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Social Is Responsible for 57% of Your Sales Funnel

Social is 57% of Your Sales Funnel

Recently, I asked the question does social matter? and explained that the internet and social media have fundamentally altered the ways that businesses and customers interact with one another to develop relationships, manage the customer experience, and to buy and sell products.

Today, we’re going to look at how Social Media has horned in and taken responsibility for over half of your organization’s sales funnel.

The internet has democratized the traditional sales funnel.

Before the internet made it possible for you to Google reviews about a company, the only info that existed about the organization you wanted to buy from existed in the form of advertisements and marketing collateral. That information came straight from their marketing department or agency, and their only goal was to serve you the info you would need to hand them your money. 

In other words, that information was suspect. 

But, you couldn’t know if the marketing info was accurate or not without buying. The availability of word of mouth reviews of the company would be limited to your immediate social circle of about 100-200 people.

Then the internet and social media came along. Suddenly you can google a review of anything, and find it. You can hop on Twitter and see what people are saying about @foobrand right that instant. You’re watching the unfiltered customer experience unfold in front of your eyes, and you can decide for yourself if the organization is living up to its brand promise or not.

Social is 57% of your Sales Funnel

In a recent study, Google and CEB found,

“Business buyers do not contact suppliers directly until 57 percent of the purchase process is complete.”

That means for more than half of the sales process, your customers are not in contact with your salesforce, but are self-serving themselves the information they need to buy. During that time your sales team can’t guide your potential customers through the funnel, so your social strategy has to pick up the slack and address that 57% of the funnel.

Product information is either pushed by your organization, or pulled by customers doing research. Information you push is carefully managed to ensure the greatest possibility of the sale.

Potential customers are going to pull the information they need to make an informed purchase, and social is one of the primary places they are going to pull from. They’re going to pull it from social precisely because it’s impossible for you to micromanage your brand on social. Potential customers know that current customers are going to tell people exactly what it’s like to do business with you.

Are there more positive, testimonial-esque interactions, or are there more complaints? We know that customers resort to social as a last resort, so you can assume a high numbers of negative social interactions (relative to positive ones) indicates a high volume of unsatisfied customers.

How quickly is the company responding to customers and potential customers on social? Customers will have issues, and will need support. Companies that get it, have teams in place to respond within a few minutes (30 at the most).

Good social support looks like the following

  1. A fast response
  2. A bespoke response – Details matter. Copy/pasting on social indicates a major part the customer experience is an afterthought. What about the part that happens behind the scenes? Ugh.
  3. Empathy in the response. Customers that feel heard are happy, referenceable customers, even if they have a large problem.
  4. The brand accepts responsibility for getting to a resolution quickly.

Support is sales at this point. Your sales team is either empowered by the social support happening the public eye, or they have to work that much harder to win the sale.

Your social team is already addressing that 57% of the funnel, whether you want them to or not.

They are either addressing it like United Airlines, and turning potential customers off, or they’re addressing it like Virgin America, and blowing customers’ and potential customers’ minds with a great experience. Your social presence is a direct reflection of your customer experience.

If your social presence sucks, customers will opt out and never make it all the way to your well-trained sales team. If your social is awesome, it becomes lead generation. Customers pick up the phone and call you with over half of their questions answered.

Customer Relationships and Lead Gen….

Relationships built by your social media team can be developed and taken “offline” to email, phone calls, in-person interactions, and then to sales. At first, 140 characters doesn’t seem like much, but that’s the beauty of it. The commitment to engage 140 characters is such a small one that it’s easier to start the initial conversation on Twitter than picking up the phone.

And once you’ve got the conversation started on social, you can begin developing trust – trust that will show up in every subsequent stage of your sales funnel.

The trust also gets stored as brand equity that will transform into testimonials, social media conversations, and customer advocates who will proudly represent your organization to their own social following. Suddenly, your social efforts have a positive network effect. They are a self-sustaining reaction of positive customer experiences visible to the entire world.

At that point, all your sales team has to do is say,

“I’m just a sales guy. Don’t take my word for it. Look at what real customers are saying on Twitter right now. I’ll wait.”

Suddenly, your existing customers are part of your salesforce. 

Now, you still have to have a mind-blowingly good product and customer experience. Those are table stakes. No amount of marketing can prop up a terrible product for very long.

But once you’ve got the product and the experience moving, using social interactions to connect with customers at every stage of the purchase process, builds your organization’s brand and stellar reputation, and affect your sales in a measurable way. Just ask customers, “where did you hear about us?” and track how many come in from social.

Social matters in a huge way to your sales team and your bottom line. Ignore social, you’re not just ignoring those fuzzy words like “brand” and “community” and “relationships.”

If you ignore social, you’re ignoring the first 57% of your funnel.

Hope this helps.

Austin W. Gunter

Does Social Matter?

Does Social Matter?

My good friend, Jacqueline Hughes, has made her career out of being social. In the growing Austin tech scene, Jacqueline is the go-to person for events, outreach, digital marketing, and connecting businesses with customers. Currently, she’s producing events for the Austin TechStars. She also helped found and produce the quickly-growing Austin Startup Week, and has worked with a bunch of startups in the city.

Jacqueline and I both started our careers during the recession in 2009-2010. At the time, I don’t think I realized how a terrible time it was to be a new college graduate (with a liberal arts degree, no less) searching for work. But I still look back with admiration at Jacqueline’s approach to building her reputation and her career from scratch.

Jacqueline’s secret was to get very social, very fast.

Rather than bide her time and wait for the economy to improve, she made a list of every single tech-related event in Austin and started attending all of them; 3-5 a day sometimes. At first she was just somebody who attended a lot of networking events. But after a few months, she began building influence and developing relationships with influencers in the city. After a year, Jacqueline was everywhere, at every event, and she knew almost everybody. Today, she’s responsible for some of the most prominent startup events in the city, and is sought out as the expert in marketing and events in Austin.

Being social was a shortcut to some very real-world results. Without that strategy, she would have to go through the same saturated channels to get her career going. It would have taken longer, and been much less effective at demonstrating what she actually brought to the table.

What’s the point of telling Jacqueline’s story?

Jacqueline’s story demonstrates the increasing value social has to the future of business. The point is that social really is still waiting for widespread acceptance because it’s not entirely clear how “being social” drives bottom-line results. Social does drive results, but the ways that it drives those results doesn’t resemble more traditional ways, and the results can often be difficult to fully quantify.

What Comes Next?

For the past few weeks, I’ve been covering a few different angles of what social media means for your organization, and understanding how to evaluate the right person to man your social program. Soon, I want to cover the essentials for setting up your social media strategy for the first time.

But before I get to what you need to do to set up your social strategy, I think it’s important to dig into why building a strong social media presence is essential to the success of the modern enterprise.

My argument is that excellent social marketing is becoming as essential as excellent engineering or excellent financials are to your business, but I have a chip on my shoulder about how much credibility social has in a traditional business context. Since social is what I do, I’m vested in the process of articulating what it is, and why it matters to your organization.

Social vs. Engineering vs. Finance

Yes, I know. The term “social” doesn’t yet engender the same level of respect that “finance” or “engineering” does. Frankly, there’s a lot of historical justification for that. Finance and engineering are well-established as keys to business success. Many of the folks responsible for some of the most massive creations of value and wealth we have borne witness to in the last century were either financial or engineering geniuses, but you probably wouldn’t describe them as primarily social creatures.

John D. Rockefeller was a financial master whose methods of double-entry accounting provided a foundation not only for the unparalleled success of Standard Oil, but also laid the groundwork for modern-day accounting as well. He was also a famous introvert and a recluse. Mark Zuckerberg is the brilliant engineer who revolutionized the way we connect with each other with Facebook. He’s also sometimes described as having “a touch of Asperger’s.”

Having a business that strives to financial excellence produces a company with clean books, and a strong business model. Having a business that strives to engineering excellence produces amazing technology that re-shapes our lives.

But what does it mean to have a business that strives to have social excellence? What’s the result for your organization in real-world terms that matter to growing a strong company? Doesn’t social actually get in the way of keeping your nose to the grindstone and building a profitable company?

No. Not anymore. In the past, that was true, but not any longer.

Twenty years ago social didn’t matter very much to the revenue of large organizations, and it didn’t matter at all 40 years ago.

Today, social matters a lot because technology has fundamentally changed the nature of how customers interact with businesses, and that has created an impetus to develop new ways businesses interact with their customers.

Social has changed the way customers interact with businesses.

Customers Are More Empowered

There used to be a very structured and organized way that businesses would transact with customers. In order to sell, a business established direct and sequential sales and marketing channels to push a message and a product to potential customers. Corporate hierarchies followed this model, taking on rigid structures, organized themselves around making those straightforward sales in a militaristic fashion.

Forty years ago, a potential customer only had a few channels to interact with a company. The company controlled their image via advertising and sales channels. Most of the information that existed about products and customer experience was massaged for the benefit of the company, not the customer.

Prior to social media, a customer’s access to word-of-mouth about a company was limited to their social circle. Outside of that, the only ways they could learn more was more or less to send off for a catalogue, or call a salesperson directly. Each of those were touch points that a large organization could own.

The advent of social has dramatically increased the number of places a customer can go to learn about a product and a company. The effect has been a boon for customers because organizations can no longer dominate the conversation about their products.

When anyone can publish what it was like to do business with your organization in an infinite number of places on the web, the truth about your company will come out for better or for worse.

In fact, as I’ve pointed out, the only way you can “control” the message around your organization anymore is by ensuring your customer experience is so good when it shows up on social media it shows up in the form of testimonials rather than rants.

But having an effectively infinite number of places for customers to learn about your organization means that traditional, rigid corporate structures that don’t have social baked into their DNA are not directing their efforts at the most effective activities and channels to engage with their customers.

Social means that organizations can no longer push a well-manicured message about their products and have it stick. Rather, customers are now able to pull the information they need from googling around and using various social networks. Customers now decide for themselves when they’ve learned enough about a company.

Social has fundamentally changed the rules of how businesses engage their customers, and the businesses that “get it” are going to be clear winners in the battle for dominance in their markets in the coming decade. It won’t look like dominance, though. It will look like a lot of social interactions happening everywhere, all the time, between brand and consumer. Think less “trade show floor” and more “meetup group.”

If your organization isn’t out there in the thick of it, engaging your customers where they are, you’ll miss the boat. Social has arrived on the scene, and your organization needs to have a plan for social excellence just like any other business discipline.

In the next post, I’ll explain the Social Buying Process, and demonstrate how the internet and social media has fundamentally disrupted traditional sales funnels, and how social business allows you to use this to your organization’s advantage.

Hope this helps.

Austin W. Gunter

 

The Cynefin Framework for Modeling Business Decisions

Tonight, I discovered the Cynefin Framework for decision-making. I recognized intuitively a lot of the lessons that this model illustrates when it comes to analyzing and orienting to properly make decisions and act in a business, or otherwise complicated environment. Prior to watching the video, I could not have articulated any of that intuitive understanding, which really means I didn’t have anywhere close to a full grasp of that intuition yet. If you can’t articulate something, you don’t understand it well enough. 

What struck me as worth noting about the video is the following. 

The Cynefin Model is a sense-making model, not a categorization model. A categorization model would be the typical 2×2 “up and to the right” model that consultants use, where the framework proceeds the data. The categorization model allows you to easily categorize data and make a decision, but the 2×2 model, for example, might not have been appropriate to perform the analysis required to make the right decision. It was rigid, so it made for quick decision-making, but that doesn’t leave room for creative or innovative ways of thinking that are essential to success in business these days.

A sense-making model, like the Cynefin model, is where the data precede the framework. The framework for action and decisions is then allowed to emerge with the data, not the other way around. The inherent assumption with the Cynefin is that a one-size fits all decision-making model may not be sufficient for all problems. With that in mind, we need a model we can use to orient ourselves to the situation at hand, analyze, and act according to model that emerges from data, not the other way around.

This fits in well with the ideas I’m working on about the importance of Social business, because the challenges of Social are creating new situations and challenging that may confound the old ways that large organizations manage and take action. In order to respond to Social, our organizations require new models for decision-making, and my sense is that the Cynefin Framework recognizes the causal differences between systems of action and decision-making, and gives us a structured method to deal with and communicate about ambiguity in a fast-moving, sometimes chaotic environment.

I think that many people are comfortable with the ambiguity, but it’s helpful to have a reputable model that can withstand the rigors of a fast-moving business.

Watch the short video.

I went off the deep end a bit here. 

I still hope this helps.

Austin W. Gunter

Social Media: A Trailing Indicator of Customer Experience

Social Media: A Trailing Indicator of Customer Experience

Contrary to popular belief, customers complain on social media as a last resort. Customers will give your brand the benefit of the doubt before they jump on Twitter, or write one of those scathing Yelp reviews. We want to have a great experience, and don’t see picking a fight on Facebook as the best first option when something goes wrong. We’ll try and contact the brand first. Only when that fails do we get out the megaphone and shout in the commons.

Take Canadian musician Dave Carroll, for example. In 2008, Dave was on a layover a Chicago O’Hare International Airport, flying United Airlines (yep, I’m going there), a company that frankly has spent the last decade or so developing a reputation for less than stellar customer service. Dave was about to become one the most legendary examples of how one moment of poor customer service can impact everything about an organization, including its stock price.

As Dave waited for his connecting flight, he heard a fellow passenger exclaiming that the United baggage handlers were throwing guitars out on the runway. Rightly assuming that they might be trashing his very expensive Taylor guitar, he notified three separate stony-faced United representatives at the gate who did absolutely nothing.

You know where this is going.

Dave arrived at his destination to find his $3,500 Taylor guitar smashed inside the case.

When Dave made his claim on the guitar, United rejected it on a technicality, saying they were not responsible for the damage done to his guitar because he didn’t file his report within 24 hours of the event.

Dave then embarked upon a year-long process to find someone inside United Airlines who would accept some responsibility and buy Dave a new guitar. After a year of working his way through all layers of United Airlines, all he found were people willing to pass the buck.

After a year, Dave was ready to hold United accountable.

He wrote a song called “United Breaks Guitars,” posted the music video to YouTube, and stepped back to watch the fireworks.

Buying Dave a new Taylor for $3,500 was about to look like a bargain for United.

The song took off. Within 4 days, the music video had racked up so many YouTube views that United’s stock price fell 10%, costing shareholders right around $180 million.

Suddenly, Dave Carroll’s phone is blowing up with folks from United who want to get a hold of him to remove the video. Too little, too late. Dave didn’t take it down, and the song lives on on YouTube. Today, it has more than 13,000,000 views, a reminder to the company that social media now allows customers to hold them accountable for their customer experience against their future revenue.

The song is so well-known, that it’s become a part of Dave’s online marketing strategy. Google him, and see how much SEO juice is also directed at his hit single.

google dave carroll

Dave’s milked the popularity of a song, and even wrote a book, titled, United Breaks Guitars, which I think I may have to read because it’s about the power of social media and customer experience.

It’s hard to grok the power of a YouTube video to bring a company’s stock down hundreds of millions of dollars in a few days. But it makes sense when you understand that social media allows consumers like Dave the power to tell future customers exactly what the experience of buying from a company is like so that they know whether or not to do business with that company.

For example, here is how Taylor Guitars handled the situation.

Search for any brand on social media, and you’ll get an up to the minute sense of how well they treat their customers. Since organizations cannot massage the messages their customers send, the only way they can ensure that people say nice things about them is to deliver excellent customer experiences every single time.

All this is on my mind, in no small part because I had another set of delayed United Airlines experiences over the weekend.

This was the 4th and 5th time (in a row) that I’ve had minor to massive delays on a United flight. With the amount of flying I do, things are statistically bound to happen, but there was too much of a pattern going on for me to keep quiet.

Because I know what the receiving end of this feels like, I had resisted doing what so many customers do when they have a bad customer experience: I went on social media to rip United.

Their responses (which I assume were robo-tweets) ranged from lame:

To insulting:

To “are you even paying attention?”

It’s clear nobody was paying attention on their social channels, which means they’re missing a huge opportunity to engage and listen to their customers. Social media is an important trailing indicator of your customer experience, and smart brands are aware of this and picking up on it.

[ASIDE: As the social media person for WP Engine, I hope I don’t bring bad karma on myself for yelling at them on Twitter, but frankly, I was at a breaking point, and that’s one of the things social media is good for: allowing customers to hold brands and companies accountable for their service, good and bad. Social media means it’s the first time in history an individual customer had enough leverage to complain and have a company listen.]

Now, no company, no matter how beloved can maintain 100% customer satisfaction with 100% of their customers. There will always be things that can go wrong, and some customers are simply harder to please than others. However, the more a company does to deliver on their brand promises behind the scenes, the more positive things their customers will say about them in public.

It’s easy to identify the organizations that get this. Do a Twitter search for @VirginAmerica for one of my favorite examples. They have testimonials and stories about positive experiences from customers raving about how much they love flying with them. People even tweet about how they’ve actually made an entertaining pre-flight safety video. Customers are delighted with the entire Virgin experience, and they aren’t shy about saying it.

What’s more, the whole organization “gets it.” Earlier this year, I met a Virgin America pilot wearing Google Glass who now follows me on Twitter.

As more and more consumers continue to adopt social, more and more brands will realize that they can use social as a way to measure sentiment, and evaluate how empowered their staff are to thrill customers. An accurate picture of an organization’s customer experience, either positive like Virgin, or negative like United, will take shape over time on social media.

More succinctly: social media is a trailing indicator of your organization’s customer experience.

Organizations that get this, empower their employees with the latitude to deliver excellent customer interactions, and to engage with their customers on social media.

Customers like Dave Carroll don’t show up at the airport itching unleash social media wrath on their airlines. But they will if monolithic company processes restrict employees from taking initiative to solve the customer’s pain. United Airlines isn’t made up of a bunch of heartless robots who wanted customers like Dave to have broken guitars.

But the company is made up of antiquated processes that leave very little room for employees to take initiative and over-deliver for an unhappy customer. Those antiquated processes don’t take into account how social media gives individual customers leverage against a billion-dollar company. They also don’t take into account how powerfully social word of mouth affects purchase decisions.

Some Metrics to Drive This Home

According to Nielsen, 70% of consumers will trust the independent opinion of online strangers that they haven’t met, and 92% trust the opinion of people they know. What’s more, we’ve seen consumer trust in earned media, like social, increase 18% since 2007. Those numbers mean that customers are beginning to believe that social media will show them exactly what it’s like to buy from you, and they are using social to guide their purchase decisions.

If you’re not actively monitoring and tracking your customer experience on social media, you should start yesterday. In this era, social media should help organizations differentiate themselves, not by broadcasting their message, but by showing customers that they care. Social media gives you a channel to listen and begin tracking your social customer experience metrics. Once you’ve got those metrics in a spreadsheet, suddenly you have the power to make improvements across the entire organization to affect everything from customer cost to acquire, retention, support, in addition to marketing and branding.

What Can You Do?

Here’s a list of metrics and questions and that will give you a place to start thinking about your company’s social media presence, and help you identify ways to improve your customer experience.

Compare the number of positive interactions to the number of negative interactions on social. Are testimonials more common than complaints?

  • How many social conversations per week are you having?
  • Which social networks are your customers most active on?
  • How often do your customers use social media to get support? To complain?
  • How many social referrals do you get each week?
  • Do customers interact with your brand about more than just your product? Do they tweet photos wearing your swag, make inside jokes, or create memes about your product? If not, there’s a good chance they don’t love you as much as they could.
  • Will current customers stand up for you on social, or do they pile on when someone has a problem?
  • How frequently do customers engage on social?
  • When customers need support on social, how quickly do you respond?

I’d love to read more about these in the comments. The first step is simply to begin measuring what you see your customers doing on social media each week. Only after you have a picture of their normal behavior should you worry about coming up with a plan of action that will help you increase positive interactions, and decrease negative ones.

I’ll be digging into those topics in future blog posts. For example, there are ways to increase positive social interactions, and encourage testimonials by socially rewarding your customers for interacting with you positively to on social media by featuring their positive posts, and making sure they know you *hear* their negative tweets, which are meant to be constructive.

Hope this helps.

Austin W. Gunter

Hiring a Social Media Rep? Here are 6 Qualities to Look For

Recently, I’ve had several folks ask me what it takes to hire someone to manage and direct their digital, social, and content marketing. They’ve been trying to hire someone who can naturally do the top of the funnel and branding work that connects markets with customers to companies with products.

I’m always really happy to get one of these questions, because sometimes the content and social can be ignored. Not every company realizes how much time is invested into developing a strong brand on social media. It’s just Facebook and Twitter, right? How hard is it to set up?

“Social” tends to have a problem developing credibility inside of a large organization. As  my friend Chris Heuer put it on Brian Solis’ blog recently:

“The problem [with calling it “social” business] is that the deeper meaning and richer context is being lost on executives who still think the word “social” indicates a frivolous time-wasting pursuit.”

I agree with the branding problem that the word “social” has in a professional environment. I constantly feel a cultural pull against calling anything I do “social media.” The word social doesn’t seem to endow my work with much credibility. What’s “social” about what happens in a successful, well-oiled company? Isn’t it serious business? Aren’t we supposed to sit quietly behind our cubicle walls and stare dutifully at our spreadsheets?

In the same blog post, Chris goes on and explains exactly what effective “social businesses” accomplish, and why cutting-edge companies see the value and are incorporating people who can execute these strategies into their ranks:

“By being more connected and transparent, we increase the flow of information inside and across the organization. By being more authentic and empathetic, we can increase trust with our peers and our clients. For the acolytes, becoming a social business is about the future of business, and how great everything could be if we fixed what’s wrong with the status quo.”

Authenticity and transparency create trust with partners and clients. Social media gives organizations the means to connect readily with customers 24/7, and it turns out customers like being connected with the companies they buy things from.

Social media can become the front door for your organization. Every conceivable relationship, from support, to sales, to partnerships, to VIP relationships can and will begin on social media. Every tweet is an opportunity, and every like has significance.

But it takes a unique sort of person to thrive on managing the volume of interaction happening via those social channels. It’s hard to find a pre-existing job description that calls out to that person who wants to manage all those conversations.

Once Facebook and Twitter are set up, and you begin to build an audience, how should you begin to look for that communicator to put at the helm of your social presence? Here’s a list of qualities to look for in your Digital / Social Media / Community person to get you started.

1. Takes initiative to develop relationships

Social media is a channel where opportunities walk in the door all the time. Every person who interacts with your brand has their own following, their own relationships, and their own sphere of influence. In my career, Twitter has put me in contact with everyone from venture capitalists, Fortune 500 CEOs, influential bloggers. Done right, those initial interactions on social bring influential people in your front door to stay.

Because social media is a low-investment medium, it’s easier to begin a relationship on social than via email or a cold call. For example, 140 characters is “cheap” in terms of the opportunity costs for someone of influence to make contact with you, or for you to make contact with them.

140 characters takes 20 seconds to read – no big deal. On the one hand, that makes social a trivial medium, something you take as seriously as reality TV. On the other hand, because it’s a trivial medium, it’s easier for a potential customer to reach out than picking up the phone. And if you reach out to them, they’re less likely to ignore you, because, hell, it’s only 140 characters.

With that in mind, it’s easy to see how social media can generate hundreds of tiny connections with your customers and your audience every day. That’s hundreds of tiny opportunities to connect with the folks who are the true lifeblood of your business – your customers. The best community people are born with an innate ability to take the smallest connection with an influencer,and turn it into a long-term relationship that benefits all involved. That’s the person you want at your organization’s front door.

2. Is a natural evangelist and self-promoter

A self-promoter is never off the clock. They’re always selling you on their new venture, or the new fad they’re into We all know that guy who never shuts up until you’ve tried whatever it is they’ve discovered that week.

A confession: In my social circles, I’m usually that guy.

A few months ago I wrote a blog post about yerba maté, a South American tea that I drink instead of coffee. Maté has a number of health benefits that I obsessively researched, and shared in the blog post. I wanted to share the tea with my followers because I believe it’s superior than drinking coffee in almost every way, and I backed it up with evidence that I had after months of researching the tea when I first started drinking it.

In the month after I shared the blog post, two-dozen people tweeted and shared Facebook photos of themselves buying the brand of yerba maté I recommended to them. It was a simple post promoting a seemingly trivial part of my lifestyle, but I cared about sharing it with the readers of my blog, who took action and spent money based on my recommendation.

You want to find someone who naturally promotes the things that they’re passionate about. They can’t help but share things that they think are cool with everyone who will listen. If you have an amazing product, and customer experience, they won’t be able to sharing their passion about the company mission they get to be part of, and they’ll find ways to share it in almost every interaction that they have.

3. Is self-aware enough to build trust

The flip-side of being a good self-promoter is being self-aware. Self-awareness combats the negative connotation that comes with being known as a “self-promoter.” Usually the person who earns that title incessantly repeats the same elevator pitch to you every time you talk. They don’t know when to just shut up. You sort of hate them.

The truth is, effective promotion is rarely about being the loudest, or even the most persistent about delivering a message. The loudest, most incessant people on social media are the ones who get blocked the fastest.

In reality, the most successful self-promoters I know are aware that evangelizing an idea starts with developing trust first, and they know trust is earned over time. Earning your audience’s trust means when you recommend something, they’re likely to take you at your word. World-class community evangelists have a natural awareness of when to talk and when to listen. They *just know* when they’ve build up a cache of trust with your audience, and can ask for a testimonial, or send them to a salesperson.

4. Loves people…at scale

Social media, is just that: Social interactions, but at scale.

Over time your social media channels will become non-stop conversations. Everything from testimonials, to customer support, to sales questions, to partnership interactions will come in via social media. For a very long time, I’ve had all those interactions pushed directly to my smartphone. In effect, that means that every customer our organizations works with has the ability to text me 24/7. I love the work we do, so it doesn’t *feel* as much like work to me, but if you’re thinking “perish the thought” I don’t blame you.

Imagine 10,000+ customers, each of whom has a direct line to your cell phone. Social media doesn’t have a shut-off valve. You can’t clock out. If your customers can interact with your product 24/7, they’ll find a reason to tweet you 24/7.  Even when I’m technically “done for the day,” I keep my phone on me in case one of our customers needs help. I want to be there for them. The pre-eminent example of this is Rob La Gesse, who leads the customer support at Rackspace. He’s famous for giving out his cellphone number to customers on his Twitter profile. Frankly, I believe he sincerely loves every time they give him a call.

Life is too short to be the social media person and not love working with customers to ensure their success.

5. They know how to sell, but they don’t have a need to

Everyone needs to buy stuff, but nobody wants to be sold. If you can avoid dealing with a salesperson, you usually do. If there’s a self-service option, more and more customers will take it.  A recent study by Google and CEB found that today’s business buyers are making their way through 57% of the purchase process before they ever reach out to a sales person. That means Google is finding 57% of the information your customers need to buy rather than your sales team.

It doesn’t matter if the question is answered in a blog, or on Twitter, it just needs to be indexed in Google for a customer to find. But social media is almost never an appropriate place to close a sale, so the person manning the Twitter account needs to know the difference between “selling” and “helping someone buy.”

Content marketing and social media is essential to help potential customers answer their own questions, and qualify themselves as potential customers. This means that by the time your sales team ever connects with a prospect, your content and social team have had a huge opportunity to warm them up for the sale. Unless it’s an enterprise sale, by the time a customer calls in, they should have their credit card in-hand.

6. Their writing and “social work” shows up everywhere

The final thing to always look for in good community people is that they’re putting their work out there on the internet. If I were hiring someone to manage my social channels, and they didn’t have a decent body of work that you can find with a simple Google search, then I would immediately begin to question them.

This ties into the idea that your social media person should be a self-promoting sort of person. They’ve naturally got ideas, and the creative energy to launch them into the wild, you’re just harnessing and focusing that energy within your product.

So while you’re on Google, match the sort of work they naturally do with the social networks where your company needs to develop its presence.

If you’re doing technology sales, or have a need for social customer service, Twitter and Facebook are going to be two of your major networks. Look for their followings on both networks, and look for an active blog where you can evaluate their writing. If you’re a consumer brand, you’ll probably be on Instagram and Pinterest because those give you the best opportunity to showcase your products. Look for folks who have active accounts there. Each social network develops its own etiquette and social mores – the natives can tell when you’re new and when you’re native.

———–

I’m hoping to expand on this list in the next few months, so please feel free to weigh in with your own ideas and suggestions for what makes a good Social / Digital / Community evangelist. There needs to be a good resource for organizations looking to hire these folks, and for these folks who are looking to be hired.

And yes, if you disagree with any of the above, please do let me know as well.

Hope this helps.

Austin W. Gunter

 

Your customer experience begins on Twitter

Every time I go to a conference, there is a long list of people that I’m planning on meeting and connecting with for the first time. A big goal of every conference I attend is to create new relationships of value with folks in my industry, and I work hard to maximize that value by careful research before the conference starts.

Before I ever step foot at the conference venue and into physical proximity of those people I’m hoping to meet, I make a point of doing as much research as possible. This usually involves asking people in my network what they can tell me about those folks I plan to connect with. What are they like in person? What are their values? How much should I invest in them? And on.

Doing a bit of advance research makes it much easier to create real connections between folks that I look up to and want to collaborate with.

Of course, the other thing that I do is look them up on social media. What people share on Twitter and Facebook will tell you a lot about what they do and think. You can also get a sense for how much value they provide to their communities by the way they give back on social media. An online presence has become the new first impression, which is often simply confirmed when you actually meet in person.

We can spend 2o minutes on our computers doing research without ever having to talk to the person in real life. Social media is a frictionless way to get to know someone.

Your Brand’s First Impression is on Social

Of course, companies and brands make the same first impressions on social media, and consumers do the same online research. Doing a little research of a company on Twitter is easier than calling them up to talk with a sales rep. The sales rep is going to have an agenda, but the Twitter account isn’t. Customers want to learn about your company in the simplest way possible. As much as possible, they want to draw their own conclusions about whether or not to buy. Social media gives them this simple way to learn about your company before engaging your sales process.

It’s no wonder that, according to Google, customers have gone through 57% of the sales funnel before they ever engage a sales person. Today, customers have access to all sorts of information via their computers and smartphones that they had to engage a salesperson for a decade ago. This empowers customers them to test-drive the customer experience of your company without first becoming a customer.

In the same way that you or I want to do research on one another before we meet and greet at a conference, customers want to learn as much as possible about your company and your product before they even consider buying from you. And they want to learn about you out in the wild, where you can’t carefully control the experience and the message.

In other words, they want the honest truth about your company, not the party line.

This isn’t a trend that we can fight. Nor should we. In fact, as marketers (and we are all marketers in this age), we can seize this trend as an opportunity and provide breadcrumbs of content and digital marketing that make it easy for customers to build relationships with us from their first interactions on social media.

Customers are looking for information about us online. It’s our responsibility to give it to them. If we don’t someone else will.

Elements of your Customer Experience

There’s nothing worse than navigating over to a company’s blog or Twitter handle to find nobody is home. If that happens, people are likely to leave and not become customers.

You need to keep a constant stream of content flowing for them.

It’s important that you have a carefully produced strategy that articulates which aspects of your customer experience you want to share with your customers. You have the opportunity to highlight the best parts of doing business with you and nudge the customer closer to a sale with every tweet and every blog post. Here’s a few things you want shared in your digital marketing:

  1. Company Values - Now, more than ever, consumers want to do business with companies that share their values. Make it painfully obvious what yours are, and you’ll draw the right customers in.
  2. The Support Experience – Companies have different styles of support, but consumers are increasingly taking to social media with support concerns before they ever pick up the phone or send an email. Make sure that you provide the same level of support on social that you do elsewhere.
  3. Thought Leadership – How is your company leading the innovation and growth in the marketplace? Keep a constant stream of blog posts coming that illustrate this.
  4. Community Engagement – Does your company give back to its community? Share those experiences on social media, and engage with key community members who are social media savvy as well.
  5. Humor – Social media is a fantastic place to let customers know your company has a healthy sense of humor, so let your hair down a bit.
  6. Your Product – Are you sharing content that is related to your product and its benefits? Relevant news surrounding your industry develops massive credibility over time. Fashion brands should talk about new releases; API Platforms should talk about industry developments; Open-source companies should share the latest community news.

Think about the different ways you can share this sort of content with your users, and the people in your company who are well-placed to produce this sort of content. It can make all the difference between a sale and striking out.

I remember the first time a girl I was dating told me her friends had decided to Google me after our second or third date. She told me the story with a bit of pride in her voice because when her friends put “Austin Gunter” into Google, they saw pages of results that had my face on them. My status went up immediately because I had already done the work to create breadcrumbs of “competency” that her girlfriends could follow to the obvious conclusion that I was a guy worth dating.

Of course, I’d done all that work to impress future employers, but I knew that it would work to impress future girlfriends as well. Now I had proof.

Go forth, Tweet, and impress your customers.

Hope this helps.

Austin W. Gunter

Content Marketers, heres a simple trick to make your content easier to share Buffer

I share a ton of content using Buffer on a weekly basis. Spending an hour or two combing through blog posts to stock up my Buffer queue is just part of my weekly routine. In particular, WP Engine shares a lot of content, primarily on Twitter (follow us!), but we’ve branched out to several other social networks as well. Today on the WP Engine blog, I published a short post about how to make your blog posts a bit more sharable on Buffer by adding your Twitter handle to the <title> tag of your blog posts.

buffer screenshot pulls title taga

When you share content on Buffer, it first takes the content from the <title> tag of your blog posts, and auto-populates it along with the link to your blog post when you click the Buffer button.

That information is pulled from the <title> tag in your site, which is defined by your SEO plugin (in WordPress). By default, the <title> tag of individual posts will have the post title and the name of your site. You can force those to be re-written with anything you like, including your Twitter handle so that when people share your content on Twitter, they automatically mention you.

If you want to build up a Twitter following, then the small details like this make it easier for people to share your content and give you attribution. If you get more attribution, you get more followers.

When someone I follow shares a post that I love on Twitter, they’ve just exposed me to a potential new blogger that I may want to follow. If it’s a great blog post, I search for the original author’s Twitter profile, but most of the time I have to search for the author’s Twitter handle. But if it’s auto-populated in every tweet, then it’s simple to find the author and follow them.

If you want to make the change to your title tag, the process is simple. You can read how to edit your SEO plugin to change the <title> tag on the WP Engine blog today.

Hope this helps.

Austin W. Gunter

This is the funniest (and also most cynical) take on “Community Management” I’ve ever read

From McSweeney’s

What is a Social Media Community Manager? Oh sorry, I didn’t hear you over the sound of how hip my job is. I’m responsible for engaging current and prospective customers via social media channels, building a strong community around our brand, analyzing relevant metrics, SEO management—you name it, I do it.

I spend all day on Facebook, writing blogs, chatting up customers, whatever I need to do to ensure maximum ROI for our company; basically playing around on the internet. It’s pretty much every college kid’s dream job so I—oh god, I can’t do this anymore.

I’m a real person with real feelings, not a profile picture to analyze for your own amusement. My status updates say, “Check out our newest eBook!” but read between the lines; what I really mean is, “Check out me, please. I need validation!”

Don’t read the rest of the article too closely. It ends on a dark note, matched only by the level of sarcasm and hyperbole that is left up to the reader to understand.

What’s the point of sharing that?

Simple.

Nobody really trained any of us who are now in our 20s for this job many of us have, running digital media. I’m fortunate to have created an opportunity to handle branding and messaging at a startup company I love, as well as work closely with the product team on new features, but I digress. The point is, we didn’t plan for these jobs where our identities on social media would become closely intwined with the companies we work for, and our actions out there in the public sphere would thereby have such a powerful affect on our professional lives as well.

Where many of my friends have the luxury of venting on Facebook or Twitter, I have to bite my tongue. Or go low-tech and see if I actually have paper in my house I can write on. (More sarcasm).

The reality that you have to be more and more conscious about your communications the greater your social reach is makes it all the more important to appreciate the work you do, to respect the people you work with, and to love the work your company actually does. That’s really the only way you can talk about it on and offline all day long and still be congruent with your own values. Otherwise, you cultivate all that social influence to share something with the world only to feel empty because you’re not saying anything that matters to you on a personal level.

Without that personal meaning in your job, being on Twitter all day would be enough to drive anyone to write hilarious McSweeney’s pieces.

As a writer, the fact that I can get paid to do all those “community managery” things is living the dream. I get to write all day long, AND I can still feed myself. Hell, I could probably afford to get married and support a family in the next couple of years. Point is, those of us that are doing this often came straight out of writing programs, and we’re doing pretty good for ourselves.

Especially when we get a million RTs and Facebook shares for the things we pour ourselves into writing.

While I’m on the subject, have you followed me on Twitter yet?

Hope this helps.

Austin W. Gunter

 

Being a Dick on Twitter Will Crater Your Startup: BetaPunch May Have Just Eaten Social Media Cyanide

Danielle Morrill of Referly had a good reason to be upset with BetaPunch today. BetaPunch is a startup that provides user testing for startups. Apparently Danielle used BetaPunch last year for some user testing. It didn’t go so well because BetaTest violated her trust as a potential customer by sharing the data from her beta testing on Twitter without her consent or informing her first.

As a startup, they wanted to get the attention and notoriety that would come from having a Silicon Valley insider, like Danielle, as a customer. BetaPunch is a Baltimore startup – apparently founder Ross Nochumowitz is also a founder of BigBoyzBailBonds. So while this isn’t the founder’s first entrepreneurial endeavor, he may feel a bit isolated from the core of tech startups in Silicon Valley, and wanted to gather as much attention to his product, which admittedly, could provide a valuable resource. Other startups like UserTesting.com provide a similar service for $39 per test.

To make the most of Danielle as a customer, Nochumowitz tweeted the results of Referly’s beta tests (the tweets have since been deleted), perhaps following the example of the over-hyped “growth hackers” and grab as much publicity from the notable customer as possible. But he didn’t ask first.

He tweeted the results of Danielle’s beta tests, which contained raw feedback of an evolving product. You might as well share the first draft of your novel with a publisher. The results aren’t going to be pretty. That’s a violation of user trust, and warrants harsh feedback. If you don’t know how to keep customer data private, do you really know how to run your business?

The value of customer trust far exceeds the value of publicity one customer might bring, much less the monetary value of a customer. I think Nochumowitz got a lot more publicity than he originally intended, but I doubt the PR blitz will help sales much.

At this point, the job of the Social Media person is to jump in, take responsibility, apologize, and work towards a speedy resolution. Publicly asking forgiveness and making grand gestures of supplication are essential.

But Nochumowitz decided his own “death my social media” judgement by whining on twitter that Danielle hadn’t said “thanks” for the awful customer experience she had received.

;

It was only then that Danielle wrote the post.

Then BetaPunch dug the hole deeper.

And still deeper.

;

And then got out the shovel of self-righteousness, lest they never forget that HackerNews never sleeps and burns self-righteous founders at the stake.

Danielle decided to blog her dissatisfaction with BetaPunch’s customer experience, not because Nochumowitz tweeted the results, but because he acted like an entitled brat and demanded thanks for use of the service.

Sorry, Ross. You’re the one that should have been grateful to have an influential user, and bent over backwards to thrill her with your customer experience. If you had busted your ass and made the most of the customer, you would have created a huge opportunity for the hard work building your product to see the public.

If you had busted your ass, Danielle might trust your startup. And she might have written a completely different blog post.

Trust is everything. As a startup, you *must* earn your early customer’s trust one-by-one, and you must maintain it. You have no reputation to fall back on, so you’ll live and die by the trust of a single customer, and you’ve got to have a stockpile of trust and goodwill for when you make a mistake. And as a startup, you’re going to make mistakes, and the only thing that will sustain your customer relationships will be their trust in your company, your product, and your support.

Social Media is one of the fastest ways you can earn their trust. Quick responses, quality support, and cordial, earnest communication will create incredible relationships with your customers. A long string of happy customers on Twitter becomes an asset to your company every time someone researches your startup.

One of the biggest parts of my job every day is just being available on Social Media in case someone has something to say about WP Engine. I’m lucky that the majority of the time, when people have something to say about about our support team or our technology, they usually have something nice to say. But part of my job keeps me ready to respond just in case someone has something not so nice to say about our company.

My job on Social Media is to be there every time a customer has an issue. My job is to apologize for their trouble, listen to them vent, and empathize as long as they need me to while I escalate their issue for a quick and satisfactory resolution.

The job of the Social Media manager is care about our customers. Most of us are lucky because our companies have incredible customers to work with, but responsibility to our customers isn’t contingent on how we feel in any given moment. It’s contingent only on the fact that they’re our customers, and we want to provide the best support possible.

Every company will have a frustrated customer on Twitter or Facebook sometimes. Typically, it’s justified frustration. The level of frustration a customer expresses on Twitter is almost always equal to the size or reputation of the company in question, and compounded by the quality of their trouble with your product. Woe to the poor social media manager if the customer had a bad experience at the hands of a Support Tech.

The silver lining is that most people love an underdog and so startup companies will be forgiven for technical errors if they make up for them with stellar support.

But woe to the startup that publicly bites the hand of a potential customer, much less a highly influential one.

Whether you’re right or you’re wrong, your customer is always right. Make them feel happy they brought their problems to you by apologizing and making amends. They’ll trust you and tell all their friends to come spend money with you.

Whine that they didn’t ever “say thanks” for the free trial of your product that you offered them, and you’ll burn a bridge before anyone else has a chance to walk across it. They’ll tell all their friends about you. Tell them to stay the hell away.

Let’s say you’re the founder of a company. Your job sometimes is to eat some shit. Wash it down, put your big boy pants on, and get back to work. If you let a bit of negativity get to you, giving up will start to look easier than pushing forward. Find a way to be thankful for the opportunity to learn something about your product and something about your own ego. Whatever you do, don’t go AWOL on Social Media.

Social Media is a double-edged sword for your startup.

Social Media makes communicating with your company incredibly easy, so people will communicate more. This is a good thing. It’s an opportunity to develop more relationships with more customers.

Social Media also makes every single piece of company communication public, and everyone can see the things on Facebook and Twitter that are being said on behalf of your company. This is also a good thing. It means that you can build relationship with hundreds and thousands more customers by proxy.

But only if you are polite and prompt every single time you speak with a customer on Social Media.

If you’re a dick, Social Media will bury you. It’s not one customer, it’s one customer, and the reach of their entire following. Danielle Morrill has a large following. Forget a Klout Score. If you can write a blog post and bury a company, you’ve got influence.

By the way, BetaPunch finally said something nice on Twitter about the whole experience.

Too little, too late. There are 96 comments on HackerNews as I push “publish” on this. So much traffic went to Danielle’s blog post that her server crashed. BetaPunch, everybody knows about you now, but nobody is going to trust you with their beta testing.

In the end, BetaPunch may actually have turned out to be a fitting name for the startup. The “Punch” they’re feeling right now is the wind knocked out of them. Never underestimate the power social media can have for a startup company.

Hope this helps.

Austin W. Gunter

Social Media: “Doing It Right” on Twitter

Pretzel Crisps Social Media Win

Yes, those are apparently brand new pants before I took the tag off ;-)

I’ve had two different companies tweet “at” me because I’ve been out and about in San Francisco. Anytime a brand identity is tweeting at you on Social, you know that they want you to come patronize their business, so if they’re sloppy about it and are obviously just angling to sell you something, you can tell rather quickly.  As a social marketer, I have a very sensitive radar for what is technically referred to as “Social Media Horseshit,” and I have very little tolerance for spammy Twitter use in particular.

Done right, Twitter is an incredibly powerful way to develop long-term relationships with customers. Done wrong, social media is about as effective as email spam, but twice as annoying.

A brand is something that people actively have a relationship with, and social media is no less than a way for your brand to have an active relationship with potential, current, and even past customers. Twitter, in particular, offers you the opportunity to engage potential customers in real time, often at the precise moment they might be looking to make a purchase or use your service. For example, moving to a new city….

People tweet their flight check-ins and will talk about the city they travel or move to. When I drove into San Francisco last Friday afternoon, all my belongings in my trunk, it was raining. The city had rolled out a big soggy welcome mat for me, and I tweeted it.

Pretzel Crisps was paying attention, and they tweeted at me, using the rain as an excuse, and then offering me free snacks.

Pretty good welcome to a new city, right?

This afternoon, right before I was heading out to a coffee shop for a meeting, Pretzel Crisps showed up with a ridiculous amount of free noms. Guess what my favorite San Francisco brand of pretzels is now?

This approached worked because Pretzel Crisps was able to very easily create a relationship with a potential customer by offering a free experience of their product to me via Twitter. By making it simple (and free) for me to try their stuff, I now have a relationship with their product, AND I’m blogging about it.  Tons of free attention.  Not bad, right?

They got my attention because 1. They responded with a sense of humor, and 2. They offered me something free in their tweet.  Had the brand just made small talk, I would have ignored it. I spend a lot of time on Twitter, but I don’t always have time to respond to the people that tweet at me.  When a brand tweets without offering something of value immediately, I assume, just like everyone else, that they aren’t really interested in anything but selling something. I tune out immediately.

For example, the Half Moon Bay Golf Course apparently has a Twitter handle that likes to make small talk with people who check-in when their flights land in SFO. Brands making small talk, and not offering something in return is “doing it wrong.”

I don’t want to make small talk with a golf course. Now, they can’t offer me a fun-sized bag containing 9 holes of golf, but they could have some blog content about the best links in the bay area, including, but not limited to their course. Maybe throw me a link for some free balls, or a beer at the end of a golf game. Anything that would be valuable or relevant to me.

Rather, they just asked me what my plans were.  Basically, that’s asking me to spend time as I’m de-planing to tweet a golf course what my itinerary is.  Not happening.

So I responded like this.

Then I felt bad about being mean, so I tweeted back at them to apologize and give whoever that person running their social media channel an opening to engage me, but they didn’t respond back, which is a mistake.

Even if I’m not going to play golf, I know plenty of people who do, and I may have a chance to recommend a place at some point. That social media interaction had the potential to create a brand advocate out of me.

I use my own story as an example to show the power of social media to connect with real customers in ways that traditional advertising could only dream of.  I’ve literally got a counter full of Pretzel Crisps in my kitchen now, and I’m going to be offering them to every single guest that I have in my new San Francisco digs for weeks. I had never had the Pretzels before, but I’ll never forget them at this point.

Hope this helps.

Austin W. Gunter

Side note: I haven’t mentioned whether they’re good or not. That’s because an aggressive social media campaign like this assumes you have a stellar product. Otherwise, all that attention and energy you’ve poured into the marketing will blow up in your face with really nasty tweets. If the product isn’t good, social can’t solve that :-)