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What You Need Is Right In Front of You

social media helps you find what customers want

Sometimes what you need to help you make decisions is right in front of you, you just don't want to see it.

You Just Can’t See It. Or you don’t want to see it.

Over the roughly two decades that I’ve been involved with business, either as an entrepreneur, an executive director or a social media strategist, I’ve heard the same frustration voiced over and over again, in almost every market I’ve worked in.  After hours, weeks or sometimes months of seemingly endless meetings, late-night war room strategy sessions and presentation after presentation of focus group reports, eventually the people in charge of making the decisions for the direction of an organization bury their face in their hands and declare in frustration and defeat, “if only we knew what everybody wanted from us, we could just give it to them“.

This has applied to product development, marketing campaigns, service implementation…anything and everything a company (for profit or not) could possibly put together to offer a group of people.  “If only we could find out what our customers want…

Studies are ordered.  Thousands of dollars…or millions…are spent on consultants and burned up in labor hours.  When the senior management team meets to discuss, debate and dissect the data, 20% of the organization’s labor dollars are being paid out for each hour they cannot figure out what their audience wants.  At some point or another, late into the night, one of the people around the tables feels the frustration of a seemingly insurmountable task.  They want to be home with their family, they want to get back to the work they were hired to do instead of trying to figure out puzzles…they want to solve the mystery of how to move forward.  But how? And then the idea is presented:

We should try social media. I know we already have a Facebook and Twitter page, but instead of just posting something once a week, why don’t we ask the people that follow us what they want, and then listen to them? Also, why don’t we pay for a monitoring service so we know what people are saying about us and even our competitors? People are already telling us what they want, we just need to listen, reply and implement”

The silence only last for a moment, before a chorus of “we will lose control of the message” and “we can’t create a forum for negative comments” starts. The boss makes an expression that is a combination of fear and patronization and simply says, “that’s too risky, we’re not doing it” before starting a discussion about when the best time to meet again will be to tackle this impossible chore.

Sometimes what you need is right in front of you, you just can’t see it…or worse yet, you don’t want to see it.

The Internet Is Dead

The-Internet-Is-DeadOkay, the title of this post may be a bit dramatic and sensational…it’s not that The Internet is dead, it’s just that it doesn’t exist the way it used to.  Instead of being a destination, it is now a container.  No longer do you “get on the internet”, although technically speaking of course you are connecting to the network of computers that does comprise what we call The Internet, but that event is no longer an event itself.  Instead, most people are going to a smaller internet inside the larger container called “The Internet”, and these smaller internets are now destinations of their own.

I recall sitting in a meeting just over a decade ago where I was discussing (okay, arguing) the merits of Th Internet and having a presence there.  The topic du jour was whether or not this company should spend “ridiculous” amounts of money to build a website.  “After all,” said one particular stodgy gentleman, “we could take all of that money and instead spend it on a larger yellow pages ad.  THAT would be a good use of advertising, and bring us more people”.  You know what?  He meant that, sincerely.  He truly thought that a big, full page ad in the Yellow Pages would bring more business in than some silly, new fangled, johnny-come-lately web site.  The Internet, in his mind (and many others around the table) was a silly place for kids to play, not a place for serious business.  “The Internet” was still a destination, but not one to be taken seriously.

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Creators, Reporters and Consumers

customer serviceI’m often asked about online behavior and how businesses can tap into certain market segments to find new customers, whether for their services or products.  It’s interesting to me that so often the online world seems so foreign to those that haven’t used it for much more than paying an electric bill on a website, and the questions I am asked usually end up being some variant of “what exactly does the online person look like…who are they?”  These questions come to me from seasoned business professionals that have sold tangible goods or services to people in real life; people they could see, talk to, shake hands with and ultimately sell to.  Why then, would they presume that the online community is so different?

The “real world” primarily consists of three groups of people in the goods and services lifecycle: creators, reports and consumers.

The Three Real World Groups

Creators represent the smallest segment, and most people that come to me for business and marketing consultation are in this group.  They are the makers, the business leaders, the companies that are producing something that they want to get into others’ hands. In the virtual world there are a few standouts like Amazon and Zappos (or is that now Zamazon?), but there are also millions of smaller players, and they aren’t necessarily distributing products; many service companies now what to sell you ideas to make your life better or service professionals to do work for you.  It doesn’t stop there; non-profits have hit the scene with causes and social ideas that they are creating and distributing through social networks and other online venues. The creators make the things that we need…or think we do.

Traditionally, the consumer lifecycle has been in three very distinct groups

Traditionally, the consumer lifecycle has been in three very distinct groups

Reporters represent the pundits, the talking heads, the reviewers and the public square criers. These are newspaper sites, blogs and other groups that tell us about what the creators are doing, because frankly most creators are pretty lousy at getting that information out themselves.  These groups usually have massive audiences (distribution channels) and produce content rapidly, in short and easy-to-digest segments (most readers lose interest before they hit the 600 word mark).  What is interesting to me about this group is that they are often hailed as collective industry leaders, change agents and cultural guides…yet very rarely do they produce any original content beyond a pithy opinion at the end of a press release usually written by the a creator.

Consumers by far represent the largest of the three groups, yet are the hardest to talk to.  As creators and reporters argue back and forth about how the one needs the other more, the reality is that neither group can survive without the consumers and they know it.  The consumers read the blogs, try the goods  and ultimately spend the money that keeps the other two going.  If you were to look at the online world as a cocktail party, the creators and the reporters are making all the noise and seem to be the life of the party, but they are surrounded and outnumbered by the consumers on a staggering scale, though usually the consumers will only sit quietly by, observing and occasionally writing something in the comments section.

That was the world before social media.

The New Class of Hyrbrid

Now things are different, and in a dramatic fashion.  You see, no longer do these three groups need to be so separated…there are a couple of new groups that have entered the scene: hybrids of the existing classes.

New Media and easy internet publishes has created hybrid classes within the consumer lifecycle

New Media and easy internet publishes has created hybrid classes within the consumer lifecycle

Creator/Reporters:  whereas the old mom and pop manufactures (those that didn’t have massive PR and marketing budgets) were really confined to smaller, local markets and relied heavily on personal word of mouth advertising, now they are able to reach a global audience with the same ease as their seaminlgy-overwhelming big box competitors.  In the real world, a small company that makes mismatched socks in sets of 3 could probably only survive on a boutique street in a trendy neighborhood.  Thanks to the web, companies like Little Miss Matched can not only survive, but thrive! They can use outlets like Twitter and Facebook to spread the word about their products, then let the users from around the web continue to comment, report, review and react to their brand.

Reporter/Consumers: up until recently, consumers didn’t really have a voice.  I grew up in a small town, and the only way one could praise or condemn a company was either a letter to the editor in the newspaper or a chat with the neighbors at the park.  Seriously.  Now what do we have?  Consumers can (and will) set up blogs, Twitter feeds and Facebook pages with just a few clicks of a mouse to share these same thoughts, but usually on a much larger scale.  Sometimes the “reports” of the consumers are circulated around a small group of friends on Twitter, and sometimes they make big waves around the world, such as the case of “United Breaks Guitars”.  Big or small, it doesn’t matter…the ability for the consumer to report is incredible and powerful, and should never be taken for granted.

The Takeaway

People that are stuck in the first model, where the groups are in three distinct buckets, are missing the point of social media.  No longer is there merit in a company complaining that they just don’t have the ability to reach out like the big companies.  While there are some obvious truths to a complaint like that (have you seen the prices of Super Bowl ads?), for the most part a little bit of time and money can produce incredible, far reaching results and allow you to skip right over the previous middle man that was the reporting and communicate directly with your customers…or future customers!

Likewise for the consumer, bad customer service and shoddy craftsmanship in overpriced products really should not be tolerated any longer.  This is not to say that you should constantly complain on Twitter about every little corporate pet peeve or bad experience you have…because I do not personally advocate that.  It does mean that you are closer than ever to the companies, and you likely have the ability to reach out to them.  I try to stay positive online and praise companies far more than I condemn them, hopefully this is no different than life outside of the keyboard and monitor.  Before I rant about bad service online, I do what I can to reach out to that company.  Sometimes this takes place on the phone, but hopefully now I can reach most folks on Twitter.

With the new connectivity that we are experiencing globally, leverage the opportunities that are before you, whether you are a creator or a consumer.  Jump into the conversation and tell your sphere of influence what you think…what you like, dislike and hope for.  That, my friends, is the joy and responsibility of social media.

(Photo used under Creative Commons License http://www.flickr.com/photos/purpletwinkie/ / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Digg Creates Specific Twitter Feeds

 

Digg_2000 on Twitter

Digg_2000 on Twitter

As Twitter‘s popularity continues to rise, a lot of businesses are finding creative ways to use the service.  Although I’m on record as saying that I view Twitter as a cocktail party and not a lecture, I also think it’s a great place for business to get involved with their communities as long as they offer value and don’t just try to shove stuff down people’s throats.

 

Enter Digg, the social news network where news is made or broken by Diggs (votes) from people all over the world. I love what they did with Twitter recently; they created several accounts that aggregate information and post them on Twitter depending on the category or amount of activity. What makes this so cool is that it is obviously and opt-in service, the tweets are only going to go to those that are wanting the info.  For example, I started following @digg_2000 that only posts stories that get 2,000 digs or more. This is a great way to get signal from noise, to let the community pick the best of the best and then send it my way.  An excellent use of social media!  Other categories include Apple, Offbeat and Political News.  For a full list, go check out the post on the Digg Blog.

Why You Shouldn’t Apply For A Job At Twitter

Amidst the news of layoffs all over the tech and social media sectors, it’s nice to see news of a company that is hiring.  Twitter, the only service that I can honestly say I am completely addicted to, is one of those companies.

They’ve got a nice listing of jobs, and there is a lot of buzz about the chance to work at a company that many say will be around for a long time, continuing to change the way we communicate. I want to tell you why you shouldn’t apply, however.

 

Twitter is hiring!

Twitter is hiring!

As I’ve watched the stream of chatter about the available positions, it seems that a lot of people say things like, “I am a huge Twitter fan, I would be perfect there!”, or they have somebody do it for them, “My friend John Doe talks about Twitter day and night, @ev should hire him”. I’m not sure that these kinds of tweets are helpful in any way.  Why?  Let me answer your question with another question.  Just because you drive a car, are you qualified to work at Ford? You own shoes, right?  Does that mean you would be good in the marketing department at Zappos?  The use of a product alone isn’t sufficient experience for guiding the development of that product, or the strategy of the business behind it. No, more is needed.  Technical expertise, business acumen, and inherent judgement should be a part of who you are. I’m guessing that a good sense of humor would be helpful as well, given the nature of the industry…you need to be fast on your feet, firm in your decisions, and able to smile a little if the fail whale shows up. And then you fix it.

As Twitter continues to evolve, as it continues to grab the attention of national media and as it makes the world a smaller place during historic events, the future of this one-of-a-kind company is bright. The team that joins together to forge ahead should be the same.

Oh, should I mention as a disclaimer that I have thrown my hat into the ring as well? ;)

If you feel that you have what it takes to makes numbers dance, to look down the road and reasonably predict where things will be in 6 months, in 2 years…then head over to the job board at Twitter and apply.  Don’t forget to tell Evan Williams and Biz Stone that I sent you though…

Social Media Gun For Hire

I have a pretty decent amount of experience in business and online community relations. Since the middle of the summer I have been working on a social media project for an international non-profit based here in Los Angeles.  The NPO approached me about designing, building, deploying and marketing an amazing idea that I think would really change the face of what they did all around the world.  We were all quite excited about it, and it was moving along nicely.  Just a couple of weeks ago we got notice that the funding for the project had disolved.  Given the tough economic climate in the U.S. and abroad, this was understandable but disappointing to all involved.

Which brings me to the point of this post.

Until that point I was more than busy with a project for at least the next year.  This scope of this was so great that I wasn’t even considering other companies to work with, I just wasn’t going to be able to spread myself out that much.  Things have changed now, and it appears that I have some time on my hands.

If your company, non-profit, church or cause could use a boost with social media, business management and process or online exposure, please drop me a note or call my office at 323-774-1269. I would love to talk to you about this! If our initial conversation appears to be something we both want to pursue, I will draft a written proposal and get it to you quickly.

I will be building out this site over the next few weeks to reflect the services that I can offer to you and your company, but for a quick look, check out this area which will give you an overview. Thanks! I look forward to hearing from you.

Animoto: The End of Boring Slideshows

A couple of weeks ago I was hanging out with my friend in his studio and we were talking about his upcoming album release. As the conversation turned naturally to social media (naturally), he showed me a site I hadn’t seen before but have seen several times since…Animoto.

Animoto looks to be a way to end the drab slide shows that people put together to share with family, friends, fans. In a handful of minutes he dragged a folder of pictures to the creation page, added his music and Animoto did the rest. It picked fades and transitions based upon the music, and I have to say it did a great job. Do you make slide shows? Stop it now. Just stop, please. Go to Animoto, sign up for an account and start creating.

Once you have created your file (and seriously, how much easier can they make it for you?) there are a number of ways to share it. Click on the push pin icon at the bottom of the screen and you will be able to automatically post it to any number of services.  You also have the option to grab the embed code, like I did here.

The Animoto crew is rocking, they recently did a bunch of videos for TechCrunch 50.  You shold spend some time considering how using this service can help you promote your own product or service…get creative!

Before you sign up, listen to Theft’s song clip below.  It’s going to be huge, and you can say that you heard it first.

Spinvox and Ping.FM…Now We’re Talking!

Sorry, I couldn’t help the “talking” pun in the title.  Forgive me.  But it is quite appropriate for this announcement.

I’ve been a fan of Spinvox since I signed up in January 2007.  Since that point I have consistently said, blogged or texted that it is *the best* business tool that I have in my cache.  I still stand by that, having my voicemails turned into text and then emailed and SMSd to me is hands down the most productive thing I have. Don’t take my word for it, Chris Brogan and Guy Kawasaki are both fans as well!

Now Spinvox and the one-stop-status-update service Ping.fm have announced a partnership that rocks.  You can sign up for an account here, and then get to updating.  Here is how it work: you call the phone number assigned to you after your initial sign up, speak your update then hang up.  Through the magic of the internets, all of the social networks that you have assigned to ping.fm will be updated (Twitter, Facebook, WordPress, LiveJournal, Jaiku, etc).  That’s it.  One phone call, everything is up to speed.

I’ve done this a few times, and it works great.  I would like to get the link to the original voice message off of my status updates though, it would save some space.  We’ll see.

Did I mention that you don’t even need a SpinVox account to do this?  It’s true.  Just sign up for the service via Ping.fm and you are set.  Of course, being the thinking person I know you are,you should also sign up for SpinVox because it truly will make your life a lot easier.

Go give this a try, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Changing Focus

Welcome to my new readers…and a familiar hello to my long-term readers! If you subscribe via RSS I did a little bait and switch on you.  Let me explain.

I’ve been blogging since 2000 when I wrote my own blogging platform (don’t get me started…it was the billion dollar idea that I never brought to market). Then I switched to platforms like TypePad and WordPress, and I ran a leadership blog called “Leading With A Limp”.  I think it did alright…it even got on Guy Kawasaki’s Alltop page as one of the best of the best. I wrote about organizational leadership, particularly as it related to churches and non-profits.  I always included a pretty fair amount of personal information as well, and there are a lot of people all over the world that know a pretty fair bit about my life.

Recently I’ve decided to change focus. 

There are a number of reasons behind this, but I won’t bore you with the details.  Here is the new focus however: I will still talk about leadership (it’s been a big part of my life as a working adult), but I am also going to get a little more helpful (I hope) to established businesses, non profits, start ups and Joe Six Pack as things relate to social media and brand strategy.  I live deeply in the online world, and I see so many entities around me struggling to get it.  They want to participate, they want to be involved…they just have no idea where to start.

I’m going to focus on tools (tips and review), strategy and resources.  I’ll do live Qik streams when I’m at cool tech and media events that people would want to be a part of.  I might even throw in an interview here and there…who knows?

It’s going to be fun, useful and focussed.  Yes, I did say fun. To know me is to know that I perhaps have a screw or two loose, so it’s hard not to have fun with the tools we get to work with these days.

Thanks for being a part of this, as always, drop me a note (matt at mattsingley dot com), leave a comment or find me on Twitter if you have a question or comment.