Understanding & Managing Social Media – Part 1

Getting Started

The rise of the social web has caused profound shifts in the way we consume and share information. Media industries like publishing and music, have experienced devastating disruption. Even if your business has avoided this first shockwave, the relationship between you and your customers has changed forever. If you are not using social communication technologies to engage your customers today, don’t wait any longer. You can be sure your competition is way ahead of you.

But why?

For many, the idea of committing to a Social Media strategy and collaborating with customers is still uncomfortable, but the payoff can be enormous. Well designed Social Media campaigns create a direct channel to your fans; a powerful opportunity to understand their needs, establish trust, and personalize your offerings.

I’m still not convinced…

If you are new to Social Media and skeptical or confused, there are many good books for business people exploring the larger dynamics of this massive social shift. I can recommend a few:

The Thank You Economy by Gary Vaynerchuk

The Network Is Your Customer by David Rogers

How To Make Money With Social Media by Turner & Shah

Content Rules by Handley & Chapman

The New Rules of Marketing and PR by David Meerman Scott

Groundswell by Li and Bernoff

… and anything by Seth Godin who’s book, Permission Marketing was one of the first to identify the significance and dynamics of this global change.

But I’m already on Facebook…

I suggest developing a solid understanding of the principles and underlying forces in social campaigns before jumping into the tools in a big way. Having a million Twitter or Facebook followers doesn’t really mean much unless the relationships are genuine and your approach is aligned with your larger business strategy.

In Part Two of this series I will offer some tips for managing the “always-on” overload that can accompany Social Media.

Connecting with your most passionate fans…

The companies that understand how to genuinely connect with their customers, online, and offline, are the ones that will emerge over the next twenty-four to thirty-six months, putting significant distance between themselves and their competition. – Gary Vaynerchuk, The Thank You Economy

Companies should also remember to focus on their passionate customers – both passionate fans and disappointed critics. These will be the customers who are most actively discussing your business, the ones who will share the most ideas, and influence others, and the ones whom you might easily convert from critics to lifelong supporters by giving them a little respect and attention. – David Rogers, The Network Is Your Customer

As you connect with your fans through blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and online forums, keep in mind that the most passionate are the most active in the network and can easily become your advocates and emissaries if they are not already. Pay attention to them. Listen, and connect.

A customer or fan who is talking about you critically can become your greatest ally if you listen to them, understand their perspective, and respond with genuine caring. I’m not talking about trolls and sociopaths, but people that for one reason or another disagree with you or have had a bad experience. This is the best customer you could ever have. If you really take care of them, they can become a lifelong fan and evangelist for your company, your music, or your brand. Put your biggest supporters and your biggest critics at the top of the list and give them special attention.

What has your experience been connecting with your fans? How has listening to them and responding authentically changed your business? Share your stories!

Web 2.0 and The Thank You Economy

I had the opportunity to hear Gary Vaynerchuk yesterday, at a Drucker Business Forum event.

Vaynerchuck is a social media expert, entrepreneur, and bestselling author of Crush It! – Why Now Is The Time To Cash In On Your Passion, and The Thank You Economy. He is a regular speaker at events such as the TED conference and SXSW and consults on social media with companies like Johnson & Johnson, Disney, Pepsi, and Google.

He is best known for building a huge online wine business with his irreverent WineLibraryTV video blog and extensive use of Web 2.0 technologies. Gary is in the top 100 of people followed on Twitter. He is funny, intense, competitive, and has a ridiculous work ethic.

In The Thank You Economy he passionately advocates for the humanization of business by strengthening authentic relationships with customers using Web 2.0 tools and old-fashioned generosity and consideration.

Building strong relationships with customers is a long-term play. Established businesses, particularly public companies, resist investing in this kind of culture shift because they are focused on short-term profits and have difficulty computing the ROI on  Web 2.0 engagement.

Vaynerchuk insists that this is the future of business and if companies don’t start caring about their customers and employees they will not survive.

As passionate as this guy is about people, his focus is on making money. He believes that building generous and sincere long-term relationships is the key to success, not because he is Mother Teresa, but because he is driven to compete and create wealth. Many people dabble in social media, but they are not really sure what they are doing or why. After some experimentation they give up. Without a clear business model and a solid understanding of your potential market, tools like Twitter seem scattered and decentralized compared to old-school top down marketing channels like television, print media and radio.

People have a tendency to use social media as a ‘push’ PR broadcast channel, which it is not. I see this all the time with musicians advertising gigs and their latest accomplishments on Twitter and Facebook. This amounts to random electronic direct mail. When I see this kind of communication I immediately tune out.

Twitter and related tools are like a giant cocktail party. This is a medium for listening and conversation. How many times have you heard someone say, “I don’t get Twitter. Why do I care what so and so had for breakfast?” People are discussing their passions online. Facebook, Twitter, and mobile phones have become the new barber shop. Listen and learn. We are instinctively afraid to engage with strangers, but stepping into that conversation opens a new door.

The bottom line for business is this: Customers are talking about you every day, whether you like it or not, the good, the bad, and the ugly. You have the opportunity to join that conversation and build genuine, caring relationships. Vaynerchuk believes that unless businesses do just that they will be run over by the empowered consumer and the competition. I think he is probably right..