“Social Media”, Business, and Matchmaking

This is a “part 2″ post, growing out of the principles outlined here in part 1, where we enjoyed a lively discussion about how, in business, social media (or Community Networking/Networked Communications) is part of the larger category of Communications, along with a lot of other traditionally silo’ed disciplines such as PR, Marketing, and Advertising. We also discussed how the usage of two-way communication networks in business will lead to a more relational, rather than transactional, approach to gaining and keeping customers.

Now let’s turn to another fundamental perspective. This one has a lot of tentacles so we’ll try to outline a general principle here, and then we can carry on in the Comments. I believe that healthy business<–>customer relationships will increasingly be marked by a matchmaking approach. That is, we can steadily shift from a view of the potential customer world as a mass of demographics, and the potential supplier world as a bunch of faceless commodity providers. The first questions in a provider’s mind should no longer be, “How can I get MORE customers?” “How can I reach MORE of my target audience?” “How can I get my numbers up?” We should shift to, “How can we use networked communications to find the right people for whom we are the right fit (and vice-versa)?”

Let’s take a simple analogy, from the social media world. You can use Twitter as a “follower accumulation engine”, and in a few month’s time have thousands of subscribers, but how many of those are really a “match” for your interests, perspectives, business direction, resource needs, etc.? In social media, as in life and business, you’ll find that a relatively small number of folks are a “fit”, and when you spend time cultivating them, they will help you find others who fit.  Some business owners pursue anything or anyone that will be a revenue producer, but I’ve learned over the years that “not all business is good business.”

Customers, too, are overwhelmed by choices, and gladly latch onto for providers of goods and services that are a good “match” – companies that make them feel like they’re getting consistent value, and that make life simpler by taking one more decision off the table. And now, with great social networking tools, many of these winning companies can have a “face” and carry on a dialogue with potential and existing customers, which strengthens the sense of relationship. If I have found a great “match” for, say, an on-line bookkeeping service, then I don’t have to think about who to use next time – and, I very readily pass on my recommendations through my network, especially if I feel like I’ve come to know the supplier more personally.

Of course, all of this has been going on before the era of web-enabled social networking – but the importance is much greater now, and the capacity to weave matchmaking into the equation (from both sides) is wonderfully expanded. There are one-time buyers, there are occasional customers, and there are matches. Businesses should be aggressively using networked communications to identify and invest in the latter, rather than constantly trolling for any new revenue that can be found. The customer network thus built will, in the long term, generate far more new and repeat business. It will even give you the luxury of “firing” unprofitable and troublesome customers (b-to-b or b-to-c).

What do you think? How do you weave a matchmaking perspective (and practices) into your business model?

Matchmaking is not merely employing a set of business tactics and tools. It’s a mindset. It can also be the foundation for an entire business model, which will be the subject of my final post (part 3) in this series, on Marketing Profs DailyFix.

Why I Follow…Shannon Whitley

This is my second edition in a variation on the Twitter “#FollowFriday” meme. Instead of just listing people I follow with no real room for explanation, I’ll make my weekly contribution of pointing to one person I value, and why.

Up today – @swhitely (Shannon Whitley).

As I recall, when I started on Twitter about a year or so ago, Shannon’s tweets were some of those I always found most interesting. He blends some geeky-techno’ness with humanity, helpfulness, business sense, and a keen and sensible vision. I enjoy reading his insights, and we enjoy bantering together in virtual space. I haven’t had the privilege of meeting Shannon in person yet, but here’s the beauty of this medium – I really look forward to doing so, and I have no doubt that conversation would flow very freely. He’s a smart guy and well worth including in your Twitter stream if he’s not there already.

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SXSW…from the eyes of a 20-year old

(I’m not sure I ever anticipated the day I’d have a guest post from one of my children! But, here it is. My oldest son, who is pursuing a career in film, accompanied me to the South by Southwest conference. Here are his impressions…)

Trying to break into the film industry from the ground level is a daunting task for a 20-year old. It’s not enough to have a reasonable level of knowledge, skill, and talent – as with many things, it boils down to “who you know.”

That’s why attending the South by Southwest (SXSW) conference was so valuable.

Most people I meet on the street have little aspiration to create films. Yet, for a few days, I was surrounded by like-minded people who have the word “Film” on their badge and who are willing to talk shop in lobbies, hallways, and anywhere else. At first, as a young man attending my first professional conference, it was a little intimidating, but my mind was immediately put at ease by some great interaction right off while waiting in the registration line (thanks, Clark Richards)!

More often than not people just talked freely until they gave their life story or had another session to attend. Business cards, names, stories, and connections were exchanged in over the course of five minutes. I wasn’t made to feel like an outsider, but rather, I felt like a member of a wind-ranging fraternity of passionate and creative people.

The conference itself was very informative. Panelists would drop names of helpful books and sites, explain in detail how they became successful, and even stay after to talk personally to anyone who wanted to find out more. I will admit there were also big name thrills when I was able to meet and even talk to people such as Robert Rodriguez, Jeffrey Tambor, Henry Selick, Spike Lee, and Rose McGowan.

The films themselves were very professional and enjoyable. I attended nearly all the short films and was impressed by the quality of most of them. I also attended two large independent film premieres. The first was a comedy entitled “The 2 Bobs” and was directed by Tim McCanlines (Tim McCanlines has directed several family oriented films including “Secondhand Lions”). The actors came out onstage with Tim after the screening for an informative Q&A session. Then, on the Tuesday night was the premiere of “The Hurt Locker”. All I knew before going into the film was that it was directed Kathryn Bigelow (“Point Break”). What I saw was a fantastically shot war film about a group of soldiers in Iraq whose sole job is to disarm bombs. It was positively one of the most intense and harrowing war movies I have ever seen.

My father was attending the SXSW Interactive track and I had the privilege of meeting a number of his blogger friends, who were very kind and supportive. All in all SXSW was an invaluable experience for me, and for any young filmmaker that has extra cash and a week to invest next year, I’d certainly recommend attending SXSW 2010!

(You can find out more about Nate and his professional interests at his site, NathanWoodruff.com (includes sample films). And, if you know of opportunities that may be open to a young “apprentice” with some real talent, we’re all ears!)

“Social Media” and Business, part 1

Earlier this week, I enjoyed a robust Twitter conversation with a few folks (thanks, @lizscherer, @kellyferrara, @lindabeth!) on how “social media” fits into the pre-existing business silos that we all know and love (Marketing, PR, Sales, Customer Service, etc.)

Instead of putting out 140-character fragments of thought, it might be more valuable to sketch out some big-picture ideas about how this all, perhaps, fits together, and continue the discussion in the comments.

First, I’ll freely admit that I don’t much care for the term “Social Media.” I think it’s limiting. I tend to prefer either Community Networking (more on the inter-personal level), or Networked Communications (more on the business level). Take your pick; we’re talking about person-to-person or organization<–>person communications and connections mediated through on-line tools.

Let’s think about business. I think a lot of these legacy silos are not particularly helpful, so let’s imagine for a moment that they are swept off the table and everything is encompassed under one umbrella term: Communications. PR, Marketing, Social Media, etc. – it’s all about communicating to the world at large (people unaware of the company; prospective customers; imminent buyers; existing users; other stakeholders). These communications take various forms, including direct advertising, word of mouth (on- or off-line), press, or what have you, but it’s all communications, and it should all be strategically tied together.

For a business, then, let’s take this practice of communication and view it through the prism of the main goal: increased uptake of offerings and therefore, increased revenue. Business growth. From the perspective of the business, and using rather sterile terms, there are three main stages of this: Customer Awareness, Customer Acquisition, and Customer Retention.

What is the process – the pattern – that occurs to reach this goal of business growth, and how does the discipline of Communications fit? Here’s a suggested way to view it:

Awareness Communications – strategies and tactics that elevate some level of understanding of the company’s existence, offerings, and value. An analogy: this is walking into a party with an attractive, attention-getting outfit.

Qualification Communications – think pre-sales marketing here. Expressing, at some level, what the nature and benefits of the offering are. But this need not be one-way anymore – through networked communications, businesses can much more readily understand the needs and desires of potential customers. Ongoing analogy: chatting up at the party and gauging if there is interest in more than just a polite chat.

Commitment Communications – assuming that the potential customer is seeing genuine value, now the parties discuss how they might get together to meet mutual goals. This is a deeper dive into needs and offerings, and gaining a comfortable feel for overall compatibility. Ongoing analogy: entering into a committed dating relationship.

Satisfaction Communications – the company realizes that its best hope of gaining new customers is by keeping current customers not only pacified, but satisfied to the point of being advocates. Time and two-way communications are invested to build the relationship and improve the offerings. Ongoing analogy: the diligent care and feeding of a marriage relationship.

This is the typical linear process of how business is obtained and grown, and if we range our Communications options and methods along these lines, we can see how a strategic approach to the various legacy disciplines (PR, Marketing, Advertising, etc.) can now be achieved. Each stage of the continuum requires different types/mixes of communication, with differing levels of two-way exchange. “Social Media” plays a role throughout, not as a separate discipline, but as an integral part of two-way communication that should mark an entire process.

When you look at this continuum, ask yourself: does your business have a consistent message that is woven throughout the entire communications landscape? It should.

Oh, and for an interesting twist, swap out the word “Customer” for “Employee”. Sorta makes sense on the recruitment/retention side of things, doesn’t it?

Kind of a mind dump here and lots of loose ends. What do you think? Speak your mind in the comments!

:: So far, we’re attempting to define the landscape of business communications – but in a follow-up post, I want to take something implied here and make it more explicit. Successful business will increasingly be marked, not by a transactional view (I am using communications to persuade you to buy my product so I can make money and you can, maybe, gain a benefit), but by a more holistic relational view. That is, customers and companies will increasingly seek out ways to determine if they are right for each other, something networked communications truly helps enable. My consulting business is built on a “matchmaking” network model and I’ll share a few thoughts on why I think there is tremendous value in this approach…

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Church Advertising FAIL

placeforyou-smSaw this advertising effort on the street this morning and did a double take.

It’s odd enough for a church to promote itself on a trash can. But to toss out the throwaway tagline: There’s a place for you? Perhaps they could have added: Drop-ins welcome!

Consider that a waste of the advertising budget. Or maybe I’m just not being very creative. What tagline might you put on, say, a Dumpster? (add your suggestions in the Comments!)

Why I Follow…Pamela Martin

It’s becoming a tradition on Fridays in Twitterland to tag a bunch of your favorite people for “FollowFriday” – not a bad idea at all, but it has become somewhat overwhelming. Hard to separate signal from noise, and often I can’t possibly discern WHY someone is being followed.

Plus there’s the creeping sense of guilt involved, you know what I mean? If I don’t participate, I’m being ungrateful. And if I do, what about everyone I’m leaving out (it’s only 140 characters, after all!)

So, I thought I’d start a variation on the theme. Just highlight one person on a Friday, and tell you why I follow.

First up: @pamelamartin

Why do I not only follow Pamela, but thoroughly enjoy her tweets? Because she’s very funny, very human, and willing to banter on-line. And, she and husband Frank are one of those amusing and engaging spousal pairs on Twitter.

Then, there’s also SMAST. But you’ll have to follow her to find out what that is. Before the weekend begins.

So, if you want a fun person from Roanoke to follow (note: if you’re ever in Roanoke VA, you MUST have Mill Mountain coffee – my absolute favorite java of all time), it’s Pamela Martin. And if you want a two-fer, @frankmartin is pretty cool too!

Presenting to Win (a SxSW rant)

checkeredflagI’ve been, frankly, disappointed in the quality of many of the South by Southwest sessions. Here’s why: many of those leading these panels/discussions/sessions aren’t trying to win the attention of the audience.

There are many competing sessions, there’s the Twitter stream, there’s the Blogger’s Lounge, and there’s really good BBQ. If you don’t grab my attention and pull me into the session, I’m gone.

So, if you’re a presenter/teacher/whatever, here’s some simple advice on winning your audience.

  1. Start IMMEDIATELY with a WIIFM. If you don’t tell me why I need to be interested, why this matters – if you don’t give us a concrete What’s-In-It-For-Me (right away!) – you risk losing our attention. In your very first minute, give an arresting and practical statement as to why what you’re about to present matters. Your audience is looking at you, hopefully, asking themselves, “What’s the Point?” Answer that.
  2. Follow immediately with a striking metaphor or illustration. If your presentation is worth anything, you’re going to be telling us something that is new, mind-changing, challenging. This means you have to get through the filters and buffers that stand between you and our hard disk (long-term memory), and our hoped-for behavior change. The easiest way to pave the way is by using a practical, easily understood example that parallels the concepts you’re about to present, so that we can have a way to relate the new information to that which is already present in our minds.
  3. After gaining attention and the beginnings of agreement, then begin the linear progression of explanation, argumentation, and clarification that will take your information from your mind to ours. Be sure that you present a concept, then find a way to see how it is going down with the audience. Don’t just race through the material and assume it’s being absorbed. If you lose me on point 1, you’re not going to regain me at point three.
  4. For crying out loud, use a little humor. If you’re not a joke teller, weave in some funny video clips that help make the point. The progression of absorbing new information happens best when there’s an oscillation between serious thought and lighthearted fun.
  5. Be very careful about the assumption that coarse language is a great aid to learning. Believe it or not, some of your audience is offended by it. Are you there to strut your stuff by showing that you, too, can swear like a 12-year-old? Or do you want to reach your audience with your message? Grow a pair and seek the respect of your hearers, rather than resorting to schoolyard language to get a reaction.

For the sake of simplicity, I’ll leave it at those five, though feel free to add your thoughts in the comments. Your goal should not be simply to be up front. It should be to lead your audience to a worthy outcome. First, you have to win them so that they are ready to follow.

(image credit)

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