Social media offers companies HUGE opportunities

I’m often challenged by executives and corporate leaders about the validity of this “online thing”… as if social media was a transient, uncontrollable and unworthy effort.

Recently, TechCrunch published alarming statistics about the impact of negative customer service on client loyalty. Not only do they report the significance of non-responsiveness, when companies ignore complaints online… but they highlight the opportunities social media offers for disgruntled clients and customers to share their displeasure and get issues resolved. The study reveals the importance of brands — corporate, non-profit, service-oriented or product-based — showing their values online, living authentically and respecting customer’s needs.

Not every company I have taken into the online conversation went easily. I remember working with one non-profit in particular. They had a website and that was it. No Facebook, no blog, and barely an email distribution list.

They also had a problem. They needed to raise $20,000 by the end of the fiscal year… which was 60 days away. They considered a big fund raising dinner (snore…) and even a quickie golf tournament (seriously!?!) before they allowed me to persuade them that a more grassroots, guerilla social media program could work.

Instead of asking their target audience for huge amounts of money, we began a viral online (social media and email) campaign asking people connected to the charity and their cause to send in $25. That’s easy, right? Just $25. Oh, and we enlisted an army of brand champions to help spread the word online with their contacts, personalizing the message and making a game out of it.

The result? We raised the $20,000 in 18 days. Mostly from individual, small donations, but we did get some big checks, too. We had set other metrics for success which were also achieved — growing awareness of the charity, growing the database, and engaging constituents in promoting the cause.

The opportunities online are endless!

Is social media the new direct mail?

When direct mail was hot, marketing people who knew how to craft strategies, design campaigns and track ROI were heroes. They were the gurus who wrote books, taught seminars and led corporations into this wonderful new venture of tapping into captive audiences where they live/work/play through targeted direct mail marketing!

Today, similar attention and excitement surrounds social media. Companies across the globe are quickly setting up webpages, LinkedIn groups, Facebook Fan Pages, micro-sites, Twitter accounts, etc. The frenzy is certainly here! As companies excitedly see a new social media tool come online, they’re asking What is it? Who’s already there? How do we get on board? (And how do we still keep our employees focused on work, not Facebook?)

The better question to ask is: Why? Branding and marketing strategies begin with many benchmarks and metrics. One of the most important ones to address is Why do we want to do this? Why will our target audience care? Why will they find us here? Why are we relevant and compelling?

Social media, social networking and the entire online space offers tremendous power, potential and reach. The long tail of the web goes farther than any postman-carried letter could hope.  With all of this wonderful potential also comes risk — if the Why questions aren’t addressed, if audiences are not adequately targeted, and if metrics for success are missing, social media marketing can also become a deep black marketing hole.

The importance of measuring brand marketing

In today’s stressed business climate, companies are cutting costs wherever they can. Despite news that the market is turning around, and even though companies are hiring again, the days of marketing free-for-all are gone. Smart companies today aren’t using an axe to evaluate and cut marketing expenses, they are using a magnifying glass and a scalpel — identify what’s working and what’s not and excise the ineffective parts.

As with any measurement initiative, it is important to put a stake in the ground to establish a baseline (benchmark). Doing so gives you something to grow from and track results. Whether your baseline is current number of clients, number of unique visitors to your website, number of inquiries about a product, or referrals from existing clients, setting a benchmark ensures you can track efforts.

Brand Equity
Building brand equity is an investment, and the return is measured over a longer period of time, in tangible and intangible ways. Branding metrics can include referrals, pass along rate, share of voice, positioning (as subject matter expert or in thought leadership) and invitations to join the right conversations. All of these factors are influenced by your reputation, integrity and ability to build brand credibility.

Even though the results and ROI is measured over a longer time, business leaders must be concerned with brand stewardship, brand standards and customer loyalty, and drive relevance to the brand from all marketing strategies being measured. Building consistency and integration raises the chance of success of any marketing and communications program.

Call to Action Marketing
As you go to market with promotions, advertising and marketing, include a specific phone number or micro-site (special website set up for a specific campaign) to track traffic being driven based on the campaign. Turning on and off these campaigns can help you measure conversion (from one stage of customer “relationship” to another) and buying if your site has an e-commerce component.

Web traffic
Understand how to read the analytics on your website. Measure, monitor and evaluate activity – where traffic is coming from, what they’re doing on your site, how much time they’re spending, and what they’re buying – enables you to understand market share, brand alignment, customer needs and other metrics.

For instance, we know that about 65% of the traffic to www.LIDA360.com comes from direct sources (they have our URL and type it in), whereas 15% comes from organic Google searches and about 17-19% comes from referral sites (links to our site off other sites, such as Twitter). We also see that the most frequently visited pages (with the longest “linger” rates) are Business Services, Personal Branding and About Us pages. As we mix up content and post new information, we review the positioning and success of grabbing attention from key audiences. (We also track where on the globe our hits come from and whether they refer our site on – and they do!)

Client Satisfaction Surveys
When was the last time you engaged your clients in your marketing? Ask them what works for them – how/when/where do they want to be marketed to? How is your service meeting their needs? Take their feedback and change what makes sense. Then do another survey (same questions) at a later date and see if the responses show progress and improvement.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
As mentioned above, we track the organic Google searches on our site. As you try different keyword “tags” (things people search for on Google/Yahoo) you can see the direct effect on your traffic. If you engage in paid search through a tool like Google, it is critical to track the effectiveness of your paid search results, but give them time to work. Some paid search takes time. The goal is to ensure your target audiences are finding you online. Stay attuned to the search parameters your target clients are using. Measure effectiveness of your website SEO to draw them in.

Leverage multiple SEO touch-points to raise your online presence. Use many Web 2.0 tactics, such as blogging, online conversation forums, social media, websites and online profiles to create and draw attention to your business. Try different strategies and continue doing what works!

Phone Calls Begin asking callers, “How did you hear about us?” to gain insight into what’s driving new traffic. Keep a record of attributions to website, advertising, press, word of mouth and yellow pages traffic.

Share of Wallet We all know that most times, the cost of acquiring a new customer is greater than the cost to keep an existing customer. However, encouraging a current customer to spend more with you is as important as keeping them loyal. Increasing the “share of wallet” existing customer spends with your business reduces marketing costs and investments.

Before you can measure cross-selling of products and services and increased share of wallet, you need a good understanding of the current volume and buying behavior of your customers. Track their purchasing and look for patterns to draw on. Then, as you deploy customer retention and sales programs, measure the increase in spending these customers do with you, and not with your competitors. Your customers’ spending will give you a good indication of what they want to see and how they want to spend.

Email Communications Most email distribution programs have terrific customer relationship management analytics included in the subscription. Use these analytics to see what’s working. For instance, if you typically send a monthly newsletter and your open rate hovers at 15-19%, try changing up your subject line, or placing more informative content and driving the reader to continue reading more by clicking through. You can track the news pieces your reader finds most relevant. Populate your newsletter with more content that fits that bill and see if your open rate increases.

Running test control groups (different subject lines to different audiences, for instance) will also give you insight into relevancy and timeliness of message.

Remember, we are not in a “one size fits all” marketing world anymore. Effective brand marketing is a two-way dialogue and your customer’s input is critical to keeping the conversation going. Test and try different strategies, and understand how to interpret the results. Then, continue doing what works!

Examples of personal branding (case studies)

I am so grateful to do what I do for a living. As a personal branding specialist, I have the privilege and honor of working with some of the most inspiring, genuine and influential people you could ever hope to meet. Whether they are leaders of industry or corporate executives… thought leaders affecting social change or independent business owners running a retail shop… sales executives, consultants, teachers, students or motivational speakers, they allow me to be a small part of their journey to greatness.

I thought I would share a few of their stories with you, to illustrate how someone comes to the realization they need personal branding help, and the results they achieve.

Bob*: A CEO with vision & passion… and a heck of a nice guy

Bob’s public relations team, who recognized something was amiss with their CEO’s reputation, hired me. He was, by all accounts, one of the nicest people you’d ever meet. He still is. The problem was that being a “nice guy” was only part of who he was, what he had accomplished, and what made him credible as a formidable thought leader in his field.

You see, Bob is CEO of a highly successful technology company that serves kids through education. Bob is deeply passionate about innovation, and is schooled and versed on education technology. He has committed his life to improving the education system in the US and created numerous pathways and systems currently in practice today. And he isn’t credited with many of them.

Bob and I set out to build his reputation as the thought leader he truly is. After a personal brand audit and brand feedback assessment, we identified targeted and compelling opportunities to broaden his exposure, fine-tune his audience focus and begin targeting his personal brand in a more focused and intentional way.

He is still a very nice person – the kind of man you’d be fortunate to know, and even more fortunate to work with – but today, he is also becoming known for his expertise, passion and commitment to education technology. Bob is becoming increasingly recognized among his peers for his contribution to thought leadership in this industry. He is a sought after speaker at international events where thought leaders gather. Most importantly (to Bob), he is able to broaden his voice in advocating for education reform and innovation, which is his true calling.

Gail*: Finding her voice through her personal brand

Gail originally approached me to help her decide if she should abandon her current business model and create something completely new.

In the personal brand discovery process, we learned that Gail’s passions were not part of her daily work, as they had been when she founded her company 12 years earlier. She wanted to do something different and thought her personal brand might enlighten her to that path.

We learned she was passionate about providing client solutions, holding clients’ hands through stressful processes and being outdoors. As the founder of a successful company, she found herself immersed in the daily work, and less and less in the beauty, creativity and glory of her finished projects.

Her brand feedback survey revealed many wonderful gems, including that her target audiences appreciate her patient style, ability to reassure and validate their needs, and her unique ability to make a complicated (and stressful) process smooth.

We proceeded by developing an integrated brand marketing strategy for Gail and her business, which included blogging, authorship, public speaking and new client sectors. She leveraged her passionate, caring and focused style on serving her existing clients in a more robust, targeted way, and extended the reach of her services to companies and groups involved in sustainability and natural resources, to feed her need for connecting with the environment. Armed with this information, Gail took hold of her business model and modified aspects to leverage her strengths, passion and talents.

Cathy*: Something isn’t sitting well…

When Cathy called me from Boston, she thought she had a simple problem. She was about to pull the trigger on a new website for her consulting business, and something just didn’t feel quite right. She couldn’t put her finger on it.

We decided together that a personal branding project was in order. Cathy’s business was a direct extension of her personality, reputation and network of contacts. Therefore, it needed to matchup closely with her personal brand. I decided not to look at the website design until after we had done our work.

In our work together, I learned that Cathy was passionate about action. She talked fast, ran ideas together quickly and was attracted to clients who were equally energetic and results-driven. Cathy was upbeat, happy, creative and Type A. A successful sales executive for many years, she had an extensive network of high performing clients and prospects.

After assessing the results from her brand feedback and dissecting the functional and emotional needs of her audiences, I looked at the website mockup. No wonder Cathy’s stomach hurt!

The colors were subdued… the imagery was passive… and across the top the copy read, “Are you tired and burned out? We can help.” How de-motivating!

In her brand framework documents, I had provided Cathy with new language, marketing direction and tone suggestions. We shared this framework with her web designer and within a couple of weeks, came back with a home run. The new site reflected her energy, attracted the attention of her dynamic target audience, and the copy was bold and direct, just like Cathy. She told me months later that her website became a true reflection of who she wanted clients to get to know. The mistake she’d originally made, as she described it, was focusing on the “decorating” before building the “foundation.”

Everyone comes to the personal branding process at their own pace, in their own time

Personal branding is not only for people in a job search, following a major life transition or when you are feeling stuck in your career or relationships.

Personal branding is how each of us articulates our value proposition to a target audience and builds a compelling reputation. In order to effectively develop and communicate a solid personal brand, we need to know who we are, how we want to be perceived, who we need to focus our efforts towards and what results we expect to receive. These are all important ingredients in this personal branding formula. Leave one out and it just doesn’t work the same way.

To learn more about the personal branding process and to get started right away, please visit www.LIDA360.com or www.BrandMeToday.com.

*Names have been changed.

A message on branding… from the trunk

In my living room sits a large steamer trunk. I believe it was made in the early 1920s. My father borrowed it from his grandfather when he let Holland to come to the United States in the 1950s. Today, more than a half century later, the beautiful, stoic trunk sits in my living room, where I admire it often.

I wonder about the company that designed the trunk. I think about the workers who nailed each individual nail head onto the leather exterior to give it its polished, yet rugged, appearance.

I wonder about the company that envisioned a lifespan for its product — a product that bears their name, design and logo. Did they intend their line of trunks to still be around eighty years later? Was the company that designed this high-quality steamer trunk concerned about their legacy?

In branding, we’re passionate about legacy – the reputation we create for our company today, and the way we will be remembered by customers, clients, patients and consumers a long time from now. We pay attention to how our actions, marketing, relationships and products reflect our values and our vision. If we say we’re about producing a product that will last… how are we doing that? Are we standing behind our guarantees?  If we promise customers we’ll be responsive, do we return phone calls and email within 24 hours? If we promise clients they can trust us, how do we act in trustworthy ways

Building trust is how we build integrity and credibility. By stating our values, and acting consistent with what we believe, our target audiences can learn to trust us. Trust affects how our audiences will feel about us. If we want our audience to feel safe, valued, loved, validated and respected, we must build trust.

I love my work in branding. I enjoy helping companies – from local entrepreneurs, to global Fortune 100 companies – discover and articulate their authenticity in ways that make everyone in the room stand and shout, “Yes! That’s what we believe in!”

I love helping individuals discover that to stand out in the world, to make a statement, means you must understand what you’re passionate about. To be remarkable means to act with authenticity. To build trust means you act with integrity. Personal branding means you are as concerned with your reputation today, and your legacy ultimately.

When I think about the hands that crafted and assembled this beautiful weathered trunk in my living room, I see the care, the passion and the gentle touch it must have taken to produce something so rugged, yet so delicate. The company that set the design and the vision created a product that stood the test of time. The company that brought this trunk to life stood for quality and elegance. I can see why, 90 years later.

Empower Your Employees: Create brand evangelists!

Your friends are doing it. Your competitors are doing it. Are you empowering your employees to engage in social media forums on your behalf?

Today, the power of the Internet extends far beyond research, data collection, and news feeds. Companies can engage clients in healthy dialog, create brand evangelists and empower employees to promote your company to audiences previously inaccessible.

Why should a company engage in online brand marketing?

  • Your employees are already online. Whether they are proactively engaged in conversations on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter, or their bio is on your website, your employees are already online. By directing them and giving them tools to promote your company, you put them in a position to become a brand evangelist.
  • Monitoring: You can’t be everywhere at once. Empowering your team to be on the look out for conversations and opportunities related to your industry or company gives you more eyes and ears “on the street” so to speak. You can assess: How are you known to the market today? (What is your client’s expectation of your product/category/ company?)
  • Feedback: Most social networking platforms offer polling, question & answer tools and discussion forums. Using these tools to query your audiences can give you powerful insight and opportunity! Oftentimes our clients are looking for a forum to sing our praises or offer feedback. You can provide this opportunity by being active in social networking settings where the conversation takes a collaborative approach.
  • Contacts & connections. Do you know where your next customer or client will come from? They may be half way around the world right now looking for you. Being active online gives you exposure and reach in ways you never could imagine before the Internet. Consistent, effective and compelling social media strategies attract audiences who are uniquely interested in your company, product or offer. As companies think more globally about their offers and clients, social media can work along side traditional marketing to increase awareness and reach.
  • Public relations. The train has left the station… your employees are chatting online. Empowering employees, partners, vendors and other stakeholders to be informed brand ambassadors for your company increases your exposure and credibility, if done with consistency and integrity.
  • Customer/client engagement. I recently brought a boutique firm onto the social media platform. They did not believe brand support in the market would make help their retail efforts, but they gave it a try. Within weeks, customers began sharing testimonials about how their product had improved their life, new ways they had used the product, and the outstanding customer service the company offered. Their customers were craving such an outlet and loyalty for their brand skyrocketed!
  • It’s relatively inexpensive. Developing a social media brand protocol to help employees have positive, effective and appropriate online dialogue enables them to use tools readily available (for free) online. When your social media program is robust and effective, you may have to increase your customer service staff to handle increased orders coming in… and your PR team may work overtime to funnel all the positive comments and testimonials you receive, but this a small investment compared to the good will and brand exposure you gain!
  • Positive ROI. Whether you’re measuring ‘return on investment’ or ‘return on impressions,’ social media offers numerous touch points to build awareness, share information and promote your company. Is it time consuming? Sure is! But the cost/benefit of honest, transparent and compelling engagement with customers online proves more effective for many companies than traditional marketing vehicles, especially if done with brand intention and consistency.
  • Your competitors are doing it. Your competition is courting your clients and prospects right under your nose. They are providing information, resources, collaboration tools and attractive incentives in a very public way. Can you afford not to keep an eye on your competition? Are you secure in your client relationships such that you can be absent from the seductive dance your competitors are engaged in with them?
  • It can be fun! Aside from the interaction, information sharing, social communities and fun languages (i.e. “tweeting,”), your employees will benefit from increased morale and enthusiasm for the brand. Soliciting feedback, running contests, polls, incentives and creating unique opportunities for clients, can create fun for employees!

Set protocol to ensure consistency, relevancy and protection of your brand
Before you consider the online space to prospect, engage and reward clients, create a social media protocol for employees to follow. Your brand will set the parameters, metrics and guidelines for the protocol, which should be adopted by all employees venturing online as representatives of the company. Your brand will articulate: what your company promises to it’s clients in terms of functional and emotional benefits? What can your stakeholders expect to feel in a relationship with your company/product/service/staff?

Your online social media protocol should include:

  • Do’s and don’ts for posting online as a representative of the company
  • Guidelines for advice-giving (Note: financial services, legal and medical communities are strictly monitored for advice-giving. Always defer to industry standards in these fields.)
  • Who can post and where
  • Strategy for building engagement with target audiences
  • How employees can positively reflect company values through their personal social networking (i.e. on Facebook)
  • Landmines to avoid (risk mitigation)
  • Protocol for handling conflict or negative feedback online
  • Processes for monitoring and assessing competitors online
  • Strategy for targeting new and existing client bases (and target markets)

Each company protocol will have unique items to be addressed. For instance, in helping a large professional services firm craft a protocol, we added a crisis communication plan for online reputation management of senior executives. For a local retail operation, we included a set of guidelines for running in-store promotions and contests.

Once you have trained and briefed your employees on brand ambassadorship on the Internet, and have set metrics to measure success, enjoy the benefits of building a relevant, compelling and unique company brand online!

Showing Your Clients the LOVE

©Lida Citroën

Most of us know to send a “thank you” note to show appreciation. We’ve learned to stay in touch with clients (thanks to reminder software in our BlackBerrys, Outlook and calendars.) And we know not to arrive empty-handed to a social event.

When times are stressful, how can we go above-and-beyond to thank clients who have sustained us, shown tolerance and loyalty, and referred others to us?

Top 10 Ways to Show Your Clients Love:

  1. Drop a handwritten note to a client for no specific reason! It is so exciting to get a note – interrupting your busy day – with just a brief message of appreciation. Maybe your client mentioned an important event coming up. Maybe they mentioned putting a parent into a nursing home. Perhaps you know their anniversary joining the company. A handwritten note speaks volumes.
  2. Read a good book lately? Share the book with a client and save them going to the store and searching for it. Online booksellers deliver right to their door. What a nice surprise!
  3. Invite them to join you at an important event. Not just to fill a seat, but because the event is important/valuable to them, too. If your client is passionate about animals, for instance, them to the Denver Dumb Friends League’s annual event.
  4. Provide a personal referral. Make the introduction yourself and show that you understand their business, and their brand. You might even offer to host the breakfast meeting so the two new contacts can get to know each other.
  5. Host a client appreciation event and offer a program of value. We recently held such an event for LIDA360 clients, and the response was overwhelming – clients and guests networked, socialized and listened to a program on brand development and stress management. The best comment received afterwards was: “This was so consistent with YOUR brand, Lida!”
  6. Pick up the phone and “check in.” Even if your current project is going fine, or there is no current project with that client, calling is so much more personal than an email. Just check in and remind them you’re just a phone call away.
  7. Have a company newsletter? Feature a client in every issue. Share information about your clients with other clients, or have them submit an article to share with your network. That is great exposure!
  8. Recognize your client’s important company milestones – founding dates, IPO dates, relocation or expansion dates, etc. Send a basket or gift to the staff to acknowledge their collective hard work to achieve the milestone. This is above and beyond necessary, but leaves an indelible impression with the staff, as well as your client!
  9. Host a lunch-and-learn event at your client’s office and bring in an expert. You might offer a leadership development program, brand empowerment workshop or communication training for your client’s staff. Let them know you are vested in their success as well.
  10. Pay it forward. Make a donation in your client’s name to a charity you feel passionate about. This is a great way to connect clients to non-profits, and it shows your charitable side, and connection to the community.
Showing appreciation is one of the greatest opportunities you have to reinforce your values and create goodwill. Pay it forward, show appreciation and you’ll be amazed at what comes back to you!
What are your favorite ways to show clients that you appreciate them?