Category Archives: SocialSteve

Building a Strong Community

community

A little over a month ago, I declared that “In Marketing, A Community Trumps an Audience.” Having community members validates that you deliver value to a group.   That group often serves to be your brand’s best costumers and advocates.

By the time you read this, I will have started a new chapter in my marketing career. I am responsible for social marketing and audience development for a company that is providing support, resources, and great information for a particular need, while also serving as a platform for individuals to help/support one another. I am responsible for building a community. As I prepare to build a most engaged community, I thought it would be worthwhile to share with you my strategy and approach for building a community.

To start, I borrow a simple, but profound methodology from Simon Sinek.

Simon Sinek - WHY

Most people start with a definition of what they are doing. As Sinek points out, this is premature. Start with “WHY.” Why are you building a community? Why is there a need? Why will people value participation in your community?

Once you define “why,” then you should define “how.” How are you going to get people aware and interested in your community? It is not initially about getting 10,000 to join the community. It is more about getting 100 influencers on board that will help you market your community.

A word about influencers here … Many people think they will reach out to influencers and get them to advocate on behalf of your community. Wrong. What is in it for the influencer? If you want an influencer to advocate on behalf of your community, you must deliver an opportunity for them to further develop their audience. You must give them an opportunity to shine and receive accolades within your community. Think about their perspective. Why would they want to “partner” with your community? What is in it for them? Make sure you have this well defined before you reach out to influencers.

Now comes the what … what is your community offering? What channels will you use? What will members get? What will they receive and what will they give?

Once you have the Why, How, and What defined here are a handful of rules you should follow:

1) Define the personality, tone, and persona for the community. This personality should prevail independent of which staff member is conversing. Make sure all communication and engagement feels cohesive to the community you serve.

2) Build your own community. Do not assume Facebook or any other platform is your community. But use social platforms such as Facebook and others as an extension of your owned community. Use the social channels to drive people to your owned community. (I touched on this issue three years ago in an article “Why Facebook May Not Be Your Brand’s Community.”)

3) Produce and curate content that is valued information. Produce and curate content that motivates discussions and debates.

4) Let everyone participate and share.

5) Inspire. Challenge.

6) Highlight contributors and give credit to others.

7) Identify power users and build one-to-one relationships.

8) Allow criticism and opposing views.

9) Find ways for members to engage with one another. This is more important and valuable than you being the only one to converse with the members.

10) Create sub-groups for niche discussions.

11) Think offline as well as online. Host online and offline discussions and get- togethers. Motivate your community to connect locally in person. Give them tools to do so.

12) Experiment and capture empirical data to know exactly what your community reacts strongly and weakly to.

13) Have patience. It takes time to build a strong community. Strong in engagement. Strong in numbers.

I hope this helps. I am very excited to put these steps and guidelines to work in my new endeavor. The best part about digital marketing goes beyond selling. It allows you to connect with like-minded people to build meaningful and valuable relationships.

Make It Happen!
Social Steve

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Key Issue Making Technology Work for Your Marketing Efforts

digital communication

A few weeks ago I crafted an article that got a very strong positive response – “Great Marketers Are Perpetual Students.” Having your antennae up and looking at human behavior is part of being one who is constantly learning. This week, I saw something very interesting play out in my own family.

I witnessed two very different ways of communication by my daughter, a freshman finishing up her first year of high school. Maya was preparing for final exams; more specifically she was studying for a math final. She was confused about finding the angle size of a shape. To no surprise my wife and I were not able to help her, so she texted a question to a friend. The answer she got back added more confusion. She asked me what she should text back. I said, just pick up the phone and talk it through, that will be much faster than a million texts going back and forth. She would not oblige. She only felt comfortable texting with this “friend.”

In a second interesting instance, she was doing extra credit for a history project. She was video conferencing with a close friend. What actually surprised me most was that she let me witness the entire call as I was in the same room. (Well actually she did not invite me to watch, but the fact that she did not run off to her room and shut the door is surprising from a teenage daughter.) Anyway, her and her friend spent the conversation in a typical teen-like multitask way … part casual conversation, part sharing ideas and advice on the project, and part doing their own thing in their own physical environment. I was quite impressed how the two got so much accomplished and at the same time demonstrated a caring, bonding relationship.

Now I know you are probably wondering what this has to do with marketing, the subject I usually address in my writings. Well it has everything to do with marketing. In the first scenario, my daughter contacted someone she did not have a strong a relationship with. Someone that was not part of her everyday care. The communication between the two was poor. My daughter half-heartedly threw the first friend a question only to look to get back what SHE wanted out of the communication. In the second scenario, my daughter and the other friend had a very strong relationship. The communication was strong and they accomplished much. They got the assigned task completed and at the same time continued to build on their relationship.

So ask yourself as a marketer, are you just throwing something up on the fast moving digital marketing train without really knowing your audience and having no concern for their interests? Or are you using digital marketing technology to strengthen relationships and to drive brand objectives at the same time? An overwhelming number of digital marketing serves no value, no brand marketing success. And this is due to two main factors. First, not understanding the audience that you are speaking to and lack of empathy for that group. Second, I ask a very decisive question to you. Now be honest with yourselves … Do you really care about the audiences’ needs like they are in fact a true friend or are you only looking to satisfy your objectives?

Let me state something that is likely obvious, but yet often gets ignored in practice. You will only be successful using technologies if you really work to build strong meaningful relationships at the same time. You cannot simply post and expect people to react in a favorable way unless you are putting up your end of a relationship and reinforcing thoughtfulness for them.

People want their brands to care. They do not just want to be sold to. Are you executing in a way that demonstrates to your audience that you really care?

Make It Happen,
Social Steve

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Understanding Social Marketing Means Understanding Audience Development

audience development
It still astounds me when I see an article questioning the value of social marketing. (Notice I said social marketing and not social media. Social marketing is a strategy, plan and activity that use multiple channels to connect, communicate, and engage with a target audience. Social media is a technology platform.) Many have questioned, and some have addressed, social marketing ROI. I myself have written a number of articles on the ROI question here and here. But the value of social marketing is not something to measure in terms of ROI. It should be measured in terms of audience development.

Lets start by defining audience development as it relates to marketing and such that it can be aligned to company KPIs (key performance indicators.) Audience development means that you begin by getting people’s attention and get them attracted to your brand. Once you have them aware of your brand, you want them to have deeper interest in what you offer. You want them to look for and desire more information as it relates to the product or service you offer. You not only want them to purchase your product, but to be a repeat buyer and develop loyalty for your offering. And ultimately you want people to love your brand and do objective marketing on behalf of your brand (make recommendations about your brand to others).

Now if you understand audience development in these terms, I would hope that it is easy to see how social marketing can work for you. What if brands really had friends? Think about how you develop friends. You have some common interest. You communicate and share. It is not just about you. Friends look for you to be there when you need them. Thus, you are there for your friends when they need you. So if we apply this mentality to common business objectives, isn’t it valuable for brands to have friends? Friendship is a relationship. A partnership of some kind. And partnerships are only valuable and last if both parties get something out of the relationship.

So brands need to give more than they did in the past. Brands need to do more than just have a great product. They need to be there for their audience in more ways than simply selling. They need to develop their audience.

It was exactly six years ago that I shared my perspective on audience development. Back then, I addressed it in social media terms, but I soon came to the realization that social media was a platform and that I would use various platforms to strengthen my marketing efforts. I talked about capturing “the ultimate audience,” but it really was not about “capturing” an audience, but rather developing and evolving an audience. I came up with what I have termed “The A-Path.”

As a brand, I first want to get the attention of a target group. Then I want them to be attracted to my brand. Over time I look for them to build affinity for my brand. At some point, they like my brand and user experience enough to opt-in and become a member of my audience either by email sign-up, joining my community, or following the brand. A subset of the audience members are power users and I look to develop very close relationships with these individuals in an attempt to create advocates.

Attention to Attraction to Affinity to Audience to Advocacy. That is audience development. And social marketing should consist of a strategy, plan, execution, and measurement aimed at these five stages of audience development.

So forget social marketing ROI in terms of sales. Your objective of social marketing should be audience development. Audience development in terms of the A-Path. You can build a strategy, plan, execute, and measure each stage of the A-Path. Go ahead. Develop your audience and see measured results. If you do so, I guarantee you all your executives’ KPIs will be realized.

Make It Happen,
Social Steve

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Great Marketers are Perpetual Students

learning

In my career, I have been on many job interviews. There is one question that is often asked … the usually uncomfortable “What is the area that you need the most growth or development in?” I am not sure that the interviewer gets a real answer to the question, because the one being interviewed often takes the question as “What do you suck at?” No one wants to answer that in truth on an interview.

A couple of weeks ago, I was interviewing with a company and I was asked that probing question. My answer – “Everything. As a marketing executive driven to produce true product awareness, value, and advocacy, I am constantly learning. The audience behavior has changed dramatically. Technology has changed, and more than being wrapped in technology, I need to assess how audiences react and use these technologies. In order to deliver excellence, I need to be constantly growing and learning.”

Now I might be preaching to the wrong choir here. If you are reading this article, you probably have read a number of industry newsletters and blogs to keep up on marketing. But simply reading is not enough. Marketing is a contact sport. You cannot just read a playbook and go out in the marketing field and be successful. You need to practice on field and get your repetitions and experimentation in and executed. You need to really engage and see how people react.

It still astounds me that many seasoned veterans avoid perpetual growth and development. At one point in my career, I worked for a Chief Strategy Officer. She was well read and educated. But she did not participate on digital platforms she was including in clients’ strategy. How could you really get a true feel for how people participate (or don’t) if you are not active in these playing fields? Far too many senior marketing executives have lost touch with today’s audiences. These senior executives have a wealth of marketing experience that is absent from junior marketers. Especially as it relates to driving CEOs KPIs (key performance indicators). This is a skill set junior marketers do not possess yet. But at the same time, “senior” experience is wasted if it is not complimented by continuous learning AND practical participation.

Just short of a year ago I stated the following in an article “The Dramatic and Fundamental Change in Marketing and What You Need to Do” …

“The Internet and digital communications allowed a shift of control of brand reputation to the consumer and purchasing business. Make no mistake. Brands can no longer make bogus claims. There is a democratized public that now plays the role of judge and jury. Technology enabled a behavioral change. Digital allows a new way for people to communicate – faster and to a larger audience.”

This technology change has fueled the greatest change in consumer (and B2B) behavior. If senior marketers are just going to leave “digital” knowledge and experience to “digital natives” there will continue to be a great hole in delivering marketing excellence that yields empirical results.

On another interview, within the past couple of weeks, I was asked if I was a strategist, or a strategist that also executes as well. I answered the latter. A successful strategist must get their fingernails dirty and get into practical execution. Top marketing strategists can deliver recommendations that yield 85% effective results at of the gates at best. They must then launch their strategy and dig into engagement and execution to see how their strategy and plan plays to the audience they look to capture. And then use empirical results to tweak the strategy and plan. People’s attitudes and behavior change quickly. You need to be active and engaging to stay on top of your target audiences’ reactions.

So I urge you, whether you are senior, junior, or somewhere in between. Metaphorically, go back to school. Get back in training. Get back into hands-on practice.

Make it Happen,
Social Steve

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In Marketing, A Community Trumps an Audience

community

Throughout my marketing career, I have been focused on the target audience of the brands I represent. I have been working with many companies to make them more vigilant to their audiences’ wants, needs, desires, and motivations as opposed to simply espousing product communication and advertisement.

For example, I worked with a company that had strong SSL (secure socket layer) technology. They would talk about how their SSL solution was superior using technological terminology. One segment of the target audience was the financial services industry. But they were not buying SSL technology, they were buying payment card authorization solutions. Yes, SSL is a key part of that solution. But successful marketers speak in the vernacular of their audience. Not their own language.

So yes, target audience focus is essential. But as brand representatives, don’t we want more than an audience of customers and potential customers? Wouldn’t we love to have “members” and advocates? A community member is a deeper relationship? What if we created a community of like-minded people that support one another? What if this was accomplished under the moniker of a brand? Not using the community as a place for brand agenda, but a community focused on some kind of an alignment with the brand category. That is something people would gravitate to.

How do you actually develop community? It starts by providing outstanding original content that helps your audience in an area that is relevant to the brand category. Augment that original content with curated content that reinforces what your brand stands for and is valued by your audience. Then provide an area for people to discuss topics. Engage with people and give them a platform and opportunity to converse amongst themselves. Seed conversations. Set up subgroups for various topics.

When you build a community, you naturally assent to a leadership role in your brand category. When you build a community, you naturally build relationships that spawn advocates for your brand. People share the content you develop and conversations that are happening in your community.

Yes, building a community is hard work. People are not going to suddenly flock to your nest. A community will be a small subset of your target audience. But look at it this way … wouldn’t you be happy to have five new people sharing your brand; standing up for your brand? Five people are a start. Then it becomes 15; 40; and 100. Even if you developed a community of 100 active people – that is 100 more people to advocate for your brand content and solutions.

I stress building a community. Not only does it produce deeper relationships with your audience, but it forces marketers to truly think and act upon audiences’ needs and engagement. Even if a small set of your target audience becomes part of your community, the marketing efforts to build a community are effective for the entire audience. People want brands to help them. Be there for them. They don’t want advertorial content pushed upon them.

Think of your audience as a potential community. Act as you would as a leader of a community instead of an advertorial spinster. Your target audience will most certainly be more receptive to your brand presence and exposure.

Make It Happen,
Social Steve

PS – If you are interested in building a brand community, also see “Successful Social Marketing – Integrating Content and Community.”

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The Changing Style of Successful Leaders

In my career, I have seen significant change in successful leadership styles. (I’ll get to that in a bit.) The first thing I do when wanting to address “leaders” and “leadership” is to establish a base line. What is a leader? What is leadership?

Naturally, I Googled “leader” to get a definition. The first definition that came up in the search is very poor. It states, “the person who leads or commands a group, organization, or country.” That’s great, but want does in mean to lead? What is leadership?

The second source, Wikipedia, does a much better job with the definition … “Leadership has been described as a process of social influence in which a person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task. For example, some understand a leader simply as somebody whom people follow, or as somebody who guides or directs others, while others define leadership as motivating and organizing a group of people to achieve a common goal.“ This definition pretty much covers the crux of “The Changing Style of Successful Leaders.”

Leader

About 15 years ago, I was part of an elite group of professionals that were groomed as the future executives of a large corporation. The company provided special getaways and training for some select company directors. I remember a particular session where the CEO came in to do a talk on leaders. He started the session off by asking everyone in attendance for the definition of a leader. Finally he said, “A leader is someone that everyone wants to follow.” … An answer no one provided. We then talked about different leadership styles throughout history ranging from fear-induced motivation to charismatic leaders and everything in between.

Today, a successful leader does not simply have followers. They deliver successful results. Let’s name a few continuously (for the most part) successful businesses – Apple. Coca-Cola. Google. Amazon. Starbucks. Disney. Nike. Procter and Gamble. And the list can go on. There is a common thread among these companies … they have all stayed innovative in some manner throughout the years. So to deliver successful results, a leader must keep his/her company innovative.

If we go back to the Wikipedia definition for leader it says that a leader is “somebody who guides or directs others, while others define leadership as motivating and organizing a group of people to achieve a common goal.” Now I will categorically say that innovation comes from motivating and organizing people to achieve a common goal as opposed to simply guiding and directing others.

What I am saying is that innovation must be directly tied to leaders and leadership. Leaders need to produce innovation in the name of increased sales, increased profits, increased market share, introduction of a new product or service, or any other company objective. I dare say that innovation needs to be the source of every successful objective and outcome.

This past week, I read an exceptional column titled, “Nine Behaviors That Drive Innovation” by Jack Zenger. I highly recommend reading the entire article, but to summarize Jack suggests that successful leaders drive innovation as follows:

1. Leaders jointly create a vision with their colleagues.
2. They build trust.
3. Innovation champions were characterized by a willingness to constantly challenge the status quo.
4. Leaders who fostered innovation were noted for their deep expertise.
5. They set high goals.
6. Innovative leaders gravitate toward speed.
7. They crave information.
8. They excel at teamwork.
9. They value diversity and inclusion.

Thus successful leaders are not simply followed. They are collaborative team builders that leverage diversity within a group and use empirical data to make keen decisions. When I think back to a number of executives I have worked for I stop to ask myself, “How did they ever get here?” I also remember a handful that were true leaders that always challenge the status quo. They are successful because of their own desire to make positive change (innovation) and not intimidated by others. Now I am sure there will be a number of company leaders that land where they land due to politics and other obscure reasons, but true leaders are distinguished by success via the innovation they bring to fruition yielding strong business results. Thus you can be a leader no matter where you sit in the company organization chart. Work in a collaborative nature and capture the expertise and views throughout your organization. Grab different information and make decisions based upon subject matter experts in your organization. Move quickly and be prepared to deviate based upon measured results.

Make It Happen,
Social Steve

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Here is Why Social Marketing is such a Vital Part of Experiential Marketing

This past Tuesday I was watching the news on TV and learned about the horrific train derailment just outside of Philadelphia that killed 8 and injured hundreds. Now I do not mean to be insensitive making light of the chilling event to tell a social marketing story, but something extremely poignant played out. The various news stations could not get the story out. They did not have their team there yet. They were actually getting the story and bringing it to their viewers via social media monitoring of the public’s Twitter and Instagram posts.

That’s right, the public was their feed and source to re-share with their audience. Isn’t that exactly what marketers want to do to create the most effective and honest story telling of their brands? Get the audience to experience the brand, share the experience, and then amplify the information.

Marketers need to look at human behavior. They need to leverage what people naturally do as opposed to creating a story that does not resonate with their audience. Marketers cannot shove interruptive advertisement down the throat of their audience. Marketers need to create experiences that their audience want to share.

experiential marketing plus social marketing

Yes, experiential marketing includes events that everyone wants to share with their friend. Those are the big hits. But a brand cannot put on a Coachella-like event every week. Brand’s most successful marketing efforts come from developing and implementing a continuous series of small customer experiences. This can be as simple as stellar customer service or friendly and helpful engagement.

If we go back to the point I made about understanding audience behavior, you will release that people do not share mediocre or average stuff. They share extremes. Like the cases of the train derailment. People shared this because it was horrific. Your audience will share horrible experiences they have with your brand. But they will also share outstanding experiences with your brand. So marketers (and the entire company organization) must strive to create awesome customer experiences. They must then strategize ways to incentivize people to share these experiences.

You see social marketing is not so much about a brand posting on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, SnapChat … (the list can go on forever). It is more about activating a happy and compelled audience to share your brand on the audiences’ preferred social platform. Social marketing is about motivating positive word-of-mouth marketing from their audience. That is power, because their word and accolades are far more believable then claims coming from the brand itself.

In order to accomplish this persuasive word-of-mouth marketing, brands must focus on the entire user experience. This is how experiential marketing must grow. Experiential marketing must focus on ALL the little customer experiences and not just a grand event.

Experiential marketing and social marketing can be a brand’s most effective integrated discipline. Give your audience amazing continuous experience and motivate them to share it with their audience.

Make It Happen,
Social Steve

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