Saturday, March 26, 2016

Is Technology Ruining Our Customer Relationships?

I'm taking a step away from my usual "how-to" article this week to ponder a topic which was brought to my attention recently: Is technology hurting the relationships small business owners have with their clients/customers? It may sound counter-intuitive being that we can get "in touch" with someone via about 20 different methods now. "Text me", "PM me", "email me", "hit me up on Twitter"; whatever happened to "let's grab a coffee sometime"? Has the internet and social media actually hurt the way we connect with our customers? 

And before I go any further, I am speaking as a small B2B business owner. Not everyone has the need or opportunity to meet with their clients for coffee or lunch. If you sell erasers for a living, you probably don't care about how your customers are doing other than if they are making a lot of mistakes and they need your product! This also isn't written for the multi-national Fortune 100 sales rep. I'm talking about the little guy who covets each and every customer he (or she!) has.

Now don't get me wrong - I make my living being on the computer and I appreciate all of the wonderful technology which exists today (My phone usually isn't more than three feet from me at any time!). What I'm talking about is allowing our relationships with our customers to be "digital" and taking the humanity out of it.

Social Media experts will tell you that you need to talk to your audience as if they are sitting at the table with you. So why not sit at the table with them! Oh, right - it's inconvenient, time consuming, and you only reach one person at a time. As a B2B small business owner, there is nothing more important to me than connecting with my clients on a human level first, a business level second. That is how you build a trusting relationship.

I recently met with a long-time client of mine for coffee. We spent the better part of 3 hours talking about everything from his web site, a new idea he has for a business, our kids, our wives, how the food was at a local restaurant - you get the idea. The fact of the matter is that we both engaged on a human level - not just about business. And he knew that I wasn't there strictly to get money out of him.

Bottom line is that I've done this countless times with him and he has spent thousands of dollars with me. I know that when he is ready for his new business, I'm the guy who is going to be sitting down with him (over coffee!) and hammering out all of the details for his new site and literature.

Another example is a client of mine whom I've never met face to face. I know - if you've never met her, how does this fit in with the "lose the technology crap"? It's not about the technology - it's about putting the technology in its place.

This client and I communicate very regularly via email, but I still keep a human touch without getting too personal. She recently asked for my opinion on which laptops to get her college-age kids for Christmas because she knows I'm a computer nerd (said with the utmost respect). Why? Because she trusted my opinion. Did I make any money on the time I spent looking at the specs she sent me or the time it took me to email her back - not a penny. What I did make was a connection to her beyond her business and a stronger bond with my client. That is worth every second I spent on helping her.

Now don't get me wrong. I just completed my Social Media Marketing Specialization through Northwestern University (shout out to Prof. Randy Hlavac! Awesome class!) and I use every technology at my disposal which can help my business. Social media and the internet allows businesses to reach out to customers they never dreamed they could have. My point is if you have the need and ability to make contact with your customers, don't let the ease and convenience of technology make it impersonal. You will gain a much stronger bond with a face to face (especially over great coffee!).

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Work or Play? Intro to Using Gamification in Social Media Marketing.

While Social Media Marketing can be extremely effective, its imperative that companies move beyond two-dimensional campaigns for a more interactive user-experience. Gamification has proved to be a highly successful way to do this, and social media has developed into an outlet where user-experience marketing can quickly be implemented and seen by consumers. To put it simply, gamification incorporates fun and an element of competition to a marketing strategy. All of that is great, but is it right for you?

Why Use Gamification?

For most brands, users probably don’t want to engage with your social posts unless they hate them, love them or are getting a deal out of it. Robert Nissenbaum of Tactical Social Media explains it like this:
"We’re all intrigued by fun, but can it lead to more business? If you read the statistics on how many hours people spend playing games, with every subsequent generation spending more time and money, then you’d say it makes a lot of sense. For instance, Millennials spend 1.47 hours a day playing games, according to the Wall Street Journal."
But Gabe Zichermann, Editor of, gives the definitive reason:
"Games are the only force in the known universe that can get people to take actions against their self-interest, in a predictable way, without using force"
In the world of marketing, the gamification technique is used by brands to incentivize objective completion; typically to make unappealing offers seem fun or make an audience stick to something they’re already fond of. It’s also used to form an emotional connection with the audience and spark engagement as opposed to simple awareness. But, gamification is not a silver bullet for a bad strategy.

To be used effectively, gamification has to fit the theme, has to fit the brand, and it has to be aligned with what the brand stands for. If it’s generic, it’s not going to work. If it’s aligned with something that people are already talking about, it’s a great strategy to use for engagement and retention.

How can you make it fun for someone to respond or participate? By making it feel more like a game than a social media campaign. A solid game will tempt you to continue playing it – to unlock new players, to receive rewards, to get ahead of your room mate! But is gamification right for every business or brand?

Consider Why You Want to Gamify

Yes, gamification is an intriguing buzz word. No, it isn't right for every business. Dustin DiTommaso, the Experience Design Director at design studio Mad*Pow, recommends that businesses looking to gamify their products or services ask themselves three critical questions before moving on:
  • What is the reason for gamifying your product or service?
  • How does it benefit the user?
  • Will they enjoy it?
If you can answer these questions with confidence, if gamification seems like a good fit for your business' product or service and if the users enjoy it, then move on to exploring your business goals. DiTommaso recommends exploring the following three questions:
  • What are your business goals?
  • How do get the users to fulfill those business goals?
  • What actions do you want users to take?
If this exploratory phase yields positive feedback, your business is ready to move into user research. Here is an article from (written by Erica Swallow ) which gets into more depth about deciding whether gamification is right for your brand: Is Gamification Right for Your Business? 7 Things to Consider.  

Tip: Player Motivation

 The S•A•P•S method is a proven means of providing player motivation:

Image Courtesy of Randy Hlavac - SMM Specialization, NU/Coursera

    • Status - Status is the relative position of an individual in relation to others, especially in a social group. Status benefits and rewards give players the ability to move ahead of others in a defined ranking system. Examples: community leaderboards, public badges, personal leveling
    • Access - Access rewards give the players the opportunity to interact in a private or special way with a company or brand that they would otherwise never get and others are not privy to. Examples: early head start on new offerings, exclusive content or contests, special meeting with company representative or corporate function
    • Power - Power rewards give players a modicum of control over other players in the game for personal or community gain. Examples: serving as a moderator for forums or events, naming rights for new badges, game events, rewards, etc, ability to donate resources to new players from a mentor position
    • Stuff -  Stuff rewards are physical or digital things you give players for playing your game. Examples: hats, koozies, money
    Studies have shown that Stuff Rewards are the most expensive and least effective rewards in the SAPS system! They are the easiest to procure for companies, but have the lowest return. Often players will leave the game after they have received their "stuff".

    Case Study

    While you can find thousands of examples of gamification in use today, here is one from 2013 when Audi launched their A3 Sportback -
    In the first half of the year (2013), an eighteen-wheeler truck drove through South Africa carrying a brand new A3 Sportback.The eighteen-wheeler’s route was navigated by the tweets of hopeful South Africans. The campaign’s premise was that the truck’s final destination would be whichever city in South Africa generated the most tweets. Once there, three randomly selected tweeters would have the chance to exchange their own car for the new A3 Sportback.
    The campaign caused a social media frenzy. By logging into the campaign’s microsite, fans could submit their information and help guide the truck to their city – a modern, social take on the standard computer racing game. Ultimately, fifty thousand tweets guided the Exchange truck to Johannesburg, where three lucky finalists were given the chance to compete for the A3.

    During the three-week campaign, 11,310 people entered the contest. Within five hours of launching the campaign, Audi South Africa was trending on Twitter, and interest for the A3 Sportback on the Audi website tripled.

    More Resources

    These articles are a little dated, but are every bit as relevant today as when they were when written:

    26 Elements of a Gamification Marketing Strategy (April 5, 2012 by Debbie Hemley)
    5 Questions to Ask to Build an Effective Gamification Strategy by Mario Herger)

    I would like to give a special "shout-out" to a few individuals who's work inspired or contributed to this article:

    Randy Hlavac - Marketing instructor at Northwestern Medill IMC Business
    Joey Strawn - Director of Integrated Marketing at ISM
    Dustin DiTommaso - Experience Design Director at design studio Mad*Pow

    Images courtesy of  Pixabay

    Sunday, March 13, 2016

    Social Media Marketing Strategies - What They Are and How they Work.

    Strategy can be defined as "The art and science of planning and marshaling resources for their most efficient and effective use". When dealing with social media marketing, it is crucial to understand the three basic types of overall strategy - Engagement Marketing, Social (Nurture) Marketing, and Social IMC (Using virtual private communities). Next I'll explain what they are and give examples of which one may be right for you. Let's get started!

    Engagement Marketing

    This strategy is used primarily to draw attention to your brand or product using Social Media channels. And while that may seem to be the answer for everyone, Engagement Marketing is an anonymous interaction between you and your audience and is not used to build customer relationships.

    Key Points:

    • Focus - Social Network Channels

    • Goal - Short-term engagement

    • Relationship - Anonymous

    • Usage - Most markets (Especially lower price point products)

    • Engagement - Content RULES! (Go viral!)

    • Branding - General brand positioning

    • Desired Actions - Viral actions

    • Metrics - Measured with channel metrics (Likes, Follows, etc.)

    • Product Purchase? - Intuitive (higher sales MAY be attributed to Engagement campaign, but is not definitive)

    Your company can benefit using engagement marketing if your goal is to gain brand awareness and do not need to build a relationship with an individual customer. Your goals would be measured in channel metrics (Likes, Follows, Retweets, etc) and ROI can be harder to substantiate since sales can not be directly tracked by engagement.

    Social (Nurture) Marketing

    Nurture marketing, as the name implies, involves building a "private", longer-term relationship with your potential customers and helping them throughout the consumer life cycle. Using social media for this strategy involves gaining your target audience's awareness and getting them to engage content on your website, such as signing up for email campaigns or newsletters.

    Key Points:

    • Focus - "Private" relationships

    • Goal - Longer-term engagement

    • Relationship -Reactive/proactive

    • Usage - Higher value target markets

    • Engagement - Content based engagement

    • Branding - Branding through content

    • Desired Actions - Move audience from awareness to consideration to purchase

    • Metrics - Implicit and explicit measures to identify persona (You nay have collected some basic info you can tie to sales, email address for example).

    • Product Purchase? - Likely product purchase is known

    When using the Social Marketing Strategy, your business needs to provide help and guidance so that when your target audience is ready to purchase you have built up a trusted relationship with them and they are comfortable with purchasing from you. Goals and ROI can be tracked much more efficiently because your marketing strategy can be tied directly into your sales metrics.

    Social IMC

    Social IMC is defined many different ways, but for this purpose I am using the term to describe the process of using Private Virtual Communities to "market" your brand and products. This strategy involves your target audience becoming a member of a private network (which is sponsored and managed by you) and engaging in relevant conversation with like minded people.

    For example, let's say that you own a garage specializing in high performance, classic muscle cars. Your marketing strategy can be to build a private virtual community where enthusiasts can post pictures of their cars, get help with mechanical issues, locate parts, etc. When the time comes that they need a PRO to help with their latest project, you are a trusted source who has been there for them by sponsoring and maintaining that awesome website!

    Key Points:

    • Focus - Community relationships

    • Goal - Long-term engagement

    • Relationship - Proactive

    • Usage - Highest value/high opportunity markets

    • Engagement - Community empowerment

    • Branding - Tailored brand positioning

    • Desired Actions - Community and product actions

    • Metrics - 1 to 1 database and behavioral, social, business metrics

    • Product Purchase? - Product purchase is known

    Social IMC is a much longer commitment and requires more of an initial investment to bring to realization, but the customer relationships and ROI can be well worth the initial output. Being that you will get relevant information during the sign up process, audience activities and sales metrics are easily tracked and can be tied in directly to other marketing campaigns. Just remember that the purpose of using the Social IMC strategy is to provide your target audience with a sense of community. Be there for them when they are ready to purchase, but DO NOT oversell or you will lose members!

    Which is best for me?

    To answer that question you need to review your social media goals and evaluate not only your target audience, but what resources (personnel, IT, funding, etc.) you have available. Compare your goals with the key points listed above for each strategy and think about what type of campaign you could do within that particular model. And no matter which one you choose to do, track, analyze, and edit as you go!

    All Done!

    Many of the subsequent articles in my blog will talk about topics which go hand in hand with what we've covered over the past 6 weeks, so be sure to check back next Monday when we will talk about Gamification - what it is and how can it help drive engagement.

     I would like to give a special "shout-out" to a few individuals who have truly impacted my approach to Social Media and have inspired me by sharing their ideas and thoughts to the rest of us:

    • Randy Hlavac - Marketing instructor at Northwestern Medill IMC Business 
    • Andy Crestodina -Web Strategist and co-founder of Orbit Media
    • Rebekah Radice - Award Winning Social Media Writer, Strategist, Author, Speaker. 
    Images courtesy of  Pixabay

    Sunday, March 6, 2016

    Part 5 of "Social Media for the Small Business Owner" - Tracking and Analysis

    At this point, you are pumping out great content to your target audience on a consistent basis. Now what we need to do is track and analyze your engagements so you know how your content is performing. With a few tips and some useful tools (some of which you are already using), we can make this crucial process very painless. Let's get started!


    Knowing how your audience is engaging with your content is a key part of your Social Media Strategy. Without the proper information on how your content is being received, you can waste a lot of manpower by not delivering exactly what your audience wants. Fortunately, there are some pretty easy tools out there to help you accomplish this.

     Google Analytics

    If you are hosting your content (such as a blog) on your own web site, Google Analytics is a great free tool to be using. Once you have entered the Google Analytics code into your site's HTML, the service will measure pretty much every metric of a page visit:
    • where your visitor came from
    • how long they were on that page
    • where they went from there
    • whether a visitor is sharing the content on social media or clicking on an ad
    • keywords people searched for that brought them to your page
    • demographics
    As KISSmetrics points out, one of Google Analytics’ best features—especially for retail sites and marketers tracking purchases—is the Goal Funnel, with which you can set up a string of URLs that a consumer clicks through when purchasing an item. You can find out not only how many people are going through the process of making a purchase, but also how many are abandoning it at a certain stage. This information will allow marketers to adjust their strategies and make the purchasing experience easier for the consumer.

    It may take a little while to get used to the interface and features of Google Analytics, but once you do it will become an invaluable tool to help your marketing progression.

    We've talk about this tool before, and hopefully you are using it to shorten your long URLs. What we didn't talk about though, is that tracks every time someone clicks on your links, making it a perfect free tool to use for analyzing engagement on social channels like Twitter and LinkedIn. will report how many clicks your link generated, when people clicked it (down to the hour), which platforms people used to share the link, and even a map of your link’s geographic distribution of clicks (which is helpful for optimizing and targeting your content in the future).

    Below is an example of’s geographic distribution:

    Social Channel Dashboards

    Just about all Social Media channels have some type of analysis tool built right into their dashboard. If you are just starting out and only use one or two channels, why not use the free tools that are built right in? Twitter, for example, has a really comprehensive analytics tool for tracking everything from impressions and engagements to followers.

    Social Dashboard Managers

    Many dashboard managers also have built-in tracking and analytics features, but some of them require a paid subscription. HootSuite will give you one report for one channel, but you are required to pay for more in depth reports or for other channels hosted on your dashboard.

    Everyone has their favorite tool to track their content engagement, the important thing is to find a couple and use them religiously! If you are taking the time to create the content and post it, take the time to track it! Remember: It's all about listening to your audience. This is their feedback to you.


     The reason you want to track all of your engagement is so that you can analyze the results and make adjustments when necessary. Do you have a post with strong content, but it just isn't getting the engagements you expect? Try adjusting the headline and track it for a period of time. Getting better, but still not there? Replace the image you are using and post it again. Most experts agree that making incremental changes and tracking in between is the best practice for optimizing your engagement.

    Don't be discouraged if your content isn't perfect right out of the gate. It almost never is! Even the pros edit and tweak their blogs and content posts after they are published. Besides, you never know how something is going to be received until you put it out there!

    All done!

    This will be the final segment in this particular series. I hope everyone enjoyed the journey of going from "How to Get Started" to this final article. I thoroughly enjoyed putting together all of this information for you and getting it on "paper" for you to use. Many of the subsequent articles in my blog will cover topics which go hand in hand with what you've learned over the past 5 weeks, so be sure to check back next Monday when we will talk about types of Social Media Strategies and which is best for your target market.

     I would like to give a special "shout-out" to a few individuals who have truly impacted my approach to Social Media and have inspired me by sharing their ideas and thoughts to the rest of us:

    • Randy Hlavac - Marketing instructor at Northwestern Medill IMC Business 
    • Andy Crestodina -Web Strategist and co-founder of Orbit Media
    • Rebekah Radice - Award Winning Social Media Writer, Strategist, Author, Speaker. 
    Images courtesy of  Pixabay