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What is Your Social Media Content Strategy?

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Yes, "Pick Any Two" generally applies to content as well

A common complaint from businesses, large and small, is that they have a Twitter feed, a Facebook page, a website, a blog, they’re on LinkedIn and YouTube, etc. and they’re doing everything right in terms of being present in social media, but nothing is happening. 

Upon inspection of their customer source data and other metrics, it turns out that they called that pretty accurately; there is nothing happening as a result of their presence in the digital online world. 

Then you look at what is on their Facebook page, or their blog, or their Twitter feed, and it becomes obvious why nothing is happening. They have little or no content, and/or the content is awful and boring. 

As we mentioned in this piece titled, Business Blog Primer, having smart or funny or informative or engaging or thought-provoking content is key to making social media work for your company, whether that’s on a blog, or on YouTube, or on Facebook, or even if you’re simply participating in a discussion on LinkedIn. And it needs to be consistent, as we mentioned in that same piece from a few months ago. There is nothing more pathetic than a business blog that has three posts in the past 12 months. 

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What Is Social CRM?

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There is a very long definition, and then there is the one I’m going to give you: 

Social CRM is the enterprise version of Web 2.0; it enables businesses to share organizational knowledge easily, it gathers information from various sources on the internet, it allows companies to become more social in terms of how information flows back and forth across the organization, and, is specifically designed to help sales teams and developmental teams. 

That was pretty painless, right? 

But, why Social CRM? Don’t businesses already have CRM systems out the wazoo? What’s wrong with those systems? 

Having led some large sales teams, I can answer that question. 

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The Real Scoop on “Authenticity” and What It Means to Your Customers

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By Red Slice on May 4, 2011Reprinted here by express permission of Red SliceType “authentic branding” into Bing and you’ll pull up 581,000 results. The advice to “be authentic” hits business owners and entrepreneurs more than gray skies hit Seattle from October to May. And, yes, I give this advice to my clients.

But what does being “authentic” really mean?

This term has been bastardized a bit in the intersection between entrepreneurship and personal development. Many coaches and consultants are advising people to “live their passion” and “live an authentic life” and to find careers and businesses that “authentically” play to their strengths. This is all great advice.

But some business owners confuse “authenticity” with “only the stuff I care about.” And that’s not really what we’re talking about from a branding perspective.

Having an authentic brand means that you deliver what you promise. Period. You do what you say, You walk your talk. When I go to Walmart, I don’t expect great service or quality fashion. I expect what they promise: low prices. That is authenticity. It has more to do with company values, service quality, product line and image. It means that if you advertise your brand as hip, sexy and cool, then your products, your company – heck, maybe even your people – need to walk that talk. It means if you are going to tout “Customer Service is our #1 Priority” that you authentically take care of your customers, go above and beyond, and empower your call center employees to do whatever it takes to solve their problems quickly and painlessly. It means that if you claim to be cheap and disposable, that you ARE cheap and disposable, because that what people want from you if you are promising that.

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Interest In Blogs Among Teens and Young Adults Fades

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If your organization or business has young people as a target audience or target customers, here’s hoping that you are reaching them through your Facebook site or your Twitter feed.

Surprising no one that follows social media, the most recent data available shows that fewer young people are keeping blogs, and more importantly for businesses, fewer young people are visiting blogs.

The sentiment driving this behavior seems to be a combination of:

  • A feeling that writing a blog takes too long
  • Low readership of small blogs
  • Facebook and Twitter are meeting whatever needs they have for self-expression

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Business Blog Primer

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BLOG ME

If you’re a business these days, you’re supposed to have a blog to go along with your company website. The reasons why?

Well, it can keep your customers informed, for one. It can provide a great platform for your customers to interact with the company, for two. Third, it’s a great way to keep talking about the company in a positive way. Fourth, it’s a good way for the company viewpoint on issues to be delineated, if that is important to the business. Fifth, people may actually come to your site just to read your blog, or, some other site may find something interesting on your blog and link to it, thereby driving potential customers to your site. Sixth, each new blog post (and each new comment, if you allow comments) is yet another reason for the search engine bots to crawl your site, thereby moving you up in the search engine rankings, which is always good for business.

Okay, so a lot of good reasons to have a company blog. The problem is, of course, just as with other things, the execution. Apropos of that execution, how do you get a blog, how do you get good, relevant content for the blog, and how do you keep it going?

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Stodgy Old-Fashioned Dull Obsolete Antique Outdated Sales and Marketing

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What I need is a really cool website.

Online marketing is the only kind of marketing I want to do for my company.

Who needs salespeople when you have the web?

Who needs a call center when you have the web?

I hate actually interacting with someone face-to-face and I’m sure all of my customers hate it, too.

Isn’t everyone on the Internet now?

Digital marketing is always cheaper on a cost-per-account basis.

Everyone just throws out direct mail solicitations.

Outdoor media? You mean, like billboards and stuff? Wow, that’s really old-school, isn’t it?

Why would I bother offering sales training to my customer service employees and my other employees? That’s not their job.

Industry conventions seem like a massive waste of time and, plus, they’re a huge pain.

IF you talk to companies about sales and marketing, you’ll frequently hear comments and questions like this, because everyone’s dream these days is to have a virtual organization that does all its sales and marketing over the web, or on mobile phones, or whatever. You know; the kind of organization where you just click on keys, your advertisements go out, customers respond to your website through an online checkout, and you make millions of dollars with less than 10 employees, and very little overhead.

That’s the kind of marketing plan I want, companies will say.

Well, sure.

I want to date Halle Berry, have my own island, and have Warren Buffet asking me for advice about investing, too. The chance of even one of the items in that scenario occurring for me is about the same as all of the pieces falling into place for the kind of company to happen. Yes, occasionally the planets line up and your idea that turns into your product that your company sells is both irresistible and is able to be sold over the internet in such large numbers that you then have articles in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times business section written about your firm.

But most of the time, the results are less lofty. The internet is merely one small part of all the moving parts that make up a typical successful company, and that’s not how most business comes in the door. Some small companies have less than a dozen employees, but large companies have hundreds, or thousands, of employees. Everyone in the company works hard, because they’re competing with other people at other companies that are working just as hard in the same segment, and that hard work eventually makes for a good living and a good return for the company’s shareholders. It’s not exciting and notable enough so that it’s newsworthy, but it’s a good result. That’s what usually happens.

The reason I’m noting this is because many companies, in their rush to embrace Web 2.0 technology, are now giving short shrift to perfectly good customer acquisition platforms that they’ve successfully used for years, things like a field sales force or radio advertising. Seduced by a younger, more attractive face, these businesses are abandoning their long-time partners for a tempestuous fling with digital marketing. They’re doing this even if that doesn’t make sense in terms of their revenue, profit and strategic goals.

Now, just to be clear, I would not advise any client to eschew a meaningful presence on the web. If you’re in business, your customers need to be able to find you on the web. Much of the work we do for clients is in the area of bolstering their presence on the web, whether that’s through SEO marketing, developing a better website for them, developing a blog component for their corporate site, etc. So we are strong cheerleaders for a healthy web presence.

No, what I’m saying here is that traditional marketing and sales may still be where your company’s bread will be buttered, and there is absolutely no reason to cut back or discard those customer acquisition platforms simply because they’re “not new”.

For many companies, those “old-fashioned” methods are still the most cost-effective, despite all the infrastructure needed, and the blocking and tackling needed to execute, and frankly, with a little tuning up and focused process-improvement work, those old-school platforms can be made even more attractive from a cost-acquisition ratio.

Furthermore, there is absolutely no reason you cannot keep doing what is bringing you good business results currently, and, beef up your profile and capabilities on the internet at the same time. In other words, there isn’t any way to do too much marketing in too many places.

There is an optimum mix of traditional marketing and digital marketing, specific to your company’s needs and goals. Find that mix and your company will prosper. Because, despite what you read in the media about the latest company to set up a website, and 18 months later, launch a $6 billion IPO, most companies still need the combination of traditional marketing and digital marketing to thrive.

Brendan Moore is a Principal Consultant with Cedar Point Consulting, a management consulting practice based in the Washington, DC area, where he advises businesses in marketing, sales, front-end operations, and strategy. Cedar Point Consulting can be found at http://cedarpointconsulting.com

Intuitive to Whom? (In Web Design, it Matters)

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During a recent Management Information Systems course I taught for the University of Phoenix, I posed the discussion question to students, “What do you think are the most important qualities that determine a well-designed user interface?” While responses were very good, nearly all of my students used the term “intuitive” in their response without providing a more detailed description, as though the term has some universal, unambiguous meaning to user interface (user experience) designers and web users alike.

I responded by asking, “Intuitive to whom?…Would a college-educated individual and a new-born infant both look at the same user interface and agree it is intuitive? Or, would the infant prefer a nipple providing warm milk to embedded-flash videos of news stories?”

Far from obvious, an “intuitive” user interface is extremely hard to define because “intuitive” means many different things to many different people. In this article, I challenge the assumption that “intuitive” is obvious and suggest how we can determine what intuitive “is”.

Nature and Nurture

Our exploration of intuitive user interfaces and user experience starts with “nature” and “nurture”, much like the “Nature versus Nurture” debate that occurs when explaining the talents and intelligence of human beings. For those of us who haven’t opened a genetics book in a few decades, if ever, “Nature” assumes that we have certain talents at birth, while “Nurture” proposes that we gain talents and abilities over time.

Certainly, “Nature” plays a role in an intuitive user interface. According to research by Anya Hurlbert and Yazhu Ling, there’s a great deal of evidence that we are born with color preferences and that color preferences naturally vary by gender. In addition, warning colors like red or yellow, such as red on stop signs and yellow on caution signs, are likely a matter of science and genetics rather than learned after we’re born. So, an “intuitive” interface is partly determined by our genes.

“Nurture” also plays a big role in determining our preferences in a user interface. For example, link-underlining on web pages and word density preferences are highly dependent upon your cultural background, according to Piero Fraternali and Massimo Tisi in their research paper, “Identifying Cultural Markers for Web Application Design Targeted to a Multi-Cultural Audience.” While research in personality and user interfaces is still in its infancy, there’s a strong indication that CEO’s have different color preferences from other individuals, as Del Jones describes in this USA Today article.

But, what about navigation techniques, like tabs and drop-down menus? In a recent conversation with Haiying Manning, a user experience designer with the College Board, I was told that “tabs are dead.” This crushed me, quite frankly, because I still like tabs to effectively group information and have a great deal of respect for Haiying’s skills and experience. As a Gen-Xer who spent much of his teen years sorting and organizing paper files on summer jobs, I’m also very comfortable with tabs in web interfaces, as are my baby-boomer friends. My Net-Gen (Millenial) friends seem to prefer a screen the size of a matchbox and a keyboard with keys the size of ladybugs, which I have trouble reading.

In the end, because of “Nature” and “Nurture”, the quest for an “intuitive” user interface is far more difficult than selection of a color scheme and navigation techniques everyone will like. What appeals to one gender, culture or generation is unlikely to appeal to others, so we need to dig further.

It’s all about the Audience

In looking back on successful projects past, the best user interface designers I’ve worked with have learned a great deal about their audience – not just through focus groups and JAD sessions, but through psychometric profiling and market research. This idea of segmenting audiences and appealing to each audience separately is far from new. Olga De Troyer called it “audience-driven web design” back in 2002, but the concept is still quite relevant today.

Once they better understood their target customers, these UI designers tailored the user interface to create a user experience that was most appealing to their user community. In some cases, they provide segment-targeted user interfaces – one for casual browsers and one for heavy users, for example. In other cases, they made personalization of the user interface easier, so that heavy users could tailor the interface based on their own preferences.

They also mapped out the common uses (use cases or user stories) for their web sites and gave highest priority to the most used (customer support) or most valuable (buying/shopping) uses, ensuring that they maximized value for their business and the customer. More importantly, the user interface designers didn’t rely upon the “the logo always goes at the top left” mind-set that drives most web site designs today.

Think about the Masai

In hopes of better defining what “intuitive” is, I spoke with Anna Martin, a Principal at August Interactive and an aficionado of web experience and web design. Evidently, “intuitive” is also a hot topic with Anna, because she lunged at the topic, responding:

“Would you reach for a doorknob placed near the floorboard; or expect the red tube on the table to contain applesauce? Didn’t think so. But what’s intuitive depends largely on what you’re used to.  Seriously, talk to a Masai nomad about a doorknob – or ketchup for that matter – and see what you get. And good luck explaining applesauce. (Cinnamon anyone?). Clearly intuition is dependent on what comes NATURALLY to a user – no matter what the user is using.

So why would the web be any different? It’s not. Virtual though it may be, it’s still an environment that a PERSON needs to feel comfortable in in order to enjoy. Bottom line is this…if you wouldn’t invite your 6 year old niece or your 80 year old grandmother to a rage (did I just date myself?) then don’t expect that every website will appeal to every user.

Know your audience, understand what makes them comfortable; and most importantly try to define what ‘intuitive’ means specifically in regards to sorting, finding, moving, viewing, reading and generally experiencing anything in their generation.”

So, audience-driven web design has firmly embedded itself into the minds of great designers, who must constantly challenge the conventions to create truly creative interactive experiences on the web. Consequently, as the field of user design transitions into a world of user experience, it’s going to require second-guessing of many of the design conventions that are present on the web today. This not only means pushing the envelope with innovative design, it also means we need to have a good handle on what “intuitive” really is.

Donald Patti is a Principal Consultant with Cedar Point Consulting, a management consulting practice based in the Washington, DC area, where he advises businesses in project management, process improvement, and small business strategy.  Cedar Point Consulting can be found at http://www.cedarpointconsulting.com.

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