May 26, 2011

Is Your Social Media Voice Oscar-Worthy?

As businesses flock to social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and FourSquare, it’s more important than ever to create a distinctive social media voice that stands out from the crowd and reflects your own unique offering.

While most businesses are vigilant about keeping branding and messaging consistent across their websites, business cards, and e-blasts, many still don’t focus on how they speak to their customers via Facebook and Twitter.

If you’re an authoritative financial brand whose target audience is high net worth C-suite investors, for instance, you may not want to use Twitter to urge them to “check out this awesome mashup.” Or, if you’re an edgy fashion retailer whose target market is 20-something fashionistas, you may not want to post: “please connect with us on LinkedIn to see our new SlideShare presentation.” And, as tempting as it may be to turn your Facebook page or Twitter Feed over to an intern, most interns sound like, well… interns… and not necessarily like your brand.

Carefully crafting a social media voice that reflects and expresses who you are (or who you aspire to be) helps ensure that your social media strategy dovetails – instead of clashes — with your overall marketing strategy.

So what is the best way to create a “brand voice” that works across social media platforms to engage your audience or customers in a dialogue about your brand?

Why not take a cue from the masters of great dialogue – screenwriters.

Screenwriters (whether they’re based in Hollywood, Bollywood, or Pinewood) all share a common craft: they create distinctive characters, they place those characters in a context, they give those characters a goal, then they show us how that character pursues that goal.

Creating a great social media voice for you or your company is a similar process: just substitute “character” with “brand.” Businesses that use social media effectively start by creating a distinctive brand identity across social media platforms, they give the brand a context with a clear, consistent positioning, they prioritize their marketing goals, and then they get to work telling their brand’s story as they pursue that goal.

And, just as a good screenwriter would not send a small French mouse to battle the Matrix or send a trench-coated hacker into a restaurant kitchen to create souffle, your brand’s character needs to fit your brand story and marketing goals.

The first step is to identify your goals clearly, both short and long-term, so you can align your social media tactics with those targets in mind. (How to set your goals is a whole other discussion, of course, but it always helps to start with the basics: Are you trying to gain greater brand awareness? Sell products online? Drive foot traffic to a physical store?)

Once you’ve defined your goals, it’s time to analyze your two most important characters: you and your audience. Is your brand young or mature, witty or authoritative, informative or entertaining, provocative or helpful, all business or mixing business with pleasure? Is your audience millennial or boomers, fun-loving or demanding, passionate or critical, skeptical or looking for a reason to believe? The answers will help you choose the language, the tone, even the adjectives your brand should be using to communicate effectively with your target audience.

Now take a look at your brand identity and positioning and create a list of keywords and topics that reflect what makes you distinctive, valuable and unique. Are these keywords appearing frequently in your social media updates? Using a tool like Tweetcloud (which creates a “tag cloud” of your recent tweets) is great way to take a “snapshot” of your overall messaging on Twitter.

Also, make sure you are engaging your audience and giving them something of value. A great rule of thumb in social media is that approximately 60% of your content should create value for your audience, 30% should be engagement and interaction, and 10% should be things that make you “human,” interesting, and unique. That 10% can be a great way to reinforce your brand’s relationship with its target audience as well. If you’re brand is young and hip, feel free to share your passion for extreme sports. If your brand is sophisticated and international, sharing new wines or resorts you’ve discovered could be a great way to share extra value and create personal relationships.

Just like many screenwriters say their best characters often take on lives of their own and tell the screenwriter what should happen next, an expertly-crafted social media personality can reward you by creating unexpected and valuable new relationships for your business or brand.

Craft your social media voice well by creating a distinctive “character” your audience will value interacting with, give your voice context by aligning it with your business’ positioning, give that voice clear goals to achieve, then get ready for its starring role telling your brand story. The award for best social media voice goes to…

This post was commissioned by British Airways. The opinions are my

May 12, 2011

Why LinkedIn Should Be Your First Social Stop

Facebook and Twitter are without question the biggest stars in the social media universe. But while those two platforms attract more media attention, there are many reasons why you may want to make LinkedIn the first social media stop for your business each Monday morning.

If you haven’t taken a look at LinkedIn in a while, it’s time to get acquainted with all of the robust new features that have taken it from its original status as your “online Rolodex” and place to look for career contacts — to a content-rich social site with many real-time features. The new functionality is quickly making it the single best way to “brand” yourself and your company in the social arena.

Founded in 2003, LinkedIn now has over 100 million members world-wide, including over 1.5 million C-level executives. As Twitter and Facebook continue to add more analytics and promotional tools, LinkedIn is quietly keeping pace in a more targeted, “business-like” way. In fact, updating your LinkedIn status on Monday morning and Friday afternoon is an increasingly valuable way to keep yourself and your business top of mind with the people you know, as well as to make valuable new connections with people you would like to know.

New LinkedIn features include the Facebook-style ability to add rich links to your updates, including links to images, videos, articles, and blog posts. You can now “like,” “comment,” or “share” other users’ posts and links as well. And one particularly targeted new feature is the ability to control which connections or groups you’d like to “share” your updates with. Think of LinkedIn as your own “Business Wire,” where you share news about your business successes (new clients, new offerings, blog posts, conferences, speaking engagements, etc.) as well as links to content that will interest potential clients, customers, partners, or employers.

While short LinkedIn posts can be cross-posted to Twitter by clicking the link in the update window, think carefully before choosing to automatically update LinkedIn with your Tweets. The kind of friendly, conversational Tweets that are so important to networking on Twitter are out of place on LinkedIn and can be annoying to your network. Think carefully, too, about cross-posted with Facebook. As easy as it may be to post to all three sites with tools like Tweetdeck, take a few moments to craft the content you are posting so that it speaks most effectively to each of your networks.

As LinkedIn enhances its real-time sociability, it is also continually adding features that can enhance your branding and create a rich sense of who you – and your business – are. Take advantage of the “Reading List by Amazon” feature, for instance, to show that you are keeping up-to-date on important thinking in your sector. Add your blog content with Blog Link, your visual work with Creative Portfolio Display, monitor what others are saying about your company with Company Buzz, or share your best thinking with Slide Share (you can find these features by clicking “add sections” or “add an application” on your “edit profile” window.)

Group functions are also becoming more robust (and open) and there are many compelling reasons for you to monitor and join the conversation in groups that are relevant to your business. Showing the group icons on your profile is great way to enhance your branding by creating a visual snapshot of what your interests are. Group Updates now appear on member homepages, which means your contributions are now more visible. And LinkedIn Answers is a great forum for demonstrating your expertise on a platform that is indexed by Google.

So why not make time to review your presence on LinkedIn? To start off, be sure that your profiles are up-to-date; that your expertise is on full display, and that your networks are current. Then you can begin to explore LinkedIn’s many new features to see which ones can help put your own business front and center in the social media universe.

This post was commissioned by British Airways. The opinions are my

May 6, 2011

One Size Doesn't Fit All

You’ve seen those awkward updates on Facebook – short fragments via Tweetdeck with a string of Twitter “#hashtags.” You’ve seen them on Twitter – long ones that are cut off mid-sentence and followed by a Facebook URL. You’ve seen the off-topic tweets in your LinkedIn feed about the latest MBA trade or the latest political scandal. You’ve seen the endless and ubiquitous Foursquare check-ins to cafes and bars and conferences. And you’ve seen the tone-deaf pre-scheduled tweets about marketing that keep automatically popping up while the entire Twitter world is reacting to something timely and important, like an earthquake or an election.

While it may seem like a clever way to save time and make your content do double (and sometimes quadruple) duty, using tools that automatically cross-post the same content to different social media channels is not a smart business move.

What’s wrong with cross posting? Why not take advantage of applications like Tweetdeck that let you post from multiple accounts with a single keystroke? Why not link your Twitter account to your Facebook and LinkedIn feeds? Why not send new blog activity directly to Twitter? Or create editorial calendars and use a tool like CoTweet to schedule all your updates one to two months in advance?

Inappropriate cross posting undermines the purpose — and the value — of using social media in the first place, which is to create communities for your business and engage authentically with your customers, potential customers, colleagues, partners, and peers.

Each social media platform has its own character and its own community etiquette and protocols. Your blog is a forum where you can express what’s on your mind and what you think your community will find valuable or debatable. Facebook is a great way to engage a community that already likes and supports you and provide that community with visually rich content. LinkedIn is your “business news wire,” a great tool for letting your business networks know about your company’s — and your own — successes. And Twitter is a virtual networking party: a place to engage with new contacts as well as established ones.

When you send telegraphic tweets to Facebook, instead of taking the time to communicate directly with your Facebook community, you are saying that that community is not something you value enough to truly engage with. When you cross-post from Facebook to Twitter, you are telling the Twitter community you haven’t bothered to show up and log on. When you automatically send an endless stream of off-topic tweets to LinkedIn, you are telling important business contacts that you don’t respect their time. When you schedule updates in advance, you are missing valuable opportunities to demonstrate your business’ value in real-time and respond to real-time events. And the fact that you just became the mayor of Starbucks is – face it! – a private matter between you and your barista and not something your business network wants to see cluttering up its feeds.

When you automate and cross-post, you are demonstrating “poor citizenship” in the various social communities you’ve joined. And you are revealing to your communities that you are on automatic pilot, that you are not really there engaging with them but, instead, just flooding their inboxes with one-way communication. Treating social media like another direct mail channel is — to put it simply — a waste of each platform’s potential.

Of course there are some exceptions: content that is appropriate to post on all your social media platforms – short updates announcing a speaking engagement or a new blog post, for instance. But even if you are using a tool like Tweetdeck or CoTweet to post to multiple social media sites, taking a few minutes to customize each update – brief and punchy for Twitter, more inclusive and engaging for Facebook, “Business Casual” for LinkedIn — makes a world of difference. It tells each of those communities that you “get it,” that you understand the etiquette, that you value their eyes and their time and their feedback, that you are an active, transparent, and authentic participant.

Just like “bespoke” clothes have much more value than “off the rack” ones do, “bespoke” social media updates will create much more value for you and your community than “one size fits all” updates. If you take the extra time to put your best foot forward and use social media tools well, engaging appropriately to each platform in real time, you will earn your communities’ trust and respect and create tremendous value for your business. Make sure that each of your updates is appropriate to the platform and has value for that particular community and your community will return the favor with value for you.

This post was commissioned by British Airways. The opinions are my