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Keep your event social channels open

June 13, 2011
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I just got back from managing the social media activities for my biggest event yet. The event was much bigger than last year, and not surprisingly, so was the volume of Twitter chatter. Of those thousands of tweets last week, there’s one that still sticks with me.

I’ve been working with this event team for two years now and have been extremely lucky that there’s very little hesitance to keep all of our social channels open. Frankly, I see no point in highlighting or promoting any social channel if you’re not going to display it without filter. First, that goes against the very nature of social media—filters remove that social aspect. Second, because of that implicit social aspect, any filter will likely be noticed and publicly called out, often to the detriment of the filtering party.

Even beyond those two pragmatic reasons, I advocate open channels for the principle of it. If you’re not going to embrace your social community, why bother? I’d much rather facilitate open social sharing and watch a few zingers come through, than close off a digital conversation that is inherently open.

I believe letting that conversation take its natural course benefits consumers and brands alike. Consumers are able to freely share opinions and ask questions without feeling fettered by risk averse or metric-minded brand managers. This is particularly important in industries where consumers feel ignored or easily disenfranchised. As an event planner, I appreciate this open conversation for the gems of insight that come from uninhibited access and contribution to the community stream of consciousness.

So how do you put this principle in action? First, you must appreciate the heartburn this will likely cause your executives, and therefore your self. Set the expectation up front that you (and the entire community) might see snark, sarcasm, outright condemnation, and even cussing. After more than two years working on social media for events, I can tell you to definitely expect snark and sarcasm, and most likely off-color humor. You will also likely take some potshots—every company and product has its lovers and haters. Some of those potshots you’ll want to respond to, some you won’t. But overall, my experience has been mostly positive.

Then, decide where your comfort zone and support are. We embed Twitter streams on our web sites, encourage photo sharing, and commenting on our Facebook page. But I also make sure that someone is on site to monitor and contribute to each of those channels. I want my brand/event represented in the stream, but I also want to monitor it for any flare-ups or required followup. Just because it’s open doesn’t mean I don’t keep my eye on it!

Finally, be sure to report the conversations back to your stakeholders. I like to provide daily snapshot reports that show volume as well as general sentiment. Show the good and the bad—provide your stakeholders with the fruit of the open conversation. If you have a product launch at the event, share the launch-related buzz with that product team. At events, you’ll inevitably see feedback on the event itself, so be sure to pass that on to the event planners. Use the content of that open conversation to influence improvement and growth in your programs.

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An Intro HP’s Enterprise Social Media COE

May 10, 2011
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I’ve had the pleasure and satisfaction of being involved from the ground up in the HP Enterprise Business Social Media Center of Expertise (COE). I was the first person to join a fledgling team in November of 2008 to create a team that, at the time, was merely a gleam in our Director’s eye. Now we’re a team of six people who have collaborated to create an innovative group that works across the entire Enterprise division to empower and support our HP employee social media contributors. We’ve had two fantastic managers who have led us to this point, one of whom presented at the BlogWell conference How Big Brands Use Social Media on March 29, 2011.

I invite you to listen to Mia Dand’s (follow her blog and on Twitter) presentation on our Center of Expertise so you can see how we’ve grown to become an integral part of the Enterprise division. Without a doubt, because the social landscape evolves so quickly, we still have growing to do, but in this 25 minute video you’ll see how a small team of six dedicated personnel can help grow and influence a contingent of over 500* social media contributors for a brand.

*Mia mentioned 300-odd SoMe contributors, but that has since grown to well over 500.

What retail taught me about social media interaction

February 28, 2011

My first job was working as a clerk at a family-owned high-end department store. Such businesses have a unique culture that I think is fading away in this era of big chain stores and online retailers. The owners, employees, and shoppers many connections in a close-knit community. It occurred to me that my job in retail has shaped many of the principles that are now natural to me in my role in customer communications.

A little empathy and tact goes a long way: Let’s face it. The customer is not always right. More appropriately, the saying should be “the customer is always convinced they’re right.” You can’t tell them they’re not right without escalating the problem. Changing conviction is an onerous and often unattainable task. Retailers spend oodles of energy deflecting that conviction into something productive. In today’s world of instant social fame (or infamy), one customer’s disenchantment soon becomes a company’s heartburn. All too often, this right-vs.-wrong battle takes place because a customer was initially made to feel like their situation was misunderstood or unimportant. That misstep happens as soon as the customer voices their displeasure, so you’ve got to address that customer head on with as much empathy and tact as possible. Show them you hear them and that you’re willing to do all that’s in your power to help them.

Customers focus on the negative unless you give them something positive: I think this is a largely human trait—we tend to talk more about the bad than the good. It’s easier to be critical than constructive. Knowing that tendency, I want to provide customers with a really great experience so that’s what they think about when they consider revisiting my store. This doesn’t just apply to your products or your service, this applies to the way you conduct yourself online. Do you respond to customers who mention you? Do you provide helpful information that’s easy to find? Do you take customer privacy seriously? Make as many aspects of your online and social interactions work really well so your followers keep following.

Presentation and perception matters: When you go to a high-end department store, the staff are all well dressed, the floors are clean, and the merchandise is tidy. Why? Because all of that reflects on the company. The same goes for your social presence—it is a reflection of you and the company you represent.  Brand your social channels and ensure they’re all connected.  Make sure your content is relevant, accurate, and error-free.

Offer help, let them choose to accept it: The pushy salesmen are universally avoided on show floors. No one likes to be shadowed by a hovering clerk when you’ve already expressed your desire to browse on your own. The beauty of social networks for consumers is that consumers control the volume and filters. Make yourself available to them, but don’t force your content, connections, or assistance down their throats.

Courtesy and recognition seal the deal: My most loyal customers were the ones I recognized on sight or even over the phone. I knew their habits and preferences and could tailor their experience with that in mind. More importantly, I could genuinely tell them I looked forward to seeing them again. We humans are fundamentally social yet egocentric creatures. Show your followers that you know them and appreciate them.

Have you learned lessons from previous jobs that shape your social media marketing?

A trick to HootSuite bulk scheduling

January 9, 2011
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I finally had a chance to try out the relatively new HootSuite bulk scheduling feature for Pro account users. It wasn’t pretty. What should have been a cut-and-dry  process—according to the HootSuite instructions, anyway—turned into over an hour of frustrated file swapping and forum surfing. When I finally got it to work, though, I swear an angelic chorus sounded from above. So here is some background and my solution that, knock on wood, is working for me consistently.

Bulk scheduler basics

After you’ve logged in to your HootSuite dashboard, click in the “Compose message” box, then on the calendar “Schedule Message” icon. This pops up the scheduler window, which has a “Schedule in Bulk” button. Click there to pull up the bulk scheduler. Basically, you upload a CSV file with a time stamp, message, and URL, which the HootSuite servers then parse to create your pending posts.

Scheduler frustrations

Ater visiting HootSuite’s help portal, I discovered that I wasn’t the only one having problems. Most issues seem to be rooted in users’ tool-of-choice (usually Microsoft Excel) for creating CSV files. I read the whole bleepin’ thread and still couldn’t get my CSV file to upload properly.

One user suggestion was to use Google Docs spreadsheets to create the CSV file. I tried that but still got an error that my date strings weren’t correct.

Multiple HootSuite support personnel posts suggested that people should use plain text editors to ensure proper  markup in the CSV file. Sorry folks, but wrong answer. If I wanted to take the time to edit a CSV file with up to 50 entries, checking to make sure each column has commas, etc., I wouldn’t be bothering with this. Without the ability to edit in spreadsheet format, the feature loses a significant aspect of its convenience. Then again, maybe most people are more patient them I am.

My final solution

I have now gotten this to work properly on three consecutive uploads, so hopefully it will work for you. If you plan to use a spreadsheet program like Excel, here’s what I do.

  1. Start with a fresh spreadsheet. Do not use the sample CSV file that HootSuite provides if you plan to use a spreadsheet program like Excel. Excel does some sort of auto-formatting (which I have yet to figure out how to disable) that makes the CSV-XLS-CSV formatting unpredictable.
  2. Format cells as General Text. Do not use auto-formatting for your time stamp column. This also seems to cause unpredictability in the XLS-CSV conversion. Some users suggested using the Date format in Excel, but I could not get a consistent result doing that.
  3. Save two versions of your spreadsheet. Work with your content in a document saved as an Excel spreadsheet (XLS or XLSX) until you’re ready to upload. Then save it as CSV.
  4. Don’t pre-shorten your URL’s. Some of the URL’s I pre-shortened worked, some didn’t. So I’ve just decided to enter the full URL in my spreadsheet.
  5. Create separate spreadsheets for each network. You have to select the network you want to post to when you upload your CSV file. Don’t try to create tabs in one spreadsheet for each network as this will mess up your CSV export (CSV files don’t support tabs).

I hope these tips help! Please let me know if you found other tricks to help the process along.

Feature wishlist

There are two big things I’m hoping HootSuite will improve in the scheduling feature. Okay, three. First, the CSV parsing is very picky, so any way they can make that more forgiving will surely reduce the number of tickets they have to open. Beyond that, the biggies are:

  • Create a shortcut to access the bulk scheduler. Give me a menu option or button on the homescreen so I don’t have to click through the message composer to get to the feature.
  • Provide support for multiple networks in one CSV. A column to designate which network to post to would be super convenient. Please!

You can’t get out what you don’t put in

October 15, 2010

A short Twitter exchange recently unearthed some angst I’ve buried about business of social media. Two years ago when I started my full-time role as a social media manager, there was a lot of heady wonder at the opportunity social networking held for businesses and our customers. Social networking was “free,” after all, so why not toss our cap in? I believe that time+people=success, and my tweet that “‘Free’ kills SoMe at budget time” is about how frustrating it can be to catch budget dollars for something that’s supposed to be “free.” Even if a Twitter account is free, it takes time, effort, and thoughtful stewardship to result in something relevant. The same goes for any social network. But in times when budget is tightly limited, and new headcount is even more rare, what’s a SoMe marketer to do?

Even after two years, “ROI” is still the primary concern I hear and read from execs and marketing managers. The angst that’s surfacing wants to taunt those managers and demand to know why they want Return in a space where Investment is still scarce. Sure, the Powers That Be might throw a few people at social media to see what they could accomplish on a shoestring budget. But aside from a few notable and high-profile companies, I don’t see businesses, on a wide scale and especially in the B2B space, truly investing in social media.

Successful investment requires

  • Upper management, including IT, displays tangible support of social media: Budget decisions and business objectives begin at the top. Without executive buy-in from the top-down, social media projects will remain last-minute additions that are forced to tin-cup for resources. And money speaks loudest, whether it’s headcount, equipment, or service providers. Lip service only goes so far.
  • Headcount is allocated, educated, and developed in-house: A company’s brand is reflected in its people. Yes, sometimes you need to bring in fresh ideas to shake things up, but don’t you want your most public interactions driven by someone who knows your company inside and out? Knowledge is one of a organization’s most treasured (and oft overlooked) jewels—cultivate it and show it off! When you find someone that is knowledgeable, passionate, and motivated, put them in a place where their light will really shine. This requires flexible organization planning, another of those corporate details that seems to get hidden away during tough economic times.
  • Social media participation reaches all ranks of an organization: Social media is, well, social. Sure, you need dedicated people setting the course and providing the foundation, but social media should be embraced throughout an organization. Again, make the most of your organizational knowledge and empower employees at all ranks to represent your brand.
  • Marketing services become both shared and dedicated: To make that organization-wide spread feasible, you’ll need both shared and dedicated resources. Invest in talent for foundational elements that can be shared by all business teams. But those shared resources won’t always have the business-specific expertise or exposure need by some teams, so consider dedicated resources in those teams, too. You could think of it as corporate functional teams bolstered by business unit subject experts.

So when you’re thinking about building your business plans and justifications for next year, be sure to include the Investment that’s required to give you a Return. You can’t get out what you don’t put in.

@beccataylor’s #FF roundup for 3/19

March 19, 2010

A roundup of the useful, interesting, and/or fun tidbits I found this week via the fantastic tweeple I follow:

Social Networking: Work or Play?

March 17, 2010

Many professionals still wonder if social networking is worth their time. Social media IS an important business asset for both individuals and companies. So I visited AWC Houston to show members how they can sift through the myriad options and get started on just a few networks to help enhance their professional lives.

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