Volterra worked with SmoothPay to establish a presence on Twitter and Facebook, targeting both businesses and endusers, and building a vibrant community with engaging content and consistent interaction.
Volterra helped Road To Travel reactivate and grow their communities on Twitter and Facebook and build a presence on LinkedIn and Google+. Leveraging Facebook advertising and competitive intelligence, Volterra grew the Facebook and Twitter communities and captured sales leads on a daily basis.
Volterra established and built our community from scratch and maintains engagement with compelling content.
YouTube was used first to test the waters and then the website followed. The use of forums and Yahoo Answers also made for a good initial foundation by sharing valuable information through answers and directing people to helpful content.
The focus has always been on quality over quantity. This has resulted in good growth but few complaints. Despite their use of YouTube, there is nothing viral about them. It has been a gradual and organic building of their profitable business.
Word of mouth has been huge. They share information first and rarely suggest or push a purchase. They are transparent about the pros and cons and that has translated into referrals. Mimi and Layla answer Facebook and YouTube questions. People really appreciate the access to humans who are also the owners/founders.
Since launching a website, the emphasis has been to provide a good web experience. That focus on the new web marketing methods has meant no newsletter or other uses of traditional marketing efforts to date.
The 4-Hour Workweek inspired their lean startup manifesto. They are empowered to build the business the way that they want. The business sustains five people but allows them the freedom to run the company virtually and still travel the world.
Advice for other budding entrepreneurs
Take care of your legal requirements and domain name registrations at the start. Luxyhair had issues with competitors early on.
Focus on your dreams first and money second.
I first became aware of Indium Corporation when I read Content Rules by C.C. Chapman and Ann Handley. Indium Corporation proves that every company has a story that certain people want to hear. The key is to mobilize the storytellers in your company and find out what story or stories resonate with people.
Indium Corporation has five different businesses including semi-conductors and electronic assembly materials such as solder paste. Rick Short, Indium’s Director of Marketing, began blogging in 2006 in written and video formats. He felt that there was value to be derived from ownership of their subject matter and the associated thought leadership. He wanted Indium to be ahead of the curve because “nobody gets paid to be average.”
Short began with a throwaway blog and kept it simple to avoid writer’s block. He started writing about his own area and won over engineers by setting an example. Now there are 13 bloggers and 73 different blogs on long-tail topics. They do not have a social media policy, but have a public discourse policy.
They strive to have the answer today to the question their readers will have tomorrow. They also maintain a theme of authenticity resulting in the evaporation of their filters and no marcom bloggers, allowing their engineers to be at the forefront, communicating from one engineer to another.
Indium does not care about bounce rates. They are looking for opt-in, self-qualifying, urgent need, hot leads. They surround content with numerous methods for people to contact Indium. They also offer very specific white papers that are downloaded by a very specific type of customer. Their mantra is “content to contact to cash.” Their efforts produced a 600% increase in customer contacts in the first quarter and saw them double again over the year.
Beyond blogs, Indium has a presence on Facebook and Twitter. Their presence on Facebook is to convey the warmer side of the company and literally connect with their community. Children of the staff have the opportunity to say, “That’s my Dad” on their wall.
If you or your company is uncertain if blogging — or social media more broadly — are right for you, you need look no further than Indium Corporation for inspiration. Don’t overwhelm yourself with apprehension because you think you have to create net-new content. Your customers have an affinity for your company and that affinity translates into stories and content. You just need to cull those stories and/or content from within the company. Go ahead. Get started. We are waiting to consume.
You may not blog, tweet, or plank, but if your customers are interested in any of those then you need to understand them and figure out your company’s position. I often hear from clients or audience members at my presentations when I show Twitter or Planking that neither is something that they do. My response is that it does not matter what they or I do, but what their customers do. Just because their customers might tweet or plank, it does not necessarily mean that they have to, but they should at least understand the behaviors and drivers with respect to their customers when it comes to social media.
Are customers looking for information? Sharing information? Socializing? Playing games? Whatever they are doing, companies need to know and understand so that they have a better idea about where and how to engage them. The sales mantra “fish where the fish are” applies here. If a company’s customers are to be found in the more predominant social networks or in niche networks or sites, then that kind of information needs to be gathered so that the outreach to customers can be planned appropriately.
What if your customers are not on Facebook or Twitter but have a strong presence on LinkedIn? What would such an insight mean to your marketing and business development strategies? What if customers were in a number of smaller niche sites like Ning, Viadeo, or something else? Are you prepared to manage multiple community initiatives to achieve a cumulative effect with customers?
These questions cannot be answered properly without some research and preliminary engagement on a number of social networking fronts. Some customers will make their presence obvious while others will only be discovered through some social media monitoring efforts looking for keywords, brand mentions, and customer service-related discussions. If companies do nothing else in terms of social media strategy, they should at least listen. By doing so they will come to understand what is being said, by whom, where, and in what context. As a result, companies will gain valuable insights regarding improvements to their products or services, what people like or don’t like about their competitors, and new ideas for unmet needs. Who wouldn’t find that valuable?
Companies have to adjust their behavior, proactively or reluctantly, in order to meet their customers where they are, even if it means breaking convention. Customers want companies to be more social. After all, it is “social media.” The onus is on companies to stop being wallflowers and get out there and dance — or plank, if necessary.
I recently attended a panel discussion held by the CIO Association of Canada. Each panelist was asked about their integration of social media and what they would do differently if they could do it over again. One of the panelists said, “We focused on the tools too much when we should have focused on culture.”
Most of the discussions and hype surrounding social media have emphasized the external perspective, but as Michael Brito stresses in his blog and his upcoming book, “The disruption today has nothing to do with the external nature of the brand; but everything to do with the internal dynamics of the way a business operates.” I couldn’t agree more.
I don’t know how many times I have heard someone from a company say, “We need a Facebook page” or “We need a Facebook strategy.” Facebook didn’t have a strategy when it was founded, so what makes companies think they can develop one with a snap of the fingers?
When I work with clients, I try to slow them down and understand how they do what they do now, their corporate objectives, and where and how social media might complement their efforts, if at all. Maybe they are not ready for social media, or at least the level of effort and organizational change required.
Senior managers that decide to ram social media through the organization are going to face obstacles such as old habits and organizational inertia. They need to approach the situation as a change-management initiative.
During a recent project, I interviewed number of internal stakeholders to identify who would be the change agents for social media and who would be the resistors. Making the senior leadership aware of the change agents and resistors is not sufficient. The leadership needs to:
- communicate their vision clearly and frequently
- ensure the need for this change is understood
- involve change agents and resistors
- listen and exhibit understanding
- connect the changes to results
- reward and reinforce the new behaviours
The leadership also needs to be prepared to experience the change cycle that moves from resistance due to the entrenched beliefs in the old way of doing things to the period of ambiguity and frustration when it is uncertain that the changes were worthwhile, and finally to the future state where it is evident that the changes are producing the desired effects and outcomes. This cycle takes time and commitment.
Do you notice how little I refer to social media? That is my point. It is not about tools. It is about culture. The sooner more organizations come to that realization, the fewer failed social media initiatives there will be.
With the recent launch of Apple’s iPad 2, I was reminded of the presentation style of Steve Jobs, why it is worthy of praise, and why it is often referenced when presentations are being discussed. It could be and probably already has been called theatre, and is the gold standard when it comes to the art of presentations.
While some might strive to mimic Steve’s style of storytelling with just a few slides, very little text, and seamless demos, I am not suggesting that you have to match him. However, I would like to suggest that you at least try to bring your “A” game rather than “phone it in.”
Recently, I was invited to attend the Canadian introduction of Research In Motion’s new tablet, The Playbook. This is RIM’s answer to the iPad. It is understandable that this event is important. You only get one chance to make a first impression and, as a Canadian company, RIM had a bit of home-turf advantage.
As a Canadian and a fan of innovation, I was hopeful that one of Canada’s most innovative companies would wow the audience. Sadly, it was average to embarrassing, when it could have been so much more.
It began with a typical PowerPoint presentation with lots of bullets, but my hopes were dashed when the Playbook was brought out and, instead of being connected directly to a projector, it was laid on an overhead projector. What? Huh? It was at that point that you could see all of the smudges from handprints across the screen of the device.
The demo was fine, but it was not as polished as Apple’s tend to be. To be fair, maybe the device or the software running on it was an early version that would not support a connection to a projector. It just seemed like an opportunity too valuable to miss, yet they still did.
Subsequent presentations lacked even a modicum of enthusiasm. Some even went so far as to suggest that one of the presenters might have been hung-over, which might have explained his leaning on the podium and monotone delivery.
The last presenter I saw was from Adobe, and when it came time to switch laptops from Windows to Mac, he realized he did not have the right adapter to project from his MacBook. He announced that there would be a slight delay while he exported his Keynote presentation to PowerPoint. Those in the audience familiar with Macs cringed because we were afraid that our worst fears would come true — and they did.
His presentation ended up having a number of blank slides, forcing him to stand in front of the audience and say, “Normally this slide would say…” to explain the white screen we were all looking at.
The entire event was to be repeated the next day in San Francisco; I hope that that audience got to see a dramatically improved effort.
So as not to make this just about Apple and RIM, I should mention that I also attended a Nokia session where they presented their product roadmap, but even it felt lacklustre. In hindsight, I think it was simply a stalling tactic until the Microsoft-Nokia partnership was announced. During the session, we were treated to presentations from different Nokia team members and a key Nokia partner — none of whom really stood out in terms of engaging the audience.
The lesson here? Every time you stand up in front of a group, no matter what the size, you have an opportunity to engage and inspire. How about giving it your best shot? You don’t have to put on an awe-inspiring show like Cirque du Soleil, but your goal should be to do more than just “not suck.”
I was recently having a conversation with Zaigham Zulqernain at, ironically (you’ll see the irony in a moment), a coffee shop. It was that conversation, a post from Shilpa Nicodemus and a video by Scott Stratten that inspired this post. (Please take the time to read Shilpa’s post and watch Scott’s video for some great insights.)
Shilpa and Scott both reference a situation that occurred between Dark Horse Cafe and April Dunford. Shilpa’s post provides some of that exchange from Twitter and illustrates how Dark Horse could have been more tactful in dealing with the situation.
Social media now provides customers with a megaphone, so businesses need to be mindful of their interactions. While Darkhorse’s words may have been wrong, their message wasn’t necessarily incorrect. It reminded me of the title of a book by Charles Grodin: It Would Be So Nice If You Weren’t Here. While Grodin was making a movie on location, the inconvenienced owner of the house being used for the film said, “It would be so nice if you weren’t here.” Darkhorse’s crime was not their desire to be a coffee shop rather than a workspace, but the clumsy manner by which they tried to express it.
Companies develop business plans and strategies with specific customer segments in mind. If companies lose sight of their target customers then they put their business at risk, trying to be all things to all people. The more clear a company is about their customer segment the better they can service them.
Companies can convey their customer segment in subtle ways like the décor in the case of a store or a restaurant or the content on a website. More obvious methods like pricing and the manner in which a product or service is delivered can also suggest the customers being targeted. Darkhorse was subtle with their lack of electrical outlets but obvious through their tweets — and that was their mistake. It wasn’t the message; it was the delivery.
In the case of banking, customers typically receive a different level of service from an ATM than from a mortgage specialist and there is usually a correlation between low-touch customer service with high volumes of low-cost transactions and high-touch customer service with higher value transactions. This applies in many other examples beyond banking.
While people have the right to express their feelings and opinions as April Dunford did, and social media enable them to do so more broadly, companies also have the right to pursue their target customer with a well-defined product or service. The key is to articulate their value proposition and customer segmentation in a tactful and respectful manner rather than how Dark Horse did. This will increase the odds that, as Shilpa suggests, issues will remain whispers rather than rants broadcast over the web.
If people raise issues with a company, the company needs to acknowledge them — but they are free to choose how to respond. They can make a judgment call about what action to take and what it will mean to their business. Should they bend policy to appease the customer, or tactfully tell the customer that they have been heard but that what the customer is asking for is not something they can fulfill due to cost, policy, lack of resources, or they are simply not equipped to service people in the manner that the customer is requesting?
Scott is right that companies whose customer service sucks will only suck more with social media. I am not trying to defend companies that deliver poor service. I am trying to differentiate between providing poor service to the right customer and not providing service to the wrong customer. The latter is about staying focused on your strategy.
Situations will arise requiring companies to pause and consider their choices. As Shilpa suggest, companies that deal tactfully with those situations can remain focused on their target customers and still leave those customers who initially felt slighted feeling acknowledged and respected. It’s even possible that those same people could become spokespeople for the company. How many times have you heard someone say, “I don’t shop there, but if you are looking for X then you will probably find it there”? This doesn’t happen all the time, but companies can still benefit by operating on the Golden Rule of treating others as they themselves would like to be treated.
The world of customer service isn’t perfect. Many companies are terrible at it while others continue to strive to improve. Social media and the associated transparency help keep companies honest and compel them to be responsible for their actions. Things get a little dangerous when the lines blur between service types and customer profiles. Companies should be allowed to “stick to their knitting,” provided they do so in a professional and courteous manner. If they don’t, then it will not be surprising to see them called out about it through social media channels. In the meantime, we’ll just have to wait and see how this shakes out.
A potential client recently said that they did not see value in social media for B2B. Yet, when it was suggested that their commercial sales channel partners would likely see value, they suddenly became interested. Why the conflicting reaction? Was it the potential contribution to the bottom line? Was it the fact that social media was being distanced from the corporation and therefore less likely to be a disruption to the status quo?
Regardless, there is a growing list of examples where social media has been used successfully within a B2B environment. Mashable lists five great examples of success as well as specific tips for using social media for B2B activities. Still, these successes do not get as much press as the successes and failures with B2C.
To be fair to my potential client, adoption of social media within a mature enterprise is not without its obstacles. We are no longer talking about social media marketing. We are now talking about incorporating social media into the fabric of the organization, into its day-to-day operations, its organizational DNA, rather than simply part of a marketing campaign. Many companies say that they are in social media because they set up a Facebook page and a Twitter account but if the links from your home page to either of those are broken or the content found there is infrequently updated or of limited value then they were probably better off not going into social media at all.
I have often suggested that before an organization initiates a social media strategy, they must clarify their objectives, confirm that the right culture and capabilities exists within the organization to help the strategy succeed, and, finally, that the organization is prepared to manage the organizational and procedural changes required. This is where we will see more management consulting firms play a role in the broader strategic alignment and change management issues that social media raise.
A recent piece by Accenture about social media in the insurance industry, describes a management framework that includes process, people, policies, and metrics to aid the incorporation of social media within the organization.
Consultancies with social media expertise as well as strategic planning, organizational development, process improvement, and change management are well suited to these situations and can take the more holistic approach required than branding, PR, digital, or advertising agencies who, with all due respect, do not focus on those areas to the same degree.
Agencies are also finding that there are struggles between them as to who can be prime when it comes to the client relationship on a multi-agency engagement. This is further exacerbated on the client side with more stakeholders coming to the table from disparate parts of the organization, all with their own requirements and expectations with respect to social media. Perhaps there is an opportunity for consultancies and agencies to collaborate on more comprehensive client engagements.
While the organizational transformation driven by social media gets underway, there are still opportunities for early successes or, as the Heath Brothers say in their latest book, Switch, “bright spots.” These will help to build the momentum of change because they can be amplified as proof of the positive impact of social media. The following are just two examples of how social media tools, LinkedIn and Twitter, can be leveraged for business development and client engagement. They are also examples of social media that can be incorporated without raising many issues regarding social media use policies, privacy, or governance because companies are already aware of their employees being listed on LinkedIn and using Twitter simply as a listening or research tool has limited risk exposure for the organization.
Exploiting the Social Graph
Where and how can organizations begin to incorporate social media in pursuit of early wins while the change management aspects continue in parallel? Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg is credited with coining the phrase, “social graph” which, according to Wikipedia, has been described as “the global mapping of everybody and how they’re related.” I believe that it is this social graph idea that holds the key to achieving early success with social media for B2B.
In a recent assessment of a client’s social media footprint, I discovered that less than 25% of their staff was on LinkedIn and those that were did not have very populated profiles with only a few connections on average. I am suggesting that organizations exploit the social graphs of their employees, assuming their employees are willing to cooperate. By that I mean, why aren’t companies getting as many of their employees to establish profiles on LinkedIn and connect to one another. That way the networks of each employee become transparent to all of the employees and the organization as a whole.
Before you know it, Mary in sales will be able to determine that Bob in accounting is connected to Susan at a target account. Assuming Bob is comfortable, he can make a referral for Mary to Susan. Before LinkedIn, we did not know who within your network knew whom. Now you can map the people you know and who can provide you with a “favour of access” to someone in their network. This is a simple concept to leverage for business development but one that is surprisingly so infrequently exercised.
This kind of initiative would have the added benefit of capturing the knowledge, experience, and skills of each of the company’s employees. If their own internal systems do not capture this kind of information to the same degree or at all then LinkedIn could serve as a complement to their operations. LinkedIn has already suggested that they intend to become a talent management platform so this would indicate that they are on the right track.
Engagement vs Promotion
Many people still say that they do not get Twitter. I can appreciate why this is possible. At first glance, Twitter can be overwhelming and it can take a bit of time to figure out its rhythm and etiquette. However, once people have their bearings, Twitter can prove to be invaluable for market and customer insights.
Most of the hype surrounding Twitter speaks of the number of followers people have or strive to have. While followers are important over time, I encourage people who have just joined Twitter to be selective about who they follow at first. I also suggest that they use the search capabilities of Twitter or the filtering capabilities of third party applications like Tweetdeck to monitor what is being said about issues relevant to them and their organization. They can track what is being said about competitors, what key words are trending that are relevant to them, and how often and in what context people are mentioning the company.
While listening they can engage customers who have an issue, thank a customer for a compliment, and speak to a potential customer who has a question or is frustrated with the service being provided by a competitor. Twitter also plays a critical role in helping to establish the organization’s more human or social side by being more conversational with stakeholders rather than just pushing information in one direction to them.
If your organization is not predisposed to being social then social media may not be right for it or at least not right for it now. With social media, I am suggesting that organizations show more humanity or, as Jason Falls says, “B2B is more P2P – people to people. The buyer still wants to buy from a trusted friend, not a logo or a company. “ Being more human is not always easy for an organization, especially in B2B, and it will take time to establish but once it does so, the payoffs will prove that the effort was worth it.