Megan McQ’s Musings

juggling

The other day I met with Lou, President of ValueStar, a customer ratings and reviews service from confirmed customers. (Disclosure: personal acquaintance).

The directory service provides companies (such as Company XYZ) the opportunity to have Company XYZ’s previous customers rate their experience on ValueStar’s Web site. This service varies from other social network rating systems, because it ensures that actual customers of Company XYZ are rating the company. Of course, it’s up to Company XYZ to complete quality work to obtain good reviews, and not all of the reviews on the site are positive.

Lou and I were discussing social media and it was enlightening to discuss the marketing element of a directory service, due to the variety of constituencies such service like ValueStar has to reach.

On the one hand, ValueStar has to draw customers to their web site and ask them to review a company with whom they have had an interaction, and use the companies listed on the Web site. On the other, the company has to obtain companies seeking the marketing opportunity ValueStar has to offer.

The problem arises where Integrated Marketing Communication (IMC) strategy is concerned: How does one company diversify their message to such different constituencies? It would seem an IMC campaign that unifies messages across platforms would leave something to be desired for each constituency ValueStar is trying to reach. Juggling the communication needs of either constituency would be dangerous.

Because I’m an advocate of using the same communication messages across platforms, here’s my take on the situation:

Everyone is a customer of some sort. At some given time, we’ve all been the purchaser in a transaction. In my opinion, then, I think that ValueStar should focus its marketing efforts to the customers of the “Company XYZ’s” on the Web site. Utilizing a SM strategy that fosters genuine human interaction, ValueStar could cultivate relationships with this constituency and encourage them to become reviewers and users of other companies listed on the site. (Insert the 80/20 rule here). This communication strategy would inevitably include company owners and marketers who will see the value in the site, and want to become certified and listed on the directory.

A social media campaign would then be able to identify the business owners among the primary communication target. A specific, tailored message could be constructed for these new constituencies. Due to the highly-specific nature of these messages, they should resonate with the constituencies–eliminating the need for message repetition. After all, that’s the whole purpose of social media: building meaningful relationships with potential customers, and reach those customers with valuable messages.

But that’s my take, anyway. I’m curious to hear your input on this type of communication campaign.

photo via Mark Pummell

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I’m currently blogging in several locations. As such, I’m planning on beginning a new series on Sundays on this blog to let you know where I’ve been posting in the previous week.

Community Marketing Blog

Semantic Web: An Intro

Shoe Girls

Fractures, Feet and Crocks, Oh my!

Bloggers Block

Major League Baseball Tryouts

You know what really grinds my gears? Twitter Followers.

Musings

If this arm were a GPS, it would be *my* GPS. It’s just that broken.

My GPS busted a few weeks ago on the way to a lunch with Patrick Ashamalla from A Brand New Way. Needless to say, locating the office via Blackberry while driving was interesting.

arm

Finally, I get around to calling the GPS company to see what we can do to fix the problem.

Unfortunately, when we have products that break, we’re unable to speak directly with the person who invented this product, nor speak with the manufacturer of the device. I’m going to have to speak with a customer service representative. Ouch.

Thankfully, I realized a few years ago that customer service representatives are humans. (Profound, I know). As such, I try to treat interactions with customer service representatives as I would any other client or acquaintance I meet.

Just like any introduction, the first thing we do is say hello and exchange names. Thus, after getting off hold (the typical 45 minute wait), I obtain and remember the name of the person with whom I am speaking.

“Hi, thank you for calling Broken GPS, Inc. This is Josephine, how may I help you today?”

“Hey there, Josephine! How is your day going so far?”

…This is typically where a stunned pause takes place…

“…Um, well, I’m doing alright, how about yourself?”

“I’m doing okay. I’m sure it’s been another long day, huh?”

…This is where they realize I actually, genuinely, care what they have to say.

“Um, well, yes, it has been a long day. Thank you for asking. But, what can I do to help you?”

…Note that by this point, the tone of their voice has changed completely. Just as I genuinely cared about establishing a positive working relationship with Josephine, she also genuinely wants to do her best to help me.

…This is where I instill my three rules for solving whatever problem I’m having with the company/product/bill/etc.  in question:

1. Recognize that it’s not Josephine’s fault that my product is broken and that I’ve been on hold for far too long.

2. Understand that Josephine has typically annoying company policies that will limit the amount of help she will be able to give me, because she has to follow them.

3. Know that I can not get any resolution on the situation without Josephine’s help.

In other words, I’m going to catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Hopefully, Josephine doesn’t have 1,000 eyes or 6 legs. But even if she did, I’d still need her to be on my side to help me resolve my situation.

After a deep breath:

“Well, Josephine, I was hoping we could work together to figure out a way to solve this issue I’m having with my GPS which happened to stop charging a few weeks ago…”

Being genuine in my interactions with customer service representatives has been a mutually pleasant experience (note: except for long hold times), and has typically led to getting the problem resolved (in the way I wanted it to be resolved).

If at any point there seems to be a difficulty or lapse in communication, I try to make a comparison we will both understand:

“You see Joesiphine, it’s as if my GPS was like a Happy Meal, except I didn’t get the french fries, but I got two toys…”

I mean, who hasn’t been to McDonalds?

Anyway, while I was on hold, I had a lot of time to think about companies who are using social media to their advantage. I also had a fair amount of time to listen to the elevator music version of ‘Reflection’ from the Disney movie ‘Mulan’ and finish my goat cheese enchiladas (they were delicious, thank you for asking).

Point being is there are several advantages to using social media within a customer service realm:

1. Proactive is Powerful: Instead of companies having to be reactive in their approach with customer service, companies who use Twitter to proactively search and resolve customer complaints almost put the company in charge of the situation. They are able to resolve situations before they get out of hand.

2. Enhanced Online Reputation: Also, I’m willing to bet that because they conduct the customer service through a social media platform, the company is more likely to have the individual who ‘complained’ about the service turn around and speak as an advocate of the company once their issue is resolved. In essence, the company has a greater opportunity to have a larger, more positive, digital word-of-mouth conversation. Social media makes it possible for individuals to interact with a brand and then disseminate their (hopefully) good experiences with the company to their friends and followers. The potential for having an increase in brand awareness through social media customer service is profound.

3. Genuine Human-to-Human Connection: It’s beginning to bring us back to genuine human interaction. Companies and brands can humanize their brand and make it easier for people to identify with who they are.

image via active rain

Last week, I attended Blog Potomac, an industry ‘unconference’ in the DC area. I had the opportunity to hear from several industry thought-leaders in different areas of corporate communication.

bp1

One of the most thought-provoking topics of the day regarded the concept of “personal branding,” an online strategy for an individual to consistently position their ‘unique brand’ across social media platforms.

There have been several emerging “personal brand experts” on the Internet that help individuals understand how to market themselves online. Traditionally, these ‘experts’ encourage others to brand themselves as experts in specific industries–specifically ones that companies are desperate for more knowledge in.

But I find a lot of issue in this matter. While these “personal branding experts” eschew the ideology that an individual needs to “pursue their passion” to become an “expert”, I think a lot of individuals are pressured into following the mainstream or forcing a passion that will help advance their career.

But I wholeheartedly agree with one of the speakers, Liz Strauss, who lightly addressed the issue of personal branding during her portion of the conference. While this is not an exact quotation, she said in response to personal branding that:

“Do not lay an ‘idea’ of who you are on top of your image. Live who you are.”

I believe that this ideology parallels one of the quotations I strive to adhere to. The quotation is from Frederick Douglass, one of the leaders of the abolitionist movement in the US:

“I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and to incur my own abhorrence.”

I believe that companies may need to be wary of “experts.” Especially those who claim to be ‘experts’ in social media.

For example, While I subscribe to well over 50 blogs which I try to read every day (amassing to 1,000+ blog posts weekly), I would never refer to myself as an ‘expert.’ This decision is primarily due to the nature of our business. By the time I finish reading my blog posts in the morning, the information is already obsolete.

The exponential rate at which my industry moves is one of the reasons I’m so drawn to it. While we understand our theories of transparency and authenticity (disclaimer: oversimplification), our industry trends and tactics evolve so quickly that the title ‘expert’ is in and of itself an indicator that one would be obsolete. For example, by the time one takes the time necessary to brand oneself as an ‘expert’ in a particular aspect of social media, they have already fallen behind the curve.

As most of you know, I was recently selected to participate in a Blog-off competition at Community Marketing Blog.

The contest ended on May 30th, so I wanted to take this time and explain my strategy for generating the most traffic and comments as possible. I’m going to break down my strategy into 3 parts:

1. Pre-Competition

The pre-competition phase consisted of identifying my target audiences and how I was going to alert them about the competition. Since this contest was located online, I identified my audiences to be:

  • Email
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Offline (occasionally)

I wrote several emails, Facebook messages,  Facebook notes, and direct messages on Twitter to different groups of people online. I split up these initial emails at first so I could personalize them and thank individuals in advance for their participation. I explained why I was doing the contest and allowed any member of these emails they could OPT-OUT FROM THE EMAILS AT ANY TIME. I think it’s important not to spam people. While no one ‘opted-out’ of receiving the emails, I did have several people tell me which email address they would prefer to have the emails sent to them.

This pre-competition organization left me with time to prepare my blog posts and form my strategy for generating traffic to the site after it began.

2. After the gun shot! (During the competition)

After the competition began, I had already identified my strategy for reaching out to interested parties on several platforms.

Note: I’ll write another blog post on my ‘blogger best practices’. Here I’m only going to concentrate on my strategy for driving traffic.

After I wrote my first blog post, I was able to act accordingly:

  • I grouped all of my contacts and emailed them the bit.ly link I had created for my first post. The email consisted of several ways they could help. These included:

1. Go to the link

2. Email interested parties the link (and I included an email template)
3. Write a note with the link in it (and I included a note template)
4. Comment on the post! (and I left detailed instructions for how people could comment)

Note: I also left instructions on how people could sign up for a RSS feed if they did leave a comment so they knew if another person had responded to their comment directly.

5. Make the link your status on Facebook! (and I left a short text that people could copy and paste into their Facebook profiles)

6.Tweet the link! (and I included the tweet that they could copy and paste into their Twitter accounts).

I think it’s important to note that I made these instructions as easy as possible on the individual. People didn’t have to write their own emails, they could simply copy and paste my template into their draft. I think this helped my contacts reach more people.

Also, I only sent this email to them one time so that they knew I wasn’t spamming their inboxes and wasn’t trying to take up much of their time.

  • Commenting on comments: when people wrote an especially important comment or a conversation was being generated between commenters on a post, I made sure to comment back to the individuals in a comment as well. I believe this helped to spur conversation further.
  • Also, I would receive emails telling me the email addresses of people who commented. If I recognized the name, I was sure to send a direct email to that individual thanking them for their comment, and usually responded to what they had written. I believe this action helped generate more conversation and I was genuinely thankful for all of the effort people had put into helping me.

Another note: When I sent out my links to the posts, I had converted them into bit.ly form (a URL shortening service) so that I could track how many people had clicked on the link and from what source! Here’s what I have:

‘App’vertising: Monetizing Mobile: 167 Clicks, 20 comments

RIP Journalism 1.0:86 Clicks, 9 comments

Brand-jacking and Pickles: 87 Clicks, 11 comments

3. Wrap-Up

  • Now that the contest is over, I will be writing emails to the individual groups I made at the beginning of the contest. I’ll be thanking everyone for their time and announcing the results of the contest.
  • I’m also back to blogging here!
  • I believe all of the contestants will be having a conference call where we discuss all of the things we learned. I’m excited to hear everyone’s stories.

The Blog-off contest at Community Marketing Blog ended on the 30th of May.

Over the course of the two week competition, I ended up posting 3 times. These posts ranged in scope. One covered mobile advertising (or ‘app’vertising). It discussed the recent trends in the mobile marketing industry and how companies can increase brand awareness through effective mobile applications.

The second post talked about journalism in the social media era. I talked about how traditional journalism is being replaced by citizen journalism and how I thought this was a good thing in terms of marketing and branding campaigns. Citizen journalism increases transparency and strength of message from influencer bloggers.

My third post talked about the importance of digital monitoring due to digital WOM (word of mouth). It also touched on how companies must understand their online digital conversation before they engage their customers online.

I learned a lot from this competition. I’m proud of the conversation that was generated in the comments as well as how many people read the posts!

In my next post, I’ll talk about some of the ‘blogger best practices’ and my strategy for the competition.

Also, I’ll write a post and let you know who the winners of the contest are. If I am picked to be a permanent writer to the blog, I’ll have a press release with my bio sent out to 1+ million people on Linked-In and other prominent industry blogs. It will be very exciting.

I’ll be taking a brief hiatus from tomorrow through May 30th, as I’ll be participating in a blog-off competition over at Community Marketing Blog!

Over the next two weeks, I’ll be blogging about social media marketing strategies as a guest blogger alongside several other marketing professionals.

I’m looking forward to having the opportunity to be on the blog and encourage you to head over to the site and check out my posts!