At the Connect Now forum in Sydney earlier this month, Gary Vaynerchuk presented his thoughts on the evolution of the new business imperative. He claims that the business that cares more will win.
When Amazon bought Zappos.com for $928m in July last year, it surprised a few in the industry. Zappos, an online shoe retailer (and other stuff), does not compete on price. There are plenty of other online retailers offering similar product for less. But Jeff Besos wasn’t looking at the pricing structure. He knew the essence of Zappos.com was about how much they cared for their customer.
I admit upfront, I have a personal affinity with Zappos. I have been a fan of CEO Tony Hsieh for a while. I heard that he had written a book on the culture of his company so I went to the Zappos website to see if I could get a copy. I had to nominate a US state for delivery so I wrote a note in the comment section saying I lived Down Under and was a big fan and could you please send a copy to lowly old West Footscray. Two weeks later, the book arrived.
Says Gary Vaynerchuck, “No matter what you do, you’re going to be beat by the person who cares more.” Well, I don’t need a pair of stilettos but I became an even bigger fan of Zappos that day. I encourage you to discover the Zappos philosophy for yourself. It’s almost impossible to replicate it in an existing business culture, but it will influence the culture of many companies in the future I am sure.
That’s not to say that companies today cannot begin the cultural transformation required to care more.
As a copywriter of 15 years, and well versed in the principles of traditional marketing, my script has changed dramatically even in the past year. I no longer pretend to know better than the consumer. I no longer write as if the client owns the brand and the customer ‘buys’ into it. I cannot assert an untested truth about a product, even if it is a logical conclusion made by the marketing manager. Social media has changed the rules of engagement - like it or not. But here’s the pay-off for everyone: If we all care more, about the people we engage and the products and services we offer or consume, it has the potential to transcend more than just business. It could be the evolution humanity has been trying to reverse for decades, if not centuries.
Social media now affects every step of discovery, purchasing and buyer’s experiences. The language of social media is almost a slingshot back into time, well before all the business books were written and the smooth business rhetoric was coined. The new language is about realness, authenticity, truth, empathy. It’s emotional. It’s human.
This language is critical to your social media strategy. The language you use is what helps you connect. Brian Solis suggests that every business needs a Social Media Conductor to manage these connections. The Conductor is the person responsible for setting the company’s social media strategy including the rules for engagement, the tone of voice, the personality and the behaviour of the brand across each network. The Conductor, he says, doesn’t have to be the only person engaged in social media for the company, but it is their mandate to ensure there is no brand dilution. When you consider the number of social networks available, and the number of people across the company who can potentially contribute to the brand’s impact, it becomes clear the Conductor’s role is vital for the success of your social presence.
But for many businesses, we’re jumping the gun. There can’t be a Social Media Conductor if management isn’t convinced that a social media presence is required at all. Most discussions at ConnectNow started with the question: “My boss doesn’t believe in social media, so how do I…” It’s a common question, and a difficult one to answer given the myriad scenarios.
If you take Gary Vaynerchuck’s advice, you’ll totally ignore those who need to be convinced of the need to build a social network and spend your energy cultivating positive relationships with those who do. If you can’t find any people who share your vision, he says, leave the company!
Yep, easy to say. I’ve got a mortgage too. It’s often easier to put the blinkers on in order to keep their jobs, and hope like hell that the boss will come around one day. Others simply can’t ignore the opportunity social media offers, and pursue it at any cost.
Here are my favourite conversion tactics for social media atheists:
“If you’re not involved in social media, you’re not engaging your audience and you’re no longer relevant.”
“We now possess the ability to shape and steer perception and conversation. Why wouldn’t we want to do that?”
“Social Media is word of mouth advertising in an online environment. Word of Mouth closes 80% of sales. Traditional marketing closes 14%. Which one should we use?”
And this cracker from Gary Vaynerchuck, “ Silence is deadly – with business and farting!”
I liked Brian Solis’ observation that we are not yet thinking about the engagement that comes after the initial engagement. This to me invites the question – what about return on effort? Sure, tweet your heart about your new product, or award, or retweet your customer’s favourable comments. But then what? Where does the conversation go after that? How do you continue the engagement? This is, for me, is where success is won or lost for business engaged in social media.
“Shit’s changed!” Those words closed Gary’s presentation and summed up the essence of Connect Now for me perfectly.
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I don’t think there was anything particularly revolutionary or unexpected with Twitter’s announcement of the new Ad model yesterday. It’s similar to Google’s own model which means it will be familiar to most of us straight up.
In essence, advertisers buy keywords on Twitter that link to their ads. This will first appear in Search, but will soon also be seen in the Tweet stream of users.
That is, in my own understanding, a very mild case of spam. Just like when I saw the doctor last week and she said I had “a mild case of something like a flu.” Let’s just call it what it is.
The living, breathing consequence of this ad model is that Twitter users will see tweet-relevant advertising messages in their stream. Not that they ever chose to follow X brand. It appears because the ad is relevant to the tweet you send me, or the tweet I post to my followers.
Traditional media marketing has always battled with the intrusiveness of advertising, particularly on free-to-air telly and radio. I spent 15 years writing radio commercials, I know all-to-well the intrusiveness of what I produced. People often commented “You’re the bastard who interrupts my music!”
I can only wait with antici…pation the conversations that will start circulating around the water tank or the Tweetdeck about this level of intrusiveness in social media. Isn’t this ‘our’ space, ‘our’ conversation? We create the content - Twitter is just the host. The notion of disintermediation seems to have been interfered with when a network chooses (on our behalf without our consent) what we see in our Twitter stream.
John Battelle makes a great point in his blog: “Will that which they see be relevant, useful, valuable?” If it is, as it is with Google AdWords, are we more likely to continue as we were, content with the content we see before us, and willing to use our own discretion to follow and engage in whatever we find beneficial.
There is an imperative for Advertisers to get the message right, too. Twitter is calling it Twitter Resonance, which takes into account nine factors including clicks, retweets and replies associated with each ad. It means the message will have to be Twitter-friendly - using the language and rules we have already fashioned for the network.
For me, it’s a matter of wait and see. Those with the cashola to buy their way into my tweetiverse can do so without my consent. The door is open for them to walk right in. They could well have something that I might be interested in. Or not. As long as Twitter is the landlord, I have no choice. They have jimmied the door wide open.
There were many great insights shared last week at ConnectNow in Sydney. A theme that most of the speakers touched on was the need to set goals and to engage audiences with a real purpose. A simple but timely reminder for many of us!
Not all of us started out on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn with a purpose - a goal we hoped to achieve through interaction and engagement in a social networking environment. For some, it was, or still is purely a social connection, and so tweeting about their missing sock or morning ablution seemed a worthy topic. Guilty!
But when social networks are used for commercial purposes, whether it is promoting your personal or company brand, or driving traffic or conversions, then setting clear and achievable objectives is just as important as a traditional business plan or communication strategy.
Firstly, it’s vital that you know where to play. There’s no point fishing in a puddle. Learn which social networks your customers or audience use and join them. That’s so simple it’s almost insulting. So try a few of these other tips from Darren Rowse (@ProBlogger) to add purpose to your engagement:
· Decide how to be useful. Ask yourself… “What problem can we solve?” Once you identify this, make it your focus. Be the solution.
· Decide on what outcomes you want from every interaction. Is it to entertain, to inform, to inspire, to persuade? Before you publish or press the Tweet button, ask yourself, “Does this really matter?”
· Decide where to call home. Have you created a Home Base? This might be your website, a blog, a Facebook Fan page. But have a base and spread out from there, and bring them back to your base.
Another important message that seemed to carry a lot of weight with all the speakers was that social media is an emotional medium. Look at those you actively follow on any social network and they are most likely the ones who are generous with their ideas, feedback and content. Remember, our engagement in social media is communal. The conversation might be one-way to begin with, but we follow and are followed, we hug and bite, we like and comment, we even send gifts like cows, bricks and horses to fellow farmers, all in the name of social interaction. (I don’t, my wife does!)
The essence of sociability does not change because we move from intimate relationships to internet relationships. The traditional characteristics we find most attractive in others – trust, personality, humour, passion, compassion, and generosity are the same qualities we seek out and embrace in social media environments.
Social engagement, without emotion, is purposeless. Emotions are connectors. They are what we trade in order to access each other. Generosity is a quality that seems to carry the most influence across social media networks. Gary Vaynerchuck puts it beautifully: “You’re going to have to love your community first.” That sentiment, I believe, sums up the value proposition of any social media strategy. Generosity is often confused, or at least correlated to ‘giving away’ content. Many companies that I know of see generosity as the antithesis of good business practice. ‘Nothing is free’ is perhaps the most overused dictum in commerce. Maybe it’s time for a re-think.
If you want to succeed in this new “Trust Economy”, according to Brian Solis, you better start giving your audience something of value, something relevant, before you expect to earn anything in return. “What we call a relationship is changing,” he said, and the nodding of heads from the ConnectNow delegates seemed to confirm it.
Gary Vaynerchuck of winelibrary.tv often promotes wines of which he has only limited stock. For him, it’s not about selling wine, but building trust. “Creating content and speaking to the world is the only game. It’s the honey to the bee.”
Darren Rowse wrote an eBook called 31 Days To Build a Better Blog, where 90% of the content was already available in his free blogs. Why did he write the book? His followers asked him to, and they were happy to pay! Trust, in this case, proved a powerful, purposeful tool in building Darren’s success as a blogger.
So before you engage your followers, consumers or audience again, ask yourself: What is the purpose of my conversation? What am I offering, and what am I expecting in return? Be honest, be authentic, be yourself and be generous. It seems as though this is the new currency of social engagement - currency that humans are more than capable of trading, if we remember how!
Apologies to the speakers on the third day, I had to fly back to Melbourne on Thursday night!
I thought it was worth putting together a summary of the key take-outs from the event. I didn’t attend all of the sessions so apologies for not referencing some of the speakers in this post.
There were some familiar themes that started to develop straight after Gavin Heaton opened proceedings. Listening was one of them. Not so much in terms of what we the audience was expected to do, but we as social media users.
Listening in social media is about stopping your own noise to hear the other ideas, opinions, suggestions and objections that come from your audience – your customers. Without listening, we can soon become obsolete even if we have finely crafted our own social identity and environment.
Listening is, of course, not specifically an aural exercise when it comes to social media. Gary Vaynerchuck is taking time out to ‘listen’ by restricting his professional speaking engagements around the world. For him, it’s time to go back to learning, reading, following conversations and trends and almost building a new phase of enlightenment for his own business. Here is a man who has built multi-million dollar businesses by converging offline business and online social environments. He lives and breathes passion for what he does. He’s also a man who openly admits to his many contradictions. And here’s a beauty: he’s the first to tell you that it’s imperative to listen to clients, and hearing what they have to say, but never lets the customer dictate the direction he takes in business.
Darren Rowse, one of Australia’s leading bloggers, was just as adamant about the importance of listening. He advises that you listen to what your customers or followers are saying about you or your brand via Google. If you’re a blogger, make sure you listen to what is and isn’t working in your blogs by engaging your readers and asking them. Design some polls or follow the comments and reply to both good and bad posts. In his words, have “time-outs” where you stop talking and spend time following others within your blogosphere.
When Darren first signed up with Twitter, he spent the first 2 weeks just observing the friends and peers he followed. He learned the language, the nuances and the conversational patterns before he sent his first tweet. Why?
This leads to the second theme of Purpose, which will be the topic of my next post.