People + Content = Social Media Win

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Note: This blog post was originally featured on CareerBuilder’s The Hiring Site on May 3, 2011 where I am a guest contributor. I am not featured on the actual contributor page because I don’t post my photos publicly online (if you look closely at my mini-avatar, you can see me behind my two dogs).  For more insight as to my reasoning on the conscious decision to maintain an online persona with the photo of a dog and the real value of online social networking, click here

The concept of social media is a simple one: people and content. There is nothing new about this.  People have been connecting with each other and content since the beginning of time. With the advent of technology, namely the Internet, it should be of no surprise that human beings have taken their desire for interaction to new heights as they connect with friends and family on Facebook, and with professional colleagues on LinkedIn; share and follow others with the same content interest on Twitter; watch stories unfold via video and photography on YouTube and Flickr; and produce and connect with others via the written word on WordPress and Blogger.

People will connect to brands on social media, too. No other medium has afforded brands the opportunity to build this intimate and innate connection with desired audiences. eMarketer reports that the number one reason consumers connect with brands on Facebook is to let their social network know which brands they support.

Realistically though, how can one define the ROI of “support”?  Will it be in the form of short-term or long-term sales? Will it be in the form of traffic to a website, in which more robust content is delivered?  Is it measured on increased brand equity or sentiment for employment branding? And how does one even quantify brand equity or employment branding?

Building Support
All too often, our team sees that organizations tend to measure the success of social media via likes, followersand subscribers. Unfortunately, “If you build it, he will come,” is quite possibly the biggest social media myth that I encounter and consult against on a daily, if not hourly, basis. (For more insight on how to resist this Field of Dreams whisper, check out Melissa Murray Balsan’s post, How to Launch in the Social Space.) Just because you are there doesn’t mean that people know or have a reason to care.  And just because you invest in content doesn’t mean people will automatically know how to find it.

To begin growing your presence, go to the people that know and love you in the “real world.”  You already have an audience with individuals that comprise your organization as well as those who help keep the lights on by buying your products and/or services.

  • Employees: Assuming you treat them well, with the appropriate message and reason, your employees should be your first selections for brand advocates. Without them, your organization wouldn’t exist. How can their stories be framed to push your corporate initiatives forward?
  • Customers: Assuming you have a good product or service, your current clients and customers are another audience base that you can preliminarily leverage to push your message forward. Again, without them, your organization wouldn’t exist. How can their voices help you with your overarching business goals?

If you are not planning to fund the growth of your social media presence via advertising, how are you integrating and messaging your two core audiences of employees and customers to join you online? If you are not messaging your audiences and giving them a reason to participate, you are missing out on your first brand advocates. How else can you integrate your current marketing and communication materials to make audiences aware of your presence?

Realistically Define Success Metrics
Not everyone will be able to achieve nearly 26M fans on Facebook that consistently sing the praises of the organization, like Coca-Cola has done. Meanwhile, Starbucks has more than 21M fans that not only defend the business against competition but also upload user-generated content and publicly profess their taste preference for the brand.

While 20M to 25M fans might be out of the question for most, every organization can still utilize social media to tell its corporate story. More importantly, social media affords the best platforms to leverage audiences to push that same story forward, like the trend seen on the Starbucks and Coca-Cola pages – everyday consumers publicly “loving” a product. It’s not the simple act of clicking like on a page; it’s the story that each individual shares with his/her 130 friends about your brand.

Get Them Talking
So how do you provide a platform on which those audiences can actively participate with you? Social Media is a visual platform through which people will connect and share content. As mentioned earlier, the heart of this content should tell your corporate story. Understanding that not everyone can be the behemoths of Starbucks and Coca-Cola in size and marketing dollars, Epic MedStaff Services Inc., shares the success it has seen by empowering audiences via social media.

As an organization that recruits only the best nurses in Texas and provides top of the line care for children in their Epic Pediatric Services Division, the relationship that Epic MedStaff has with its employees is essential for its business. By providing a platform for and cultivating these relationships with employees, Epic MedStaff’s Facebook page is a great example of social storytelling. Key tactics include inviting and fostering dialogue with employees. “Social Media has allowed us to cultivate new relationships with our employees,” says Kristian Stevens, corporate recruiter for Epic MedStaff. “By utilizing Facebook, we have created an online platform where we can communicate to our employees and clients without boundaries.”

These new types of dialogues with employees have publicly garnered such commentary:

  • Hello Epic, you guys are doing a great job. Keep it up… You rock!
  • Day 2 of my new employment with Epic. So far so GREAT 
  • Today was my first day orienting at [Epic MedStaff]… I love this job!

So what do these dialogues and public testimonials do for Epic MedStaff? Understanding that what was found through eMarketer’s report, “support” isn’t as quantifiable as traditional marketing campaigns in terms of ROI. However, Stevens tells us that these conversations have helped brand Epic MedStaff in “the online world” in a way that traditional media and marketing hasn’t been able to. Along with corporate and employment branding, these conversations “have created more awareness about who we are and the patients we serve.”

Determine Your Wins
Once you have built your preliminary audience, I challenge you to ask yourself and your colleagues how you can increase your organization’s audience base. When doing so, be sure to concentrate on what current and future audiences will give back to you via engagement and how those stories can be pushed through your current audiences to new ones.

In an ever-evolving business landscape, how can you create success out of a corporate story that you already have? The hardest part sometimes will be determining what that story is, but once you have honed in on it, create the emotional connection with your supporters so they push the story forward within their respective networks. Soon you will be on the path to creating a platform created of brand advocates – individuals willing and ready to publish testimonials to your current and future audiences.

People and content. Social media wins are that simple. What objectives can you meet if you empower your audiences to tell your story?

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My Love/Hate Relationship with LinkedIn

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Please note:  The goal of my personal profile and “work” on LinkedIn is not to obtain a job or to be sourced for positions.  If job seeking were my goal, I could speak more to the experience of using LinkedIn for that purpose and would apply the appropriate tactics in order to build relationships with those that could assist in that goal. When you are attempting to use a social site in any regard, there must be a defined purpose and tactics tailored to that purpose.  This is true for both job seekers using LinkedIn, individuals looking for thought-leadership on Twitter, and also for corporate brands using social media to meet business initiatives.  Musings such as “So don’t bet on this as a place to get hired even if you’re active on the site like I am” are in no way a reflection of what this platform can or cannot do for you.  Simply, if you are actively looking for a job, you should not be reliant on a single tactic alone such as posting a profile on any website, posting a resume into a database or applying for a position.  There are other actions that you must take in order to produce better results in your job search.  It’s a competitive market, make sure you’re as creative as you can be in order to get in front of your intended audience.                                                              (Note added 1/19/2011)

Okay, so this doesn’t have much to do with LinkedIn as a social platform (I could spend hours on that subject as well), but more so of the behaviors of people that are on LinkedIn.  Actually, it has nothing to do with LinkedIn and the behaviors of people on that site in specific, but with people in general. LinkedIn, in this sense, is just a facilitator of human “behaviors” that irk me, so, unfortunately, LinkedIn as a social network becomes the front and center impetus for the following example(s).

After spending a good year or so analyzing user behaviors within online social networks, you begin to see patterns.

Social Learning #1: People really don’t act much differently online than they do in real life.

As an avid LinkedIn user as well as a social network analyst, LinkedIn is a powerful tool.  Too bad no one knows how to use it.

Will LinkedIn (or a professional “online profile”) replace a traditional resume?  Absolutely not. There are certain things within resumes that help sell candidates that should never be posted publicly.  Like what?  Try, sales numbers, revenue growth, confidential projects and the nature of those learnings, etc.  It’s a complement not a replacement. Funny how LinkedIn now wants your resume for you to now have a “complete” profile.  I am curious how many people upload in order to fulfill that achievement, “Your profile is 100% complete!”.  Who cares?  An official resume shouldn’t be shared publicly if you are not an active job seeker.  And even then, you must keep some things private (trust me, I’ve seen more than my fair share of public resume snafu’s – but I digress).

So we hit on job seeking and the reverse – candidate sourcing (kind of). So what else do your professional relationships help with (aka, what else is LinkedIn good for)?  Sales. As in selling things on a corporate standpoint where you source buyers and corporate hierarchies so you find your appropriate decision makers.

Does LinkedIn make it easy for you to source leads?  Yes, of course.  It’s a public (when logged-in) user-generated professional network.  People put up their professional histories and education and “perform” the social dance of “this is who I know”.  Then they put up their blogs and their slideshare and powerpoint presentations and join groups and ask and answer questions so their entire networks (and those viewing their profiles) can have a better scope of “this is what I know.” You can argue that this is done on LinkedIn as a passive aggressive way to say “hire me”, or “buy from me” after we have solidified our online relationship. So, no harm, no foul.  As humans this is natural behavior to connect with others and to gratify feelings of our self worth.

So, why do I hate LinkedIn?  Because people don’t know how to use it.  People don’t know how to create relationships. People don’t know how to sell themselves and/or their service.  LinkedIn’s fault? No, absolutely not.

I can’t count on my fingers and toes the amount of cold calls I have received in the last year based on my LinkedIn profile.  Is anyone trying to hire me? No. (So don’t bet on this as a place to get hired even if you’re active on the site like I am).  Is anyone trying to sell me something based on “we share a group” and “you work at a huge company”?  Yes.  Every single one of them.

How many people have I called back? None.  Why? Because their messages are irrelevant to me and I don’t waste people’s time and I expect the same of others.  I’m active on social sites so with a minor amount of research you can find out what I do and tailor your sales pitch to me.  LinkedIn,  narcissism, and the internet itself have made this research available to you at no charge.  On top of that, people are narcissists and social networks, blogs, micro-blogs, location based platforms magnify this behavior and social longing.  Use it to your advantage when you’re sourcing for your leads, please.

After all of these horrendous cold calls, I tweeted this:  

(I’m in social media and everyone cold-calling me knows this because they sourced me on LinkedIn to sell me their social media crap – so you would think, “Venetta is involved with social media, it looks like she is passionate about it, her blog is on her LinkedIn profile (that I am sourcing from), oh and look, her Twitter account is attached.   Let me see if there is anything I can use from those sites to help tailor my pitch to something that could be relevant to her. Or, if all else fails, it looks like she has an affinity for dogs.  Maybe I can mention my dog/cat/bird/whatever and reference her dog(s) to make it look like I at least kind of care or went through the motions just to create some conversation and common ground”  This is not a stretch, we’re talking about social media here, something I am deeply involved in and something I am being targeted for on a purchasing standpoint. And really, come on, my name is incredibly easy when it comes to finding me through a simple Google search. Social Learning #2:  People love talking about themselves.  They really do.)

Then, I get a cold-call from Leanne (her full name is being protected because I don’t want to embarrass her or put her company in any jeopardy).  Awesome.  She sees my company on my profile and calls the general corporate number and they transfer her over.  I don’t pick up calls that are routed this way for this exact reason.  She leaves a horrible voicemail talking about her company and the only reason I listen to the full message is so I learn from her mistakes and never do this on any calls I ever make.

Then, Leanne sends an email. (Feel free to click on the image if you care to read it)


At this point, I am only assuming that she used my LinkedIn profile to find me.

So, I double check.  (And thank you LinkedIn for this feature, because I love seeing who views my profile, it helps my personal narcissism grow.  Not being facetious, I love this feature).  And there is my Leanne:

Is LinkedIn the greatest (free) business tool of all time?  That might be a stretch, but yes, perhaps.  Will it ever work for sales and recruitment?  Yes, absolutely.  I’m afraid no one I’ve ever come in contact with knows how to use it in combination with other (free) research in order to achieve their goals (in Leanne’s case, selling me something).  I looked into her company (only because I was writing this).   Do they have a decent service that I would consider? Actually, yes.  Would I buy from them?  No.  Why?  See above.

Sales 101 and social media 101 both have taught us that no one cares about you and no one cares about me.  Social Learning #3: You are irrelevant (as a brand, product, service and person) until you tie your offering to what the other person wants and/or needs.

Be a good human, good recruiter, good salesperson first and then have at the tools within your reach.  They work better that way.

Who’s Going to Hire Jim Chukalas?

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Maybe it’s because my ears perk up when I hear a Greek surname on television, or the name of my company coming from Jim Chukalas’s mouth on Countdown with Keith Olbermann on July 20, 2010- either way, I’m curious and will be watching which company hires this man.

Jim Chukalas of Fredon Township, NJ, worked as a parts manager for a Honda dealership for the majority of his professional career. On July 19, he stood beside President Barack Obama in the White House Rose Garden, along with two other ordinary citizens, while the President made his case for an extension of unemployment benefits to Congress.

The next day Chukalas was a guest on Countdown with Keith Olbermann on MSNBC.

He explained that in September 2008, a New Jersey Honda dealership chose to eliminate Chukalas’s position. Jokingly, Lawrence O’Donnel, standing in for Keith Olbermann, stated that it would probably have been a more positive experience for Chukalas to have made his television debut “as parts manager of the year” instead of a face of one of millions of out-of-work Americans for the July 20, 2010 airing of the pundit progam.

In the interview with O’Donnel, according to Chukalas, major job-search sites have suggested that he transition from parts manager to a more lucrative industry outside of automobiles – a position in logistics, purchasing or warehouse management. Transitioning from inventory management after 21 years of automotive experience into another industry, according to Chukalas, is not the easiest thing in the world.

Whether quipping or in sincerity, Lawrence O’Donnel, suggested that Chukalas talk to MSNBC’s human resource department at the end of the interview. Assuming that MSNBC doesn’t see the PR value in hiring Chukalas – a man that stood next to the President the day before – a company soon will.

Whatever Chukalas does decide to do, the company that chooses to bring this man on, can really play their cards right and use the move for excellent public relations.

Tell them Venetta sent you.

(photo courtesy of the Associated Press)

Should Social Media Participation be an Employee Requirement?

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This dynamic question was posed on LinkedIn, and to my surprise it didn’t receive much traction. My major theory as to why? Too many companies are looking at the potential of social media for short term advertising and marketing campaigns. (I have a secondary theory regarding the fact that this was a discussion vs. a question and that people are less likely to participate in discussions because they are not published on your LinkedIn profile – for now at least – and therefore there is less social currency associated with, “check out how smart I am and look at what I answered” attached directly to my profile – but I digress…)

“Let’s go to Facebook and fish where the fish are.” It makes sense, do it. The fact of the matter is that not enough companies are carving out the long-term strategic capabilities of what it means to be social. Social is here and it is changing daily. People are people and will continue to be people. Whether or not Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. will suffer the fate of Bebo in the upcoming months or years doesn’t matter. It’s incredibly irrelevant to the long-term because the medium doesn’t matter. Social has taught us that people are ongoing and so is conversation. With technologies in place this will only continue. For marketing and advertising purposes, this is great, assuming that you do it correctly or constantly improve and refine your message.

Reverting back to the question, the following is the two cents I shared on LinkedIn where I was incredibly disappointed by the lack of engagement from those that profess to be in the social “know” and are self-proclaimed “experts” and “guru’s”. Again, to my dismay, no one seemed interested in discussing the potential of “social” for long-term employee engagement strategies to build competitive advantages. I hope that it is not a tell-tale sign that we are more concerned with our current customers than our future employees and future sustainability as an organization.

“It is imperative that all companies start engaging their own employees in social media/ social tools within their organization. But, “requiring” participation doesn’t work either. If something is required, the quality and quantity of content will be subpar no matter what. Transparency is what consumers are looking for right now, and will most probably be able to identify the companies in which the employees are made to participate in some capacity. The key is for companies to effectively motivate, engage and create brand enthusiasts and advocates of their employees so that they want to participate in the external social activities of the company .

Once you tie social media and participation into an employee’s “what’s in it for me” (along with having a product, service, and company worth the buzz), the participation won’t be forced. This is the one of the hurdles.

Another hurdle is that the big buzz marketing ideas and strategies are growing Facebook and Twitter fan bases aimed at engaging their customers. Companies are currently too focused on their external customers and in my findings, are not doing enough with their internal customers, and their most valuable asset: their employees. Social media has been widely discussed and implemented as a marketing tactic and hasn’t been explored enough as a strategic tool within the organization.

When you factor in the mindsharing capabilities that social tools enable companies with, the possibilities for a sustainable competitive advantage increases significantly. Considering the power of networks as well, a strong internal “social network” is also likely to decrease attrition and save companies millions of dollars a year. Organizational development and training is an area that large organizations can benefit from through social tools by harnessing the power of their internal crowd and collaborating on a much larger scale, without geographical (or even “cubical”) boundaries.

We already know the power of social media and companies are finally jumping on the bandwagon to listen to their customers. Most companies have forgotten the power of the employees that they already have and the power that their participation in company sponsored social media/social sites could have on their organization for not only external marketing campaigns and tactics, but also for long-term sustainable competitive advantage.”

-Originally shared (by me) on LI to much disappointment in the quantity of responses considering that many attest to being a “ninja” regarding social media these days
My positioning on whether or not social media should be an employee requirement teeters on yes, but knowing that motivation and recognition factors for human behavior hinder the feasibility of a yes or no answer in terms of implementation, the fact of the matter is simple:
If you have a good company, have a good product, treat customers and employees right, then requirements aren’t needed, people will oblige and participate for the long-term sustainability of the company, no matter what the collective effort is.
But truth be told, how many companies can truly say that they, in Google’s words, aren’t evil in any aspect of how they do business and that anything that they do internally (minus trade secrets, business strategies, and the like) should be published for all to see?