Archive for the ‘best practices’ Category

In case you haven’t heard, I have a new article site going, called Marcana.com. Well, it’s not exactly new, but the barrage of daily articles and most of the fantastic new authors in this new incarnation certainly are. I’m talking about people like Will Reichard, JC Hewitt, Justin McCullough and others yet to have made their debut.

You’re going to like Marcana.com for social media articles, marketing articles, strategy guides, startup advice and a heck of a lot more, besides. You should really subscribe now, so you can say you were hip when hip wasn’t cool, or whatever people say at such times. Follow @MarcanaGuides for the latest updates sent right to your hot little hands. Hurry on over. I posted a special how-to article there on Google Analytics today, and you know you’ll want it while it’s good and fresh!

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As they say in the Chengdu dialect…gumbei!

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Consistent rewards programs pay off in consistent customer loyalty.

[tweetmeme source=”MarkBrimm”]

I’ve previously commented that FourSquare hasn’t managed to become enough of a player in the rewards programs of major chains, leaving the ground-breaking application a little on the flat side of a robust loyalty-program enhancement. Well, finally, a major consumer-frequented chain has instituted something substantial in the way of FourSquare promotions…. Starbucks reportedly is now officially turning their FourSquare loyalty program into a bonafied, dividend-paying rewards system (albeit on “trial” basis) to provide actual guaranteed loyalty program rewards to those who frequent the coffee-house chain frequently enough to become “Mayor”.

While the program expuires on June 21st, both FourSquare and Starbucks reportedly think it could easily be extended thereafter. Is this the future of FourSquare? I think that this is the kind of use FourSquare needs to institute (read quickly institute) on it’s own to become a salable offering, or an IPO able to generate substantial sales of shares in the near future. Certainly it’s a step in the right direction for all involved, including the customers of Starbucks and the users of FourSquare. Kudos to Starbucks for taking the lead here. (Hint to FourSquare: shouldn’t you really have created a universal and fully customizable retailer loyalty program by now that retailers could opt into? And isn’t that a regrettable missed opportunity for FourSquare?).

Call me shy I guess. Well, I’m not shy, but I am somewhat private. The day I went up to a room full of 70+ Chinese college students and began to give my first class on business English, it became harder and harder for me not to speak up whenever I have something to say. But in all honestly, I’m still a shy guy. Introverted as all heck! It’s a wonder I can muster the courage to blog. But when I take up something I believe in, that’s when it changes. I don’t call it passion, I call it doing what I believe in. To me, it’s quite an important difference.

Lots of people demonstrate their social behavior with FollowFriday (#FF) each Friday. I frequently am on the receiving end either for my personal or my business Twitter profile. Yet I never do #FF or even thank people as a rule for a simple RT. Was I raised in a barn? Does that rhetorical question even work here?….No seriously, am I just dense-headed? Maybe, but here’s how I do thank people for RTs:

1) Return the favor of being Retweeted by retweeting something important to that person, usually when it matters most to them

Whether it’s a promotion of a product or an event, or just supporting someone when they’re having a rough day or a sweet victory, I like to support people by retweeting them if they’ve done so for me. Sometimes I walk up to people and just start talking to them, or I retweet them without knowing anything else about them, because I think the tweet or the link speaks for itself, and I generally try to give credit where credit is due.

2) Talk up people I like and think are great in public tweets

Whether or not I even know you! Most shy people don’t do that!

3) Follow almost anyone who follows me if they are not a spammy profile

Now, not only do I not hold it against anyone for doing the friendly #FF thing, and I am enormously grateful that people are thinking of me, regardless of whether or not it actually helps anyone’s following. That’s not to say that I have noticed a discernible difference yet, personally, but maybe that’ll change. I do know that I never have followed anyone just because I see a #FF hash tag next to a list of names, even if the person is someone I like and even somewhat respect. Are other people the same as me? Probably not. That’s just me.

That said, I DO think that it’s very important to be social back to people who are social and friendly to you, in whatever way you are most comfortable with. It may not come up today, or tomorrow, but sooner or later you run into everyone twice, even more, especially when you think “oh I’ll never see them again!”. That’s when you are applying for a job or some membership and that person is your pivotal contact. That’s just how life is. And though it’s kind of the wrong reason to be good to people, it’s at least a pragmatic reason for those who feel that being good is “Pollyanna” or whatever. And if it’s not how other people do it, don’t let that stop you rom expressing yourself. Just try not to embarrass anyone. At the end of the day, there is nothing less sociable than humiliating someone (or even just trying to). YOu may not think so, but people remember this behavior, and when it’s your time, they really remember it.

The most important thing on Twitter is just to be authentically you! So if you like #FF or some other trend, don’t do as I do, do as you like! The one thing I can’t stand is the Twitter Nazis who like to say that everyone’s style must be the same. It really shouldn’t be. Just don’t (please) get mad at me if I don’t thank you for a RT or do the Follow Friday bit. It’s not my style, but I do remember a good turn, believe me. I’ve definitely got your number.

I recently ordered something pretty important to me. It was an eBay purchase, a painting to be precise. The post office left a notice on the 16th because apparently I was out when they delivered. What’s more, aside from the fact that if I’m going to pick the package up at the post office, I’ll need to make a 2-hour trip out of it, as my post office is an approximately 45 minutes drive (one guy I talked to there last year on the phone said it’s only 30 minutes with all the slow speed limits and stops, but they’ve never made the drive, which is always over 40 minutes–one way–for me every time).

In times past, under similar circumstances, I’d had artwork shipped from Japan. AT that time, they told me they held such items for 2 weeks. So I’m thinking, “I still have plenty of time.” Keep this in mind…

Fine, so I’ll just call them to re-deliver, right? Wrong. I can’t, because the phone number on the form…isn’t the right number. Either that or no one answers. eventually, after an entire week of the phone ringing every day I call them, I realize that they’re not answering the freaking phone, ever. I check the number on Google maps. Nope, it’s correct. I call the post office 1-800 number today, amidst the 1,000 things I need to get done today before 5pm, and guess what? The rep kindly tells me that my $100 package has been returned to the shipper…in China!

Great, so now I’m on the phone with the rep at the 1-800 number and she not only isn’t listening to what I say, but she has to read a scripted reply to each of my responses that is quite frankly the most annoying thing I’ve ever been asked to listen to, not to mention that it is like saying “okay, just hold your horses while I frame each of my responses in about 1,000 syllables”. I try not to vent at her for being the person answering the phone. But I just about can’t help it, after all, it’s USPS, their employee and their script, not to mention their foul-up to begin with. Still…I keep it cool as possible.

Eventually….and I mean eventually…she gives me the NEW (aha!) phone number to my post office, you know, the one that is over 45 minutes away (we’re not even counting the drive back or the 1-hr waiting line, are we? nah…). And she’s still apparently talking to me, reading a scripted, framed lead-up to asking me something apparently crucial, just as press the hang up button out of broiling impatience at this point…

I call the new number. Only this number doesn’t ring incessantly without anyone picking it up, it simply gives a 24-7 busy signal. Change? Yes. The right kind of change? No.

So now I can’t even vent about my problem to a USPS rep, let alone get my $100 shipment back. Crestfallen, disheveled, angry, bitter, I turn to you and shake my tiny fists toward heaven.

*PRE-POST UPDATE*

JUST as I was about to publish this bad boy, the new number for my post office actually answers the phone. And now guess what? They STILL HAVE MY PACKAGE! A few time in my life I’ve felt both exhausted, elated, and somehow bitterly confused…and this is one of those times. And if I had assumed, based on my lengthy disappointing attempts to connect with the last phone number, and the several failed attempts already experienced today to reach them via the new phone number, that my package had indeed been returned to China? Let me tell you something. I’d have been one unhappy camper (with a blog about marketing and all things branding and customers service)!

So in the end, my package didn’t go back to China. That’s a win. The hot line did give me the correct number. I guess you can call that a win for USPS. The fact that my post office is leaving notices for Richmond, TX addresses with an expired phone number (that there is no effective way to discover, due to the wrong info online, as well)? Well, that part is not a win for USPS. And it doesn’t help much that the USPS hot-line gets me worked up by telling me definitively that my package has been already returned (again, to CHINA).

Now, I guess you could call this a case study #Fail for USPS, true. But I hope the company is listening. Why? Because this is also an opportunity to not only correct the 2008-circa notice they leave on people’s doors, but to change the protocol and procedures to ensure that this type of thing (which you can bet is going on a lot–same notice for all, remember?) doesn’t happen to a recipient of a delivery every again. If I was the CRM contact for USPS (a functional company, BTW, no longer a government service), I’d want to know about this incident and I’d want to get it fixed so that it won’t “almost” happen to anyone else, or worse yet, “actually” happen to anyone else.

And one PS: Dear USPS, the closest post office to me and my fellow Houston-hugging Richmonders is NOT the one you think it is. Frankly, we’re a bit exasperated that you think that’s a location for us, when we can drive just 5 miles away to get a convenient location on the main strip. Please consider allowing us to select which post office handles our mail. I know not every wish is doable, but this little switch toward one-on-one customer relations might really pay off huge dividends. As to the details of fitting this kind of (no doubt) significant request into your to-do list, I’ll quote Boss Hog from The Dukes of Hazard: “Handle-it handle-it?”

Swing your megaphone carefully.

[tweetmeme source=”MarkBrimm”] Twitter can be used for brand-monitoring, marketing, campaigns and PR functions within the social media sphere. Many businesses and other types of organizations already use Twitter as an easy first step into the social media community pool. Many are not, however, because of either a conflicting business model or simply due to an uncertainty about how to proceed. Often there is a fear of “getting it wrong”. For the more adventurous, the big temptation with Twitter is to jump headlong into campaign and promotional projects and “work out the kinks later”. This is a huge mistake for any company or organization with a reputation to care for. It’s best to slow down and experiment a while in a safe environment first before incorporating a “Tweeting” initiative within your organization’s communications.

Organizations should carefully select a Twitter rep from communications qualified individuals within communications and keep PR firmly in mind no matter what the exact purposing of the profile being used. Twitter is an extension of an overall communications strategy. Individual CEOs may have a Twitter account, and this speaks to the organization’s comprehension of Twitter’s social nature, but non-C-level employees should probably not be officially representing your organization. Don’t focus on ramping up followers and list subscribers like a superhero out of the gate.  Quality follows are everything, and software can’t teach you how to use it wisely.  Slow down for the good of yourself, company or cause. It’s worth it. You can always automate once you’ve learned who to follow and who not to, what to tweet, and what not to, and why.

In the end, there are no hard and fast rules. Being careful is the name of the game. Here are some basic guidelines for organizational Twitter communications:

1)      Choose your Twitter rep and profile info carefully from communications considerations—always keep PR firmly in mind, even if using Twitter for marketing. Only smaller outfits and can get away with being “extra-cheeky”, not IPOs, government agencies or NGOs.

2)      Experiment with every Twitter app you can for the good of your organization in a safe environment (like a test profile, connecting to test profiles on other sites and applications–all test profiles). If in doubt, always use a test profile, not the one you will use for your organization. In fact, avoid using the company name or other identifier. What if you flub up big time? You don’t want that reflecting back on the entire organization.

3)      Don’t spam fellow “tweeps” and followers with repeat tweets and sales-pitchy DMs. If you need to push something, be creatively unique in how you go about it. Don’t pitch your widget, converse about it. One way some pitch is to bracket the pitch with a joke or a winningly clever cautionary preface. Spamming via social media is an instant problem. Just don’t do it.

4)      Follow those who stand to support your brand or cause. Don’t follow political causes or religious institutions, for instance, with your corporate or government agency profile, and so on. Think with your PR cap on when you Tweet and follow / unfollow.

5)      Tweet in viral manner when possible by networking with partners and friends, but show restraint and discretion. 100 characters allows for multiple ReTweets (RTs). Remember, conversations about your brand or cause are kind of what it’s all about. Don’t be stiff. Respond to others who talk to you as a rule. Unless it’s Weird Frank…nobody talks back to Weird Frank…

6)      Be business-casual: nothing too raunchy, personal or political (unless you are a political cause), etc.

7)      Be discreet. Have your Twitter rep clear any tweets that are legally “iffy” before they go out. Train them to ask first. Give them guidelines on what to avoid tweeting about or who to avoid tweeting to. Also, remember to promptly go back and delete any iffy stuff that leaks through. Spelling is not always a deletion-worthy offense, but problematic messages are. Twitter’s own website allows deletion of your own tweets from your Twitter profile’s feed. The many sites and apps that republish those tweets after they have already gone viral…won’t.

8)      Use multiple profiles when representing multiple business units or departments. This keeps things focused. It also spread out the safety net in case somebody flubs on one of those profiles and you need to take action of some kind to correct the situation.

9)      For CRM via Twitter: Monitor your keywords thoroughly via Twitter apps AND via available social media and  blog search tools (like backtype and HootSuite, etc.). Always respond privately. When a resolution is complete, if your customer is impressed and tweets how you fixed the problem out loud, people will look on you more favorably than if you try to maneuver your customer into a corner (this can be fatal online—imagine the big company bullying the customer, okay that’s not going to play, obviously).

10) Don’t change your Twitter name around. Nail it down to what it should be well before you start courting followers. Why? Several reasons. One is consistency. You don’t want people unfollowing you because they don’t know your new name. You also risk trust in other ways. A changing profile name is often the tell-tale sign of a “sleeper”–a spammer who wanted to fool people into following him or her and then goes on a spamming spree out of the blue. And yet another reason has to do with SEO. Because your PageRank for your Twitter profile is an extension of your organization and your website(s) in many ways, tweets and profiles CAN impact your PageRank for your official website, way over there, as well as your Twitter profile, way over here, via the complex ways that inbound links are aggregated and in how they support the PageRank and rankings of any and all sites that you and your followers link to or re-tweet. And since PageRank (whether your profile on Twitter or your site receiving beneficial Twitter-originated links) doesn’t heal for many moons, it matters a good deal. If in doubt, starting a new Twitter profile can often be the better move, unless you already have lots of followers. You can change your Twitter name if you must, but it will probably zap your PageRank for many months (unless Google changes something in that department soon), so don’t say I didn’t warn you.

11) Use list-creation in a way that supports your organization. Many don’t create lists for the first 6 months of using their Twitter profile because they’re not sure what to create a list about. Some local businesses use lists to support local cultural stuff or to promote their partnering companies, support local emergency authorities, etc.. Some national organizations use them for listing need-to-know organizational contacts or store locations. Whatever the reason you use lists, just make sure you’re respecting the privacy of any individuals who may want to remain anonymous. Private consultants can use lists to show personal breadth of interests, but corporations, government agencies and other orgs should probably just keep it official and PR-friendly.

That’s it. Have questions? Just ask. If you’ve already tried some of these tips out, let me know how these worked for you (or didn’t).

[tweetmeme source=”MarkBrimm”]

–About the Author:

Mark Brimm is Digital Marketing Director for Interface Communications Group and SocialLabsMedia.com, as well as Founder of Marcana and co-author of AdWords University: The Complete Guide to AdWords. He is currently writing a forthcoming book on social media strategy.

...Twingle, cowboy! [tweetmeme=”MarkBrimm”]
What’s twingling? It’s mingling on Twitter. Lots of people are tweeting on Twitter these days. And lots are NOT, even though they have an account. The reason? Stage fright, lack of a feeling for the medium, who knows.

It’s bad enough if you’re not an internet person, but many are downright intimidated by a social media platform like Twitter, where everything is instant–and who can blame them? Here’s a few tips that should get even the most bashful Twitterer up and throwing down tweets in no time…

Tweeting is supposed to be a way to network professionally one second and personally the next without batting an eye. Casual exchanges are what Twitter are all about. If you’re natural and off the cuff, people trust that you’re not reading from a script, which would make you a “bot” (a robot, or a program, usually selling insurance, porn…if you’ve ever been in a chat room or gotten spam emails, surely you get what I’m saying here). Tweet as if your grandmother or boss might read it, but with enough of the real you that you could make people laugh and get a feeling for the real you just from reading your updates.

Next, you’ll want to avoid repeating yourself. This is crucial if you have something to promote. It’s okay to promote your junk several times a week, but a daily grind of that, as Chris Brogan has said elsewhere, makes you “that guy” and you don’t want to be “that guy”, right? To avoid overkill, restrict yourself to a few tweets a week that blatantly promote your stuff, unless you can tie it into a blog post that has value other than just to sell something. And try to avoid copying and pasting a previous tweet…you need to be original in each tweet. Forget about the possible SEO implications in spamming people repeatedly with the same exact message and accompanying product link, think of your followers. You’re building trust, remember? Trust on Twitter means likable and (hopefully) a source on your topic that’s worth hearing.

This next bit is for businesses. Listen to me carefully: …give stuff away.

That’s right. Twitter is the place to give it away…now! Before someone else beats you to it. It can be anything from blog posts to PDF reports and ebooks to discounts on what you sell, freebies, contests, branded t-shirts and coffee mugs–whatever you think makes sense to walk someone down the purchasing aisle. But keep it real. Even if you’re doing business on Twitter, it should be fun and natural, like an in-person interaction.Since you’re now on your business soapbox, use hashtags or goodness sake! ( example: #CelticsTickets ) Hashtags are a way of notifying Twitter applications that someone is talking about that thing you want to promote, and directs them there. This can work for topics and whatever. It needn’t be business-related, and probably shouldn’t be as a rule, just to avoid being “that guy“.

The thing about social media is that its social, first and foremost. Mingle, add the people you connect well with (don’t bother to ask them first), network, joke, but you may want to keep it PG-13 if you’re smart. You never know who’s watching.

Once you get your legs, you may want to use monitoring tools like HootSuite to help you monitor not only who’s talking to you, but who’s saying what about you or your brand. Respond immediately and directly and try to keep your customers or prospects (or friends) engaged and happy with your company/you. The flip side of this is to prevent PR flubs that could really cost a big company lots of headaches! Friend-wise, the stakes might also be high if people are using twitter to connect family or friends and you’re in the clan.

People who more or less follow these guidelines will naturally get more followers, even without all the software or careful monitoring of their following tactics (which are all perfectly well and good and reasonable). Once you have the hang of it, check out my article on how to go in depth by master some wise tweeting habits.

Still here? Get out there and twingle, cowboy! [tweetmeme=”MarkBrimm”]

The FourSquare "Game"

The FourSquare "Game": This year's model in barhaopping, and not much else?

 

[tweetmeme source=”MarkBrimm”] 

There is a great piece (great as in hilarious) that vents on FourSquare making the rounds today. The argument is not a new one, but ages well over time. It runs along the lines of “we’re sick of seeing your pointless FourSquare updates” and extols the virtues of real-life connections over virtual ones. In part, I think this is dead-on, and in another sense I think the ennui of virtual connections has mostly to do with their inherent shallowness of purpose to begin with. A lot of the shallow/surface short-term limits of social media tools like FourSquare are about context and can easily be overcome with some longterm branding vision.      

Say you’re a location-hopping fool and just too social to know what to do with yourself. FourSquare’s “check-in” game makes sense if you are checking in for the sake of connecting with just the people you know well. It becomes a surreal, futuristic Arnold Schwarzenegger movie when all the personal elements of one’s day are turned into a voyeuristic game for anonymous onlookers to engage in from a window. Afterall, do you really want everyone to know what you’re doing 24-7? Are there really no negative repercussions to checking in everywhere you go? In fact, we all know there are. FourSquare may be banking a little too much on the “game” lifecycle of its own service.      With social media comes more opportunities to socialize and make new connections. Networking for business benefits from social media and so do tribes with common interests. When it comes to forward-looking insights on how social media does and doesn’t make sense, FourSquare looks a little like another 5-year company to me (being generous here), unless they can seriously come up with new ways to market their service to young professionals and entrepreneurs and innovative company management.      

For instance, checking in makes sense to your boss if you’re on company time and he’d like his team to spread out, get things done and stay plugged-in with each other. Same holds for family and friends. As a gamy fad, however, it’s not a business proposition so much as a bet on how long a fad can be stretched before it implodes and fades away under the fierce cacophony of public derision that once also embraced MySpace as an open-ended social media tool.      

Social media tools with investment behind them need to have better longterm strategies than they currently do, or else there is going to be a bubble for them, too, and then the investment just won’t be there anymore for the true innovators of the future. We need more niche content partners and fewer monolithic vertical companies trying to do everything and absorb it all into a over-extended brand (Take Google’s gradual digestion of the Twitter and YouTube brands and their continual “user interface improvements” which will probably hurt the brand in the short-term, not help). We all get hurt by poor strategy and over-extension in the end, not just the companies, but the audience who could truly benefit from the tools, but ultimately won’t due to poor brand management and short-term gimmicks like games that age and start to annoy and lose relevance in the eyes of advertisers. Have we forgotton how to “focus” on the brand? Where is focus in the age of social media marketing? Is the lifecyle of a brand automatically reduced to 1.5 years peak and then resigned to being dumped into the cyberspace wasteland? Why are so few companies seriously thinking about the longterm viability of the brands they’ve creating and asking others to invest in (both capital-wise and attention-wise)? [tweetmeme source=”MarkBrimm”]