Archive for the ‘Communications basics’ Category
In a world where new ways to communicate appear almost daily, it’s easy to get confused about where to spend your time and marketing dollars. Of all the bullets out there, which one is silver? So what if I told you I can answer that very question?
It isn’t Facebook or Twitter. Nor is it Google advertising. Or affinity marketing, or email blasts, or Groupon coupons or any of the other shiny options out there. Even a great website won’t assure you success. Companies die every day even though they’re doing a lot of these things quite well.
What works? Work.
Shoe leather. Getting on the phone, making those calls. Getting out and seeing people. (See, I told you you wouldn’t like it.)
If you’re like most of us, you’d rather automate everything. Crank out self-serving tweets and Facebook messages by the dozen. Keep the Constant Contact emails humming. Buy some ads. Put out a press release. Hire and delegate. Then sit back and wait for the magic to happen.
I’ve been watching — and using — media of all types for some 35 years, and I’ve seen a lot of success using everything from newspaper classifieds (though not lately) to radio to television to direct mail to Facebook. But I’ve never found any media strategy that would work by itself. Not even the ones I come up with.
To be sure, media are necessary. They’re tools, and they can be very effective if we use them right. But they can’t do the work without the one constant.
I’ve always known this, but I’ve come to a fresh appreciation of it as I’ve reflected my experiences in serving my biggest market niche: real estate auctioneers. I keep a close eye on the methods used by various companies, and I talk to a lot of auctioneers. I listen to stories. And of course, I’ve learned a great deal over the years from my own clients.
In short, the people — and the companies — that sell the most are the ones that work the hardest. They pour time and money into research about properties before they agree to sell them. They identify prospective buyers long before they start advertising, so the ads are better targeted. They follow up promptly on leads.
When they use Facebook and Twitter, they take the time to do it right. They “waste time” on conversations that don’t lead directly to sales, because they know that it pays off in the long run. (In short, they understand that Social Media are, in fact, social.) They get a feel for the networks by actually spending some time there, so they don’t step on their own feet. Above all, they avoid the temptation to automate their posting, sending out stuff they haven’t even read.
If there were any magic, I’m pretty sure I’d have found it by now.
And I have. Talking to people — whether face to face, on the phone, on email, or through Social Media. It’s the best way I know to work some magic of your own.
There are lots of lenses through which we can view the world. For some, it’s a struggle between good and evil. For others, a matter of who works hard and who doesn’t. For still others, it’s all about great ideas.
They all make sense, more or less.
My lens is the story.
Sure, when I’m putting together a public relations plan for a client, I tend to start by thinking through the client’s market position, strategic strengths, stakeholders and so forth. We set goals and objectives, then develop strategies and tactics. Then we do stuff and see if it works. (In the business, we call that implementation and evaluation.) If it doesn’t, we try something else.
But none of that energizes anybody. It doesn’t inspire or motivate. You can’t rally around a plan. You don’t take a buddy to lunch and tell him about it.
You need a story.
I spent several years managing employee communications for BellSouth, which had 90,000 people at the time. We talked a lot about developing a “corporate culture.” But what drives a great culture?
Great stories. People going to extraordinary lengths to take care of a customer. An engineer with an idea. In the 1970s and 1980s, the hot business book was In Search of Excellence, by a couple of consultants named Tom Peters and Robert Waterman. Everybody acted like it was a revolutionary new roadmap for success. Really, it was just a book of stories.
The common thread: Recognizing and telling a great story
If you look at people who matter, you’ll notice that most of them have this in common: They recognize a good story. They tell it. They make us remember it. Brother Bryan told drunks in Birmingham how they could get their lives back. He told the next drunk how the last one did it. He told us about them, and we gave him money to help more.
There are millions of others. Franklin Roosevelt told us stories of better times behind us — and ahead. Mother Teresa told the stories of outcasts. Martin Luther King told the story of his dream.
We love our storytellers, whether they be troubadours like Bob Dylan, humorists like Garrison Keillor or novelists like Truman Capote and Robert Heinlein. We buy the ideas of a Tony Robbins, knowing he’s basically just a pitchman, because he tells a great story. Without his storytelling talents, Steve Jobs may have never formed a cult of people who pay more for his products just because they’re his.
A story makes us remember an idea like a song can make us remember a poem. It lowers our defenses. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been on the ropes trying to sell an idea, then turned things around by saying, “Let me tell you how ___ did this.”
Tell stories. Make good stuff happen.
It’s easy to spot somebody who’s just jumped on the Social Media bandwagon. On Facebook, especially, newbie behavior is as predictable as the sunrise. So those who are willing to learn just a few basics can come across as old pros from the day they they show up on Facebook and Twitter.
- Take the “social” in “Social Media” seriously. Take the time to respond to messages from your friends and people you follow. Send a private or direct message now and then to people you know well enough. Post positive replies on posts by others — but not too many! Just enough to show you care about what others have to say.
- It’s ok to post messages promoting your business, but balance them with personal or non-promotional messages. As in the real world, people tune out those who talk only about themselves. I tell clients to keep promotional posts to less than 30 percent of their total.
- Don’t try to automate your posts by having sites like Twitterfeed post messages based on RSS feeds. (If you’re a true newbie, you probably don’t even know what I’m talking about, but after a while you’ll learn how to do this and be tempted.) Some experienced Twitter users will unfollow you if you start letting these sites and apps post stuff you’ve never even read.
- Avoid Facebook apps and games like a case of e-coli. Each time you add a Facebook app, you will see a screen that asks you to give it permission to post messages to your news feed. Just say no. Sure, you’ll miss out on a few apps that are actually useful, but the grief and embarrassment you save yourself will more than compensate for it.
- If you simply can’t live without trying your hand at Farmville, Cityville and Mafia Wars, at least deny the games permission to post messages to your account. Few things are more annoying than endless messages announcing that you have achieved superhuman level on Whateverville, or that you need somebody to give you a pair of golden shoes to ascend to the next level.
- Don’t click anything that looks too interesting. Facebook is full of scams and viruses that will do embarrassing things like send phony messages to your friends. You’ll get a feel for how to spot these messages, but things like “OMG!” or “You MUST see this!” or “Hilarious!!!” are reliable red flags. Anything with more than one exclamation point is probably linked to a malicious app. (Corollary: Keep words like that out of your posts.)
- Don’t flood the feed. I don’t know that there’s a magic number at which you’re overposting. For some it may be 10 a day. For others, it may be 2. It depends on your content, your style and your friends or followers. Just err on the side of taking it slow and you’ll be OK.
Finally, go back and re-read Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. Every word applies to Social Media just as it does to face-to-face interactions.
My dad was a very good woodworker, and when I was a kid, he’d let me hang out with him while he made pieces of furniture. Naturally, he couldn’t help trying to teach me a few things.
I was interested, but the lessons he wanted to teach were hopelessly dull. Dad was a fanatic on making precise cuts and keeping the pieces of wood square. (Yawn.) Forget that, I thought. I want to play with the saw, lathe and other power tools. Zazzoom!
Years later, I set up my own woodworking shop. And just as Dad did, I make a piece of furniture here and there, though not nearly as well. I love my toys, so I naturally have fancy gadgets Dad never dreamed of — power planers, laser-guided saws, and high-powered routers with jigs that simplify a lot of the work. But the more I learn — and the more I use my tools — the more deeply I understand Dad’s hopelessly dull lessons: Make your cuts straight, precise, and square. If something’s off by even 1/64th of an inch (or, God forbid, 1/32nd), it can ruin a piece of furniture.
These days, we tend to get caught up in all the shiny new communications tools at our disposal. New blogging platforms, social media, SEO tricks and the like. OK, most of this is old stuff now, but there’s always something changing, and it takes our focus away from where it needs to be: on having a clear, compelling message.
When I write something badly (as I sometimes do — and yes, you probably do too), it doesn’t matter much how it gets published. Whether it’s a web page, a press release, a blog post or a tweet, it won’t get the job done. Not very well, at any rate.
By all means, play with your toys. But always start by making your cuts straight and square.
A major reason is that stories move us and stick with us better. We tell them to our family and friends, and that cements them in our minds. And that’s a great lesson for all of us as we communicate about our products and services. With the exciting (and sometimes puzzling) changes in media technologies these days, we sometimes focus too much on the media and give short shrift to the message.
Let’s face it: the Christmas Story is about as good as it gets. A mother giving birth in a barn and using the cow’s food dish as a crib. Angels singing. Lights in the sky. Oriental kings paying homage, as the local tyrant kills hundreds of babies but misses the right one. I mean, sheesh, if that story doesn’t stick with you, I don’t know what will.
The 10 Commandments and Epistles, by contrast, are information. We don’t remember those unless we work at it. They don’t create pictures in our minds. I spent my first 10 years as a reporter and editor for The Birmingham News, where my first city editor, Clarke Stallworth, hounded me daily about the importance of telling a great story. And he was right. (He was also a great storyteller himself!)
That’s why I always try to find a story in whatever I’m communicating, and why becoming a great storyteller can improve your results as well.
I spend a lot of my time these days promoting upcoming real estate auctions, and those provide some great stories. A farm family selling their property after more than a century because the next generation prefers city life. A home previously owned by a rock star. A piece of ground settled in the early 1600s.
But you can find a story in almost anything if you look hard enough and ask enough questions. Folks love the stories of Steve Jobs, Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard inventing computers in their garages. (What is it about computers and garages, anyway?) In the 1980s, when Jim Koch was launching his new line of beer, he tapped into the legends of Revolutionary firebrand Samuel Adams. But my favorite story — which as far as I knew was never used in the brewery’s marketing materials — was the one of how Koch showed up one day for an elective college course on homebrewing. The instructor asked the students why they had enrolled and practically all of them said it was because the winemaking class was closed. The exception? Koch, who earned some raised eyebrows by saying he wanted to start a brewery.
I can just keep in mind the sarcastic “Yeah, right” comments. (Keep in mind that this was before the explosion in microbreweries. At the time, the choices were pretty much Bud, Miller and Coors.)
Ask questions. Dig a bit. Use your imagination. Tell stories. You’ll get better results. I promise. And if you don’t, I’ll buy you a beer.
Not all the NewMediaRules address mass media. In fact, new rules of economy, good judgment, simple courtesy or plain coolness have evolved regarding the way you use your phone.
Here six of them:
1. Lose the dedicated fax line unless you’re in a business where faxing signatures is a daily requirement. Otherwise, there’s absolutely no reason to tie up a $60-a-month business line for a dedicated fax. If you can’t go cold turkey, at least switch to one of the online fax services, which you can get for about $10 a month. But don’t tell anybody you have a fax number, or you’ll be branded as hopelessly out of touch.
2. At least consider dropping your toll-free number. Why? Because nobody pays toll any more. Practically everybody you’re likely to hear from has unlimited long-distance calling. In fact, about the only toll being paid is that for toll-free numbers. Because you typically pay for each call that comes in over the line, you’re incurring a cost that doesn’t provide any benefit. So why do I say “consider”? Simply because you may have spent so much time and money getting and communicating a toll-free number that it would hurt your business to change it.
3. Never, never, never allow anyone in your office to say “so-and-so is on long distance.” That meant something 30 years ago when you were paying a quarter a minute to talk long distance. Now, it just means you’re clueless.
4. Don’t come off like a stalker by calling somebody’s cell number six times in a row. If the person didn’t answer, he or she still knows you called. (Corollary: Don’t call one number, then hang up and call the other. This is incredibly annoying to the person who’s already on a conversation and has to listen to you attempting to horn in twice in five minutes.)
5. Poll your associates about their preferences for voice mail. Younger folks, as you would expect, prefer that you send a text or email with a message, rather than forcing them to call and listen to your muffled message while they’re riding the noisy tram at an airport. On the other hand, an older associate might not have a phone package that includes texting, so you’d be costing that person money by sending a text. (If he or she has a smart phone, on the other hand, an email will work just as well without incurring an SMS charge.)
6. Make yourself easy to reach by giving people one number to reach you. Either keep your desk phone forwarded to your cell when you’re away, or use a service that allows calls to ring your desk and cell at the same time.
We talk a lot about the “New Media Rules,” but there are some rules that will never change, because they are rooted in human nature. One of the most important old rules is timeless: Know your audience.
With all the excitement over the media options open to us today, it’s easy to focus exclusively on the media we use without paying much attention to such questions as:
- Are we talking to the right people — that is, the people who can buy our products or help our clients? If not, why are we talking? When I see “social media gurus” bragging about their thousands of followers, my first question is, “Who are they?” Some claim they know, but the truth is that hardly anybody with more than a few followers has any idea who they really are. Numbers mean very little if you’re not reaching the right people.
- Are we using the right medium? A while back, I heard about a social media marketing firm that was charging a company substantial fees for posting company news to its Facebook fan page. The fan page had a total of seven fans. They were literally talking to nobody. On the other hand, if you’ve consciously built up a Facebook friends list of people in your industry or customer base, you may have an effective tool for carrying on conversations with people who are important to you, your career, your employer or your client.
- Do we know what we’re after? I subscribe to the “behavioral school” of communications that believes you haven’t communicated until you’ve changed someone’s behavior. It doesn’t matter whether you want people to buy a product, write their congressman or eat less fat. If they do something different as a result of what you’ve communicated, you’ve succeeded.
By all means, learn about the new vehicles available and see how they can work for you. But do yourself a favor and remember that the greatest medium in the world won’t do you any good if you’re talking to the wrong people.