Building Presence = Building True  Community

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This is a tiny voice in the wind that’s gonna be heard in the end.

I’ve been thinking about social media and trust a lot lately. Not getting to attend SXSW Interactive this year made me watch the events there vicariously and start to ponder the meaning of it all. I saw Evan Williams, the CEO of Twitter, get slammed for being boring, for not engaging the audience with meaningful content in his keynote event–people AT the event were texting it to their Twitter accounts, his own company’s application! I saw how human and sometimes even completely LOST people at SXSW seemed to be when it came to what was happening to them. I kind of appreciated it. It made more sense of everything that’s currently wrong with social media for me.

This all got me to thinking about the lingering delusions that the social media “elite” seems to have going, and I came up with a solution that seems to me the only way I care to get behind. If it’s social media, then why do so many of the people who “lead” it seem to be so…unsociable? I watch as I and tons of others approach these unapproachable leaders of the social, or step on their toes by seeking their precious approval. Makes any sense whatsoever? It’s one thing when people are objectifying you as…whatever, but these were basically all people just trying to engage the “social media” leader, to engage a supposed authority. Hmmm…

I recently wrote a more lengthy and detailed “how-to” on setting up a social media presence quickly and painlessly, but the how is kind of easy compared to the WHY. So now I’d like to lay out my own thoughts on social media strategy and what it means to “build trust”.

What does “trust” even mean on the internet–or marketing? Why should we worry about trust if the goal is to sell? In short, because the goal of selling is too greedy-hearted to make the incredibly long haul to true success. Okay, maybe this point is easy. But how does one “give up” selling?

Companies do not live. People live. And people work in companies. When the company hits an iceberg, hopefully the people exit the ship and have somewhere good and warm to go. Hopefully they’ll pull together and share resources, take care of each other. When a ship hits an iceberg, people remember what’s important. Well, when a company is riding high on the waves, shouldn’t we still keep people firmly in focus? Aren’t people the point ALL the time? So why doesn’t it feel that way in the cold shadow of some of the more prominent Twitterers, for instance? Are cliques killing the democratic “social web” dream? Individual reps on Twitter are the company, after all. I notice more and more the strategy here, and it’s basically something along the lines of “talk only to those who can make me/my organization shine more.” I GUESS that’s a version of being social, but it’s not exactly the way I want to be social…

In working with clients who sell all kinds of things and services, it has become clear that the ones who break new ground are the ones who envision themselves from another perspective. The way they become engaging is by demonstrating an appreciation for community. They all “gave” to some extent and the feeling of receiving “so much” and without any sales pressure is what didn’t sell everyone, but is what did sell more than they previously sold. I saw it. I helped measure it in some cases.

If you’re a celebrity, let’s face it, you’re here to rally fans, but regardless of who you are or what you do, you’ll need something to engage people with if you’re going to use tools like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and say Digg or Buzz as a rallying point for your social media front. Engagement is in the final analysis, about giving, building community. Building social media presence should therefore really be an act of building rapport and  community.

I propose that community is the only way to love what you do and make it work. Moreover, I propose that community-at-large is the only kind of community worth having in the end, because it has no antithesis, no ultimate opposition, no counter-productive tendencies. Community absorbs minor passing frictions. Community is a church of good values for the sake of good values. I propose not only that community is the point, but that you have to start somewhere, in a smaller community perhaps that will allow you to work as if it’s for everyone, until the day that you stop questioning whether or not what you do is for the good of everyone. I propose that if you can’t see where you fit into the communities that exist around you, then you need to take a step back and reflect on what community means to you. Why do anything where it’s “me against them” or even “us against them” or even “us against that guy over there”? The only kind of community that feels right is the end is the kind that doesn’t omit anyone. When you can see your place in a potential community-at-large situation, then you can help build or even create the kind of meaningful relationships you need to succeed at being a whatever-you-wanna-call-it.

Representing the values of being a good member of the community is going to be my argument for how to conduct the building of trust in the new media arena. Giving what’s needed when its needed most, even if it’s just…space. Demonstrating a lack of greed and an abundance of good intention. And the only way to demonstrate all that…is to go ahead and become it, not just to say it, but to do.

I recommend that companies practice building social media presence by rethinking what they’re actually doing in the first place. By focusing on making their event horizon an engagement with the community-at-large in terms of giving to the community-at-large. I want them to FORGET to take credit and get wrapped up in the giving part. I mean, think about it. Don’t we all secretly wish that all CEOs were evangelists for community-at-large?

This…community-at-large…is the only place where you’ll come to see your role in other people’s lives (including customers and clients) and begin to develop a conversation with them, and with what was formerly your “target audience.” This is where social media and your communications can actually get fun and start to become more like mingling at a cozy gathering of people doing more than quoting famous people and smiling through their teeth with one finger on the “SELL!” button.

THE ROBOT FACTOR

Malfunctioning Eddie, the Robot Car Salesman: "At these prices, I must be malfunctioning!"

Social media marketing is remarkably often cold and calculated, stiff–alligator smiles. People know PR when they see it. PR always seems to come off as “we are targeting, conditioning, branding, or otherwise doing various stuff to you”. It may fly in the moment, but people recall, process, grow, mature past such tactics. What we should be doing is communicating with and representing community values of sharing and giving for the sake of sharing and giving. This is where people are happiest and it’s how reputations have always really been made, including the reputations of good companies. If you’re an information-hawker, becoming a socializing giver of great info, innovation, inspiration (how about your own!) and value will in the end make your public image a much more profitable asset–because it’s a reality behind the image.

WHAT COMES OF BEING HUMAN

In the end, community buoys up the good people, and lets the not-so-good rot in their own undoing. People reciprocate kindness, generosity and demonstrated community values. Trust is something basic and elementary built upon experience. It’s not diffcult to be a member of a community. It’s the easiest thing. What’s difficult is holding on to the idea that you are somehow completely separate from all of these “others”. What a herculean act of will THAT is.
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Moms Make Excellent Linchpins

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I’ve been noticing more and more all around me lately on how Mompreneurs got game. I’ve found myself writing about, to and for them. Everywhere you look, they’re doing it up right. They latch onto social media best practices fast, are eager to learn, and most often (in my experience) lack the automatic ego us guys, I’m afraid, have a very hard time overcoming. Just posted a nice little ditty on something I call “Twitter SEO” (how Twitter impacts SEO efforts, not on how to make spam on Twitter, and not addressing all of the more social aspects SMO concerns per se, though many of them, in fact. See the BizyMoms.com SEO for Twitter post if you’re interested).

Mompreneurs network well on Twitter, so it just seems right to talk about them today. I will be looking for ways to empower this broad section of small businesses every chance I get, because I think the innovative businesses of tomorrow come from duct tape marketing ideas created by small business. I hope you will join me in this. [tweetmeme source=”MarkBrimm”]

Where's the ball?

Doesn't everybody already assume that you're going to do something with the ball?

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It seems a small thing. The little URL that Twitter gives you in your profile. Many simply don’t have a URL to promote. Or maybe some think it’s unseemly to do so. But when you think on it, it’s the only link to the rest of the you that’s waiting for your followers, and especially your growing fans. If you don’t have a URL, you’re probably not focused enough on what you’re doing on Twitter.

 

People use Twitter for many reasons, one of which is pure socializing. I get that, but it’s not a long-term strategy. No one is purely a social being. We need to eat, earn a living, make plans. No one expects  you to be one-dimensional. Having something to share, even if you’re not selling anything, is a crucial part of your Twitter profile. It tells people “there’s more here if you ‘d like to go there.” Sooner or later, there are going to be people who want to go deeper into “you”. I try not to have a profile that doesn’t have a purpose other than being social.

There is really just one good way to post your Twitter profile URL: in as short a number of characters as possible, preferably with your brand right up front, preferably without a “www’ getting in the way. If your domain name is simply too long to be seen at a glance in the profile, then use a shortened version. What’s more, you should pick a domain that is focused on one particular type of activity, or at least make sure your URL matches the nature of the tweets for that profile.
  

I came to realize early on that without a clearly defined purpose, a Twitter profile simply falls flat in the scheme of things. A URL is a clearly defined way to introduce that purpose, even if it’s not something you’re trying to shout at the top of your lungs. Just sayin’? [tweetmeme source=”MarkBrimm”]

Who are you fishing for?

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I realize that my own blogging is still relatively young in blog years. And no, I’m not engaged in a competitive attempt to get the goat of bloggers here–it’s something else. A very tricky “something else” (I can be kind of a tricky guy).   

Marketers often aim for a non-existent target reader. It shows in how they address their as-yet-to-be-defined audience. Instead of shooting for a tin can in their backyard in the well-lit daylight, they’re aiming for an abstract moon at dusk. Why we do this is sometimes a mystery upon closer examination. And then it hits you: “I haven’t even thought through who my audience actually is yet!”   

This is a frightening thing for a content writer who blogs or writes copy for their own sites. It’s even more scary for those who write for a client. Not knowing exactly who you are writing TO is a problem more writers have then they themselves would like to admit. The reasons are mainly of one sort: time.   

The feeling is that we don’t have time to focus enough to fully penetrate who this reader really is and thus we we’re really writing this content in the first place. Copy is a misleading term, because it’s not about copying anybody or being unoriginal, in fact copy writers are expected to be original and startling, to unnerve and shake the reader’s expectations up in the blender of creative expression.   

So how is it that we become unclear whom a piece  is for? Because the illusion of time. Time is not hindering you from putting your best effort forward, a lack of focus is doing that. That just means you aren’t focusing because your environment or your mood is off, not tuned in to the creative process. It’s not that other people are hindering you so much as your lack of ability to focus.   

I’m always taken aback by people and “experts” who claim that creativity is hindered by influence…really? Really think you can create without influence? Try it some time and see just how full of influences everything you do really is! There is no creation without influence. Even your own creations of 1-2-3 influence your next creations of 4-5-6.   

A writer is ultimately doomed to be influenced in all “original” creations. Deal with that and you’re going to be able to see that it’s not what you are handed, but what you’re doing with what you’ve been handed that matters. That’s what the reader inherently knows to look for. As a writer, however, we can get lost from this realization about the creative process.   

When you think you’re writing for social marketers specifically for a particular piece, you may in fact be writing for all marketers. This piece, for example, is for all content writers, but if it were just for social marketers, I should probably want to address items in detail that they are confronted with, like say, how to writer with a hook title, how to include the best possible excerpt teaser, or how to have a burning red-hot focus on the point of the piece throughout. Since it’s not about any of those, I’m more all over the place on this one, but that’s more to the point of my purpose here.   

In hindsight, this entire post is a kind of throat-clearing as a writer. I think (I hope) it may help others in the congregation to feel it’s okay now to clear theirs, as well. At least that’s how it always seems to go the few times I found myself in a pew. Want to cough? Go ahead! Cough up a comment or two while you’re at it! [tweetmeme source=”MarkBrimm”]

Detour Ahead

Detour Ahead

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We often get lost as site owners in seeing how our site is actually useful or not as useful from the user’s perspective. There are countless books on usability for sale and lots of free tips on the internet, but what is the essence of good usability? I’m going to say that it’s about leading… 

Let’s face it, the visitor to your site is there either: 

A) by accident (it’s not exactly what they were thinking it was) 

or 

B) to accomplish a goal of some kind. 

Assuming that the visitors that stay are in the B category, we must then assume that they prefer to have a helpful bit of hand-holding to get where they need to go.  Afterall, you simply can’t afford to assume that they already know your site, or will appreciate that “you just have to get used to it!”. 

A website (unless it’s actually intended to be used as a work of art) is used to find information in the form of text, images, and other media. All of this must happen via the visual sense of sight (or in the case of blind users, the alt tags and other accessibility user interface tools). Since most users of most sites tend to be non-blind, let’s focus on visuals. A site’s usability can be accurately gauged in terms of content scanning cues–the presence or lack of helpful scanning cues. Why? Because nobody is reading your site from top left to bottom right. Sorry if that’s a shock to anyone, but…we all scan information, epecially in our free moments when we are surfing the web, or even during research. We have to scan to conserve our time. Thus, you’ll want to make sure you have plenty of visual cues (as well as alt tags where possible for the seeing-impaired users). 

Next, you’ll want to be sure to provide titles of sections of content when appropriate, epecially when your site contains different categories of content. A sub-index of media like videos, and one for images can really be helpful to researchers who are looking for the information you provided, but are not otherwise going to find it. This next step is something that is a pain in the rear, and is never finished–validation of code. My rule here is simply: keep trying to validate your site once a month or however often you can allot the time. If you don’t have the resources to have someone to webmaster every site you own, just make a schedule and try to try. Again, my own sites probably suffer the most in some cases. By validating regularly, the users will appreciate the effort over time. 

We all want our websites to be work well worth the effort. Taking the time to ensure proper usability creates more busy work for those who tend to the company website(s). In the end, however, the site’s traffic and conversions all depend upon this most crucial aspect of any website. Getting them there is nothing if they turn away in disgust upon arrival. 

Be a good host–mind the store like an undercover CEO would on your sites. Poke around, make sure the presentation meets the ideal user’s needs. I’m going to try harder on this one, too. After all, the whole reason for this post is that I noticed one of my own original sites has long languished without a validation and usability review. Don’t let my mistake also be your own. 🙂 

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[tweetmeme source=”MarkBrimm”] If you already know everything there is to know about social media, then please move along.

…Still here? Great! Me, too!

While I don’t claim to be a foremost authority on social media (or much of anything else, I’ve decided in later life), I’ve learned a  thing or two while learning that fact: pay attention, watch, read, learn. This small list is not a “new books” list by any means, it’s a “you should have already probably read these” list for people newer to social media or who, like me, may not feel comfortable in casting aside the classic standards of the social media resource genre just because their time is valuable. Some of these authors do not entirely agree, which sis actually valuable in that you get some not-quite in-sinc takes on some social networking issues.

If you’re anything like me, you consider a good read on worthwhile subject matter from a durable voice a worthwhile use of your time. And for the record, these links on the titles below are referral links. If you click them and buy the books, I’ll get a tiny little commission to legitimate investing more time in this blog while I pursue less profitable posts, and which I think is pretty fair, and not only gets a great author a new sale and reader, but provides the visitor with a valuable new proven resource to study and refer to (hard copy, no less, which can be great for impromptu inspired notes as we all love to make). That said, hope you find this little list useful. And now (in case you’re still reading this blur at the top of the screen) the drumroll please…

1. Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith

The low down :

Twitter and Facebook are shaped as much by a noteworthy book as they are by its readers, admirers and practitioners of any insights they hold. And this one has lots of insight, as well as kudos from the social media community. Brogan and New Labs Marketing continue to be a driving force in demonstrating community and the principle of “trust” for social media marketing and networking. There is a good reason this book is first. Where it may not be a how-to in some respects, it is an absolute eye-opener about what the authors and a few others have long ago realized about the importance and nature of trust and transparency in social networking and social media marketing. For this reason, I would seriously recommend starting here, only because it’s the most insightful reading of key issues in social media and social networking at large.

2. Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us by Seth Godin

Here’s why :

Seth Godin is a prolific writer of books on what could be called “social media theory” and while I don’t own (and haven’t read) most of his other books, this one inspired the world to get on social networks and use them for things they really care about. If you want to understand the “twibes” phenomenon, or the possibilities of social media, you should start here.

3. Socialnomics: How social media transforms the way we live and do business by Erik Qualman

Why I picked this:

As some have pointed out, the book is short of documentation, and long on examples (remember “Dancing Matt” on YouTube?), but it is intended to show corporate decision-makers why social media is important to their brands today, and that it does brilliantly. While not a handbook on “how-to” for what it sets out to do, it certainly succeeds. It is a starter course, along with the previous two books on our list here, on why your company should consider going social with a brand.

4. Inbound Marketing: Get Found Using Google, Social Media, and Blogs (The New Rules of Social Media) By Brian Halligan, Dharmesh Shah, and David Meerman Scott

My reasons:

Low-budget marketing forces one to become smarter than the big guys. This is the unlikely advantage of having little or no venture capital in the hands of a survivor. Inbound Marketing shows how to apply the older branding principles of Al Ries and company to new levels in the age of social networking where PR can be a matter of viral phenomenon hits and misses.

5. Crush It!: Why NOW Is the Time to Cash In on Your Passion By Gary Vaynerchuk

A powerful book:

Gary Vaynerchuk is a marketing coach on steroids, with energy and drive that most us will never quite have. That’s his drive, to find a better way, to see deep into what the problem is quickly and put a solution into the fray. As Gary cogently explains, advertising dollars are what’s ultimately at stake for a blogger with a keen eye or a topic expert with a visionary outlook. And best of all, Gary practically tells you how to do it by giving you sample strategies that can inspire you to find your own model. Not to be missed.

6. Duct Tape Marketing: The World’s Most Practical Small Business Marketing Guide

By John Jantsch

A book full of tested insights:

John Jantsch has been doing and thinking about guerrilla marketing for a long time now. He’s all about low-budget marketing tactics that actually are proven and work. So this book is somewhat of a toolbox of such tried and true strategies for those who may have missed the dialogue in recent years. Consider Jantsch the knowledgeable uncle in marketing you could have seriously learned a thing or two from when you first started out. If you’re like many of us, you find that he has a few tricks up his sleeve that are always well-worth the purchase price. Also, it’s a great way to see how guerrilla marketing has evolved before and since this book, and a great way to see the value in defiant marketing voices who speak their mind (agreeing with them is not really the point, right?). After all, this is how social media was basically born, out of the grit of tenacious guerrilla marketers fighting expensive tanks with grenades and banana peels–and actually winning market share. [tweetmeme source=”MarkBrimm”]

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You may be wondering how to reach the best audience  if you have a downloadable ebook for sale. Gone are the days of a wide-open eReader market. With the older standby PDFs still a viable format, and more recently the iPad, and of course the market-share-king, Kindle for PC and iPhone (as well as the more expensive Kindle), the competition is fierce. So which ebook format is the one you should invest your limited time and budget on as an author and publisher?  

Let’s look at some of the newest first:  

iPad gets kudos for flash and style, but plugging back in for a download of purchases pales next to Kindle’s free worldwide satellite-powered Whispernet service. Sure the iPad may be more of a personal accessory like the iPhone and the iPod before that, but for now it seems less likely to get critical acclaim from readers and current Kindle users. Perhaps its more salient selling point is going to be in terms of style. Who knows, this gadget may evolve into the excuse that makes reading actually cool again with those who previously only played video games and read micro-works via blogs and rapid-fire Tweets. But how soon will the iPad had significant market share or overcome the negative press coverage it has rather unexpectedly garnered?  

The uber-sleek iPad, from Apple

 

Mobipocket(.com) is another less known ebook vendor and format out there. Partnered early on with Amazon (it is actually an Amazon company), you’d think they would have had more sizzle, but the site just never really took off in terms of branding and polished image. Mobipocket works on just about any smartphone or PDA in existence, but as just noted, their marketing is less than forceful. Consequently, your book may not sell on that format for quite a long time if you start “small”. It’s better to go straight for a bigger outlet like Amazon that has already long been engaged with smaller authors and publishers.  

ClickBank(.com) is another such outlet with small overall reach and a somewhat poorly managed affiliate program with too little visibility and energy to effectively create meaningful sales. After selling hundreds of copies in the first 3 months on Amazon Kindle, while trying to figure out the system, ClickBank sells zilch in the same period. Mobipocket didn’t fare that significantly better.  

Kindle DX

The pragmatic Kindle DX

 

After surveying a great many out there, Kindle is the dream format in many respects (especially read from the Kindle DX).  Not only is the site more popular and thus more heavily converting than any other out there, but it works with other vendors to provide more reach. So you can usually find not only your ebook of choice for whatever format you need (Kindle, PC and iPhone or same format smartphone), but you can also take advantage of Amazon’s customer service policies. As a publisher, customer service is handled for you. As an author, you can rest knowing that your readers (the people supporting you) are being taken care of. Everyone is cozy and happy. And best of all, there is room for the competition to rise. Rumor has it that iPad is actually going to pay their publishers a larger take on their works, but is no small thing for a publisher or the self-published author.  

Amazon(.com) is the most visible player in this market, no question. And the reasons are many: books, daily/weekly/monthly newspapers and magazines, specialty blogs and other special online content abound. No matter what you write or publish, Amazon has figured out a way to make it easy to consume and become a fan of, and that’s great news for those who compete with much bigger authors and publishers. While there are numerous other fledgling sites out there trying to become viable, none ultimately compare to the visibility and trust-worthiness of Amazon(.com), or for the reasonableness of their payment terms. While the Amazon cut is considerably high (two thirds!), the sales and visibility are infinitely better. Moreover, the book you purchase on Kindle is selected, purchased and downloaded right from your Kindle at the touch of one button. How can you compete with that? Clearly newer players will arise who will figure out how to add value to that proposition, but for now the playing field is not so level. How can you sell a book that isn’t visible, or on a site that you don’t trust? Some things are about trust. Social media. Who to call your sweetie. Your lunch-break buddy. And, of course, the activity which comes to define the person more than the person: shopping for worthwhile reads.  

But watch out Kindle, iPad is coming on strong with the come on. They may just clean your clock if you let them get a running start. Afterall, a beautiful iPad will attract the attention of the tragically hip and the aesthetically-inclined. A pretty Apple gadget is often the next big conquest for young tech-savvy consumers. And after all, these are the people who brought us the virus-free Mac, the trend-setting iPod, the Mac Air, and the wildly ubiquitous iPhone.  

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