Monthly Archives: August 2012

The Really Simple Math of Social Media

Here’s a walk down memory lane. Those basic math properties we had to memorize in the seventh grade. chalkboard

Transitive Property of Social Media

This one is taken from the transitive property of equality, which, in case you don’t remember your seventh-grade math, is that if a = b and b=c then a = c. For social media that’s

If social media increases transparency, then it’s as good or as bad for your business as is having the customers see you better.

I kind of like this. In the old days, we saw the business as what its advertising agency and marketing budgets were able to construct for as its facade, also called brand. Nowadays, to the extent the business is operating in Facebook or Twitter, we get a better view. Is it still all corporate and snazzy and artificial?

People are discovering that they like the story and the people in the business, aside from its paid advertising. I’d like to think this helps real people, and small business, compete against manufactured images and big marketing budgets and large business. Fingers crossed.

Applied Elasticity in Social Media

According to Wikipedia, elasticity is the ratio of the percent change in one variable to the percent change in another variable.

According to me, elasticity in social media means that the percent change in the number of active social media participants will be matched by the percent change in the number of social media experts and social media coaches. So the active social media population will always be 50 percent social media experts and 30 percent social media coaches.

Oh-oh. Does that sound cynical?

(Image credit: Marc Dietrich/Shutterstock)

Beware of Bot or Bought Fake Social Media

Some times the right road isn’t the easiest way to go. 

Let’s talk about what it takes to build social media connections. The vocabulary varies from Facebook to Twitter to Google+ to LinkedIn, but the idea is the same. In that great online conversation, the amplified word of mouth, as a business you engage because you want people caring about what you add to the topic. Opinions sometimes, humor sometimes, breaking news, but mostly what we call content. You don’t clutter. 

And what it doesn’t take: the bot-or-bought fake social media. “Bots” are programmed scripts that pretend to be human, winding around social media like nastily little trolls hiding under bridges, faking connections. And “boughts” are fake friends or likes. I’ve seen talk of buying 1,000 likes, or 1,000 twitter followers, for as little as $14.

Bot-boughts are tempting, but shortcuts don’t work. Anybody who cares to scratch the surface can tell, and then you’re looking like that little ethical spot of sleaze is the tip of the iceberg. Those iceberg are slippery slopes, by definition.

So how do you get followers. Are you old enough to remember those commercials where the old guy with the honest-looking face talks says “we make money the old-fashioned way. We earn it.” You grow your social media presence the old fashioned way too. You earn it. And here’s how.

Build connections organically

Use the search features to find people offering content you respect. Follow them. Think of yourself as wanting to be a bird of a feather, so flock together. Search for topics that interest you and connect with people offering content you like. There are bots that will do that but that doesn’t work; it takes a human and it takes time. 

Interact with people you connect with

Social media, although it may be typing on a keyboard, is about listening (or reading). It’s about catching what others are saying and offering something back as a response. It’s about scratching the other person’s back. Yeah, they call that interacting. Think about what you’d tell a kindergarten kid about how to have friends. Follow that advice. 

Share valuable content

Would you go to a cocktail party saying nothing but “buy my product?” Social media is publishing, even if it doesn’t feel like it, creating content bit by bit. And shouting sales slogans all the time turns everybody off. You have to actually offer something other people want to read. Look for good content and pass it on.

Also, if you’re going to engage in social media for your business, avoid clutter. Don’t use any of these platforms to tell your friends what you had for dinner or that the plane is delayed. People won’t follow you for long unless you offer something interesting. 

And you don’t have to be original. Curation means choosing what content you pass along, stuff you’ve seen that you think others would like. Curation is the new content. If you’re curious about that, take a look at our curated social media stream here. That’s curation.  

(Photo credit: by John Bauer, via Wikipedia)

Every Business — Yours Included — Really Needs a Market-Defining Story. Really.

Good market descriptions are rare. I write that as entrepreneur, consultant, and angel investor. Every year I read more than business 100 plans, and watch 3-4 dozen business pitches. Most of the market definitions I see are useless. So I really appreciate a good one. So I’m offering some tips on how to define a market right.

For example, I have a real case: Us. Eugene Social, the site you’re on as you read this. Our market-defining story is this …

Terry loves the business, puts heart and soul into it, and is making it work. Sales are growing, customers are happy, the employees get it. Social media makes Terry nervous, though, because it feels like it’s important for growing the business, but, in Terry’s words, “who has time to run a business and mind social media too?” And that’s where Eugene Social comes comes in: we make time so Terry makes money. We don’t tell people what to do, or how to do it, because that’s really not hard. What we do is the part that is hard: we do the updates, the tweets, the retweets, the content curation, strategically and respectfully, so Terry can focus on the core of the business while the brand is building, traffic is generating, and somebody is taking the time to watch the amplified word of mouth going on in the social media.

The story defines the market several ways:

  1. It explains the need, or want, or, if you like jargon, the so-called “why to buy.” In this case it’s defined in part by what it isn’t: It’s not about selling knowledge, experience, and wisdom by the hour. It’s not built around a guru. Instead, it’s about doing, not knowing. It’s about getting things done in a business setting, and having time to do the right things, but not enough to do everything. It’s about time management, division of labor, and small business owners getting things done. There are millions of social media gurus, some of whom really know the territory. This story isn’t about knowing; it’s about doing. It’s about time.
  2. It defines the target customer. In this case it’s a defined subsegment of small business owners, specifically those who know that social media is good for business, but don’t have time to do it themselves. This too is defined in part by what it isn’t: The target market doesn’t include business owners who either do it themselves or have solutions in place. Furthermore, it doesn’t include business owners who don’t think it’s important.
  3. It leads to credible numbers. In this case, there are about 27 million businesses in the United States, about six million of them big enough to have employees, 21 million so small they don’t have employees, and only a million or so too big to be in this target market. From that big pie we would (if I were going into detail here) cut segments according to how many in social media, how many doing very well with it, how many just dabbling, and so forth. I’ll stop here, assuming you get the idea.
  4. It generates marketing messages, media, tactics, and programs.
  5. It communicates a market to somebody else, like to an investor, banker, partner, or employee.

Do you see what I mean by communicates? The real market isn’t some number, it’s that collection of people. Sure, the number is nice, once you know the people, but first you have to feel like these people actually exist, and the reason to buy exists, and that the people and the reason match up.

The statement “this is a $43 billion market” without a market-defining story means nothing to me. The story drills down to the nitty gritty or the number just annoys me. And I don’t think it’s just me. I’m often with groups of fellow investors, or groups of business plan competition judges, and I don’t think I’ve even met one who cares about the market number without a market-defiining story.

So, business owners, here’s your assignment: immerse yourself in your market-defining story.

And furthermore, if you’re going to be pitching to investors, make it good.

Does Your Social Media Fit Into the Marketing to Sales Funnel?

All business owners should understand the marketing to sales funnel. Wikipedia calls it the purchase funnel. Many people call it the marketing funnel. You can click the image here for the Wikipedia definition and history that goes back more than 100 years. 

The top of the funnel is large, meaning that it is supposed to include a lot of people. That’s about making people aware that your business exists. In a traditional marketing mix it was advertising, public relations for media mentions, possibly promotional activities like contests or seminars or speaking engagements, and so forth.

The funnel narrows, meaning that the numbers grow smaller, as it moves downwards from all those people aware of the business to just the people who might consider buying. So, for example, in classic marketing this is narrowing down from everybody who sees an ad to those who respond to an ad. They are interested. They are considering it. 

The funnel narrows again when people make contact. They become leads. They click a link on the web to find out more; they call the phone; they visit your store. 

At this point the funnel has narrowed from marketing to sales. It’s about converting prospects to customers. It’s about actual choices and factors that determine choices, like price, selection, delivery, and perception.

Perception is one of my favorite parts of the funnel because it defies classification. It’s down there at the bottom influencing the actual decision to buy, which is sales. But it’s also up at the top of the funnel, influencing eventual conversion to sales with large-scale factors like brand image and reputation. Think of it like this: how much does the reputation built in marketing influence the ultimate purchase decision? Do you choose the car, the computer, or the restaurant based on price, delivery, and selection? Or does reputation make a difference? 

Does you social media activity, for your business, fit into this marketing-to-sales funnel? 

10 Tips for Being Great at Sales Without Being Sleazy

More than 40 years ago I spent a miserable summer trying to sell encyclopedias door to door. I hated it. I was terrible at it. And I hated the whole mystique of it: There were trainings on how to get through the door and how to trick people into buying what they didn’t need. And there were sales pep talk sessions where we were supposed to cheer on the success of the best liars. 

Then I started my own business. And, lump in my throat or not, nervous sweaty palms or not, I had to make the sales. My business depended on it. And so I did. And, over time, I discovered all that’s good about selling well, and how to sell right. And I had a serendipity moment: it turns out that the right kind of selling is good for you, for your customer, and for your business. Do it right and everybody wins. Here’s how: 

  1. Shut up and listen. This is by far the most important point. The secret to good selling is real listening. Your conversation should be 95% listening. Find out why Joe or Mary contacted you, what they want, what problem they want to solve. Understand their situation. See it through their eyes. 
  2. Don’t ever sell what you don’t believe is good for the buyer. That’s a tough one, I know, in some circumstances. Still, selling something you don’t believe is good for the customer will hurt you and your career on the long run. If you need the job, be careful about it, but start looking for a different job. 
  3. Empathy. Care about the other person. Great sales, put simply, is understanding what that other person wants and helping him or her get it. You care enough to actually want to solve their problem, or point them in the right direction, rather than just tricking them into buying something. And that means caring enough to not make every transaction a sale. Sometimes what you have to sell isn’t what that person needs.  
  4. Know what you’re selling very well. Understand its guts. Understand who wants it, why they want it, what it’s good for, what it isn’t good for, and especially what people might think it does that it doesn’t do. 
  5. Know the substitutes and near competitors very well. For example, as Business Plan Pro was growing up about a decade ago, I’d ask callers whether they really wanted a business plan for their business, or just a use-once-and-throwaway document to put on the banker’s desk in two days. If they really wanted just the cynical document, regardless of content, I’d recommend a competitor’s product. Most businesses have similar situations, people wanting what their own product/service doesn’t do. Know your territory. 
  6. Make your goal helping the other person. Long term, this makes you better, makes you feel better, gives you and your company credibility, and ends up as a win-win situation. 
  7. Look for how your product can solve their problem. See point #2 above. If you’ve got a job selling a bad product, change jobs. If not, then most of the time the steps above will lead to helping somebody buy what you’re selling. This is how sales are made, customers are won, and healthy relationships with customers start. 
  8. Now tell the truth. If what you have to sell solves the problem, hooray, everybody wins. But what if it doesn’t? Here’s where you have to honor the truth and share what you know about solving the problem to help the person you’re talking to. Sending them somewhere else is way better than just making a quick temporary sale. You already know they aren’t going to be a happy customer now, because that’s the way I set this example. So making the sale anyhow just creates a future unhappy customer. Helping them find something else doesn’t hurt your business and might even (long shot, but still) generate a sale later on, because you were credible today. 
  9. Never send people to bad-faith competitors. Just to clarify my example in #5 above, I’m not suggesting you should send somebody off to your competition unless you respect the competition, and it’s clearly differentiated, and you aren’t building up a competitor for no reason. If they’re Thai food in Miami and you’re Thai food in Seattle, no problem. If they’re Thai food next door and offer better food than you, then sales aren’t your real problem. I especially don’t recommend sending people to bad-faith competitors or sleazy substitutes. 
  10. Don’t bad-mouth competitors either. No matter how tempting, even when somebody asks you straight on to compare your offering to your competition, don’t do it. Say you don’t know the competition, or you haven’t tried it, or you think it’s bad business to make comparisons because you love your business too much to be objective. Telling somebody what’s supposedly wrong with the shop next door has too many risks. 

Will this work? Yes. You’ll sell more, you’ll like yourself, you’ll live your company’s values, you’ll build better relationships with customers from the beginning. Everybody wins. 

Social Networks are the New Media

Robert Young, in GigaOm, suggests Social Networks are the New Media with some fascinating context. I don’t usually quote this extensively, but this is a special case. 

Much like corporations leveraged Internet 1.0 by creating digital storefronts and giving rise to ecommerce, people around the world are now learning how to leverage the incredible power inherent in the URL to create what is essentially a parallel universe of digital identities. And just like all things Internet, digital identities are not subject to the boundaries of geography, or the laws of physics, or any of the other limitations of being a carbon-based life-form. As such, the extensibility and scale of the ‘digital you’ is far-reaching, as are the strategic implications to the media industry. In many ways, the art-form of self-expression has become the ‘new media’, and social networks are their distribution channels.

It’s crucial to understand that social networks are architected to help scale self-expression to new heights, both in terms of the extent of self-expression as well as the reach of distribution (e.g. number of ‘friends’ and the effects of the whole six degrees of separation thing). A simple example… a person on MySpace can have thousands upon thousands of friends. This was not possible before the Internet, and even prior online communications & community innovations like email, chat/forums, and IM didn’t truly enable this kind of scale. Moreover, a person can now express him/herself with multidimensional, multimedia depth via text, photos, audio and video… again, to a degree that was not really possible before.

To some extent, self-expression should be viewed as a new industry, one that will co-exist alongside other traditional media industries like movies, TV, radio, newspapers and magazines. But in this new industry, the raw materials for the ‘products’ are the people… or as Marshall McLuhan might say, ‘the people are the message’ when it comes to social networks. So for any player who seeks to enter this industry and become the next social networking phenom, the key is to look at self-expression and social networks as a new medium and to view the audience itself as a new generation of ‘cultural products’.”

I buy into that. It applies to the platforms (like RebelMouse) more than what we’re doing here at Eugene Social; but it’s nice to think about what’s going on at a deeper level. 

Do You Think ‘Be Lazy’ ‘Do Less’ and ‘Ignore Trends’ Is Good Advice?

I love the contrarians. Surprise me, please. Puncture the myths, buck the trends, ignore the cliches. Brad Smith goes straight contrarian with these three tips for social media success: 

  1. Be lazy
  2. Do less
  3. Ignore trends

That sparked some interesting comments for the post on Social Media Today.  I bet that doesn’t surprise you. 

But when you look at it, his advice isn’t that contrarian. It’s two-thirds content and one third skepticism.

The two thirds content is (first) suggesting that providing good content allows you to be lazy because instead of pursuing people, you offer content, and they pursue you. And (second) that doing less is creating content instead of lots of updates. Both points seem valid to me; neither point is surprising, 

And on that last third, ignoring trends, Brad has an interesting example. He says Pinterest is all the rage, but businesses will find Pinterest traffic isn’t necessarily their target market. I suppose that’s true, but he goes on to suggest that following trends is the opposite of working on marketing fundamentals. I don’t think that’s really true.

Still, there are some interesting ideas there. And twisting the unexpected, with what sounds like bad advice but turned on its side, is fun. Nice post.