The Top Five Essentials for a Successful Company Twitterfeed.

November 4, 2009

It’s started.

Companies everywhere seem to have received the “We gotta be on Twitter!” memo and are swarming to the application to fire up a feed.

But does anyone care?

Since I’m a “heavy tweeter” and follow a lot of people, I seem to be on the radar of many of these corporate feeds.

The number of corporate followers I get seems to double each week. While the amount of time I have to vet each follower is growing smaller.

As result, I’ve developed a Twitter litmus test to help me decide which companies I should follow back.

Corporate marketers? Take note:

1. Is Your Company’s Twitter Profile Complete?

Your Twitter profile is your company’s online business card. Make it an effective one.

  • Include a picture. It’s O.K. if that picture is your company’s logo. Just make sure it’s a version of the logo that looks good on multiple color backgrounds. I view my Twitter stream in Tweetdeck against a black background. If you use a gray logo with a transparent background as your avatar, I will literally never see your tweets going by.
  • Tell us where you’re located. I make it a point to follow local companies. Leave off your locale and you could be missing the opportunity to transfer the Twitter conversation to a face-to-face forum.
  • Write a keyword-rich, informative company description. Don’t waste this valuable (and searchable) real estate with dippy slogans like, “We work hard, but have fun too!” or obtuse mission statements like,  “Creating authentic experiences for consumers.” I want to know, in a glance, what you do and if it’s relevant to my business.
  • Include a URL. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a link to your corporate website. But it does have to be a link to a location that will provide me with more detailed information on what it is that your company does.

2. Does Your Twitter Profile Show Your Company Having Conversations with Actual People?

When I’m vetting a company, the Twitter profile page is an invaluable research tool.

  • Do you have hundreds of followers, but follow none of your clients or customers back? (My first impression? You don’t seem like a very nice person to do business with.)
  • Do you follow a ton of people, but have no followers in return? (My first impression? You probably post some pretty boring tweets.)
  • Is your feed full of posts, but includes no @ replies? (My first impression? You like to talk…just not to us.)
  • Is your feed full of @ replies, but no posts? (My first impression? You don’t have much to say, so you use gratuitous, “Me too!” and “LOL” comments to make your company appear “engaged.”)
  • Is your feed full of retweets? (My first impression? You have nothing original to say, so you repeat others’ tweets so you can appear relevant in the space.)

3. Is There a Sense of Human Voice in Your Twitterfeed’s Content?

Nearly all the companies that I see jumping on the Twitter bandwagon are under the mistaken impression that it’s the world’s cheapest and fastest broadcast medium.

Couldn’t be further from the truth, my friends.

If I want to know all about your company’s news and hear how awesome you are, I will go look at your website. If I want to engage with you and learn more about why your business may be relevant to mine, I will go to Twitter.

You need to have something interesting to share with me when I arrive.

You wouldn’t just walk around a cocktail party distributing promotional flyers and call that effective networking. Treat your twitterfeed the same way.

Ask questions. Be helpful. Throw your two cents into conversations. And most importantly, give me a sense that there’s a person behind the Twitter curtain.

I don’t care if that person works in marketing, PR, or the C-suite. I just need to know that they are a human.

4. Does Your Company Use Twitter to “Sell” or to “Brand?”

What is your social media content strategy? If you don’t have one, don’t be surprised if you don’t see a big return on your Twitter investment.

Write your tweets so they sound like the sponsorship messages you hear on public radio, not the ads you hear on a Clear Channel station.

Go ahead and mention your company. Share with us what you do and how you feel about the work, (Feelings? In business communications? Why yes!) and ask people questions about their businesses in return.

Structure your content so that the process of sharing and “telling” your story also serves as the “selling” of your company.

5. Does Your Company Respond to Followers and Follow Backs in a Genuine Manner?

I met a really great business contact recently and had some lovely face-to-face discussions with him. Shortly thereafter, I looked him up on Twitter and started following his company (he manages their feed).

In response to my follow, I received an auto-generated direct message with a generic “thanks for the follow” and an offer for me to download “an exclusive whitepaper which could help me double my follower count overnight!

Needless to say, this person is no longer one of my business contacts.

If I meet you, and you know my name, but you treat me like an anonymous cog when you reach out to me through social media channels, I will treat your business like an anonymous cog in return.

Treat your clients and customers like you’ve had a dirty one-night stand with them, and you’ll see a whole other side of Twitter’s power – a side that has the ability to break your company’s reputation just as easily as make it.

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I AM NOT FAMOUS. (AND YOU’RE PROBABLY NOT EITHER)

August 24, 2009

Recently a woman approached me at an event and we had a long chat.

She asked me some questions about a project I was working on. She relayed a story in which she and a group of her friends were all laughing about something I had said on Twitter. She filled me in on how her job search was going. Then she gave me a hug and left.

It was an interesting encounter – mostly because I had never met this woman before.

So how did we end up having a 15-minute heart to heart?

Well first, I made a decision a year or so ago to conduct my professional life in a bubble and I extended an open invitation for anyone to pop by and watch or eavesdrop.

Somewhere along the line, this particular woman took me up on my offer. And something I said or did vetted me and indicated to this woman that I was someone she should definitely meet.

A NEW WAY OF NETWORKING

Networking hasn’t always been this easy for me. In fact, when I started my business nearly 10 years ago, I had to work damn hard to make contacts and build relationships of any sort.

Then social media came along and the whole playing field changed.

Now I’m…

  • More recognized. Pictures of me, attached to things I have said, are floating all around the Internet. I happen to talk quite a lot, so this means that the reach and spread of this information is large.
  • More social. People who meet me already have an ambient awareness of what I do, whom I know and what I’m passionate about. That means I spend less time mired in small talk and more time engaged meaty conversations.
  • More connected. I invest a lot of energy in communicating with others online. As a result my network has slowly but surely continued to grow and evolve.

But you know what social media had not made me?

Famous.

“FAME” AND “RECOGNITION” ARE MERELY DISTANT COUSINS

There is a great chasm that exists between “famous” and “less invisible,” and I am not so naïve as to believe that social media has given me the tools to suddenly bridge it.

Just because someone…

  • knows who I’m talking to and what I’m working on,
  • has conversations about me with other people whom I also don’t know,
  • asks to become my “friend” or to “follow” my adventures,
  • becomes a “fan” of my work or indicates that they “like” my witty quip,

…does not make me famous.

It just makes me an effective participant in the social media space.

I talk a lot, so more people are hearing me.

I reach out, so more people are encountering me.

I share what I’m thinking, so more people are feeling like they know me.

That’s not an indication fame, just strategy and implementation working in calculated harmony.

MASTER OF THE MICROCOSM

Yes, it’s flattering to have complete strangers suddenly know who I am. However…

  • The guy scanning my stuff at Target? He’ll never read my blog.
  • The woman who cleaned my teeth? She’s not on Twitter.
  • My mother-in-law? She STILL doesn’t understand what the hell it is that I do.

This social media world is not really “the world.” It’s just a microcosm of people who are continually opting in and out of the “Jen Kane Diaries.”

So no, I’m not famous. And the cold hard reality is that most “social media celebrities” aren’t really either. (And yes, this post is for you, folks.)

What I am is prolific and transparent.

And, as we’ve learned from reality TV, if you go out of your way to make a flurry of public statements that are remotely salacious, scandalous, riotous or snarky, you will get noticed.

That doesn’t make you the next Dorothy Parker.

It just makes you slightly less boring than most other people.

And for now, “slightly less boring” suits me just fine.


The Social Media Secrets That No One Wants to Tell You

July 24, 2009

Every time I hand someone a strategic plan I get a little sad.

Not because the project is over (I’m usually pretty happy about that.)

Mostly it’s because – if I’ve done my job right – at that moment I’m staring face-to-face with a client who has a little spark in their eyes that seems to be saying, “Awesome. Now we are done.”

Then, like a oncologist looking at a suspicious mass on a CT scan, I have to be the bad guy and say to them, “Know what? Actually the hard part has just begun.”

This is particularly confusing when the client and I are talking about strategies for social media.

This stuff just looks so darn easy. They figure that once I give them a roadmap, some pretty apps and some technical partners to support them, they’re all set up for “strategic success.”

But what I CAN’T give them (and what they’ll need most to succeed), is the “social” part. That part they have to do themselves.

And that’s going to take some work.

There…I said it…successful marketing using social media takes work: dedicated, frequent, thoughtful and innovative work done by someone with some sort of interest and investment in your social circle and your brand.

(so, no…it’s not a good idea to outsource this stuff to a “Twitter intern.”)

Writing this blog post took some work. Sending a tweet out later to share with my network that it’s posted will take some work. Finding the time to read and respond to comments that are posted in reply will take some work.

And it’s going to cost some money.

(Man, I’m just full of fun news today, aren’t I?)

Because while I’m blogging and tweeting and replying, I’m using my billable time. I’m making a choice to invest my time in people and relationships and that may produce a (possibly career-transforming) return on investment down the road…or, just as easily, they may not.

So why bother?

First, It’s about the most fun work you can snag these days.

If you are using social media as a marketing or public relations tool – and you are using it effectively – you won’t feel like a human press release feed, “socially” distributing lame marketing spam to the masses. Instead your job will be to have relationships – share stories, listen to concerns, offer advice, (and yes, from time to time, share your salesy news.)

If you make the process a habit, build a network based on authenticity and genuine interest in others and treat each social contact as the prime client engagement vehicle that it should be, you actually might have a delightful time.

Secondly, the stuff you put work into will last longer and ultimately have more value.

Look at weight loss. There are a million books, plans, tools and services out there that are essentially designed to avoid smacking you over the head with the cold hard reality of the matter: if you want to lose weight, you need to eat less and move more.

No one really wants to hear that.

But the ones who do, and who accept it, are the ones who lose the weight and KEEP it off.

Same holds true for this “micro marketing” approach. Do the work, do it well and avoid being an ass while you’re doing it, and it will work.

Even better, it will deliver benefits to your doorstep that you could have never planned for.

And that, my friends, is the thing that puts a spark into my eyes.


Listening – the first key to unlocking the potential of social media.

May 26, 2009

In my last post, I asserted that traditional press reports have no place in social media – online public relations campaigns simply can’t be measured the same way.

In Jason Baer’s (@Jaybaer) May 21 Twitter interview with Radian6’s Amber Naslund (@AmberCadabra), he asked, What do you see as the PR/ad/digital agency’s role in listening and social media?

To which Amber replied, “Translating intelligence into strategy and action. Being a guidepost and putting execution in the hands of the company.”

Beautifully put, Amber. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

The value in reporting on social media monitoring lies in how we as PR professionals steer our clients to appropriate action.

Whether clients are active in the social media space or not, we first advise them that at the very least, they need to start listening to the conversations happening about them, their brand, their competitors and their industry.

These conversations are taking place on platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, blogs, nings and more.

First, figure out what you need to listen for, and start monitoring.

• Establish keywords. Other than your company name, what do you want to listen for? People talking about industry trends? About your competitor? Establish a lean set of keywords that will offer glimpses into relevant conversations that can shape future communications strategy.

• Find your audience. Pay attention to where your key demographic is. If your primary audience is business women over the age of 40, you probably don’t need to spend a lot of time listening to the conversations happening on My Space.

• Observe search engine ranking. Think of SEO is the new “earned” PR placement. Pay attention not only to the rank of your company name, but to how the name ranks with key search terms.

• Consider opinion polling. Recently, I heard someone say they were working to establish a budget to poll a target audience. Gasp! Welcome to social media, where seeking the opinion of your audience is free, as long as you listen.

After monitoring the social media space, (and, making constant adjustments as needed) it’s time to start doing what Amber referred to as, “translating the intelligence.”

What can we glean from this information, and how can it be used to guide communications strategy?

• What is the tone of the conversation? (positive, negative, neutral?)
• Who is having the conversation? And, who is listening to them?
• On what social networks are these conversations taking place?
• How often do these conversations occur?

From this information, PR professionals can help clients to:

• Set benchmarks and establish goals.
• Determine and shape existing key messages.
• Make observations regarding timed release of information to coincide with when the conversations are taking place.
• Guide decisions on when and where to enter the conversation.
• Identify key influencers of your target audience.
• Recruit brand “evangelists.”
• Manage online reputation.
• Improve search engine ranking.
• Set benchmarks, goals and measure results.

So, are you ready to start listening?


Ready. Set. Let Go….

May 6, 2009

It’s spring in Minnesota. So we hauled out our four year old’s bike and spent some time with her revisiting the basics, like…

Don’t look down at your feet. Look ahead at the sidewalk.
Don’t pedal backwards unless you want to stop moving.
Don’t run into the back of mommy’s heels. That hurts….A lot.

Afterwards, we set out for a spin around the block.

By the time we’d gotten half way around, she snapped into the groove of it and suddenly flew off ahead on her own.

And, I freaked out.

What if she got hit by a car coming out of the alley?

What if she forgot how to use her brakes and tumbled over the handlebars?

What if a ravenous dog ran out of a yard and just upped and ate her?

And then I took a deep breath and remembered, “Oh yeah…this is what’s supposed to happen.”

It’s not possible to steer my daughter’s bike for her. She has to do that herself. And, sooner or later, she’s going ride that thing off into her adolescence.

And I was reminded at that moment of all the companies I’ve talked to lately who are freaking out about social media.

These companies have their own precious offspring – a message, reputation, product or game plan that they’ve invested lots of time and attention in crafting, pruning and polishing.

And then they stick this precious artifact online into a social environment and it just takes off down the street.

The loss of control takes their breath away…

  • What if people have bad things to say about their company? (Good. Better they say it to your face than behind your back.)
  • What if the message gets mutated and twisted and taken out of the preordained context? (Quite all right. Now you have something to engage them in discussion about.)
  • What if it gets misattributed or ignored or – heaven forbid – stolen by a competitor? (Been known to happen. Try to be more interesting next time.)

Yeah…all these things could happen to any company that uses social media as a marketing tool.

(Just like a gigantic Rottweiler could chomp my kid’s arm off while she’s tooling around the block.)

But what if you loosened your fists, took a deep breath and imagined more

  • What if your message, set free, transforms into something more powerful and impactful than your company could ever have strategized for?
  • What if it organically grows and attracts its own community of ambassadors who are happy to serve as your marketing evangelists?
  • What if the act of letting go doesn’t become your company’s riskiest marketing move, but your wisest?

Either way, you’ll never know until you let go of those handle bars.

Like any caretaker, I’ll never stop worrying about my daughter, no matter how many years I watch her pedal off ahead of me.

But, I also know that the fear of watching her ride away is always followed by the magic of watching her return – a girl forever changed by her freedom.


RIP Press Reports.

April 27, 2009

For decades, PR professionals have demonstrated their performance and value by providing clients with regular press reports accompanied by press clips – quantifying every media mention of the client, and proving that time spent on press releases, news distribution, pitches and interviews was worthwhile.

Enter social media.rip-tombstonel

With the rising popularity of social media, PR pros monitoring every mention of their client (and oftentimes, client’s industry, competitor’s, etc.) are inundated. TweetBeep and Google alerts flood our inboxes with Internet chatter. Fellow PR people have asked me, “How do you report on all of this?”

My answer?

There is no place for social media in the traditional press report.

That’s right. I said it. PR people need to cut the chord from the coveted press report and take a step back and take a look at what we’re actually trying to achieve.

ROI vs. ROE – Investment vs. Engagement.

Before, we measured Return On Investment.

Traditionally, if a client was announcing a product launch, for instance, the PR pro would draft a press release, distribute it, pitch the appropriate editors/reporters, follow-up as necessary, and ideally, it would result in print coverage on the client and their new product.

This is earned placement, old-school style. That diligent PR pro would then summarize each of these mentions in a press report, along with quantitative information (often things like circulation, ad equivalency) to provide the client with a monetary ROI.

Now, we can measure Return On Engagement.

And, return on engagement can’t be quantified.

In today’s socially networked world, a PR pro may announce a client’s product launch with an SMR (social media release) and share via social networks.* By nature, these mechanisms are designed for sharing – the information spreads naturally between people and across networks.

This coverage does not belong in a traditional press report.

Why?

It’s not an accurate measurement of the conversation.

Conversations about your clients take place in countless places – dinner parties, parks and in phone conversations. Do these get included in press reports? Of course not. It’s just as ridiculous to think that social media coverage can be reported in this way.

Because we have the ability to monitor social media, however, (it’s much more difficult to monitor all those dinner party conversations), it is our job as PR professionals to listen, report and respond in a meaningful way.

We could try to attach a “hits viewed” or a Nielsen NetRating or Alexa rank to these online mentions, or make an attempt to arbitrarily calculate some sort of advertising equivalency for what the space would have cost had we purchased an ad on Facebook and on Google, but why? What would that tell us about the conversation, those who shared it and those who received the message?

A message spread through social networks is PR, but this engagement not a direct result of PR.

Take for instance, Kane Co’s efforts to promote our recent workshops. I created an SMR and shared it with our networks, which include media and bloggers. Suddenly, we had “coverage” in places we didn’t know existed. My favorite example – a long-time friend of Jen’s got wind of the event via our Facebook Group. He shared the information on his blog. A friend of his then shared the event with her Google group. Within the Google group, another friend of Kane Co sparked a conversation on the speakers and the relevance of social media.

In this strain, there were at least four mentions of Kane Co and our event. And not a single one of them was earned as a direct result of our PR effort. Rather, because of the equity we have in a network that we nurture, ambassadors told the story for us. Reporting them as separate mentions wouldn’t do justice to the value behind the conversation and how it spread.

The success lies in the return on engagement. In this instance, Kane Co learned that:

1) We’ve got some excellent, fertile soil in our online networks

2) We’re planting our seeds in the right places

3) These seeds will sprout and grow, on their own, into beautiful flowers

4) We need to nurture the garden so flowers continue to grow

(What can I say…we like metaphors).

The fourth point, above, is where, as a PR person, I find my place. What’s the next story we tell? With whom do we share it? With which of these “flowers” can I cultivate a more personal relationship?

Brand equity is built over time. In the same way, the extent of social media “results” will continue to surface over time. Because results are ongoing and dynamic, it’s nearly impossible to accurately measure them at any given time.

The most immediate, quantitative results from ROE might be increased sales (our in our case, registrations). The more valuable results, however, are qualitative, and occur long term. It’s not possible to quantify the value of a brand ambassador, who is essentially doing your PR for you. One exchange could plant the seed that eventually grows into a lead, a new client, or a partner.

*Please, don’t get your panties in a bunch – online efforts aren’t always a replacement to traditional media relations campaigns. They can, and often should, co-exist.


The Miseducation of Jennifer Kane

April 15, 2009

This winter I decided to take a personal “J term” and study social media.

As with any super-hot buzz topic, there were no shortage of resource materials, expert presentations and educational events for me to choose from in my quest, so…

• I signed up for presentations, seminars, webinars and teleseminars.
• I was exposed to a lot of experts in the field.
• I read a number of whitepapers and books.
• I spent a lot of time listening, watching and taking notes.

Ultimately the goal of my immersion was not just to learn about social media (although I did).

The goal of this project was to learn how people are marketing and teaching social media to other people.

I learned a great deal about that. For instance:

1. “Everyone and their brother” is jumping on the social media education bandwagon.

There is a lot of good stuff out there to choose from if you want to learn more about social media.

But there is also an awful lot of garbage out there too.

After wading through some of the garbage, my advice would be to choose wisely when you’re looking for social media education opportunities.

Also, if the host of the event you’re attending is not working with an event planner, don’t expect a stellar “user experience” at your event.

Planning events, contrary to popular opinion, actually kind of is rocket science. (Bells and whistles like coffee refills and full toilet paper rolls in the bathroom don’t just magically happen by themselves.)

Sure, any company can produce their own event. But not every company has the skills to make sure that you have an exquisite time while you’re there.

2. Because of “the great recession,” a lot of events are focusing on how to make money quick from social media tools.

…and shame on the people who are hosting these events.

Making money instantly from social networking is as absurd as thinking you’ll make money right out of the gate from face-to-face networking (do you walk into a networking event and pronounce, “I have arrived! Let the sales commence”)?

As much as we’d all like to make a lot of money, the fact remains that insty-sales are a product of lust, not trust.

Building a relationship that leads to a long-term valuable client partnership takes time.

3. For many people “teaching” = “slideshow of statistics.”

If you want to learn about social media, chances are you’re already familiar with the Intenet.

And if that’s the case, you can Google how many people are on Facebook or how fast Twitter is growing just as easily as your “teacher” in any social media class can.

Using teaching time to talk about how popular social media is isn’t education – that’s marketing.

What you’re less apt to find at most any event – and what I find people are most curious to learn – are details on “why” this is all relevant and “how” to implement these ideas.

4. Presenters at events still like to talk AT other people.

Social media is social folks. If you can’t translate that to your real-time instruction, you’re missing something critical.

5. You can pay a sizable amount of cash to learn about this stuff and walk away with pretty much nothing in return.

Quantifying the return on events can be tricky since everyone who attends has a different learning style and may use what they’ve learned in very different and personalized ways.

One thing that can more easily quantified is the impact of the learning if the subject is taught using a theoretical approach (as were most of the events I attended) versus an experiential approach.

Essentially, if you were to take a seminar on riding your bike and no actual bikes were involved, is it possible to really “get” what you’ve been taught?

If the subject you are teaching is examining the nature of conversation and interaction, I’d propose that your education style should be the same.

From an ROI standpoint, this means that if I’m paying a few hundred bucks to attend an event, I want to get my knees scraped up a bit during the learning process and walk out of there with the ability to ride off into the sunset.

DO I THINK I CAN DO BETTER?

After much analysis and soul searching, I decided that if Kane Consulting wanted to complain about the state of social media education, that we should put our money where our mouse was and produce an event of our own.

So we did. And you can register for it right now.

Will we be able to magically avoid every one of the missteps I’ve mentioned above?

Probably not.

Will we produce an amazing event experience that addresses these concerns head-on and commits to focusing on real-time “user-experience,” experimental learning and return on investment?

You bet your sweet tweet we will.

Hope to see you there.

(bike photo by Stig Nygaard, Flickr Creative Commons)