September 16, 2014

Will you tell me what you think of my blog?

I’m going on vacation for two weeks so my blog will be going dark for a little while. I thought this would be a good time to ask you a big favor: Will you answer a few questions about my blog so I can make it better?

I have an easy survey tool provided to me by the good folks at FUSE that specialize in automated online surveys like the one that you are (I hope) about to take (special thanks to Charles Martin at FUSE and Joe Saylor for giving me a chance to try it out).

One of the things I like about the way Charles structures surveys is that he likes to keep it simple (there are just a few questions, we promise!). Another great characteristic of these surveys is that they don’t sound like you need a lab coat to take them. The tone of the questions is familiar and humorous without seeming trite. I got on the phone with Charles and worked with a template he had from doing surveys on other blogs and we whipped something together within 30 minutes (with some knowledgeable kibitzing from Joe, who blogs about B2B marketing.)

The link to take the survey is at the bottom of this post and will appear in the sidebar for a month or so.

I really appreciate that you take the time to read my blog. Thanks. I’ll be back in a couple of weeks fully energized with new ideas.

Take the survey here: http://conversation.i-op.com/topic/start/chriskoch1007/intro

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B2B social media lessons from Steven Slater and Mark Hurd

At first glance, Steven Slater seems like a total crackpot—cursing out a passenger on the intercom and snagging a few beers on the way to a fun-house exit on the inflatable emergency slide (admit it, haven’t you always wanted to slide down that thing yourself?).

But we’re in the era of social media now, so there are breadcrumbs in the forest that lead us to a fuller explanation of who Slater is and why he did what he did. Valleywag did a great piece on the trail of anguish Slater left on a social media site called Airliners.net about how airlines’ absurd baggage fees had caused an explosion in carry-on baggage that pits passengers against crew and puts everyone in danger.

Social media fills in the background to the blowup
Thanks to the site, we discover that Slater has loved flying since he was a kid. His father was an airline pilot and he waxed poetic about seeing planes take off. His posts chronicle the sweeping arc of frustration felt by a veteran flight attendant (he has been flying since 1990) over the steady decline of an industry that he clearly loves.

Following the trail of bread crumbs leads us to a caring, thoughtful person. Of course, he shouldn’t have done what he did, but it’s clear that his slide into the sunset is built on a foundation of heartfelt frustration rather than a crackpot’s whim.

Even the mighty leave a trail
From the yin of Slater we have the yang of Mark Hurd’s implosion at HP. It’s difficult to tell exactly what went on between Hurd and Jodie Fisher, but it isn’t hard to find a breadcrumb trail of what people of HP thought of him. And in the wake of his firing, that’s exactly what journalists and their audiences were interested in knowing. When the mighty fall, we all want to know what those involved really thought about the powerful icons.

You can do that on a social media site called Glassdoor. Go there and search on HP, and you can see that as of today anyway, employees are dissatisfied. And until Hurd was fired, his picture went next to that 2.4 out of 5 rating. The first review I saw listed under the search was entitled, “OK to work for, but watch your back.” Nothing like faint praise.

The data is available to pass judgment
In a piece on SiliconValley.com, they interviewed the CEO of Glassdoor, who was able to offer an assessment of Hurd’s reign based on over 1000 reviews of people who work there. As a researcher, I know that that is a pretty respectable survey sample. And since Glassdoor is a site with a higher purpose than ranting about your employer (people go there looking for job postings and to get a sense of the going salaries in their professions) it’s likely that it represents a fair cross section of HP employees, rather than just the angry ones.

The information from a social site like this changes how journalists can write about a huge company like HP. Rather than trying to craft an objective view of what HP employees thought of Hurd based on a handful of interviews with a few (possibly disgruntled) ex-employees, the reporter is able to build a credible case for the fact that, as it says on the headline, “Few HP workers shed a tear for Hurd.”

So what can we take away from all this as B2B marketing professionals? Here are a few thoughts:

  • We must monitor what’s being said about our companies online. The trajectory of Slater’s postings look a lot like the things that customers say about our complex B2B products and services, which have a much longer arc of relationship than B2C. Our customers aren’t going to do a United breaks guitars on us. They are much more likely to build a reasoned head of steam over a long period in places like message boards.
    Longtime customers look especially like Slater. They may have come on board at a time when your products and services offered more than they do now or worked differently. Like Slater, their expectations may be born of an entirely different era that they think was “better” than today. We need to keep track of the arc of sentiment and reach out to these customers before the blowup.
  • We must be able to engage with customers through social media. It isn’t enough to discover that customers are mad at us online. We need a process and people for reaching out to them. Imagine if someone at JetBlue had reached out to Slater based on his postings and asked him to talk about his growing frustrations? He certainly wouldn’t be facing federal charges and an end to a long career. Similarly, there are many ways we can intervene in our B2B customers’ frustrations. We can invite them to talk with an internal SME, create a session about the issue at the next user conference and invite to attend, etc.

What do you think? What else do we need to do?

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15 qualities of a good social media voice

When people ask about how to use social media tools like Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook, I suspect that they are really asking about how they should sound in those tools.

After all, the tools themselves are dead simple. You need a second hand on your watch to track how long it takes to set up a Twitter account, for example.

But developing a social media voice is a more complicated proposition.

A good starting point is to create a social media policy for the organization. But these policies are more like guardrails than signposts. Writing style guides can also help, but who has time to plow through them? Employees and subject matters experts need active support from marketers to develop their social media voices. In ITSMA’s social media survey, 68% said that marketing is the catalyst for social media. It’s worth our time to develop a brief guide to social media voice for employees that takes into account the unique attributes of your target audience.

I humbly offer these guidelines in the spirit of the B2B marketing guild. I’d love to hear your additions, comments, rants.

Here are some of the qualities that social media voices should have:

  • Authentic. I’m loath to use this one because it gets trotted out so often, but social media ups the ante for saying what you mean and meaning what you say at the time you’re saying it. In social media, buyers can connect synchronously with you and with their peers, they can react instantly, and they can do so through easily accessible tools like Twitter. Obfuscation used to be a way to buy time in an era when buyers had to write letters to the company president to get their complaints heard (and they had few ways to determine whether others were having the same problems). In social media, obfuscation only brings a swift, often large-scale, backlash.
  • Relevant. In social media, it isn’t just what you say; it’s the company you keep. Creating a responsive social media network means focusing on a subject that you know well and sticking to it so that people know what to expect from you. Remember that it’s as easy to disconnect from people in social media as it is to connect with them. Lack of relevance is a ticket to deletionville.
  • Empathetic. The best social media voices have a clear understanding of what it feels like to stand in their audiences’ shoes. We need to understand their experiences and offer content that fits their needs.
  • Generous. Sharing is the currency of social media. For example, Twitter updates that come with a link to something deeper to read (such as news, opinion, tips, research, and thought leadership) are more likely to be passed on, or retweeted, to others. Rarely do those links lead to paid content. Those who make their content freely available will have many more readers than those who don’t. Besides, it makes us feel good. Acts of generosity, it turns out, light up the same primitive, feel-good areas of the brain as sex and food do.
  • Responsive. Just when we think no one is listening to what we’re saying in social media, we’re likely to receive a message—often from someone we’ve never conversed with before. If we ignore these messages, we can hurt the feelings of those involved and lose opportunities to have interesting conversations that could contribute to our social media success. Blog comments, for example, should all receive a response from the blogger, even if it’s just one message thanking everyone for their time and good thoughts.
  • Helpful. Our helpful deeds in social media are often seen by many others who spread the help farther and enhance our reputation. Subject matter experts who answer questions on the Answers section of LinkedIn, for example, can grow their connections and build traffic to their blogs.
  • Original. It’s okay to link to news items or interesting blog posts, but chances are that many others have already done the same thing. The strongest social media voices are those that regularly contribute original ideas. Blogs are a great hub for creating and sharing original ideas, because readers can contribute to and refine the thinking (as I’m hoping you’ll do here!).
  • (More) Informal. Social media are designed to elicit conversation, yet most of that conversation happens in written form. That means we need a new standard for ourselves. We should make our writing sound more like the way we speak (when we’re at work). One way to judge whether you’re being too stiff (or overly casual) is to read your writing aloud before posting it. If it sounds too stuffy, overly long, or overwrought, simplify it. On the other hand, if it sounds like you aren’t old enough to have a driver’s license, put more thought into it.
  • Timely. Everybody loves a scoop. Gaining a reputation as the first with the latest news in your chosen subject area increases your relevance among others in your network and helps attract new followers. However, it helps to do a little research before sharing to make sure that the tidbit hasn’t been re-tweeted a million times already, or that there hasn’t been some change in the issue since you discovered it.
  • Persistent. Social media voices that appear and then disappear for long intervals create mistrust and apprehension. Was this just a passing fancy? Are you participating just to push messages? Do you have so little say that you needed a month off? The unwritten rule for blogs demands at least a post per week, for example. More than a month and people will begin to delete you from their RSS feeds.
  • Inspiring. As my friend Laura Nicholas points out, the best social media voices try to inspire others to action. For example, try looking at a perennial problem from an entirely different angle and asserting new ideas and thinking. You may inspire someone to share what you wrote because they see the value and want to enlighten others.
  • Grammatical. Sure, social media are more informal by default, but informal doesn’t mean you should sound like an idiot. Indeed, the more personal nature of the communications makes good skills even more important because all the misdeeds can be easily tracked back to their source. It’s okay to split an infinitive now and then, but the really obvious stuff—misspellings, misunderstood words, crappy punctuation, and internet shorthand (unless you are really short on space)—reflects poorly on the reputations of the communicators and their companies.
  • Communal. Just as we communicate differently in conversation than we do in writing, we have a different voice with groups than we do with individuals. In most cases in social media, we are speaking to a group. Depending on your reach and focus, the group can be homogenous or incredibly diverse. In B2B, it’s likely to be diverse, at least in terms of ages and backgrounds. Your voice should sound reasonable to everyone in that group.
  • Dialectal. We always hear that it’s wrong to use a lot of jargon, and in general it is, but only because most B2B marketers are usually trying to reach a general audience of both business and technical people. On the other hand, if you’re only trying to reach the techies, jargon may be expected, as marketer Jed Sundwall points out in this excellent presentation, Finding Your Social Media Voice. We need to understand the particular dialects of the audiences we’re trying to reach with social media.
  • Contextual. Social media are a lot like party conversations. Much depends on how long the conversation has been going on and what has already been said in your absence. The smartest blog comment sounds dumb if the point has already been debated in the comments section. Conversations in social media have a habit of diverging from their original course. Participants need to stop and assess the waters before plunging in.

What do you think? What are other important qualities to have in a social media voice?

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