There have been a lot of discussions about chief bloggers, social media experts and where blogging and social media fits inside an organization.
While establishing roles and responsibilities is important, there are a number of things an organization can do to start dipping its toes in - to use an already oft-invoked term - the conversation.
He is my kind of professional, someone who thinks that the convergence of marketing, advertising and PR on the Web has implications - for marketers, agencies, the enterprise and the individual. Start with that thought.
Marketers, communicators, public relations professionals may all be
suited to lead efforts in a new direction online (and off line), if they have the support of the leadership
team or whoever runs the business. The right individuals:
(1) understand what business the company is (or should be) in - conversation is a vehicle for the exchange of information and meaning, not an end in and of itself. Underlying every piece of information that is crafted should be a robust value proposition as in why customers buy what you make and do.
(2) connect the dots for your customers and for the organization - the most critical communication role in an organization is becoming that of the diplomat with a touch of storyteller. What are all the pieces you need? How do they fit together to convey meaning and transmit value? This means having the ability to cut through the organization horizontally. It also means having the ability to edit down, simplify, translate into human speak, made concrete with examples and facts.
(3) know who your content experts are - these are the engineers, the individuals in operations, the service delivery teams, the product or service development people. All those who have expertise in what your company's core business is and a stake in crafting its future. The closer to the customers, the better understanding of the issues, the hot buttons, the learnings.
How do you get started?
While you monitor coverage of your company, begin adding listening to the conversation to it. Truly paying attention to the sentiments, issues, opinions, and kind of talk that goes on out there about your company or your industry. Get comfortable with hearing what is being said. If people are not talking about you, it may mean a number of things. They may not know about you, they may associate you with a brand or a story that does not meet their needs in perception, etc.
As you learn about the types of topics the marketplace is interested in start doing a sanity check on what you are producing. Here's a suggestion that alone will save you a lot of time, effort, and budgets. Stop writing marketing fluff. Refrain from recycling the usual, tired speak. You know which words I am talking about - thought-leader, cutting-edge, premier, expert, etc. It's not about you.
By far the most important, actually vital, part of the effort is internal. Teaching the organization to collaborate across disciplines and titles will be probably your greatest challenge. That will be followed closely by that of getting people to understand the importance of committing to the conversation. The best way to overcome the first part is to help people overcome division for collaboration. Did I mention you need to be a diplomat?
Read this First!
I've shared with many who have joined live conversations with me that not every company is ready to join. Your customers may not want this kind of opportunity. You may already be doing a good job with the tools at hand - customer service works well, people are happy, your products are the envy of the industry and you already have fans galore.
It would also be nice if things were always that way. Companies get in trouble when they take their success for granted, as theirs alone - we have a formula and we can keep doing things this way. Why? Because the market changes and new companies come in to challenge older players often with little to lose and a positive attitude to boot. They take that attitude and apply it to underserved needs.
There are some cases in which your company can't join, as Peter Kim says. The organization is not ready. It may be an issue of culture, it may be an issue of clarity and organizational identity. Social media is not a new channel for the old tired marketing fluff or talk at from the company to its audiences. Seen as another way to just ask a bunch of people to write up stuff, edit, and post it online misses the point. If you have no desire to experiment, stay the course, and learn, if you expect the same scale as in mass marketing (especially initially), this is not for you.
Some toe dipping for the rest of us
Still reading? Ready to try a few things? In no special order, some of them will look very simple:
- hire great people and get out of their way - if you're not ready to listen to your colleagues, what makes you think you're ready to listen to your customers? Start exercising your listening muscles.
- learn to celebrate the right things - a product or service launch is just the beginning, not a destination. If you've done your work well, this will be requested in the marketplace. Good. Now how about staying the course? Let's not leave marketing and sales to hold the candle. How about the whole organization standing behind a product and service? Begin to appreciate accountability at every step of the way.
- read that press release as a reporter would - do you care? What clear benefits are there to users, customers, in some cases the industry at large? If a press release is the wrong medium, how else can you get the word out on an important enhancement, improvement of the customer experience, etc? Learn to think content first, then medium. This about your story. Lauren Vargas has a few ideas about that.
- join a conversation already happening to contribute - tell, don't sell. Take the opportunity to evaluate something on its merits. Share your informed opinion, give before you ask back.
- think humans first, technology second - it's a challenge with so many new tools available. Before you go ahead to make a software recommendation, for example, have you done your homework? How about a business needs analysis? Tools serve business strategy.
- be prepared to address questions, in some cases fast - challenging questions are symptoms, but they can become causes when not addressed. You want to know when you fail and frustrate so you can improve. You want to have the ability to explain why you need to say no. Your voice missing is a silence that will be filled. Why fast? Because the people who speak first are those who really care and want to give you a chance.
- give customers ways to receive the information how they want it - this can be a blank slate if you have bandwidth. If you don't, how about trying a few things online that are not the usual brochure or sell sheet and see how it goes? That will save a tree or two and keep dead inventory to a minimum. Success will give you momentum to create new ways of having conversations around needs.
- give your customers ways to vote on your upcoming promotion - what would happen if you gave customers and prospects the heads up on your new campaign? Hint: if they'd hit the unsubscribe button before you're out of the gate, you might want to take another look at what you're offering. This option is valid if you know who your customers are.
- get to know your customers - if you don't. Sometimes there is mis-alignment between who the company thinks their customers are, and who is buying its services. This can be a problem in marketing communications, service delivery, new product development, the whole business model. Get out of the office and start joining your customers.
- start with beliefs - mission, vision, even values statements run the risk of being a mere exercise in "what" and not become a living and breathing actionable of "why".
- tell stories that transmit your beliefs - share stories about your exceptional employees, community leaders, customers, even competitors when warranted.
- surprise customers (in a good way) - do something unexpected, not so much to delight, as much as a way to show appreciation for their business.
You may have noticed that I have not talked about blogging, or social networks, or wikis. These ideas are applicable to everything you do. Do you have more ideas? Add them to the comments and I will insert them in the post as an update. To which generation do your current and future customers belong? That will give you a sense of urgency on why and where.
© 2006-2009 Valeria Maltoni. All rights reserved.