Money and the infinite pursuit of innovation

Having a couple of million dollars in your bank account takes the urgency out of your drive to innovate… Just last Tuesday I ran into this piece of Stanford research. It shows that an initial public offering (IPO) on the stock market has a negative impact on the level of innovation in a company. I get that. Being rich might even make a lot of bloggers lazy 😉

But.
I wonder where true inventors go after they leave such a company. Do they spend the rest of their lives hanging out by the pool side? Somehow I don’t think so. So why do they leave? An IPO – or the presence of money – seems to cause a shift in a company’s priorities away from creativity. In this post I will explore the issue (without suggesting I did any kind of thorough research myself).

Money Creativity Matrix

IPOs seem to cause a shift to urgency (left) at the expense of R&D activities

Why do innovators leave after an IPO?

At one point in my career I was working at a, well not a start-up because it was a couple of years old, but still a company in the early pioneering stage. Characteristics:

  • Most people around are actively trying to improve the product, or they’re helping out on the stuff that needs to get done.
  • No one gets excited over quarterly reports, but they do get wowed by anything that will make the product easier or more fun to use because everyone wants people to know it and love it and, yes, buy it too.
  • The bottom line is that there is no budget but you’re allowed to tinker. If you have an idea, you check with your boss (the owner/entrepreneur) and he may well give you permission to invest your time, energy, and intelligence. So long as the dull must-do tasks are taken care of too.

Creativity scare #1: investors’ risk adversity

The moment IPO and suchlike is around the corner this all changes. Inventors become the engineering department. That may sound like an important part of the company, but more and more people within the company get interested in things like marketing and quality control and business process management. Which basically means more rules. It means that if you are really excited about something you thought up, you need to make sure you’re talking to the right person by the coffee machine or risk:

  • watching their eyes glaze over as they say “Oh – yeah. That’s great, really great”.
  • having them say stuff like “I’m not sure that’s allowed/safe actually”.

That’s exactly the kind of situation that might, apart from no longer having to worry about money, cause this:

“I find that the quality of innovation produced by inventors who remained at the firm declines following the IPO and key inventors are more likely to leave.” (Shai Bernstein)

Key inventors – that doesn’t sound like people who were in it just for the money. These are the born tinkerers.

Innovations that do pass the risk-and-legal test may have been compromised at an early stage – any part deemed risky is replaced by add-ons to bits that were invented at an earlier stage. It seems that investors want you to do what you’ve proved yourself to be good at, only more of it, and without risky adventures now that their money is involved. Think sequels 🙂

Creativity scare #2: a sense of urgency

Marketing talk on its own is unlikely to scare innovators away – start-ups all try to come up with a viable product. What else is there? An innovator is motivated by curiosity – wanting to find out how things work, how problems can be solved, products might be improved…

A shift in your company’s mindset from opportunities to threats (to the investors’ money, for example) will lead to decisions based on a sense of urgency. Especially if you have the money to act immediately – you find yourself buying a company that has the necessary tech rather than wasting time trying to figure it out yourself. Added effect is that such an action knocks out a potential competitor, or allows you to effectively monopolize a couple of relevant patents.
Invest wisely – don’t gamble.

How to pull off the combination of money AND the pursuit of creativity

There are at least two things you can do to safeguard creative processes in your company:

  1. I found this sentence: “Firms with more entrenched managers, whose greater job security makes them less likely to be sensitive to market pressures, experience a smaller decline in innovation novelty, and interestingly, their inventors are less likely to leave the firm.” I could translate this as “Firms that don’t get completely taken over by shareholders don’t scare their inventors away as much.” Make sure your company has solid management before even considering going to the stock exchange.
  2. Don’t interfere with creative processes by throwing risk and legal stuff in at an early stage. Let innovators tinker and give them credit for being good at it. This is what companies like Google understand. Inventors, while liking the idea of having enough money to live a comfortable life, need to know they are allowed to tinker (part of their time). There’s nothing quite like someone asking themselves “I wonder if it’s possible to… How about if I try…” and taking off. This is ‘flow’ for inventors. Mess with that and you should not be surprised if your inventors pack up and leave.

If you don’t like the sound of ‘letting them tinker’, you need to accept that your top innovators will turn elsewhere to do what they do best.

Source: Research paper No. 2126 “Does Going Public Affect Innovation?” Shai Bernstein, Graduate School of Business, Stanford University, December 2012.

P.S.: I just found myself wondering how this relates to blogging vs. corporate blogging. What do you think?

I hope you found this post of interest! Please add your thoughts about innovation, creativity, and tinkering in general in a comment – what else could you do to keep inventors on board?

The usual suspects: why we don’t buy as readily as we sell

After my recent ramblings about LinkedIn I thought I might return to another topic of interest: marketing and blogging. There is a lot to be said for taking a marketing approach what you do on your blog. Especially if you’re wondering why some things you do just fall flat for no apparent reason.

Buyers Prioritization

You got yourself an audience, a good call to action to get your readers to join your subscribers list, you’re sending them information about your products/services… and then, well, nothing. Well, not nothing – but… You’re an expert. Surely everyone is going to want to buy the valuable stuff you have to offer? Why aren’t the %% higher than this?

In this post I’ll take a roundabout tour through marketing and then get back to your blog.

Marketing and the usual suspects

Purely from a marketing/sales view it’s a matter of buyer’s journey or even ‘buyer cycle’, which has phases to mark where on the road towards your first or next purchase you might be.

  1. If you’re in the right group of people (say busy working mum who loves high-heeled boots but won’t risk twisting an ankle again running after child no. 2) you’re a suspect. In fact we’re all someone’s suspect. We all buy something at some point.
  2. The moment you subscribe to anything, you turn into a prospect: someone who shows a definite interest in the kind of services/products a company offers. In some cases it means you get spammed daily – companies seem to think they need to haul you in NOW or you might end up buying a competitor’s product.
  3. Once you’re in their webshop…
  4. … loading stuff into your shopping cart (or taking similar actions) there’s an almost audible drum roll.

In many cases people never get beyond stage two. Why not? There are plenty of tips out there that focus on mending the leaks in your sales funnel, but I’m not going to discuss incontinent marketing processes here.

Theorize about your potential buyers’ priorities

Think about yourself as a reader of blogs (and a potential customer for someone) for a moment. Since I don’t know you, I’ll make up for this bit by talking about myself and pretending I’m a version of you. In this multiverse there must be a universe where I’m you 😉

You read and view loads of stuff every day, either for personal or professional purposes. Depending on your job and other interests, some topics matter a lot, others a little. There’s one topic that you’re mainly interested in because it affects your job. You don’t need to know everything, but you do need to keep up to date. So you read up online. After all what’s the internet for? Then you attend an webinar. From the moment you subscribe you get spammed by at least half a dozen companies trying to sell you stuff that’s related to the subject of the webinar. Preferably expensive and IT-related. Oh, great…

Enter the wonderful world of the ‘buyer persona’

Using a buyer persona (or several) means you basically assemble some characteristics into a credible theoretical buyer. Age, lifestyle, and depending on what you’re trying to sell you throw in a job title, professional issues – or health problems and family situation. It’s a lot like certain police series, where they try to narrow down the group of possible suspects.

In the case where you are the customer, companies are guessing what you might be interested in buying, and they approach you with information that seems relevant. Despite these efforts many marketers still can’t, or won’t, take into account your personal priorities (or your influence on your company’s budget, for that matter). Now, rather than veering off into a discussion about prioritization in this post, here’s a link if you’d like to read how Eisenhower prioritized his to do list. I’ll stick to reinterpreting this handy matrix around the question “to buy, or – to forget about it”.

Your priorities – and how they affect your buying decisions

Many of us – those of us with any savings in the bank, anyway – make buying decisions much like this:

  1. Do I need it? Yes. When? Now! Unless you’re broke you’ll have no problem spending money on things you really need, urgently.
  2. Do I need it? Yes. When? Well, let’s say within the next 3 months. Hmm, I’d better get some more information… and see if I can get a discount somewhere.
  3. Do I want it? Yes. Do I need it? Not really. How much does it cost?
  4. Do I want it? I might, if it’s fun. Do I need it? Nope.

Businesses put a lot of effort trying to close the gaps that make you hesitate. For example, many retail shops know their customers, including you, well enough to be just within the price range you had in mind 😉

Back to your blog’s usual ‘suspects’

When you’re blogging you may get a lot of visitors, but the ones in category 1 are a definite minority. You do need some casual visitors though – a blog that never gets comments, likes, or shares won’t appeal even to people who are looking for a solution to their problem, NOW. So you cater, in some ways, for visitors of categories 2, 3 or even 4. If that means your blog is more fun and less businessy, hey, what’s wrong with a readable blog? But do make sure that there is something for Number One.

I hope you enjoyed this post. If so, please share it – or share your thoughts about marketing, blogging and the like in a comment. Thanks 🙂

Incoming! Using a content ‘landing strip’ for your visitors

Anyone who tries to get marketing to ‘do’ social media is in danger of ending up in another tiny unit next to the established teams, like I mentioned in my previous post. The effect of ‘siloing’ – chopping up anything to do with customer/contact into ever tinier areas of specialization – is that you get people adding social media ‘on top of’ whatever content is produced by a different team, or probably several teams.

Providing a content ‘landing strip’ to your visitors

Content landing strip for your visitors

Perhaps you’ve found that there are considerably more people who visit your web page than actually click through to a specific piece of content you’d like them to view.

You may be looking at visitors who walk off after passing through layers of information that are not in sync with each other.

A perfect landing strip provides a consistent experience every step of the way toward a particular piece of content you want a certain type of visitor to view.

Compare the following situations.

Situation A: Content and distribution coming from isolated teams

  1. You spot a super-interesting message on a social network you’re using. It fits right in with an issue you run into as a part of your work. You want to know more.
  2. You click the message which leads you to a page on a website. The subject that triggered you to click through doesn’t seem to be there: this page contains a general text about issues people in your business role encounter. There is a report on the page which the message also mentioned, but nothing on the page mentions the specific issue you are interested in.
  3. Now I’m sure there are people who are interested enough, and who know your company well enough to know that you deliver real value in your reports, to click through to the report.

This is no comfortable ‘landing strip’ for your visitors – this track is more fit for a bit of off-the-road experience!

Situation B: Content and distribution coming from collaborating teams

  1. You spot a super-interesting message on a social network you’re using. It fits right in with an issue you run into as a part of your work. You want to know more.
  2. You click the message which leads you to a page on a website. The subject that triggered you to click through is the main topic on the page. The text gives you an example of the issue mentioned in the social media message you clicked on, and refers you to paragraph 3 in the report on that page.
  3. You decide to click through knowing more or less what you’ll find, and where to look for it.

Example number two gives you a consistent experience. It triggers your interest and doesn’t allow you to get ‘lost’.

Is a content landing strip necessary?

Some – perhaps most – customers are able to find their way to your most precious content regardless of what you do. Unless of course you make it too hard for them. My point is you are not the person who decides what is too much work to get at your content. That decision lies with your visitors.

My bit of amateur psychology:

  • Curiosity, and the optimistic hope that you may have something good to offer them, is a ‘happy’ state of mind triggered by your initial message.
  • If you throw up any kind of barrier that makes visitors to your website ‘work for their money’ some may leave. And they may not come back for a while.
  • Others will still click through but they’re in a different state of mind: searching, analysing which part of your report is the most relevant. For some, solving this problem is a reward in itself, but anyone who is pressed for time will expect more value for, well, ‘money’. You end up having to make your content better to counter the “So what?” attitude you’ve just created yourself!

How do you improve your visitors’ experience?

Creating your landing strip

Work your way from the inside out. Things to consider while designing your visitors’ experience:

  1. Who do you want to view your masterpiece? What do you offer them?
  2. If there are people with different needs out there, you need a bit of information on your website that addresses those precise needs. Two or three ‘bits’ if you’re talking about a major industry report that addresses issues that are relevant to people with different interests.
  3. A marketing guy will want to see different information than someone in customer service. You may point them towards the same section in your report – but you’ll invite them in different ways. You need to decide if you want to do all this on your website, or on a social platform.

Evaluate the result going from the outside in. Once you’re happy you have every step covered, walk a mile in your visitors’ shoes. My tips for this:

  • Take every step a visitor would take from your social media message down to your content masterpiece.
  • Act stupid while you do so.
  • Do this when you don’t have a lot of time, you’re tired and generally fed up to make sure you nag about anything that’s not perfect 🙂

That concludes my thoughts about a content landing strip to suit your visitors – leave a comment to add your thoughts on the topic and I promise to reply to anything non-spammy!

4 steps to turn your business (more) social-minded

Sure, social business has to do with content, and with content marketing. It’s an aspect I’m definitely interested in. But content – or a perceived lack of it – is not the root cause of resistance to social business. It’s this:

Social business means change.

If you try to change today’s organizations there are some common hurdles involving IT, organizational structure and ultimately psychology. In this post I’ll give you 4 simple steps to start edging towards social anyway, knowing you’ll tackle each hurdle – when you’re ready.

First let’s take a quick glance at each of the 3 hurdles I’m talking about:

  • Firstly, every change turns into an IT project. Any change to an existing process means redesigning the process  – and then checking how soon the software that’s supposed to help you do your job can be adjusted accordingly. Until that happens, your precious software will enforce its own logic on your daily work.
  • Secondly, new activities need to compete with the existing ones. The teams and people who have already gained a foothold inside your organization tend to take up all of the available space, budget, and time reserved for meetings. Anything new is perceived as yet another task when everybody is already pressed for time.
  • Finally, new concepts need to ‘conquer’ established practices.

4 steps towards a social business

The whole target-mindedness in marketing departments is a major issue for anyone who would like to suggest a different way of doing things. Social business advocates are not the first to run into this brick wall.

The predominant force within established (marketing) departments is to nail every new idea down by claiming it – and any available budget – immediately, then:

  • put it into a corner,
  • put one person on it and
  • consider the subject covered.

Do correct me if I’m wrong by being too cynical. I realize I’ve read a lot of Dilbert 😉

4 key steps towards a social business

Here are a few things you can do to get started. It’s important to start with at least a bit of awareness, then try integrating ‘social’ into single tasks before taking it further.

1. Conquer the psychological hurdle – step by step

Let employees (including you) get social with the instruction to learn as much as they can to find ways to use social media in their (daily) work. Use this as a conversation starter in workshops to raise awareness of the differences between private and business communication online. Find out for what business purposes employees (including you) in different roles could use social media. And importantly, translate employee experiences into stuff that improves your team’s and company’s performance.

2. Integrate social media into one or two daily tasks

Anything new will only stand a chance if it’s integrated (as a first step, mind you) into some aspect of daily work.

After you figure out (see #1) how social media can add value for you and your team by making some aspect of your daily work easier, better, possibly faster you still need to determing at what exact point and in what way you will use social media as a natural part of the process.

3. Find a new use for old (and new) habits

It doesn’t take much of your time to share stuff you’ve already found, read and reviewed. By sharing interesting articles you:

  • give more people the chance to pick up on important developments.
  • deliver hand-picked content
  • show them that your team has access to content, knows what’s relevant, … contains professionals who know what’s happening.

3. Evaluate with care

After at least a month, have a first ‘light’ evaluation. Have you needed to tweak the initial idea? Does your method seem to work? If so, you’re ready for a one-month (minimum!) trial to see if you can truly integrate ‘social’ into your daily routine. When that month is over it’s time to evaluate the process (your social routine) rather than the results. That comes next and may take a couple of months.

And what about IT?

As far as I’m concerned, software for anything comes in after you’ve figured out what exactly you want to do without it but can’t. It’s no use implementing some great and costly tool that’ll pin your daily workflow to it like an unfortunate butterfly before you even know what your workflow would look like in your new social business.

That’s it for social business this year – if you want to add your thoughts you’re welcome to do so in a comment, and I still promise to reply to every non-spammy contribution 🙂

Closer to you: moving from content marketing to co-creation

Anyone who has blogged for a while will have noticed that some topics are more popular than others. And that it really matters whether you have succeeded in making your content relevant and even useful to your readers.

Content marketing really equals content + marketing…

As far as I can see the point of content marketing is:

Measure the results of everything you do, and adjust your content accordingly.

This sounds like common sense marketing tactics – so much so that I find myself wondering whether any other kind of content marketing deserves the ‘marketing’ tag.

Content marketing for a lone blogger

For a blogger there are limits to what you can do with the results you measure. You may have tried a different topic as a one-off for the festive season and found it really popular – but that doesn’t mean you feel comfortable or passionate enough to scratch the things that didn’t work in favor of your ‘most popular’ topic.

What you can do is:

  • find out if it really was the topic that sparked the sudden rise in interest,
  • or whether you added a different kind of title, style, way of addressing your readers, or even a different kind of image.
  • If no-one bothered to comment you’ll have to go through your popular post(s) and try to find out what makes them ‘ring’.
  • Then, list your results and experiment with them in your new posts.

Moving from content marketing to co-creation could make sense – for some

Rather than painstakingly follow a trial-and-error method to zoom in on what works for your audience as well as yourself, you could (simply put) ask your readers what they would be interested to read/hear about. But this doesn’t always work:

Worst practice co-creation

Worst practice co-creation

  • The average one-time two-minute visitor doesn’t know you. So the chance that anyone is inclined to reply is remote, and if they do their input may well lead you off the track altogether. General tips, yes – co-creation, I don’t think so.
  • “Just ask” isn’t really half enough. You might end up alienating your fans if you ask them for ideas every time you’re stumped for inspiration. Writing a post about a requested topic is nice, but unless it’s a topic on which you can really deliver big time you’re bound to disappoint some readers.

Co-creation is not about getting others to do most of your work, or about squeezing casual remarks from readers for quotes.

I feel that commitment from both sides should balance out. This means bloggers like me, who spend a limited amount of time on their blogs, should not expect a level of commitment from our readers/fans that we can’t match. If you’re a professional blogger things may be different.

What steps could help you on your way to co-creation?

What you can do:

  1. Building up a community around your blog/brand. This takes time, especially if you’re just starting out. If you have a company, your customers and suppliers are stakeholders – you may expect them to have an interest in what you do.
  2. Find your fans. Fans are only a (small) part of all the people in your community. If you don’t have the time or resources to build up a big, open community of your own, you’ll need to access existing communities and hand-pick potential fans yourself. The alternative is to wait for them to find you, or to buy a list of people in your segment (marketing again).
  3. Next you need to ask your fans to get involved. This means getting them onto a platform of your own (like a Disqus community for the readers of your blog, or a secure wiki).
  4. Wait: before you do anything, you need to be clear on what you expect from your fans – and what they may expect from you. Because there can be no hiding on your part in a small community with your name on it.

Co-creation: are we there yet?

If you’re a blogger these steps may be the bigger part of what you need to do: getting structural input from people in a certain business will help you get your facts straight.

The moment co-creation needs to lead to complex products you’re looking at involving your fans and colleagues in long-term, in-depth matters. That takes commitment from both sides and a lot more work from you.

I’m indebted to Steven van Belleghem for the subject of this post. Reading “The Conversation Company” unavoidably influenced my thoughts.

If you’re still here… thanks for reading my post 🙂 If you’re not exhausted yet, please leave your thoughts on content marketing, co-creation and blogging in a comment!

Life as we know it: the big deal about change

Every new generation in the past 50 years has been called, or has claimed, to be fundamentally different from the oldies. This tends to cause a bit of friction with parents (unless they’ve given up ‘parenting’ at an earlier stage) but notably not so much with grandparents because, and I’m guessing here, they’ve seen it all before in their own children.

The big deal about change

Change is the only permanent force in our lives. So what? Change is a constant, and yet we will draw people’s attention to it again and again saying: “look, this is different!” or “I’m unique!” The millenial generation is no different in its uniqueness 😉

One example of what is different for today’s students is, by the time they graduate, they’re all over Facebook already. If you’ve spent years on Facebook it seems a bit of a waste to start from scratch on LinkedIn.

Some months ago, Brian Solis interviewed the Co-founder/CEO of a platform called Identified.com. Viewing the information on the Identified blog I recognized a lot of stuff from my own career path (involving change). Perhaps you recognize any of the following?

Learn to change: learning curve ahead

Warning: Learning Curve Ahead

  1. Study, no job.
  2. Another study.
  3. Job doesn’t match expectations or strong points.
  4. Switch to different kind of job.
  5. Part-time study and job.
  6. New job, research or internship required by study.
  7. Keep job, build resume and ‘rest’ after graduating.
  8. New job, tasks shift.

It was about time someone figured out that people might like to re-use parts of their ‘personal’ network in their new career, and that they might find the contacts in their mailbox less useful than their contacts on social media 😉

What happens if I do this?

Young people living their lives ‘inside’ social media is just an example of what has changed – but the underlying issue of ending up in a place that doesn’t match your talents or ambitions (interests) is not exactly new. In fact, part of ‘growing up’ has been finding out more about yourself by trying stuff out.

Marketing trend or change?

Marketers’ strong point is spotting trends and giving them ‘big’ names. The actual change taking place may be less exciting (too slow or insignificant). One marketing action is giving generations different names and trying to find out what matters most to each generation in order to sell them more stuff.

Sometimes marketing seems a bit like calling your two-month-old kid “Godzilla” because he/she’s got a big voice. It doesn’t make your kid bigger but it sure sounds awesome. I checked Twitter recently, which never fails if you’re looking for Godzilla marketing trends. Here’s a couple of ‘trends’ I found (Godzilla doesn’t hide):

  • “going real time to right time” Rachel Happe Tweets #defragcon
  • “moving from transactions to engagement” @alanlepo
  • “After B2B and B2C the future is P2P” (can this get any worse?? I hope I made this one up…)*

My main conclusion is that there’s only one underlying change: companies are getting more interested in customers and trying the personal “customer-centric” approach.

Why?

  1. Because they can. They have the tools: social media.
  2. Because they’re afraid to miss out. Their competitors are doing it too.
  3. Because we, their customers are changing – we’re getting used to relevant content, and to replies within a day or so (preferably faster).

Change is the only permanent force in our lives. Treating every day as being identical to the last just because it looks identical on the surface is downright dangerous. One day there will be a stalled car just behind that bend in the road.

The big deal about change is that it is life as we know it.

* B2B Business to Business, B2C Business to Consumer, P2P Person to Person… they didn’t manage to squeeze F2F in – maybe I ought to thank Twitter for their 140-character limit 🙂

That’s it for this post. If you want to add your insights please add them in a comment. I’ll respond to any non-spammy comment about ‘the big deal about change’ or my writing skills 😉

Why social media is everyone’s business

The art of combining ‘social’ and ‘business’ isn’t everyone’s cup of tea

If you’re in marketing, the hard part about ‘social business’ or ‘social marketing’ is if you think it’s a load of cat crap. Many marketers seem to think it’s a great development. This means the smell of cat crap is coming from your own flower bed. Not nice.

On the plus side, if you do decide to give it a try, there’s a motherload of advice hanging out there on the internet waiting for you.

Social media outside the marketing team

But what if you’re in the kind of job that’s usually taken up by people who don’t like the sound of the word “business” or “marketing”? In that case the amount of available information shrinks. That may be an advantage – if you’re able and willing to filter out all the noise the social media marketers are making.

Even if you get over yourself and the marketing stuff, the organization you work in probably never realized that you might be interested, or able to contribute in some way to the company’s online presence.

Social media

Water droplets on the grass

  1. Your manager may not agree with your taking on this new role. Or his/her manager may not.
  2. Your targets don’t mention anything remotely like “representing our company by becoming a valued blogger on subject X” – especially if subject X is unlikely to add visibly to the company’s financial results.
  3. Your manager thinks it’s a great idea, but you don’t have time during working hours so you end up representing your company on your own time. Right up until you burn out.

Where do you find the feeling that your presence on social media is valued by the company you work for? Or if that’s not going to happen, how will you make social media work for you?

By introducing personal branding on social media. Social branding.

There, I’ve said it. Yukkk. Why should you want that?

Social media is your business

If you’re on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn (or… you name it), social media is already a big or small part of your life. It may not yet feel like being part of a business thing. So how is this your business?

Anything you do tells people who’ve connected with you something about YOU, the brand. Don’t believe me?

Let’s face it, does everybody out there really know you, the person, warts and all, on a Sunday morning after going to bed late and your kids waking you up at 6 in the morning (sometimes you’re lucky if it gets as late as 6 AM), watching the latest politically-correct version of some mind-numbing cartoon series for the under-9-year-olds? Well, some people probably put that photo on Instagram too 🙂 But even if you do, how many people know the “you” that lives behind the pictures you publish?

You’re a brand to someone out there, no matter what you do or don’t do.

  • If you’re LinkedIn profile sucks, that’s you to a recruiter. “This guy/gel hasn’t updated her profile in two years – obviously NOT looking for a job”.

In case this made you wonder about YOUR LinkedIn profile, check what information is actually visible to other people while you’re logged on. What seemed fine 4 years ago when you had a steady job may not be enough to attract recruiters or customers, if you’re starting a business. You can waste a lot of time on updating your profile if no-one except you can see it.

Go to Settings – [Profile] – Helpful links – Edit your Public Profile to check and change the visibility of your profile.

  • If your tweets have so many typos you need more than 140 characters to fit them all in, that’s you to anyone who follows you, or who finds you through a typo in their search – or through searching for your name after someone mentioned you to them.
  • If you blog about your kids, dogs and flower bed (with cat crap), you’re branding yourself. Not according to some major strategy, but still.

With every activity you’re giving people a piece of a puzzle which they use to construct an image of you, your family, your company…

So while you’re branding yourself on social media, you might as well do it right.

Start by revising your main social media profiles. After you’ve done that, if you have a manager, go to him/her and ask for input, especially if you (want to) mention your company in those profiles.

I have yet to run into a manager who wants the company to look bad by letting employees have unprofessional profiles on LinkedIn. Use that knowledge to your advantage 😉

And then? On to the next step… and the next.

If you want to add ideas on the subject of making social media everyone’s business, please leave your comment below – I will reply to any (non-spammy) contribution!

Social business: why you should add strategy to your content

One aspect of social media in a business is something I’m just about starting to ‘get’. It’s not just social media. It’s how to get your message across to potential customers at all, now that social media are becoming part of the business habitat. Everyone is suddenly in marketing. And my discovery (tah-daah!) is that many of us suck at it.

Social media: knowing how it works is not the issue

I don’t mean we can’t do marketing no matter what you do for training. I mean that right now, even if we know our way around social media, we have not been trained yet in (the basics of):

  • Risk management
  • Content marketing
  • Social media for business purposes.

Add strategy to your content. Image: Thinker - ContentRambler avatar

Thinking up a content strategy [OCAL image with alterations]

This may result in (m)any of the following:

  1. Your colleague has been told that social media is all about personal. She does a meet-the-whole-family blog and discusses details of her private life you don’t want to know about – depending on your interests 😉
  2. Another colleague (I’m assuming you have many of them) uploads an 86-page presentation to SlideShare, assuming she’s done her sharing duty this way. Description: “this is a presentation I did two weeks ago, enjoy”.
  3. A third colleague likes to rant about telecom services, airlines and so on which he had bad experiences with. Unfortunately one of these companies is a customer of yours.

Since I’m confident that you can spot the issues in the first and last example at once no matter what your professional background is, I’ll move on with the second example. Why? Because this is at first sight the least damaging thing anyone can do. And for that reason, it probably happens more often than the other two.

How to handle professional content

From a risk perspective, I’d really like to know if there are things like customers’ names in that presentation. If there are, you’re in trouble.

Let’s assume that it’s ‘safe’ content though, meaning it’s not about private stuff, nor does any customer of yours look bad or have their information shared on the internet. What are the downsides?

  • Your colleague’s description doesn’t really tell anyone what those 86 pages are about… that’s a missed opportunity. Possibly half a dozen opportunities, depending on what is in that presentation. I’ll get back to this topic later.
  • Here’s the good part: if the title of the presentation is as nondescript as the description, no-one is going to read it. Unless your colleague is, say, Seth Godin.
  • The bad part is that no-one will read it. But at least you’ll have a chance to improve the way your content is presented before it’s been downloaded and possibly put to good use without you ever seeing a dime in return. Or getting a “thank you”, or a new contact with an invitation you might have used for a spot of networking.

Optimizing your content for different learning styles

Depending on the content of a single presentation you could get up to half a dozen blog posts out of it; make a couple of video interviews; do a web chat or two about the subject. And I don’t mean either-or: you could do all of them. Why?

Learning styles

I’ve been fortunate enough to have a colleague repeat the basics to me just yesterday. By typing pages full of words, I’m basically catering for a specific type of person. I’m probably writing for people who learn in a way that is similar to my own.

I used to have books for breakfast. When I got to read my first ‘grown-up’ book in English – Dune, by Frank Herbert – I didn’t do any homework for three weeks (goodbye Math results). If I woke up in the middle of the night I’d read in bed.

Adding examples, especially about people and situations you can relate to, makes a (long) text more digestible for people with a different learning style. The same goes for adding a picture – preferably one with a personal touch, or with warm colors. Pictures that reach out to the viewer.

Time pressure and content guzzling

Another colleague told me that, because he spends so much time in the car, he prefers to listen to podcasts of blogs – especially by those bloggers who are real storytellers. The fact that some professions have people on their feet and in their car at all times of the day gives you yet another reason for trying different media.

Your social business needs a content strategy

For your (future) business, being on social media without knowing how to market your content doesn’t make much sense.

Note that I’m hardly saying this as a die-hard, veteran, marketing blogger. Needless to say I know I’m missing a big portion of my ‘potential audience’ by not using every available medium but just writing what’s on my mind. If you’re blogging like me and you’re not getting the most from your writing right now, that’s fine – if you’re fine with it. If not, you have work to do.

I hope you enjoyed this post. I wrote it today, in two or three sittings (I have a job and a family!), which is about the fastest I’ve done so far for anything that isn’t actually a “Blogging impressions” post 🙂

If you’ll add your thoughts on the subject of social business, content strategy or anything related, I would appreciate it and I’ll reply to any (non-spammy) comment.

You are now in marketing: the content perspective

Do you have a blog? Have you told all your friends about it yet?

Chances are you’ve done both. In case you’re not a marketing fan, yes, you were marketing your blog. You may think “well, I haven’t told anyone yet because after all I’ve only published two posts and I’m not sure they’re that good”.

Tell you what: you are not off the hook for being too modest for marketing. I didn’t advertise this blog when it had only two posts. So you’ll get over it too I expect 😉

At some point you will:

  1. find out who wants to read (or even buy) your stuff
  2. make a plan to get them onto your blog (“I really should ask all my friends and colleagues” is enough of a plan for a non-marketer)
  3. go do it (stick to your plan)
  4. watch what happens next to find out what works and what doesn’t so you can:
  5. change what you’re doing until it does work.

If you’re doing the marketing jig for the first time and this is actually your plan you’ll be happy to know you won’t blow a hole into a 40M budget if it all goes pear-shaped 🙂

Let’s see what marketing tells you about your blog!

Outbound marketing

Traditionally, advertising your stuff in all forms has worked a treat – and it still does, to an extent. So by all means tell people about your blog.

Marketing prism: multi-faceted subject
Marketing facets:
Which is your favorite angle?

There are a few issues:

  • Relevance. If you’re looking for a title like “4 novel ways to wear sandals”, you don’t read this post even if it’s in your mailbox. Serendipity alone does not overcome “Not this, not now, not ever”.
  • Ever wonder why companies don’t ask you after 5 years or so if you still read their mails? Maybe they don’t want to know? Keep in mind to ask your subscribers after a while.

The balance is shifting to inbound marketing

We (as consumers) are morphing into ‘inbound traffic’ as we speak, calling and emailing when we‘re ready. Even if you’re an old school marketer yourself, I’ll bet you’re no different when you’re on the buyer’s seat. Companies are trying to steer us after we hit their radar, some more successfully than others.

Marketing match-making

An article I read a few days ago mentions 4 ways outbound and inbound marketing can work together. I’ve filtered the marketing talk out:

  1. Re-use the best stuff on your blog and send a “top 5 posts of the season” in a newsletter to your readers and everyone you think might be interested who’s not yet visited your blog.
  2. After you meet someone at an event, don’t send them a standard ‘nice to have met you’ email: mail them (part of) a post on your blog (or someone else’s) about a subject you discussed. Or put the link in your request to connect on LinkedIn. Make whatever you send worthy of the recipient’s attention. Come on – you want to be relevant, don’t you?
  3. Your emails, ads, LinkedIn profile should all give readers a chance, and if possible a reason, to visit your blog by following a link provided by you. A link, mind you, to a post that is relevant for anyone who just read your email, ad, or profile.

The article I just referred to leads you to a single destination which it fails to mention:

Content marketing

With all the writing on the web it’s no surprise I found an article while I was drafting this post that asks the question what’s so special about content marketing.

It focuses on the fact that:

High-quality content that is super relevant to readers will end up winning the game.

A couple of hundred articles on the internet will more or less tell you this, so you’re excused for not being completely amazed.

Relevance sounds too obvious, doesn’t it? But it means different things depending on what you’re looking for.

If you’re not a marketer but you do think you ought to get interested, this post may be just about as much as you can stomach (or too much). A pro might have left after the first glance if he/she even bothered to click the title.

What can you do for your blog right now?

A few examples for you to chew on:

  • If you’ve spent the past year business blogging like a maniac without seeing the kind of results you were aiming for, you may be doing something wrong in marketing terms. Perhaps you’re relevant for other people than the group you tried to reach. You either find out using marketing basics like the 5-step list above, or accept that your blog is really a personal blog – not a business blog.
  • If what you’re doing is Pinterest-on-a-blog, and if you’re getting exactly the types of response you might get on Pinterest if you upload a picture of a pretty dress (don’t get me started – I’m a ‘business’ user), you are definitely selling products but probably not ideas. If that wasn’t your goal when you started blogging, it’s time to change tactics.

Brian Clarke (a.k.a. Copyblogger) said during a recent presentation: content marketing is a bit like stand-up comedy. You get an idea, you try it out on your audience, you find out what they love and what they hate, and then it’s “dial up what works, dial down what doesn’t”.

If you blog, I hope I’ve given some idea of the marketing jungle out there. If you’re an experienced marketer I hope my post was entertaining 😉 Either way please comment. Suggested further readings are also welcome!

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How to turn your business social: Back To Front

If you’ve checked my “social business” Twitter account, you won’t be surprised to hear I’ve been reading quite a lot about social business, social media, content marketing and several other buzzwords.

At this point I’ve come to an important conclusion:

Many articles about content marketing and what it will mean for your company are full of marketing BS.

They are completely focused on marketing and what that team, or the organization as a whole should be doing to get social business right.

Road Narrows in your company?

Are there road narrows in your company?
[OCAL image]

Not a lot of help if your middle name isn’t marketing. Is it?

The main idea of most articles is that you’ll hire them to organize “social business workhops” or to take care of the actual transition. That’s obvious enough.

What I don’t read enough about is what happens if you succeed. Maybe they tell you that after you invite them to talk about your plans. I sure hope so.

The viral nightmare

Suppose you get everything right on the ‘marketing’ side of your business. You get your content sorted, your marketing team is social media savvy, and your campaigns are getting results. Actually it would help if things didn’t go quite thát fast…!

Because suddenly your marketers are up to their ears in questions and complaints coming in through social networks. Your sales people can’t handle demand. The phone at customer service is red-hot.

This is a really bad time to discover you should have trained your customer service team to handle social media for your business… three months ago!

If marketing and sales employees fail to keep up, anyone who is seriously displeased about a purchase is now also annoyed because their complaints via social networks don’t get an answer either… and if you’re really lucky they’ll end up on the phone with your call center.

How to prepare your business for success

You’ve done step 1: reading this article. And if you’ve read more on the subject, please add any must-read articles in the comments section!

Step 2: you need a plan.

  • Plan A: All-is-well if you have the time and resources to prepare thouroughly.
  • Plan B: “Oh… Beep” if you don’t.
  • Plan C (recommended): Combine A and B. You’ll see why.

Plan A: if you have enough time and resources to change your organization

A rough plan A could look like this:

  1. Train your call center/customer service staff for business social media.
  2. Get them onto social media accounts for your business. They are to handle any feedback, positive as well as negative.
  3. Get everyone else involved who will be in touch with customers at any given moment. Marketing – sales – after sales – customer service, the lot.
  4. How do customers get ‘handed down’ the organization? How would this work if you added ‘social’ to the picture?
  5. Get your CRM system hooked up to your social media accounts. It shouldn’t matter who talks to a customer or which channel they use.

Once you feel you’ve got every relevant part of your company connected to the expected information stream…

Time for a trial run.

You have three options to find out if you’re prepared for the big one:

  • A simulated campaign
  • A real campaign targeted at a very specific group. Mind you: it’s online, so if your campaign is in any way interesting to people outside the group you want, you may end up with a runaway (viral) campaign at a time when you don’t know if your business will be able to handle the consequences.
  • You don’t run campaigns. Business as usual, but social is now part of that business.

Plan B: the ‘what-if’ approach

Aim for a quick fix for any nasty side-effects of taking the plunge by asking yourself a few questions for hypothetical situations.

Examples of ‘what-if’ questions are:

What if: your campaign leads to so much demand you can’t possibly meet it? You can only say “No, I’m afraid you’ll have to wait… we’ll help you as soon as we can!” so many times before people get really annoyed.

  • Can you identify anyone up front who can pitch in if it’s urgent?
  • Can you give your customers any idea of how long it will be before they can expect their purchase?

What if: the social channels you set up are hijacked by complaining people? How or to which team or person will you refer complainers? Is that team available through social media?

What if: your intern gets hold of your business password and accidentally publishes a private update on your account? (Note: if you want to prevent this, I suggest you make it very clear to everyone they are never, ever to delegate their responsibility).

You’ll notice this is not a miracle cure – just risk management the quick-and-dirty way. Depending on the type of business you’re running, you’ll come up with your own set of major and minor risks.

A few thoughts on business change

All of the above isn’t just true for developments in social media. Every organization runs into challenges of scale. At such moments it’s either you lead the horse, or the horse leads you. Go on, you choose 😉

Social media may act as a katalyst and propel your business onto the next level backwards. Based on that observation I would have you consider to prepare your business for success – back to front.

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What else can you do today to turn your business social?