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I began 2009 working in a corporate communications environment for a Fortune 500 company. After losing my job in May, I immersed myself completely in social media marketing. In part, to stay current in my field, but also to create a brand identity in a unusually competitive job market.

Soon after, I began giving presentations to networking groups on how to use social media to enhance the job search process. It seemed like an overwhelming majority of the audience were baby boomers. Surprisingly, the learning went both ways, and I learned almost as much from them about how our generation feels about Web 2.0 technology. You could say their negative views stem from frustration with their jobless situation. Perhaps. But, I’ve found even many of my employed clients, and clients who are business owners hold similar views about using social media.

So, for this year end post, I took a light-hearted look back at 10 things baby boomers taught me about social media:

  1. No matter how passionate I am about it, or what it can offer, many are not eager or ready to adopt this new technology. Among their reservations is a general discomfort with having their personal information out there. A concern not shared by our children and grandchildren. (Watch this video to get an understanding why social media fascinates Gen Y. Does this help?)
  2. Just because they use LinkedIn or Facebook, doesn’t mean they know what a blog is. (My bad for thinking everyone online knows what a blog is.)
  3. Don’t assume they want to use social media. They may be looking to enhance their job search, or their current job requires them to use it, but they don’t necessarily WANT to add it to their daily routine.
  4. Using social media is a complete waste of time. Tweeting is for those who have nothing better to do than talk about what they had for lunch. (A few maintained its uselessness even after we discussed how critical it is to the Iran election movement, in finding a new job, and for law enforcement agencies in repossession of cars and for catching thieves.) 
  5. They think I’m either a tech-savvy boomer, or an annoying mutant who tweets often and finds reasons to update my LinkedIn status every day. I’ll let you decide this one.
  6. Social media doesn’t apply to them since they don’t have a reason to tweet. Besides, once their profile is set up in LinkedIn, recruiters and hiring managers will search and find them anyway, right? 
  7. They use my presentation time as a platform to tell everyone attending how pointless social media is.
  8. Social media is just a fad, so they’ll just wait it out. (Do you share this view? Check out this video and leave me a comment.)
  9. Extremely-introverted personalities have finally found a way to network without ever having to leave the house.
  10. They forgot they grew up in the 1960s. Sally Kane with Jobs.com describes the baby boomer generation as “…confident, independent and self-reliant. This generation grew up in an era of reform and believe they can change the world. They questioned established authority systems and challenged the status quo.”

Does Sally Kane’s description fit you? Do you think Chez Pazienza of the Huffington Post has reason to rant about us? Or, is Paul Krassner correct in saying that baby boomers and hippies are not the same? How about Tim Engstrom? Whatever way you think — just think. We don’t want anyone saying our generation is afraid of change. You know what I mean. Like some folks from a previous generation who were reluctant to learn how to use a computer. Will fear of the unknown keep us from trying something new, even if it enhances our lives — socially or financially, or can bring us closer to our children and grandchildren, family or friends?

Let’s begin 2010 with a new philosophy to move outside our comfort zone. We can still be online and keep our personal information safe. We’ll use the wisdom and knowledge we’ve gained to do it right. Let’s not forgot how our generation almost saved the world. (If you’re reading my post, you know what a blog is — so you’re already ahead of the curve.)

It’s predicted that 2010 will be a wave of transparency in business. I predict that social media use (much like e-mail) will move from the office to our homes and become an integral part of our daily lives, in some form. Ready or not.

I end this post with a thought-provoking video about social media and privacy. The best way boomers can protect themselves online is with knowledge. Social media is one source to offer us a “collective wisdom.” It gives us a world of knowledge we’ve never before had access to and in a matter of seconds.

If you’re a baby boomer who uses social media, what convinced you to begin using it ?


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Whether I’m consulting with business clients or conducting social media workshops, the same questions come up repeatedly. They are great questions and need to be understood before engaging in social media. I’ve attempted to answer 5 most asked questions, but in reality, I’ve only scratched the surface.

Does my company need social media marketing?
This question is a favorite of mine and one I’d like you to consider after reviewing the video below. Social media is not about what someone had for breakfast. For those of you harder to convince, be sure to watch through to the end.

Okay, I’m convinced. Now where do I begin?
Many start with tactics. They add their business profile on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter and then ask themselves — now what?  Or, worse still, they use the social networks to advertise their products without a full understanding of why they are there. What must be in place before implementing tools is a social media strategy. Here are 5 things to consider when building your strategy:

  1. Research and listen — where do your existing and potential customers spend their time? (use industry keywords in Google Blog Search, Twitter Search or SiteVolume) What is being said about your company? (look at Google Alerts, SocialMention or Socialcast).
  2. Identify goals — what is it you want to achieve with social media? To increase brand awareness, leads, conversion rates, etc?  With an eye toward adding value, understand what your target audience cares about and wants to read, and publish and distribute content they need.
  3. Begin a conversation — interaction is key to building trust, credibility and action among your prospective customers. (Conversation does not mean advertising to your audience as discussed in my previous post Using social media: how will you be human?) It does mean engaging with them. And, it means providing them with information they want, asking what they think and as a result, watching the volume of your fans and followers increase.
  4. Define targets — interacting with your online community, becoming one of them, and writing compelling content, will help you gain momentum with prospects by allowing them to see how your business can help them. Conversion is an organic result of establishing trust online and people buy products from those they trust. Be sure to measure your progress using tools such as Google Analytics. And, as with any good strategy, identify weak areas and redefine your targets where necessary.
  5. Establish parameters — as businesses using social media grows, so does the need to have a policy in place to help employees understand their role. The policy should set expectations of employee participation in both business and personal accounts which align with your company’s goals. Equally important is to have a crisis management policy to allow you to react quickly to a negative situation online about your company or brand.

What should I talk about?
Knowing what to say is probably one of the hardest things for those new to social media. Many businesses feel if they don’t make products, offer discount coupons, or are not a B2C company, they don’t have a real need for social media. But the fact is, no matter what product or service your company offers, social media provides a venue to engage with your existing and potential customers. It puts the control of improvements to products and services in the hands of your customers. Giving up control is tough, but critical for businesses to succeed with social media marketing. In return, businesses gain customer loyalty and trust through thought leadership without the direct sales pitch.

Still not sure what to say? Check out Alltop. It is a digital magazine rack where information is collected from different sources to help readers find sites of interest. It displays information you need on one aggregated page, listing the top 5 stories. To understand how it can be useful to you, read Eight Ways Marketers Can Benefit Using Alltop or How Business Can Benefit From Using Alltop. Alltop gives you industry news to share with your audience and saves you time. Which brings us to the next question …


How much time should I spend on social media marketing?
In his recent post How Much Time Should I Spend On Social Media #1 blogger and social media guru Chris Brogan talks about best practices for social media management. In a nutshell, he recommends spending about 2 hours a day, divided into chunks of time:

  • Spend 1/4 of your time “listening,” finding out what is being said about you, your competitors, your marketplace.
  • Spend 1/2 of your time communicating to your audience. This is your time to connect with potential customers by making comments and replying to questions.
  • 1/4 in creating content. Whether you’re blogging, writing e-newsletters or online articles, updating content is how you get found on search engines. (SEO is driven by updated content.)

Does 2 hours a day seem like too much time to dedicate to social media marketing? Consider the time and money you invest in SEO efforts, cold calling, conference calling, advertising campaigns, e-newsletters and customer visits. Social media reaches beyond territories, offering time-saving tools and an increase to Web site traffic at a fraction of the cost of other marketing methods.

How do I measure ROI?
Maybe you’re already convinced why you should use social media marketing. One question remaining is likely to be: How do I measure my return on investment? How do I sell it to company stakeholders? The ROI question is probably the biggest obstacle when trying to get buy-in from senior executives. Measuring social media ROI and its effect on the bottom line is still a challenge for even the best marketers. In Dirk Shaw’s recent post Moving beyond social media metrics to business outcomes he talks about early social media metrics having a loose tie to business goals, which raised the question whether social media could do anything for business. In a later post How do you report social media success? he examines how social media activity impacts business outcomes, which is key to achieving executive sponsorship. Also, How to Measure Social Media ROI for Business a post from Mashable offers tips on qualitative and quantitative measurement. And, if you still want more, read 6 Must Read Posts about the ROI of Social Media.

Social media strategy and ROI have yet to be clearly defined. As social media continues to grow and change, networks like Facebook and Twitter are looking for ways to monetize their own businesses, and will continue their efforts in making social media marketing more appealing (and profitable) for business leaders who will help keep them afloat.  

These are the 5 most asked questions I get. What other social media questions do you think should be included?

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Notice the question is not: how will you appear to be human?

Success with social media marketing is based on authenticity, transparency and relationship building. It is virtual dialogue between businesses and consumers, and can be mutually beneficial. However, companies often lose sight of this concept when deciding how to implement a social media marketing strategy.

QuestionMark

What is social media marketing?
Before knowing what it is, it’s important to understand what it isn’t. It’s not direct advertising of products or services. It’s not a public relations campaign. It is inbound marketing that creates buzz by replicating messages through viral word of mouth. It is a tool that allows fans of a brand or company to promote it themselves through multiple social media venues. It is conversation, not fully controlled by a company, which provides an opportunity for companies to engage with their customers to improve products and customer service. Social media marketing is like a virtual cocktail party. If you spend all your time talking about what your company sells, your guests will find the nearest exit and head to a better party down the street.

How will you be human?
In large part, your answer to this question may depend upon whether you decide to hire an outside agency to implement your day-to-day social media interactions or conduct an in-house strategy yourself.

Which is better — hiring an agency or implementing an in-house strategy? Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. There are pros and cons to both. I decided to ask a few of my LinkedIn® colleagues to weigh in on the issue to help me decide how best to advise my clients. Here are a few of their comments:

  • “Social media means you need to be conversant with your customers, and so just like you don’t hire an outside agency to speak to your clients at your sell-point, you should not leave this important channel to an external company.”
  • “Outsourcing is a vital tool in all business operations. Quinn, a management scholar says for an organization to operate effectively and efficiently, it has to focus on its core activity and outsource the secondary levels. Hiring of outsiders to run the activity of a company will increase its relationship with its customers.”
  • “I believe that agencies can do it, but from from an architectual and initiary point of view. From there on indeed, the company itself needs to fuel its communication towards its target groups.” 
  • “You can’t farm-out or sub-out interactivity; I think it defeats the purpose. It’s like having my neighbor blog about what’s going on in my home, it’s not a true account or authentic. If you don’t have the money or time to do it in-house then wait until you do. The goal of social media is to be genuine, not appear genuine.”

social-media-waste-of-time

Here are 5 things to consider to help you decide what’s right for you:

  1. What is your company’s goal regarding social media marketing?
  2. Are you willing to commit time and resources to learning the tools yourself?
  3. Can you afford to hire an outside agency to sustain your online presence indefinitely?
  4. Do you feel using an agency to build your customer relationships undermines social media’s premise of authenticity and transparency?
  5. Do you feel social media is like other types of marketing and is better implemented by the “experts?”

What is my recommendation?
The answer I rated as best was from Millo Avissar and jives most closely with my own thoughts:

“A good consultant is the one who solves a problem and then ends his job asap. A client who demands you to “do the job” for him, will not stay a happy client after paying you for a long time. Perhaps you will find a way, where you will bring your added-value to your clients by working together with them to:

  1. Build the best strategy suited for their business;
  2. Train their people to be able to play this game;
  3. Define measurements for the management.”

I don’t see a resemblance between social media and outbound marketing practices of the past. Social media marketing engages business and customers in conversation like never before and should be viewed in a different way altogether. It is not a fad, and will be with us for the long haul. Therefore, empowering small business owners with the knowledge and the tools available upon which they can build sits best with me, and with my clients.

What works best for you? How will you be human? Do you think hiring an outside agency to maintain your company’s online presence makes any difference to your answer?

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Yesterday, waiting for my lunch appointment to arrive, I watched a young man behind the counter texting to a friend between customers. My first reaction was dismay. Shortly after, I realized it is his generation who will be teaching our generation about customer relationships.  Gen Y pierceA little scary? Maybe.

Reverse mentoring 
It only seems scary because we’re used to an older generation assuming the mentor role in work environments. Traditionally, it’s the high-seniority professionals showing the younger, less experienced mentees the ropes. 

However, if you’re of the Baby Boom Generation, you’ve probably noticed a reverse mentoring trend happening in the workplace. It’s essentially Gen Y (also known as Millennials) mentoring the well-established, more experienced workforce, as opposed to the other way around. The trend is most noticeable in professional fields where technology is an integral part of the work environment.  

What Gen Y is telling us
Although no one seems to agree exactly where Gen Y starts and stops (late 1970s – late 1990s), it is a fact that it is the largest generation (approximately 80 million) to hit the American market since the Baby Boomers.

Gen Y are digital natives, meaning digital technology already existed when they were born. They can easily multi-task between searching the Internet, listening to music on their MP3, texting on their mobile phone, while TV is playing in the background.
Slingshot

Growing up amid a high-speed bombardment of information has produced a generation with short attention spans, no doubt. But, it has also produced a sharp generation who understand how to effectively market themselves and products using social networks.

Why Boomers should listen
Because of the emerging influence of Gen Y, it’s important we understand how they’re different in order to monetize marketing strategies in a Web 2.0 environment. When marketing to them, remember that:

  1. Mobile phones are like an extension of their arm
  2. They don’t care about ads, but what their friends think
  3. Television is background noise; Internet TV is better
  4. Social media networks equal relationship building
  5. They expect work tools to mirror Web tools 
  6. They value work-life balance; flex-time, an ability to work from anywhere in a “fun” work environment; a need to “buy in”  to an idea (aka “Generation Why?”)

An environment where everyone wins
If we can embrace the concept of reverse mentoring, and recognize the positive changes Gen Y brings to business, everyone can benefit. Boomers can learn from Gen Y’s ability to adapt quickly to changing work environments, and at how easily they give and receive feedback. Having grown up during the Enron era, they are skeptical about concepts such as company loyalty, and appear to have an almost built in expectation of company layoffs.

It’s Gen Y’s time to challenge outdated norms and create real change in an environment so everyone can win.

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With recent talk of a flu pandemic preparing to invade the Northern Hemisphere in just a few weeks, wouldn’t you like to spread something good virally? Then, a dose of pay it forward may be just what you need.

Novelist Lily Hardy Hammond wrote, “You don’t pay love back; you pay it forward.”

The pay it forward concept involves repaying kindness by performing random acts of kindness for others. Sociologists refer to it as “generalized reciprocity.” 

Whatever the phrase actually means, it’s likely most of us picture it as a little kid with a big idea in the film with the same name. That was the extent of my knowledge, until last week.

I waited patiently in the drive-thru at our local Starbucks for my usual non-fat Caffè Mocha. I scarcely noticed a woman in the car in front of me as she paid for her coffee and drove off.

380_Image_PA_starbucks_drive_thruI moved up to the window to pick up my coffee, when the barista said, “Never mind paying, your coffee was paid for by ‘Anne,’ the woman who was in front of you.” I gave her a surprised look and she continued, “Yeah, last week we had 10 cars in a row that did the same thing, one after another.” Still a bit stunned, I looked into the rear view mirror and noticed there was no one behind me. She looked at me and said, “Just buy one for someone next time.”

I was happy, yet puzzled that someone I could NEVER thank would do such a nice thing for me. It soon turned to curiousity about how this whole thing started.

When I got home, I plugged some keywords into Google and found that Starbucks has been virally spreading this concept on and off since about 2005. A nice gesture apparently started from an angry one. An impatient Starbucks customer began honking and yelling at the driver in front of him. This driver, a tai chi master, responded with a bit of Zen, and bought the angry man’s coffee. This set off a chain reaction of drivers buying coffee for the person in the line behind them and so on. (Although, many think that Starbucks uses it as an undercover PR campaign.)

The concept continues to spread through social media channels and is used by credit unions, non-profits, and even eBay and Flickr.

Whatever its reason for promotion, if social communications can bring an idea to life that sparks real people to do real nice things for each other, should we care?

No matter how you do it, by all means, do it. If you don’t drink coffee, or frequent Starbucks, here are five other ways you can pay it forward.

  1. Give life to others at the next Red Cross blood drive
  2. Take a stressed-out coworker to lunch (and listen)
  3. Donate your time or funds to help a local animal rescue shelter http://www.romeothecat.com/
  4. Become a Big Brother or Big Sister http://bit.ly/5MkE
  5. Give to a true pay it forward organization http://www.heifer.org/

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Wildflowers are at their peak in late summer in Ohio. As I walk along the trails near my home, I wonder if the wildflowers I consider to be beautiful are thought of as weeds to others passing by.

Sunflower_Org

This difference in perception reminds me of a story a friend talked about recently involving his experience with a company.

Prior to losing his job, he worked at only a handful of other companies during his 40 years in business. He last job-hunted when resumes were sent by mail or hand-delivered. He never considered the idea of building a positive, one-on-one relationship with a company to be outdated.

A recent telephone interview he had with a corporate recruiter ended with her comment, “I will call you with the result, either way.” After some time passed without hearing anything, my friend tried various ways to contact her. Since he didn’t have her direct phone number, he decided to call the company’s main number.  He asked to speak with the recruiter and was told, “We do not forward calls to the HR department from people applying for work. She will call you back if more information is needed.”

Imagine a customer service representative from your company telling a prospective client: “Don’t call us; we’ll call you if we need you.”

It’s understandable with the number of unemployed workers these days, that companies use online means to filter candidates. And, granted, most job candidates understand the new rules (if your follow up e-mails are ignored long enough you’ll eventually take the hint). However, when your company does get that occasional call or person stopping by, wouldn’t you want to leave them (a potential customer) with a better impression?  How did this company brand itself with my friend? Not only was he put off by this experience, he told everyone he knows.

Wild Status_Org

Social media is all about building customer relationships and is the digital equivalent of word of mouth. We’ve seen how it can enhance a company’s brand or just as easily create a public relations nightmare. We all know bad news travels fast. We also know that word of mouth is now real-time information spread via social media channels. It is a steeper slope to reverse public perception of a company branded as a weed.

In short, anyone who calls on your business is a potential customer, and should be thought of as a relationship opportunity, not a problem.

This concept brings to mind a similar blog post by Seth Godin entitled “All I do is work here.” Employees don’t often see themselves as branding the company’s image to passersby. It’s easier for an employee to claim, “I just get a paycheck …” than to take any real responsibility for protecting their company’s brand.

As Seth so aptly put it, “You don’t just represent them, you ARE them.”

Considering the power of social media tools and the transparency of business these days, how do you want virtual passersby to brand your company — as a wildflower, or a weed?


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