do?  What kind of projects would you be interested in if you were in the class?

This is the first post in a series of posts that can be found under the category “Web 2.0 Class” that will cover this class throughout the course of the semester.

7 Tips to Engage College Students

picture-11Are your messages reaching college students or are they being tossed away quicker than class notes after a final? Today’s college students and recent graduates, including those from online colleges [ad] have been using services like livejournal, myspace and facebook for a very long time and have developed a talent for sniffing out worth while messages from the noise that floods their mailboxes and social websites.  If done right however, word spreads through college campuses like a cold in a dorm building.  If you have something valuable to provide and you don’t want it to get lost in the noise,  here are some things to tips and things to keep in mind when attempting to engage college students…

  1. If you’re direct emailing off of a research based database…stop.  If students want to be emailed about something, they’ll sign up for it.  Even if you have something valuable, the minute they see a “pitch” in the subject line, they’ll delete it.
  2. Students join groups that their friends are already involved in.  Facebook groups are a great example of this.  In your feed, you are told when your friends join a group or become a fan of something.  They don’t want to feel like they’re missing out on something that their friends are involved in.
  3. Organize your job board.  I can’t tell you how many students, including myself, are searching online for job opportunities.  The problem is, 99% of the jobs they find are for more experienced professionals.  If you want to drive college traffic to your blog or site with a job board, make a clear section that is specific to entry level jobs.
  4. Add a little wit to your twit. Whether you’re reaching through blogging, twitter, or other social networks, keep your content witty and fresh.  College students spend 5 days a week reading boring, bland material.  If you make your content fun to read, they’ll appreciate it.
  5. Brevity is king. Think about how willing you would be to read a long email or blog post after reading 10 chapters of Freud, or sitting through an hour long exam. Time is valuable in college, so take up as little of it as possible and you will be well received.
  6. Sponsor student reps. College campuses are extremely viral environments.  If you don’t know someone, you probably know someone that does.  Create that facebook group then sponsor a couple students to represent you on campus. As I said in #2, students are attracted to groups that their friends are already in, so hire their friends!  A familiar, friendly face can get students to listen to your message. The only companies I have seen on my campus have been red bull and skoal (says a lot about us huh?) so there is a lot of opportunity to embrace a practically untouched marketing method.
  7. Collaborate with clubs and organizations. This is a great way to reach out to college students that can be relatively inexpensive as they receive funding from their school.  Contact the marketing club or any college business organization and give them an opportunity to collaborate with you. Clubs are always hosting events that you can sponsor.  Or you can really collaborate.  Give them some merchandise, have them create a marketing campaign for your company and test it out in their own college campus.  They will appreciate having the opportunity to do something real with an actual company instead of dealing with hypothetical situations.  (I’m trying to find opportunities like this for the Geneseo Marketing Club)

There are so many ways to reach college students.  If you do it right, the viral power of a college campus can pay dividends.  Not only will it spread through campus, but to all those college students’ friends from back home with the help of facebook and other social media platforms.

If any companies are interested in collaborating with the Geneseo Marketing Association Club (GMAC) email me at dspinks5@gmail.com

How “Human” Should You Be?

serious-businessPeople might not like who you are or what you have to say. Sometimes customers can be over-sensitive about certain comments because lets face it, the traditional professional community isn’t exactly “laid back”.  In social media, it is expected that we show our “true” form, and be honest to who you are, or transparent as we like to call it…but what if an honest statement is offensive to a customer?

Last night I had a great twittersation (yea, I said it.) with Tara Hunt (@missrogue) after reading this story about James Andrews,  VP of Ketchum, making a negative comment about Memphis on twitter that offended some people at FedEx.

The Question:

With social media still not close to universally understood and accepted by businesses:

Is it the responsibility of the businesses / people who haven’t embraced being human in communications to “take the leap or get left in the dust” and become more “human”?

OR

Is it the responsibility of those businesses / people, who understand the importance of being human in social media, to censor some things that may not sit well with a business world that only gradually begins to understand social media and how it’s effecting the way we communicate?

The Arguments

You will inevitably offend people once in a while, no matter how careful you are.  Some people are just more sensitive to certain subjects.  What if you can avoid it?  You need to think about what you’re writing and how your customers may view it.  If you know you’re customers will get offended by what you’re about to say, unless it’s absolutely necessary, don’t say it!  No point in losing a good customer for something so petty.

On the other hand, the business community used to be uptight and all about creating an image for the public to see.  Now the business community isn’t about creating an image but rather being true to your actual image, or personality.  Companies need to learn how to lighten up and be “human” in their conversations.  Don’t get offended by someone’s opinion if it isn’t clearly and directly meant to offend you.  People have different views and opinions and they need to learn how to accept that. “Embrace differences. Make mistakes. Get dirty. Have fun.” as @missrogue described how she advises her customers.

My Thoughts

There really is no right or wrong answer as different situations and people will warrant different approaches to this issue.  I love the advice to Embrace differences. Make mistakes. Get dirty. Have fun.” as that is what being human is all about. Choose your battles wisely however, as it is something that is new and unfamiliar to the traditional business world. The sooner they start to understand it, the better, as being “human” is quickly becoming more and more acceptable and they could be left behind in the dust.  They’re not left behind yet though. We have to realize that when communicating with them.

It’s important that those who have embraced transparency encourage those who haven’t.  It is not something that they can just leap into without understanding however, or they could end up getting too “dirty” or making too big a mistake.  Gradually, we can help them get there by helping them to understand it first.

I’m sure many of you will disagree with my recommendation.  I welcome your thoughts…

Social Media is Fast, Engaging it Isn’t

Are you shooting for fast numbers or meaningful numbers?hare-tortoise

Sites like twitter are allowing us to share information faster than ever before. Yesterday, twitter users like @justinlevy and myself found out about Steve Jobs’ leave of absence an hour before any news station reported it on television. Many businesses have seen this fast flow of information and think that they can find fast success on these platforms.  They’re wrong.

It’s not the goal that matters but how you get there. So much focus is put on the numbers whether it be number of followers on Twitter, number of readers on your blog, or any other stat on which companies base ROI.  When asked, many “social media consultants” advise you to focus on relationships and condemn the notion of “numbers = success”.  Others care more about reaching as many people as possible than who they’re reaching.  Both are missing the point which is this…

Once you build strong relationships, the numbers will follow. If you build relationships with people in your community, they will be loyal to your company like they would a friend, trust your message, and be willing to share it with their connections.  Show that you care about who you’re reaching out to, not just how many, and they’ll care back.

It’s not such a bad thing to shoot for high numbers, but how you go about it will determine your success.  If you take the time to build meaningful relationships, you will enjoy the benefits of social media’s rapid viral opportunities in the longer run.

Would really like to hear what you think.  Comments? Criticism?


On a completely unrelated note, I will be at the Mashable NYC event today, tweeting away… so if you see me or want to meet, feel free to say hello or slap me for quoting “Field of Dreams” in a post about social media.  Either way I’d love to meet up!

Edit: Removed inapplicable “Field of Dreams” quote thanks to reader feedback (=

How Transparent Should You Be?

Photo cred: Yohann Aberkane
Photo cred: Yohann Aberkane

Sonny Gill provides an insightful view on the matter of transparency in social media here.  He asks:

Do we need to be wary of what we post for sake that one of our hundreds or thousands of followers may find [it] disconcerting? We’re doing a disservice to our industry when we monitor and think twice about what we say and to whom, because of that fear, and not hold true to the core beliefs we ‘grew up’ on with Social Media…Is it getting to the point where transparency is becoming a bit too, um, transparent?

This is a great debate and possibly one that doesn’t have a definitive answer.  There are different situations that require different levels of transparency to be considered.  The main two situations to consider are whether you are  participating in social media to represent yourself or to represent a company.

If you are representing yourself, it is much easier to determine how transparent you can reasonably be.  If you’re trying to establish yourself as a branded professional however, then you should approach transparency the same way a company would.  You know what you’re willing to say and to what extent you are willing to express opinions that people may find to be offensive, and effect their connection with you.

I understand what many people say in that you can’t claim to be entirely transparent if you’re not completely open with your readers. I ask, is transparency expressing your views on who should be the U.S. president or your position on obesity in America? Or is transparency being honest and sincere in your communications with others, even if you have to respectfully deny someone a response on a touchy subject.  I would argue the latter.

It’s unreasonable to expect the same from a corporate blog or a CEO using twitter that you would expect from an individual.  Many things such as politics and other very segmented areas of interest can really offend people if you’re not careful.  A company should not have to lose business because their customers disagree with their personal views on matters that are not relevant to their line of business.  If it does relate directly to your line of business, then you must express your views respectfully and with justification.  If you are honest, and provide valid points, your customers will respect you that much more.

Michael Gray provides some good advice on this matter here.

He says, “Twitter is a social medium and occasionally the people you follow will have conversations about sensitive topics such as politics, religion, relationships, or who was the best Star Trek Captain. Unless it’s part of your organizations mission statement and goal (ie someone like Cato Institute or PETA ), it’s best to remain out of the debate.

I guess its a matter of your own interpretation of what transparent means, and how open one must be to be considered transparent.  In my interpretation, to be considered transparent in social media translates more to being honest with your community about situations relevant to you or your company, while being true to your personality, than providing your opinion on matters that will only hurt your connection with your community.

What’s your interpretation of transparency in social media?  How transparent are you?