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Speak with your voice.

Managing a social media page can be difficult. Each site and service uses different vocabulary, etiquette, and functions. Each draws a different audience, although some members may cross-over into different sites. One thing that remains the same between all of them is the idea of voice.

In recent weeks, we have seen a couple of examples of organizations and businesses both sticking to their established voice or not having a strong one in place. Chick-Fil-A has come under fire recently because of comments made discussing their beliefs. The President of Chick-Fil-A, Dan Cathy, stated his (and the company’s) stance of not believing in same sex marriage due to their Christian faith. Regardless of whether you feel the same or not, I have not seen them back down from this thought. They have always been transparent to what their beliefs and values are, right up to their chains being closed on Sundays, and this stance should therefore not be surprising.

Again, I am not addressing the controversial issue, but trying to illustrate the idea of voice. Dan Cathy clearly knew what his company stands for, and his company continued to support him.

Let’s bring this review closer to home and look at the comments posted on the Rutland GOP Facebook page recently. Although the events were unfortunate and the apologies multiple, this is a great example of this idea of voice. It has been reported that the Rutland GOP did not write this post, but shared the thoughts of someone else. This happens all the time in social media, as it is easy to “share,” “retweet,” “repin,” etc. Sometimes, the service does not even allow the user to share their own thoughts or reflections when sharing someone else’s post.

Being aware that mistakes are made, your social media managers and page admins must know what your company stands for and supports. This is done easily by answering some questions, and should also be revisited every time you look at or update your brand.

Let’s discuss the four areas you should look at to establish your brand’s voice.

  1. Who You Are – Although this may seem like the easiest step, I would argue that it may actually be the hardest. It is difficult to think of an entity that you need to write and present as yourself as having separate thoughts, morals, and ideals than you do. These guidelines should cover sense of humor, sarcasm, professionalism, and even political views. Some of this may seem a bit extreme (why would my ice cream shop need to know its stance on abortion or international relations?), but you do not know what situations you will find your business amidst. You need to address how you view your business, and how you want to be seen, as well. You need to ensure that your social media presence is consistent with all other branding and marketing.
  2. Who You Audience Is – There are two distinct audience groups – those you want to reach, and those you are actually reaching. How can you present information in a way that your target audience will respond, react, and be engaged? What can you alter about your message (not only the way you are saying things, but what you are saying) that will attract the target audience?

You also need to take into account that online and offline communications are different. Social media communications and audience expectations differ even from email and other digital forms of communication. Be succinct and to the point. Bring your text to life with pictures and video. Frequently alter your cover photo (the long photo on the top of your profile page) to keep up with important events that will encourage audience response.

Do not only self-promote, but share information, articles, pictures, video, and community happenings that your audience will appreciate. In the case of the Rutland GOP, where they were sharing the words someone else wrote which caused them to be caught in some hot water. They may not have considered their audience entirely, or how the message would be absorbed by their audience.

  1. What Is Your Message – Before you begin typing away, think about how quickly your message and what you are sharing will spread. Depending upon the amount of fans or followers you have, your message virality will differ (This is the potential reach of your post. Not only your fans see your post, but when one of your fans likes or comments on your post or retweets it, for example, the number of people that actually see the information you shared spreads rapidly.) This is great if you are sharing relevant information and could hopefully draw more fans or followers to your social media presence. On the other hand, this backfires when you mistakenly share content that does not stick to your brand or company viewpoints. If you share information that is not relevant to your audience or offends them, you will quickly drive people away.
  2. How You React To Mistakes – If you make a mistake, don’t panic. Apologize. If a customer complains on your page, respond to it. How you react and the time that it takes you to react can have a positive influence on your brand.

Social media has made marketing a two-way conversation. Customers are observing how you handle difficult and challenging situations. What you do after that mistake is just as important as preventing another one from happening. This can be addressed during brand conversations by making sure someone is assigned to manage these social media relations. This is an important aspect of customer service, and can drastically affect the impact your brand has.

Your brand and voice are ever evolving. Make sure that you regularly address your brand and voice with key members of your team. Keep your brand and voice moving forward, as this will help you with new media and hurdles down the road.

This column originally appeared in the August 6, 2012 issue of the Rutland Herald.

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Posted by on August 12, 2012 in Marketing, Social Media

 

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don’t underestimate the internet

The power of a single person on the Internet has become more and more apparent. Companies and governments are not safe from the people.  Something that social marketing consultants, like myself, will often remind their clients of is the difference between traditional marketing and social marketing. Traditional marketing is one-sided. You create your brand and present it to the public. You tell your consumer what you want to and can control your message. Social marketing has turned the tables into a multi-sided conversation. Although you can still create your branding and the image you want to project, ultimately your customers will respond to your message and want to interact with you. Positive interaction is then promoted, viewed, and passed on to friends. It is like trackable word of mouth. And how your company handles your negative interactions is also scrutinized and passed on.

The power that I am talking about is how much of a voice the Internet has given back to the public. Let’s jump around a bit and look at some of these phenomena.

SOPA and PIPA

As I spoke about a few weeks ago in my post, SOPA stands for the “Stop Online Piracy Act.” This was a proposal that was moving towards becoming a law at the federal level, supposedly about Internet piracy. The problem with this, was the wording was incredibly vague and appeared to severely restrict Internet usage.

On January 18, 2012, multiple sites, including the English version of Wikipedia, Reddit, Google, WordPress, and over 7,000 other websites participated in either a service blackout or made some sort of post or movement on their sites to raise awareness of the dangerous of these acts. Google also had a petition that gained over 7 million signatures. Boycotts happened of companies that supported the legislation, state representatives were contacted, and an offline rally was even held in New York City.

What happened next was amazing. Representatives and companies that had supported the bills the day before started backing off of them and slowly, the acts came off the table. This does not mean that the ideas behind legislation is completely gone, but it was an incredibly show of what people on the Internet could do together.

Komen vs. Planned Parenthood

On January 31, 2012, the Susan G. Komen organization, a breast-cancer organization in the United States, cut off its funding of Planned Parenthood. While many anti-abortion groups applauded the move, the public was not impressed. Women’s advocacy groups were fast to criticize the move, stating that the Komen organization was putting politics ahead of women’s health. The following 24 hours generated a lot of buzz around the Internet. $400,000 was given to Planned Parenthood from over 6,000 donors. New York Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, pledge a grant of $250,000 that matched a gift from the CEO of Bonanza Oil Co. They did this to replace the funding that was lost.

On February 3, 2012, just three days later, Komen’s board of directors issued a statement apologizing to the American public. They backed down from their previous statement, and instead said they would continue to fund exisiting grants, including Planned Parenthood. Four days later, on February 7, the director of Komen submitted her resignation, which went into effect immediately.

And these aren’t the only examples, and it is certainly not ONLY happening in the United States. In 2011, Tunsia decided it was time to boot out dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Social media and the Internet played an encouraging role in the success of their protests. Wikileaks released internal United States government that confirmed that the people in the US felt the same about Ben Eli as the people in Tunsia did. Hacker group Anonymous also supported the cause by not only defending Wikileaks, but hitting Tunsia websites, as well.

So how did the Internet get so much power? Why are governments, both democracies and other forms of governments alike, afraid of these Internet driven causes? Personally, I think that there are several factors that contribute to this fear. In democracies, the leaders, in order to stay in any sort of seat in power, need to listen to the citizens that voted them into power in the first place. I think that it is amazing that the “government for the people, by the people” is starting to circle around and bring some of the decision influences back down to the citizen level.  Also, I think the simple fact that “word of mouth” doesn’t take very long to spread any more. We can know what is happening in the world, including protests, news, causes, epidemics…in a matter of minutes.

To bring this to a local perspective, think back to the day Tropical Storm Irene hit the area. There were pictures of every corner on town, people were sharing what roads were destroyed and to avoid, and even seeking help out of their house.  I think back even further to 2007 when we had that terrible wind storm in April. Just 5 years ago, there were many fewer local people on Facebook and the same volume of sharing online didn’t happen.  After the wind passed, everyone was out in their cars surveying the damage. With Irene, you already had seen the damage as it was being caused right on Facebook.

Now, local businesses and organizations need to utilize the power of these mediums. Engage your followers. Post interesting and informative information. Support other businesses and organizations through your page. If you are posting interesting and informative information, fans or followers that find this information interesting will often repost or retweet the information, which will cause a ripple of effect, generating more followers and passing on your information to more people.

Continue to may attention to what’s happening online, no matter your career. Chances are, it does affect you, and your action may make all the difference. For your pages and posts, make them engaging and interesting. You never know the full power of how your content may take off.

(Research from wikipedia.org and motherjones.org.)

 

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the great internet blackout

Since you are obviously an Internet user, you must have run into some information about the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and it’s sister legislation called the Protect IP [Intellectual Property] Act (PIPA). If you had not heard about these proposals before Wednesday, January 18th, you may have run into odd “blackouts” on sites like Google, Wikipedia, and WordPress (yes, the very site that hosts this blog), among many, many others. Looking at the names of these two bills, you may think that their names make them sound like a good thing. We all like pirates (yay, Johnny Depp!), but not the kind of pirates who steal people’s copyrighted material and make money off of them.  This, we all agree, is wrong and illegal.

The wording of these proposals is currently very vague.  To be very simplistic, the only things that SOPA and PIPA do is protect the rights of artists and they apply due process to judge infringement claims. That’s it. There are a lot of words in the acts that are unexplained and leave a lot of doors open with what they can actually apply the laws to.  Under these bills, you may not be able to get to a site you were looking for because of the imposed breakdown of DNS (Domain Name System), which is essentially the “switchboard” of the Internet.

Response from Google Chrome when Facebook.com could not be reached.

Due to the amount of censorship and lack of clarity about how the censoring works, “SOPA would reduce freedom of expression and undermine the dynamic, innovative global Internet…[and it] would impose harmful regulations on American business and slow economic growth in the U.S.” (Greg Jarobe, SEO-PR president).

Another issue is a website shutdowns or dismantlements.  If someone makes a claim about copyright infringement, they can contact advertisers and payment processors and make claims about the infringement to have the services disabled, without notice or a chance to respond from the website owner.

If you went on the Internet at all on Wednesday (January 18th), chances are you ran into least one website that was participating in the “blackout.” Sites Oatmeal.com and Wikipedia, whose content is user generated and created (hence the definition of a wiki, being collaborative information) are very concerned with the SOPA and PIPA act.

Screenshot of Oatmeal.com from January 18th, 2012

Screenshot of Wikipedia.com from January 18, 2012

Images from: Oatmeal.com and Wikipedia.com.

Sites like Google and WordPress did something a little different, but still participated in the protest.

Screenshot of Google.com from January 18, 2012

Screenshot of WordPress.com from January 18, 2012

Images from Google.com and WordPress.com

My friend Jim Sabataso and I, among other friends, changed our Facebook profile pictures and only posted, on both our Twitter accounts and Facebook pages, about SOPA and PIPA, including passing on the petition to stop the bills.  Did the protest work? Sort of is my honest answer.  Reports came in that at least fifteen Senators who originally signed their endorsement of SOPA pulled out by some time Thursday (January 19th).  But there is still some power behind both the bills and it isn’t over yet.

There is an alternative to these bills and it’s something that no one really seems to be discussing.  An act that has been drawn up that many opponents of SOPA and PIPA support.  This is called the OPEN act. This act seems like the most reasonable alternative, keeping in mind the creators of materials as well as keeping the Internet free and open. KeepTheWebOpen.com has created this great infographic to compare the three current proposals.

OPEN vs SOPA vs PIPA comparison

Infographic from KeepTheWebOpen.com.

If you use the Internet at all, which you must since you found my blog, I beg of you to keep your eyes on this. I hate to slap on a freedom of speech campaign onto my blog, but it is something that I have always felt so lucky to have. It is sad to me to think that instead of truly solving a problem, lawmakers want to essentially sweep it under the rug.

I have linked some sites that give better explanations of the bills then I ever could, including some that don’t seem to fully support the protest. So keep your eye on what’s going on with these bills.  No matter if you are a webmaster, business owner, student, parent, or casual internet browser, they DO directly affect you.

Research on SOPA, PIPA, and OPEN from, and to find out more visit:

Lifehacker

SearchEngineWatch

Wall Street Journal

Slate

Business Review USA

Tech Crunch

The New Yorker

Google: SOPA Blackout

 

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wait, you don’t have a website?

Picture this: a group of friends sitting around two days before New Years Eve, trying to figure out what they wanted to do on the big night. They were going to stay local, in our rural Vermont town, and trying to see what they could do within a reasonable distance. They are sitting around, late at night, all pulling their smart phones out and Googling different local businesses.

“What is going on up on the mountain?” someone says. Someone else quickly pulls out their phone and pulls up different sites. “Well there is X, Y, and Z, and they have a cover of W amount,” the friend says. “Too much for my budget!”replies another friend.

“What about a limo? That’d be fun!” I grabbed a computer and Googled “limos in Rutland, Vermont” and what were the results? (See them here.). Only one of the companies in the area had a website. One! I don’t mean to rag on these businesses, but what is this about? Why don’t these businesses have a website? Why don’t all businesses, big and small, have some form of website?

According to internetworldstats.com, smaller markets lead the nation in Broadband growth, and the nation’s largest markets are close to reaching their saturation points (Source: www.internetworldstats.com/am/us.htm). For businesses that exist in these smaller markets, now is the time to finally jump on the “web” bandwagon. Looking at the latest census information, you will also learn some surprising things about Internet users.  I was surprised (and somewhat excited, for argument’s sake) to learn that the age group with the most Internet users at home or work was NOT the 18 to 34 year-old group (boasting only 30.48% of the 228,112,000 of the collected surveys), but it was the 35 to 54 year old group that used the internet in these common spaces. The younger group mainly used their mobile devices to access the web on the go, which I am sure we all assumed. Researching this data a bit, I would have guessed that the 18 to 34 age group dominated all of the categories for Internet usage across the board.

The point I am trying to illustrate is you have to know your market. Understand that if you are a clothing store that is trying to specifically target women between the ages of 35 to 54 in a rural area, you need to advertise on sites that these women would visit when they are at home and at work. These Internet ads need to link back to your website. If you own a local young adult hangout who wants to reach the “under 35 club,” you need to be present and active on main social networks, including advertising, and again, link back to your website (Source: www.census. gov/compendia/statab/2012/tables/12s1157.pdf).

No matter your demographic, the Internet is where people go daily for information; banking, news, connecting socially. The top two uses of the Internet are using search engines and social networking. Since the dawn of the web, experts have stated point-blank, “If you have a business, you need a website. Period.” (Source: entrepreneur.com/article/65204). It is not just enough to have a website, you need to have a professional looking website that reflects your ideals and your business’ brand. Think about how you use the Internet, both in your business and personal daily activities.

If you are worrying about the cost of your website, look to support local businesses that specialize in website design. Not looking for an overly fancy website, but something more straightforward to get your information out there? Contact Bloomer Consulting, where Matt will help create the perfect website for you and your business. For more advanced websites, including server capabilities, contact one of the several larger companies in the area, that can build the perfect complex site for your business.

Over the next few weeks, I will address a few other “musts” for small businesses. Do me, and all the other consumers out there a favor first; get a website.

 
 

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reunion time: in person or online?

It is the end of the 2011 and high school reunions are in the air. The Rutland High School class of 2001 has made its way home this week to celebrate their ten year reunion. But in an age where social media is readily available and anyone can easily connect and essentially “stalk” almost every member of their class, what is the importance of these personal encounters?

As you may know, I have a Master’s degree in Media Studies, focusing on Online Marketing and Social Media. I am very much an advocate for the importance and usefulness of these mediums, and see them emerging and developing even more over the next decade. People who know me personally, know that I am a very social being. I love personal contact and could certainly end up on the phone with you for hours at a time, talking about everything and nothing at all once. My ten year high school reunion will come at some point in 2012, and I honestly can not wait. Yes, I have been keeping tabs on people I graduated high school with through various social medias, but nothing can replace those one on one conversations.

We all know high school is tough, mostly because people are attempting to figure out who they are, what their styles are, how to be a good friend, a good member of society, how to be the best them they can be. There are people I interact with now whose paths never crossed mine in high school for one reason or another. I am interested in how different people have grown, what their lives are like, how maybe our lives have changed and morphed in ways that we now have a million things in common and will become good friends.

Tonight, for example, I was out on the town with friends of mine. Looking around at us interacting, you would think we had all grown up together and been friends for years. Honestly, I have only been a part of this “group” of friends for a little over a year. Only one member of the group was I friends with in high school, and our relationship has certainly only grown stronger in the passing years. The remainder of the group of friends all grew up in the Rutland area, but we were not friends in high school. These new friendships did not spring up through social media “meet-ups,” although we do all use social media to communicate with each other, to plan events, and a few of us use social media in our jobs, even. This is one side of the spectrum.

The other side is maybe that witch from high school is still a witch. But her Facebook wall is most likely not going to tell me that, and I would like to give her a chance, in person, to prove she has matured and changed.

I think personal interaction can be viewed as another “medium” of media and communication. Yes, social media has emerged as an important way of receiving news or of keeping up with friends who live far away, but conversation is faster and on different topics when you have the personal communication. Even a media form like Skype, where users can video chat for free, does not replace the organic need for human touch, interaction, and engaged conversation. Similar to the way Google+ works, where you can post certain information to only specific “circles” of friends, is the way that social media versus personal communication works. There are some conversations that I want to have with only my closest friends through the act of discussion. There are some viewpoints, discussions, and stories that never need to make their way into print. You, being human, surely agree with this statement.

RHS’s class of 2001 only used Facebook to contact its members. I have to say, that it is likely the most affective way to reach most people. I say most because there are those diehards from that class (like my husband) who do not subscribe to social media and prefer only personal interaction (lumping phone calls and texts into this category). I think that this still works, because even though he is not on Facebook or Twitter, or any other social media platform, I am and several of his friends are, linking him back into the conversation.

The point I am trying to make is, perhaps social media, instead of replacing the high school reunion, is actually helping to enhance it. For those who can not make it home for their reunion, Facebook will let them know who is going to be there and let them reconnect with someone from their past through the platform. Twitter will allow live tweeting of the event, if someone chooses to do so. Both of these mediums will also encourage, and I guarantee it will happen, the immediate posting of pictures, so the classmates who are missing the event will seemingly still be apart of the buzz and be able to see what went on very easily.

Social media is helping to back up and increase the value of these interpersonal live communications. I encourage you to reconnect with someone from your past using the social media tools that are available to you, and plan a time to meet up with them in person. Nothing beats throwing back a drink or grabbing a coffee with an old friend.

 
 

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