Community Managers Know how to Roll the Dice

Susan Silver for Ariel Marketing Group

 

Today’s guest post is by the inimitable Susan Silver.  If you don’t follow her already, I strongly recommend it.

 

 

 

Yes, I am using the metaphor of Dungeons & Dragons to teach you all about what it takes to helm the leadership of a brand through social media.

As a long time D&D player I can tell you all about dice. Take for example the stability of a d4, its pyramid shape makes it difficult to knock over. Perhaps the glorious achievement of rolling a d20 to hit a foe and succeeding is the more thrilling example. Neither truly fit the community manager role. Nope, we are the DMs crafting a narrative where our followers are free to go on adventures.

3 Traits Community Managers and DMs share

  1. They know when to let things be.  You have to let players talk and speculate during the adventure. Similarly, you cannot control how people talk about your brand. Community managers monitor chatter so they can give encouragement, connect with community, resolve conflicts and respond to customer crises.
  2. They give community motivation  In RPGs motives are everything and there are often conflicts even among party members. Community managers need to give incentives to share, comment, and be involved with the brand. They must also understand the diversity that exists in their community and engage in appropriate ways with members.
  3. They fill many roles You can store the hats community managers wear in a bag of holding. At various times we are called upon perform the following activities: marketing, PR, customer service, event planning, statistics, analysis, writing, editing, and leadership. Do you feel overwhelmed yet?

The main thing to highlight is the importance of crafting a narrative for your brand that will resonate with customers. We are living in an era where emotional and compelling stories are taking center stage. Ultimately when there is little difference between two companies, customers will buy a product based on which they feel is promoting values similar to their own. This makes the community manager’s job essential to sales even if we cannot directly tie the two together statistically.

Communication: More important than ANYTHING

I would have put this post up yesterday, but I couldn’t because I spent the entire day waiting for Verizon to come and install my internet and phone line in my new office. It wouldn’t have been so bad if they hadn’t set me up for disappointment by setting the appointment time between 8 am and 12 noon.

Steam may not have been rising out of my ears at noon if they’d call to tell me that their technician was tied up on a previous call.customer service

My voice may not have sounded so strained if, before they missed the second deadline of 2 pm, they called to tell me that they were pushing it until 5 pm, and if the employee arrives at 4:59 pm I’m to wait until he’s finished.

I wouldn’t be thoroughly disgusted with them right now if ANY communication about their poor scheduling was initiated by them instead of me. Or, if I hadn’t waited on hold for over 30 minutes calling them each time.

This post isn’t simply to rag on Verizon, although God knows they deserve it. Sadly, bad communications happen all the time. The result is always an angry, possibly former customer.

And it is almost always avoidable.

Most people are kind, patient and understanding… but they aren’t when you treat them with disdain. Not communicating is always interpreted by the customer as your company not caring. Contacting them as soon as you know of an issue avoids a lot of the negative experience issues they’ll have if you don’t.

Think about it this way: for every single dollar you spend on marketing and positive PR, one bad episode of non-communication can repay that, times 10, with negative publicity. Think about it, what do you do when you’ve been mistreated by a company? For one, you probably blast them on your social media network, more than likely complain about them when you get together with your friends. If you have a blog & you’re a marketer like me, you probably craft a post based on your bad experience.

That’s a whole lot of organic negative pr going on about a company for simply blowing the communication.

Even if my high-speed internet is rip-roaring fast and never a problem, I’ll have a sour taste in my mouth for how lousy I was treated from the outset. Your customers are no different. You may deliver the greatest product in your industry, but if you blow the communications and make you customer feel like you don’t care about them, their network will hear all about it.

8 Social Media Housekeeping Tips for 2013

I didn’t write any ‘grand master plans for 2013’ posts this year, but now that we’re into 2013 it’s time for a social media reorganizing post. To get yourself together, here’s a short list of to dos:

  1. Get a new profile picture if yours is older than 12 months, EVEN if you love it. Yes, 2 years ago I had probably the  Social Media Housekeeping by Ariel Marketing Group best picture of me ever for my profile pic, but, I get older every year just like you do. Being honest crosses over to how you look TODAY too. Upload it to ALL of your networks.
  2. Set up your Gravatar if you haven’t already.  “Your Gravatar is an image that follows you from site to site appearing beside your name when you do things like comment or post on a blog.”  Your face is part of your brand, and in the social world people want to know you personally.
  3. Set up or clean up your Brand Yourself  profile.  It can help you improve your Google ranking and ensure that the information is accurate.
  4. Review your Linked In Profile, update your job status, and ask for Recommendations that you think will be helpful explaining how well you do what you do.  Give Recommendations to those whose service you value.  Ignore Endorsements entirely, as they’re a cheap scam and a big mistake LinkedIn never should have made.
  5. Review the number of blogs coming to your inbox, and cull the ones that aren’t absolutely beneficial to you.  There is a lot of great information out there, but you can’t absorb it all.  Staying current on the good ones, and active in their communities is far more effective than trying to be everywhere..
  6. Update every brand page you have, from Facebook to Merchant Circle; even if you’re not active on the channel, make sure your information is accurate.
  7. Change out your Twitter Background if it’s no longer relevant.  Update your lists; review the folks you follow and make sure they’re compartmentalized into those lists.
  8. Do a total Social Media review: if you’re using Social to market, which platforms are working? Which have diminished in value?  Are there new or niche platforms that may work better?

I try to review the above once every 6 months, but sometimes things slip by the wayside, so at the start of each new year I focus on updating and refreshing them all.    That way I can charge into the New Year feeling relatively ‘together.’  If I’ve missed any tips I’d love to hear from you.

Reducing Buyer Anxiety Leads to Higher Conversions, Happier Customers

Joe Francisco Medelita Lab Coats and Scrubs

 

 

Our guest blogger this week is Joe Francisco, President and CMO of Medelita.com.  He is a tech savvy businessman who has been building his company using digital marketing as the foundation of his company’s marketing strategy.

Follow Medelita on Twitter and Facebook.

 

In 2011 Medelita was growing our online business, but not as fast as we would have liked. We were still in the launch phase of our business attending over 40 medical conferences in 2011 to introduce our products and brand Medelita Lab Coats and Scrubsto our key customer base; physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, dentists and veterinarians.

Our customers told us we had a great product. We experienced success selling our lab coats and medical scrubs at medical conferences throughout the United States and Canada. Customers were reacting very positively to ancillary services we provide such as free name and title embroidery and custom logo embroidery for group orders. Our goal was to replicate the medical conference experience through our website, www.medelita.com.

We needed to remove the new customer’s anxiety regarding the price, fit and sizing, and make it easy for them to understand the embroidery process. 85% of our orders receive some type of embroidery. 75% of the visitors to our site were new and we needed to convert them. We could not continue to go to 40 medical conferences per year. There just aren’t enough margins in our product to support these astronomical sales costs.

So we set out on another redesign of our site and emphasized “eliminating buyer anxiety.”

How’d we do it?

1.  Complimentary shipping on everything: orders, exchanges and returns. Truly FREE shipping.
2.  Our toll-free number and click-to-chat on every product page.
3.  Built a whole new interface for embroidery inspired by www.indochino.com
4.  Extended our Professional Courtesy Guarantee from 90 to 180 days.
5.  We added a powerful recommendation to our size guide – “Order two sizes. Shipping is free both ways.”
6.  Made returns insanely easy. Including a return label in sizing orders and making label and forms easy to access from customer’s accounts.

We launched most of these initiatives in 1Q212 with positive results:

1.  8 months at historic high conversion rates and a huge November.
2.  YOY traffic up by nearly 60%
3.  Dramatic increases for our brand searches.

Feedback is positive with extremely high Biz Rate reviews, daily effusively happy emails from customers and repeat business. We took what we learned about our customers’ fears and our success in direct selling and applied it to eCommerce.

The Confidence to Question Your Heroes

I believe in having heroes. My entire life there have been people who astounded me with their leadership, and I have aspired to be more like them. First there was my grandmother, and then my beloved high school teacher,social media heroes Lewis K. Webster.  As I moved into adulthood, I found additional heroes… and many of them were from the business world.   My main heroes outside of the 2 already named, are:

1. Muhammed Ali

2. Howard Schultz

3. Bill Gates

4. Richard Branson

5. Warren Buffet

All men of incredible success who maintained an immense humanity.

There have been other heroes I’ve outgrown or began to see through a different light as I grew.  Teddy Roosevelt, once my all time favorite American, appears to me now as admirable but impetuous man.

When I entered the Social Media world I was overwhelmed with how much I needed to learn.  There were so many Rockstars, Gurus and Experts I was overwhelmed again.  I latched onto a few who were accessible and had large followings; I read every post, newsletter and communication they put out.  It seemed that the more I learned, the more I realized I didn’t know – for months on end I couldn’t catch my breath trying to keep up with every new network and application.

Over time I found my bearings and started to understand this ‘social thing.’  It s became clear to me that Social Media had changed a lot about how consumers and brands communicate, but it had not changed everything; business is still business.  Being strategic minded, understanding the importance of a great product and excellent customer service, knowing how to build a culture within a company – all of those things aren’t ‘fixed’ or developed with Social Media.  As this thought process began to crystallize  some of the the communications from my Social Heroes began to look a bit fluffy; when you dug deep, you saw that it was the same advice recycled regularly – often aimed at getting me to buy into their latest scheme.

A wise friend of mine suggested that I go and check out the LinkedIn profiles of many of these ‘gurus’ prior to 2006. Too often I found very little actual business experience.

All is not lost; along the way I have met a lot of smart, social and business savvy folks that provide me with insightful posts and interesting discussions.  I don’t know that I look for Social Heroes anymore… it seems redundant, considering the fact that most of the people I admire in business today understand the power of Social anyway.

The lesson, of course, is to continue to question those you look up to. If they’re worth admiring, they’ll be able to withstand your critical eye.

If Mark Cuban is right, you should rethink your Facebook marketing strategy.

The post Mark Cuban wrote last week about Facebook really resonated with me.  I can’t get these words out of my head:

People go to Google Search with every intention of leaving it. They want to “engage, click an

Cuban was actually ranting about Facebook’s new policy of charging brands to reach the followers they’ve worked hard to collect, but that’s a different story.  What I can’t stop thinking about is:d leave”.  On the exact opposite side of the spectrum, people go to FB with the expectation that it is very likely they will stay on FB for an extended period of time. In fact we spend more than 26 minutes per day on FB. As this study said, FB is an alternative to boredom. FB is far more like TV than it is Google Search.

If Facebook is like TV, should our Facebook ads act more like TV Ads?Is Facebook advertising interruption marketing?

I disagree with Cuban that Facebook is just a time-waster; people spend time on the network to connect with family and friends, for entertainment, for product reviews, political discussion and for a zillion other reasons.  We ENGAGE  on FB; it’s a whole lot more than just plunking your rear down in front of Jersey Shore for some good old fashion television escapism.  Watching  TV is a passive experience, unless you’re in my family and you enjoy shouting at Jeopardy.

But Cuban’s right, using Facebook is not the same as searching on Google.  Your Facebook follower is not on the network to seek out a product; flashing PPC ads won’t work – they’re far too intrusive.

So, if we agree that a Facebook user is engaged and interacting, unlike TV, but not specifically ‘shopping’ for something, like someone using search, how do you craft an effective post to grab their attention without being annoyingly intrusive?  And that is the $64,000 question.

The answer: differently than either TV or PPC.  I know, some help that is, right?

It’s a difficult question to answer because there are a whole host of additional questions that have to be answered before you even begin to get creative:

  • Who is your target customer?
  • Are they on your page?
  • What other networks do they hang out on?
  • What problems can you solve for them?
  • What are their biggest complaints about what they’re using now?
  • What have they reacted to positively in the past?
  • What pisses them off about Social Marketing?

Creating any effective ad is tricky, difficult work. Crafting an effective one for Facebook can be even more complex because the space is still so new and ever changing.  The honest answer is that you really have to know your customer to get it right.

Should You “Dabble” in Social Media?

A smart marketing friend and I have had a few discussions revolving around the question:Dabble in Social media

What is the proper response time for Social Media complaints?

He has stated a few times (and I’m paraphrasing here, because he is fully capable of making his own argument) that our expectations are too high; we, as in the social junkies, expect responses within hours if not minutes.  There are situations that are too complex, and companies that are too busy, to fix a problem or get an answer to you in a matter of hours.

I agree wholeheartedly with that thought process: some problems are complex and require time to sort out.    However, I do not think there is an acceptable excuse for not RESPONDING quickly, as in within hours. His question for me then was “‘What if company x is just dabbling in Social Media.’

I had to think on that one.

OK, I’ve thought.  Here’s my answer:

You should not dabble in Social Media.

I understand that not every small business owner is internet or tech savvy; some of us are just too busy getting work done to maintain a Small Business Facebook Page or Twitter account and respond within hours.  If that describes your business approach to social media, my advice is: get off of the social networks.

Here’s why: having a Social Profile means that your social savvy customers will find you there, and when they do, they’ll expect you to use it as a channel of communication.  If you are only going to check it infrequently, you are opening yourself up to unintentionally disappointing your customers who reach out to you via your page or profile.  It’s like setting up a voice mail at your business and only checking it weekly.

Do I think really Small Business should abandon social marketing? Absolutely not. But if you can’t commit to checking your social pages and profiles at least a couple of times a day, then perhaps you should rethink your social existence.  It is supposed to be a 2 way conversation, and if you’re not listening and responding, they’ll stop wanting to talk to you at all.

THIS is how you do Social Customer Service

A friend of mine had a very valid complaint about FB iFrames.com’s website auto-playing music, so she did what many irritated customers would do these days: she posted her complaint on the FB iFrame Facebook Page.

What happens next you can see for yourself:

Customer Service on Facebook

FBiframes responded to her initial complaint within 7 minutes, and then apparently fixed the problem within 20.  When I looked through the complaints posted by others, it appears that it is their regular practice to respond within a couple of hours (often much more quickly) to any post on their wall.

I’ve had many discussions with marketing friends of mine about what is a decent response time when someone complains online, and we often have differing opinions.  I’ve been told on more than one occasion that the expectations of social marketers is unrealistic; companies at times cannot immediately respond.   I disagree with that thought process.  It may be that your company cannot fix the problem within a matter of hours, but if you are going to play in the social arena, you need to be listening when your customers complain and at the very least, respond within hours if not minutes.

Is that an unrealistic expectation?  I don’t think that’s a marketer’s call to make.  Social connectivity has changed what your customers expect, and responding in lightening speed to at least let them know they were heard certainly may stop them from looking for another, more responsive, competitor.

Bad Social Practices Blow Up in the Middle of the Night

Last night I was on Facebook at 1am  – I know, sad, but also rare. I was unwinding after a long brainstorming session and just surfing around.  Then I see my friend Danny Brown calling out Oracle Social for adding him to a page he never Liked. I wander over to the page and find that I too had apparently “Liked” the page too without my knowledge, and loads of my friends had as well.  The comment section was growing rapidly with others making the same complaint.

So there, for at least 30 minutes in the wee hours of the morning, Oracle Social was growing thousands of Likes per minute, its comment section was blowing up with complaints, and no Community Manager could be found.  The forced followers debated whether this was malware, customer acquisition or even a fake page.  Social savvy people started tweeting and emailing corporate.  Many of us reported the page a spam.

At around 1:30 am I gave up, went to bed, and thought: THIS will be great fodder for Spin Sucks and other blogs with huge PR/Marketer followings.

At 8:15 am I check back in, sure that there will be some resolution: utter silence from Oracle.  The comment section is full of pissed off people, and coincidentally or not, many of them are Marketers who are social ‘experts,’ although they’ll all detest that title.

We still don’t know exactly what’s going on, but we do know one thing: Oracle has dropped the ball on this one in a huge way. People have been on a Facebook Page that bears their brand complaining loudly, and there is total social silence.  Their corporate twitter accounts and email have been contacted: social silence.  Add that to the fact that many of us are bloggers and you have one very loud, pissed off contingent that you have not even begun to dialogue with.

When these PR stumbles happen at large companies, we always ask: what should we realistically expect? What is an appropriate response time?  Some have argued that hours, or even an entire day is ok.  I disagree; even managers of small  Facebook Pages check in first thing in the morning. Saturday morning in particular is a heavy usage time on Facebook and Twitter… is it really possible that no one at Oracle knows about this yet?  I doubt it.

The Oracle Social page is almost up to 1 million likes, from zero last night; sometimes it’s not so great to have a large audience.

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You can’t DO Social Media

DISCLAIMER: I have absolutely no intention of joining the inane argument about which generation should be in charge of your Social Media community.  Statements like “No one over/under 25…” make me furious because it is so ridiculous to judge anyone based solely on their age.

However, like all of us older Social Media geeks, I have encountered the discussion in real life far too many times. Over the past 2 years I’ve had an ongoing ‘debate’ with a young man who started a ‘Social Media Management’ You can't DO Social Mediacompany; he once declared that ‘in 5 years there will be nothing BUT Social Media Marketing.’  I know, it’s another discussion not worth having because it is based on idiocy.  Very few companies can thrive with only ONE marketing tactic driving their sales.  TV, print, signage, email marketing… they’ll all change in the next 5 years.  Social Media will change too… but none of them are going away.

Just today I discovered that this same Social Media Management company did something that burns me, and should burn everyone else who ever reaches out to a Facebook Business Page for customer service:

They deleted a negative post.

Young and old friends – Never, Ever do this.  Not unless the post contains language that will offend your audience.

If someone takes time out of their day to reach out to your company for help, HELP them. The removed post wasn’t rude, it was simply requesting help after repeatedly calling and emailing.  Not only was it removed,  it wasn’t even RESPONDED TO.

This brings me back to one of my most persistent gripes about Social Media: It isn’t there for the DOING.  It is a tool. A Tactic. An incredible communication tool for small business.  Sure, people will complain.  And, just like in Real Life, every customer complaint is an opportunity for relationship building. If the complainant is so irrational that you cannot build a relationship with them, your patient, professional dialogue about their issue gives you the opportunity to build trust with the other people listening.

What has me so fired up about this type of ‘delete’ is that I know how very hard small businesses work to gain customers. I know that, especially in THIS economy, each one is so precious. Erasing any of them is criminal.  And I am convinced that this sort of reaction is what “doing Social Media” is. But that’s not good enough. You need to have a strategy, a plan… you need to nurture your online community.  You need to be there for the good and the bad.  You need to be prepared, in advance, for the bad and how you will react to it.

Here’s the myth debunked: Social Media is no different than real life customer relations.  Whatever you should do in a Real Life situation should be done in your Social Communities too.  Would you hang up on a disappointed customer, or would you try to resolve the issue professionally?  I think everyone knows the answer when they just stop and THINK about it.  Social Media, like the telegraph, phone, and email before it, is simply a new communication tool.  Don’t loose your marbles trying to ‘do’ it, and just ‘do’ good business.