Content

10 Reasons to Build a G+ Community

Google+ had a big 2013. With over 1 billion registered users and 340 million active users, it is steadily gaining ground on Facebook. Part of its success is the result of  the rapid adoption of Google+ Communities, which resemble instantly creatable, lightweight discussion forums and are full of prospects and potential followers.Google-Plus-is-here-to-stay-and-marketers-are-missing-out-on-major-engagement-opportunities-if-they-arent-using-it.-299x300

Here are 10 reasons why you should use and build your own Google+ Communities:

  1. Embrace User Created Content: Google+ Communities allow you to leverage a platform where your strategic partners and customers can share best practices, answer each other’s questions and share valuable information. In essence, you are creating a place where your stakeholders can interact with each other. For example, National Geographic is one of the most memorable and traditional brands that has a thriving Community. It is called Exploration, not National Geographic, and is dedicated to an open “community of people who share a joyful sense of adventure, a passion for exploration and discovery, a love of learning, and a desire to make a difference.”

  2. Understand the mindset of your customers: By mining your Community’s content, you will gain a better understanding for how people talk about your company and its products. Their phrases and words can be incorporated into your marketing communications, your SEO, etc. I remember when I presented to Scott Cook, the Founder of Intuit. He would always say “don’t tell me the numbers, share the verbatim”. In other words, he wanted to know what were people saying and how they said it.

  3. Drink Google Juice: According to Google, 97% of consumers search for local businesses online. By leveraging what you learn from Google+ Communities, you can determine the general sentiment of users on certain topics and identify keywords that can be used to have a positive impact on your SEO efforts. Google reportedly also favors Google+ content in search. With the number one search engine behind it, your Google+ business page and content will be indexed effectively. This alone makes quite the case for marketers looking for new brand visibility outlets.

  4. Let the people speak for you: By letting your customers and business partners speak about and show their appreciation of your products with +1s and clicks, your brand will gain credibility. Google reports that ads using Google+ get about 5% more clicks because the addition of +1 button. This adds credibility to your brand because people trust recommendations from people they know. indicates a sign that the ad is trustworthy.” Authorship certifies a certain credibility that sets Google+ apart as well.

  5. Establish Thought Leadership in the Industry: By having an open forum where people can express their opinions and share their experiences, you can become known for more than your product features or your brand name and logo.  Your brand will be associated with thought leadership within a certain category. It will become a trusted voice within your industry.

  6. Flexibility to create Private or Public Community: By setting up a private Community for your most avid customers and Power Users, you can create a VIP community of sorts. You can even have both a public and a private community and use the latter to demonstrate that ‘membership has it’s privileges.’ You can give your All-Stars direct access to employees, special content and unique offers. Several of my clients have a public community and a private community for their power users and AllStars. In a private community, they can be like the United Nations in a closed assembly, planning and voting on the future direction of their open Communities.

  7. Generate leads: By implementing what I call implicit marketing tactics—link users to useful information on your site vs. highlighting a new product—you can drive traffic to a landing page and then launch visitors into your regular lead-generation process. Think of your Google+ Community as the top of the marketing funnel.

  8. Enables you to segment content: By building out categories and using hashtags, you can filter your content and thus improve the discoverability of content. Users can just select the content they want much more quickly.

  9. Launch an event: By leveraging Google+ Hangouts technology, you can broadcast (one broadcaster to many viewers) or conduct small town halls (many to many, up to 10 people at a time). From Google +, you can schedule events, send out updates, and provide guests and manage updates. Hangouts are increasingly becoming a valued asset in communities.

  10. Ring around the Circles: By leveraging the Circles functionality, you can extend your network and segment and send customized messages to different groups of users. Once you have, you can then invite these segments into relevant communities. It is also a way for you track different types of content. For example, every morning, I check two circles I created: One for Small Business Influencers and one for Google+ Communities managed by Google employees.

Over time, Google will increasingly integrate it’s Google+ platform with the company’s other products and services. Today, Youtube and Photos work nicely with Google+, making the social network more dynamic, engaging and attractive for users. Tomorrow, we will see even more ways to build Google+ Communities into Google’s offerings. Therefore, if you want to be ahead of the curve, you need to jump on the Google+ Community bandwagon now.

Article was originally published on Hootsuite.com

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Personalization with Big Data

database

Back in the 1900s (1991 to be precise), I trained in a database marketing type of boot camp. I worked on American Express (AMEX), managing it’s Gold Card direct marketing efforts. Amex, a leader in personalizing printed communications, had created its most successful program when it highlighted in the direct mail pieces that someone was a “Member since XXXX.” Yes, membership had it’s privileges. But also, for American Express, this personalization triggered a lift.

Show me what you got

Now it’s 20+ years later. And while 2013 was the year of Big Data in the back office where companies tried to set up the proper infrastructure and human resources to be part of this phenomenon, 2014 will be the year to personalize Big Data on the screen.

Of course, the term personalization has many meanings to many people. For the purposes of this blog, I am focusing on ‘the content on the screen.’ Customizing what the user reads and sees will be the challenge, especially because a responsive design approach still requires careful consideration about what is personalized on a tablet versus an iphone.

Big Data will be operationalized

With personalization being a key theme in 2014, marketers will need to get their hands dirty and truly understand the different categories in their customer database. They need to design their digital platforms with their database in mind, knowing that different areas of the screen can pull in content from both the customer and product database. For example, Amazon pulls in two different types of data based on my purchase behavior: books on digital marketing, which I am interested in, and children’s videos, which I access every night via their Instant Video. Their customer database might carry just the title name, the author and the price. The assets for that information would be in a product database. The two need to work closely together on the screen.

Every day, Netflix and Amazon demonstrate their ability to leverage this kind of data to talk to their customers on an individual and personal level. Sometimes, I think they could go a step further in personalizing info on the page, especially because one of the big battle grounds in 2014 will be same day delivery. Amazon and Wal-Mart can incorporate GPS data to determine potential offline purchases or product drop off points.

Intuit’s 2013 Turbo Tax product offers a nice personalized solutions for its loyal members. It automatically transfers returning customer’s personal information and prior year tax return data, including wage and salary information from their employer, and then adapts itself based on that information to splash screens and questions that are not relevant to their specific tax situation. The company leverages all the valuable preexisting info that sits in its databases.

Size doesn’t matter

Smaller and medium size companies need to take their old school ‘face-to-face’ approach to the next level and personalize more than just ads or emails. They need to personalize at all touch points, including customer service, Skype, Hangouts, etc.

It’s important to remember that having the largest dataset or most sophisticated database will not guarantee an effective personalization program. It requires testing out and knowing what data elements will motivate a customer or partner to take an action.

Getting under the hood

Here are simple steps to get you started:

  1. Assume any data element in your customer or product database can be used to personalize information on the screen.

  2. Identify the type of tribes/segments who will visit your site or your app (or even call customer service).

  3. Prioritize a list of 3 CTAs (call to action) you want each of these segments to take when they use your product/site.

  4. List out the information you want to display on screen.

  5. Map out these info elements for multiple screens (Tablets, Smartphones, etc.) because you can’t share the same information on a smartphone as you can on a PC.

  6. Confirm these data elements are stored in your database(s) and if not, plan on capturing and storing them.

  7. Work with your designers and programmers to determine how many characters, picture size, etc. you can fit on the page.

  8. Work with your analytics team to set up the proper tracking

  9.  Remember: Start simple. You don’t need to personalize each area on the screen.

  10. Also remember, give your marketing team a basic course in database marketing.

Training Marketers on how to leverage their customer and product databases will take time. The more they can understand about how data can be pulled from a system and displayed on a screen, the more effective they will be in selling their products and services. This will take time. This will require marketers to get their hands dirty, get under the hood, and understand more than the fundamentals of big database marketing. This is true even if they work outside Silicon Valley or Silicon Alley.

The question is: Do they have the desire to acquire this skill set?

Operationalizing Social Business

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Earlier this week, I sent a Brandwatch research study to my brother, who manages a radio station, about the importance of Twitter. The report indicated that radio stations do not interact with their fans enough, and instead are stuck in the old paradigm of just blasting and broadcasting their message with their traditional one way approach.

The Brandwatch study also highlighted the fact that 75% of their interactions are with celebrities and brands (who pay the advertising dollars) and not their fans. The most important (and probably obvious fact to most people) is that people follow the personalities on the radio more than the station itself.

Even with the opportunity to highlight their DJs and newscasters more, most stations do not have specific goals and strategies for leveraging social networks. While they may be on it and posting a tweet here and there, they’re not optimizing their social media presence. This number increases substantially more when you consider how many don’t know how to operationalize their social efforts.

To get started, here is a basic checklist on how to operationalize your social efforts:

  1. Set up your primary account and keep your   password information in a safe place. Also, don’t let your digital agency or PR firm set up your account. Make sure one of your employees is the lead person and manager of the account in case there are any conflicts. Note, however, that you should make sure that employee shares all info with you and signs a legal document stating they will turn over the account when then leave. There will probably be no issues about this if the employee uses your company domain account

  2. Organize Team and Identify Moderators: Use the DACI approach with clarity around who is the Driver (project manager) of the project, the Approver (who owns the budget in most cases) of the project, the Collaborators of the project (moderators) and who needs to be Informed. While it might be a cost to hire your moderators before launching, getting them on board early can help set up some of the infrastructure you need to build a successful social network presence. For example, they can create a stockpile of back up posts and also be involved in establishing the tone and spirit

  3. Document the tone and spirit of your posts and tweets: Most mature and established companies have documented their brand positioning and how they want to communicate their brand to their customers. It’s more beneficial to do this early on, rather than blindly posting and tweeting. Even smaller companies should take some time to think this through.

  4. Build out your page: Appearance is important, even on social networks. While you’re thinking about your brand positioning, the aesthetics of your page should play a role too. Leverage company branding, photography and graphics guidelines. You should have a cohesive look and feel across all your pages.

  5. Create a content calendar: Build a content calendar for each social network (and their pages) that you manage. Throwing up posts last minutes can lead to too many issues. Vice versa, planning too far ahead won’t allow you you to factor in recent newsworthy topics. Ideally, you want the calendar to cover all content for at least two weeks into the future. You can plan for a longer period of time, but I have found that it is often difficult to plan too far down the road.

  6. Create a stockpile of back up posts: There are some posts, such as standard customer service posts or event announcements or welcome posts, that you will post/tweet over and over again. You might as well have a stockpile of them ready to go.

  7. Identify tools: The cost of good social media tools is quite minimal these days. Many of them are even free. I recommend that you have at least three types of tools ready to go: a posting tool (Hootsuite or Sproutsocial, a listening tool (Radian6 or Social Mention) and an analytics tool (Twitonomy).

  8. Create Rules of Engagement, Workflow Process and Answer Decision Tree: List out desired response times, the type of posts you will respond to, and all potential issues. Then try and place them into categories and assign and and owner to each of them. You’ll be able to be quantify how successful you are by setting these rules.

  9. Outreach to relevant influencers and followers: I am big on focus, focus, focus. Don’t try and boil the whole ocean and sign up as many followers as possible. It’s about quality, not quantity. I recommend reaching out to people who would have a vested interest in your products, services or offerings.

  10. Focus on a few critical metrics: There are so many different metrics to track on a social network. Concentrate on 3-5 levers, establish a benchmark, measure your success against them and keep raising the bar. Make your goals more challenging. Hold each person on the team accountable for these goals. Social Media is a team sport.

Executing well on the above ten areas will increase a radio stations or your probability of success. Remember, it takes a while to build an audience. Remember that Rome was not built in a day and neither is a social presence. Unless you are Nike or Madonna, it might take time to build your presence and generate a high degree of engagement on a social network’s page that you manage. The keys are to be persistent and consistent.

Employee Engagement: What’s the ROI

Clock is ticking for Small Businesses to leverage Social Media. Can they speed up time.

Clock is ticking for Small Businesses to leverage Social Media.
Can they speed up time.

A few years ago, I was called into my supervisor’s office because of her “concern” about my commitment to the company. When I asked what triggered this concern, she said I did not have any “pictures of my family or plants” in my cubical. Instead of telling her that she was looking at me an old-school corporate  lens different than her own (my last two years at Intuit, I worked out of a locker and didn’t even have an office), I uploaded some pictures of people from Google Images and put them on my iPad, which I displayed by my desk. Ironically, that seemed to do the trick.

When it comes to engaging employees, the biggest ROI is to think of your staff just like you would a customer: seek to understand their interests, their rituals, and their ways of communicating as well as how they want to be treated.

Your employees are key stakeholders in your company’s success. Several studies show that an engaged and happy worker can reduce a company’s overall health insurance costs and take less vacation time (not sure that’s a good thing). There’s an even more important impact, though. As a recent Tempkin Employee Engagement Study showed, high employee engagement impacts the bottom line:

  • Companies with strong financial results report employees to be engaged 75% of the time —compared to organizations with weak financial results, which report an employee engagement rate of 47%.
  • Engaged employees are more than twice as likely to go the “extra mile” at work. These folks stay late, collaborate with colleagues, and recommend organizational improvements.
  • 96% of engaged employees responded that they “always or almost always” try their hardest on the job (while 79% of non-engaged workers responded similarly).
  • 75% of employees at companies who report better-than-average customer experience levels are highly or moderately engaged, while only 34% of employees in companies with lesser customer experience levels are highly or moderately engaged.

Last year, I was hired by a major software company to help them use social media in their recruitment of college graduates. Like a good consultant, I convinced the company to expand its focus and concentrate on understanding their potential employees as a unique tribe (audience) and to reconsider how the company treated them. I pointed out that even if we did great job-recruiting candidates, the biggest challenge is engaging them in their work (a Gallup poll reports that 70% of first year employees do not feel invested/engaged at work).

Based on my recommendation, the company realized that to achieve a higher level of employee engagement, it needed to think of its staff as a human beings or ‘tribes’ of humans, who have specific and diverse needs, desires, and wants.  The company understood that employee engagement starts during the recruiting process, continues through training, on board, and even after the employee leaves the company. Yes, there is even a possible ‘reincarnation’ phase when an employee returns for a second tour of duty. Schwab calls these “Boomerangers.”

Besides looking at the employee through a realistic life cycle lens, there are several factors that improve employee engagement, a few of which I learned during my tenure at Intuit:

  • Create a Learning Environment. Today, when older employees have to reinvent themselves and learn new skills and younger employees have a desire to absorb information and learn new technology, it’s important to give employees the room to do this. Intuit had a great approach called “Learn-Teach-Learn.” It was a modified version of Noel Tichy’s virtuous teaching cycle. While Tichy and others focus on management playing this role, Intuit was able to bring this philosophy to the front line workers, meeting one of the key needs of its employees.
  • Believe in Voice of the Employee: After working with more than 10 Fortune 1000 companies in the last two years, it’s clear that very few of them allow their employees to have a voice at the table. Although corporate business decision-making is not always a democratic process, it’s important to let every group be heard, otherwise, you could find yourself in the middle of an Arab Spring. (OK, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration : )
  • Create a creative environment: Employees from any department at Intuit, for example, could sign up for ad-hoc problem-solving pow-wows called “Idea Jams” that lasted a couple of hours. This “unstructured time” ultimately proved productive, enabling workers to apply their brainpower to any challenge that interests them.
  • Reward does always require money : While everyone loves to make an extra buck, sometimes symbols and rituals can go a long way. Intuit created custom imprinted poker chips that were small, easy to carry, and colorful, with each one highlighting one of its 10 company “core values.” When employees witnessed a co-worker living an intuit core value, they awarded them a poker chip. According to Brand Alliance , employee engagement scores increased 10% after their introduction.
  • Identify their personal goals. First time employees on my teams are always shocked when I ask them: “What are your career goals, and what skills sets do you want to learn for a future job at our company or somewhere else?” Google attempts this with their 20% time, but I try to get the employee to be more specific about what skill sets they want to acquire.
  • Allow Social Media participation. Years ago, I presented a How-To-Blog workshop at Dell to a large group of employees. Afterwards, the VP of Marketing stood up and reminded everyone that they could blog “only if corporate reviewed their content first.” When I heard that I felt sorry for Dell’s staff, especially because I came from a corporate culture that encouraged employees to participate in social networks. It is important to trust your employees (after all, why did you hire them in the first place?) and to know that whether you like it or not, they, like everyone else, are social media ambassadors for the company. For better or worse, many people spend a great part of their day expressing their views on social networks. So instead of constraining them, provide guidelines, guardrails, and guidance so they know the implications of posting online.

High employee engagement scores will reduce the potential employees’ misbehavior in social networks. After all, you don’t want your staff bad mouthing you on Facebook or Twitter. Imagine how a happy and engaged employee might represent the company on social networks. At Intuit, we provided an opt-in training program for employees that focused on how to participate in the latest and greatest social network as well as information on the legal and privacy implications of their online activities.

I hope old-school managers, like the one I referred into the first paragraph, reads this blog post, and realizes they need to wake up to the needs of today’s employee.

Marketing can’t control the customer (experience)

Originally published on CMSWire.com on 7/12/2012

You can never create a predictable, unified customer experience (You need to let go!)

Think about two little toddlers playing, and imagine giving them some toys. For example let’s say we give them a Thomas the Tank Engine. Even if you instruct them how to play with the trains, kids will design their own routines and come up with their own stories.

Marketing departments should approach content in a similar manner.

Instead of trying to produce and control the message, they should focus on providing the building blocks so that their customers (and others in the ecosystem) can easily share their own experiences. This content will probably be more useful because it will be written by people who have gone through similar experiences to their customers. A computer programmer will use the same language and same idioms as another programmer.

Contrary to popular belief, you can never create a predictable and unified customer experience, as the customer experience gets formed in the mind of the customer and not in the actual transaction. You can never write up content that will appeal to a broad spectrum of users and satisfy every user case.

 The user experience is based on a customer’s context and is mostly totally outside of the company’s control. The user experience is based on how people use your product. However, if you are really good at observing behavior and have good analytics, you will notice some predictable and not so predictable behavior.
The Content Funnel is Dead

Most businesses focus on and use the traditional top down funnel, sprinkling with their home grown content (white papers, articles, information guides, e-books, podcasts and webinars) along the way as a way to reel prospects in.

However, the funnel is dead. According to McKinsey, “A more sophisticated approach is required to help marketers navigate this environment, which is less linear and more complicated than the funnel suggests.” They call this consumer decision journey, and emphasize that it is applicable to any product, any market and every type of customer.

If marketing has one goal, it’s to reach consumers at the moments that most influence their decisions. Content marketing is more than words on a web page. It encompasses the complete user experience, both on their site and on other interactive platforms. Therefore, marketers need to think of content in terms of site functionality, site information architecture/navigation, how they participate on other networks (Facebook, Third party communities, etc.) and platforms (smartphones, etc.), and how they create user contribution systems. Mainly, it is about how they enable customers to contribute.

Content marketing influences is no longer controlled by the brand

McKinsey’s research shows,

two-thirds of the touch points during the active-evaluation phase involve consumer-driven marketing activities, such as Internet reviews and word-of-mouth recommendations from friends and family, as well as in-store interactions and recollections of past experiences.”

Marketers need to concentrate less on traditional push style communications and more on customer driven touch points. These include “likes,” “follows,” “share” and other word of mouth methods.

Companies still try to control the Message

A recent survey from Curata highlighted that most marketers consider some of their top priorities to be creating and curating their own content, gaining thought leadership, elevating buzz and providing Google SEO juice. The challenges for doing these tasks are that they take time and require a lot of bodies. Most importantly, however, it is not want consumers want!

Let’s look at the most popular commerce website, Amazon: many customers often read the reviews before the company product descriptions. So it amazes me that companies still make it a challenge for users to contribute their own content or that marketing tries to control content on their own site. Instead, they should make it easy for people to share their own thoughts.

Even automobiles are in the content business. Today, they provide a suite of services such as GPS navigation, OnStar in-vehicle security, communications, diagnostics systems and access to the Internet. Each of these requires content — some of which can be user created and some of which is written by the manufacturer to be packaged around some functionality.

Have you ever seen an OnStar Owner’s Manual? Even though it is better than most user manuals (Only 50 pages and with some icons), if I had my druthers, I would crowdsource some or all of it, especially the “potential issues you might encounter” section. (Note: I could not find a mobile version of their owner’s manual. How many people are going to open up their lap tops once they are in their vehicle).

As Scott Cook, founder of Intuit, indicated in his groundbreaking Harvard Business School Review article, “User contribution systems aggregate and leverage various types of user input in ways that are valuable to others.” The advantages are significant: lowers cost, accelerates content output, creates value and makes everyone in the ecosystem a contributor.

Some final recommendation:

As Scott Cook explains, “User contribution systems challenge some of the basic tenants and beliefs about the role of managers, role of experts, and role of quality control.” Marketers need to engage with the members of their ecosystem (customers, suppliers, partners, etc.) by giving them the ability to share their personal experiences. To do this, it should make marketing everyone in the organization’s job to help shepherd the process along. Here are some simple steps to get started:

  • Set up a small cross-functional team to prevent marketing from telling an engineer just what to build. Map out potential customer touch points both on your own platforms as well as on other company sites (include mobile which will be a different experience than purely web-based).
  • Have employees volunteer for different touch points they want to nurture and develop (everyone takes ownership).
  • Encourage them to experiment and to start by identifying potential users who might want to contribute and where they might want to contribute to.
  • Develop your own content around each of these touch points, but also invite users to contribute (start with small experiments and build from there).
  • Set up tracking capability at each touch point and have the same metrics (more or less) for each stage.
  • Adjust and update your touch point strategy based on user behavior.
  • Remember to focus on the more educational oriented content, teaching individuals about a relevant business process (posting on Twitter, designing a webinar) and then providing promotional content.
  • Seek organizational buy-in only after getting some solid success.
This post was written at Starbucks on the Divisadero Street in San Francisco on 7/10/2012