Social Networking

Personal PR: Why you need a personal brand

Claire Celsi is a public relations practitioner in West Des Moines, Iowa.

Everyone is busy. Busy with everyday routines and tasks at work. Hauling the kids back and forth. Meeting daily obligations. Get up and do it again. Rinse, repeat. The daily grind is called the daily grind for a reason.

It's so easy to lose sight of the big picture. Everyone needs to build and maintain a personal brand. Over the course of a 40+ year career, you're bound to run into situations where it will come in handy. The best part of a personal brand is using it to help yourself during those times in your career where things may not have gone according to plan.

Being anonymous is foolhardy. It only works well for those who are in the witness protection program, the NSA, or perhaps a private investigator. Everyone else - guess what? Slap a smile on, grab a nametag and start shaking hands. The worst thing you can hear from another person is "Oh, I've heard of your company, but have never heard your name."

In fact, people who network and (dare I say) - promote themselves a bit - actually end up benefitting the companies they work for and contribute to the bottom line in concrete and measurable ways.

Networking can feel like a luxury (or a burden) if you're a busy person. Or just downright impossible if you don't have a good support system at work or at home. How do you build and maintain a personal brand slowly but surely? Here are some tips:

  1. Tell your spouse/kids/business partners what you're up to: If you set a goal to attend a networking event twice a month, let people know that you're trying to be more visible and meet some new people. That way, if you leave work a little early - or are late for dinner - they'll know what you're trying to accomplish.
  2. Use social media: Network 24-7 by building a strong digital presence. You can't go to every networking event, but you can create engaging profiles and content online that people will find when they simply Google your name.
  3. Set a goal: What's your ultimate goal? More friends? New business for your company? Meeting peers in your industry? Think about it ahead of time.
  4. Prioritize: Not every networking event will be equal, and most likely, there will be plenty to choose from. Pick the ones that will be most beneficial based on the goal that you've set.
  5. Shake it up a little. Find a fun friend and attend a social event together. Pick an event where neither one of you are likely to know anyone. Make a goal of meeting five new people each.

There are times in life to sit it out, and times to get in there and play. Networking is not a frivilous activity. It's a "must do" for every professional who cares about the way the public perceives them. Your "network" is the most important asset you have.

 

 

Networking on social media

Katie Stocking is the owner of Happy Medium LLC.

It’s practically impossible to go a full day without someone telling you how busy they are right now. Although that is somewhat annoying, it probably is also very true. I know for myself I would, of course, love to have more time for personal hobbies and interests, but I would also like to have more time for my business goals. One of those goals is networking. Since we basically live on all social media platforms here at Happy Medium, I thought it would probably be best to combine the two and make a go of it.

Here are my tips for networking on social media:

Use the appropriate platforms: For example, if you’re a photographer – using LinkedIn to network might be good – but wouldn’t Instagram or Facebook be even better? You’re a visual company, why not use your best marketing tool, your work, to get business? Find the right fit and you’ll find the right customers.

Be honest: I get a couple of LinkedIn messages every day asking me to coffee “to learn more about my business and see how they can help me get more work” – when usually what happens is you go to coffee and they spend the whole time pitching their own services. (Not all the time of course, but often.) Then you don’t want to go the next time when it’s a legitimate lead and you might miss out. So if you decide to do networking by reaching out to people you don’t know – just be honest about your intentions. Then you kick off the conversation with everyone understanding the expectations and nobody feeling like they were misled.

Set a goal: I try to reach out to at least two people a week via social media. It’s pretty easy to do because it can be on your schedule. Whether it’s participating in groups on LinkedIn/Facebook, tweeting with other industry professionals or reaching out to people you’d really like to get in front of, anything works – just two a week will probably get you pretty far!

Dress for success: Make sure your profile looks just as nice as you would if you were attending a networking event. First impressions are everything and online is no different! Don’t make your profile picture a photo from tailgating last year where you cropped out your spouse. Take the time (and money) to get a professional photo taken.

Ask for recommendations: This is one very simple thing to do. Ask your clients/partners/co-workers to leave recommendations on your LinkedIn/Facebook/Yelp (whatever applies) about you or your business. Often people will visit your page and you don’t even know they are there. The best recommendation is a testimonial – so make sure your pages are stocked with information about all the great work you do.

Good luck! It’s not that scary – I promise, and the worst you will get is a no – which is the same as networking in person right? Go for it and tweet me @interactivekate to tell me how it’s going!

--Katie

Back to basics: What does it mean to "be social?"

EmpathyThere are learning curves in social media. As a coach to newcomers to social media, I've observed some of the most common hurdles:

-Lack of basic computer skills
-Lack of time or motivation to make social media  interaction really work
-Lack of social skills and empathy (Ouch, I know.  Sometimes the truth hurts.)

Computer skills can be learned and practiced, work time can be scheduled, and motivation increases with success. Imagine your social media channels as a cozy living room, and you are the host of a cozy gathering with good friends. You'd be working extra hard to make sure everyone was comfortable, right?

For some, social skills and empathy can be a heavy lift. Since these skills are a huge part of interacting online, here are a few exercises to get you feeling "the social media way" of talking to others online. Practice each of these skills weekly, and you will be successful. I promise!!

  1. Try to be more like an empath: Some people are born with the ability to observe the feelings and emotions of others, say just the right thing, and make them comfortable. In the example of social media "as a cozy living room", your job is to make sure everyone is welcome and is part of the group.
  2. Acknowledge people and situations: When someone expresses happiness, anger or frustration, SAY SOMETHING! If you were in the same room with someone who is experiencing a "moment" of emotion, you wouldn't just walk by them. A simple "that's great" or "good luck!" or "that's too bad" is simple good manners. 
  3. Speaking of manners, try to keep harsh or overly-critical remarks to a mimimum. The old adage "if you can't think of something nice to say, don't say anything at all" does not necessarily apply, though. Just try not to be negative all the time, but there is nothing wrong with a little disagreement. Social media is often described as a virtual world, and this is true. And there's no world I know of that doesn't have a little dissention once in a while.
  4. Keep it clean. Use your indoor voice and keep the cusswords to yourself.
  5. Find humor in the world around you. Post a clean joke, a funny picture, or tell a story about some bizarre thing that happened to you today. People can relate to the human experience, and most people find humor in day-to-day life.
  6. Tout the accomplishments of others. Acknowledge milestones such as birthdays, anniversaries, graduations and new jobs.
  7. Spend at least half your time talking to people about something other than yourself. Trust me, the favor will be returned 10 times over.
  8. Pass on information for your friends. If someone has a bit of news to share with the world, and it's valuable and newsworthy, take the extra time to pass it on.

If you follow these simple rules, you'll be on your way to "social media social" and have lots of friends to share with. Any other tips you'd recommend?

-Claire Celsi

Does Pinterest belong in business?

Pinterest-logoPinterest is the latest social network to take the world by storm, and it's a homegrown success. Founder Ben Silbermann is a Roosevelt High graduate, and has proven once and for all that you don't need to live on the coasts to start a successful Internet-based business. In fact, hometown legend Better Homes and Gardens (a Meredith Corp. brand) is one of the early Pinterest success stories.

For those of you who don't already know what Pinterest is, here is a description of the site and how to use it.

After creating a profile on the site, you get started by creating "pinboards" (resembling digital bulletin boards) in categories in which you are interested. Then, you "pin" images to the board. This kind of reminds me of the collages we were all asked to make in junior high by cutting images out of magazines. My friends and I used to make collages of outfits, hairdos, lipstick colors, or even guys we liked. I was a Parker Stevenson kind of gal, while most of my friends were Shawn Cassidy types...

So what's the big deal about creating a pinboard? What's in it for your business? Answer: Web traffic.

Pinterest is now the No. 3 website on the Internet, right behind Facebook and Twitter. In fact, in some categories (especially retail), Pinterest drives more website traffic than any other site, including Facebook. 

Social sharing is really the engine that drives Pinterest and makes it viral and fun. Pinterest has a button that you can install on your website, email messages or blog to allow quick and easy "pinning" of images. Users can also "re-pin" images onto their own Pinterest pinboards and users will be able to link back to the original "pinner."

Another intriquing thing about Pinterest is that Pinterest users, when they convert to buyers, spend more money than Facebook users. Social media has always been a reliable way to build brand equity and gain better relationships with customers, but Pinterest is proving that it can indeed convert users to buyers. Some experts think it's the visual nature of pinning that attracts people and converts them to buyers.

Speaking of visual, there's another intriguing aspect to Pinterest that I find fascinating. Marketers often categorize social media users by their proclivity to "create" content in social media land. The vast majority of people on social networks "lurk," that is, observe the content that others write or post. Pinterest allows these "lurkers" to join the party simply by pinning their favorite photos. It's an inclusive way to allow people to wade into the pool without putting themselves out there with a bold opinion or point of view.

However popular, Pinterest is taking a bit of heat from its business model. It's already making money, which is a bit unusual for such a social media youngster. Turns out, Pinterest surreptitiously attaches a code to pins and follows them back to the retail sites where purchases are made, ensuring that Pinterest gets a cut of the purchase. Many web critics are asking for more transparency from the new social media darling.

Here are some ideas from some big brands that are using Pinterest successfully to attract new business and social sharing from their customers. 

How are you planning to use Pinterest to attract more business? Would love to hear your comments, and "Happy Pinning!"

-Claire Celsi

Should employees give their passwords to prospective employers?

There's been a startling new trend emerging from the front lines of unemployed job seekers. Many employers - as part of the interview process - have been asking unsuspecting applicants to provide their Facebook username and password so the human resources department can access the applicant's account.

Facebook recently registered its objections to the practice, and warned employers not to ask prospective employees to share their password, noting that employers who did this are opening themselves up to invasion of privacy lawsuits.

This seems to be a violation of many laws and rules governing human resources best practices in interviewing. For example, if an HR professional cannot legally ask you about how many children you have, or your marital status, or any diseases or disabilities you have, how can they force you to log on to your account to find these answers?

Employers have been stymied in their efforts to get information about applicants due to recent improvements in Facebook privacy settings. Most of us have figured out how to clamp down our settings to avoid the general public from being able to view our profiles, comments and photos. HR professionals have to be very crafty to be able to see the content now, or very bold and request to be "friends" with those applicants.

So, what would you do if asked to provide your Facebook password? Or email passwords? I can tell you I would say no. Playing on the desperation of the unemployed is an ugly tactic, and asking an employee to "volunteer" the information when they are seeking employment is akin to coersion. Employers must know that people are desperate to compete in any way they can in this economy, and to me using this tactic to gain information from applicants is simply lazy.

The question applicants should be asking is: "What should my Facebook page look like? What information am I putting out there to the world?" Let's review.

  1.  It's ok to share personal information. Just make sure it is clean and doesn't portray you in a compromising or illegal situation.
  2. Take control of the way you are portrayed online. Clean up your Facebook page and other sites, delete questionable photos or posts that could be misconstrued by people who don't know you.
  3. Show an interest in the companies you're applying with. "Like" their pages on Facebook, seek out their company page on LinkedIn, Google+ and Pinterest.
  4. ALWAYS refrain from saying anything negative about a current or former employer on social nets. It just makes you look like a whiner.
  5. Posting nude pictures or slandering another person is not just dumb, it could get you in legal trouble.
  6. Use your social presence to demonstrate your expertise, confidence, balanced life and stability. If they're looking for red flags, show them only green ones!

Don't give away your passwords, but don't give companies the evidence they need to conclude that you are not the right person to hire.

- Claire Celsi

Don't fall for the "Reputation Defender" online scams

A couple of years ago I had a meeting with a desperate and defeated client. Due to some past personal and business turmoil, when you Googled his name, all you could see was negative stuff. A bankruptcy. A bad business deal. A public failure. Google alerts 1

However, what you saw online and the person who sat in front of me were two completely different people. The online image simply didn't match the real person, who was in a new line of work. He had totally turned his fortunes around and wanted the world to see his new successful life.

"Can you help me get rid of those old negative web results?" he asked.

The other day, I was listening to the Glenn Beck radio show and heard an ad for "Reputation Defender." It claimed that it would monitor your online presence and remove all negative references, for a small fee, of course.

I can see how this scenario would be tempting. Just pay some web jockey to erase all the bad stuff! There's just one problem with this. The Web is not some giant white board with a magic eraser. Information on the web, especially if it's a matter of public record, is not possible to change or delete. Just ask Rick Santorum, the presidential candidate who is suffering through a cruel web hoax, perpetrated by some political pranksters.

Back to my client. I asked him if he participated in social media. Not surprisingly, the answer was no. The first thing he needed to do was create some social media accounts. The same Google that was publicly humiliating him was the same Google that could save him. How? By creating social media content in places like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, he could make those negative links appear less prominent by pushing them down to page 2 or 3 of Google results. Here's how that works:

  1. Google loves social media and rewards you every time you post. It's algorythms are tuned to social content and rank it higher than almost anything else.
  2. You control your own social media accounts. You control what is posted and can screen all comments before they are posted.
  3. Social media accounts rise very high in natural Google results. Google my friend Drew McLellan and see what you get. Even though he shares the name of a famous web developer, Drew's social media accounts and blog rank higher than the thousands of web results of his namesake.
  4. Reserve your own URL. I highly recommend reserving "yourownname.com" before someone else does. I use GoDaddy.com but there are other services out there.

It takes time, persistence and hard work to push a negative result off your Google results page. It's disingenuous (at best) to promise otherwise. Use the money you would have wasted on "Reputation Defender" and use how to use free web tools like Google Alerts to monitor your own reputation. Then use Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube and your own blog to create content that accurately represents you and your business. The more stuff you post, the quicker you will start smiling when you Google yourself.

Here is a site that compares these supposed "web reputation" services. The interesting remarks are in the comments section, as usual! Did you notice that I didn't link to Reputation Defender? That's because it's not worth your time to explore. Thanks for reading.

- Claire Celsi

Is your social media presence "perfessional?"

The number one question I'm asked when talking about social media to professionals is "How can I create a social media presence that is professional but still reflects my personality?" This is a vast improvement over three years ago, when the number one question was, "How can I get all these freaks who I didn't even like in high school to stop following me on Facebook?"

Here are my suggestions for creating a social network that is both personal and professional. Hence, the term "perfessional."

  1. Be Professional: Relax. It's not rocket science. You are used to being professional, day in and day out. Year after year. You know how to play office politics. You know how to keep confidences. Now take those skills and apply them to your social media presence. A good rule of thumb: Don't write it if you wouldn't want your comment read by your boss, or your mother! Or both!
  2. Make funny observations: The best way to show your personality is to allow your sense of humor to show. Share a clean joke. Post a funny Onion article. Allow your friends to see that you're not a wet blanket.
  3. Avoid spam: Don't be that guy that falls for every "Here's a cute photo of you!" spam link. People will not only unfriend you in a heartbeat, but also think you're a dork. If you find out you've been spammed, for goodness sake, delete the offending post and apologize!
  4. Express your opinion occassionally: Believe it or not, people care what you think. Don't feel you have to remain neutral all the time. People will respect you for expressing your opinion on matters that are meaningful to you.
  5. Share your personal interests (in moderation): If you enjoy motorcycle racing or are proud of your grandkids, by all means, share a photo or two! As long as you're not constantly gushing about your perfect child or posting pictures of every meal you cook, it's great to share your non-work interests.

Nobody wants to follow a business-only Twitter account or a Facebook page that does nothing but push out real estate listings or press releases. Lend your personality to your social network, and make it one of your biggest assets.

What Your Company Can Learn From Dell's Social Listening

In early 2010, I complained loudly about my Dell computers to anyone who would listen. Dell tour To my surprise, Dell heard my complaints and invited me to take part in DellCAP, their new Customer Advisory Panel. They flew me to Austin, and allowed me to tell my story to an audience of top Dell executives.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a pretty straight shooter, and I did not hold back. We also heard from Dell employees, who told us that they were listening, even as they initially made some pretty lame excuses for their service and defective products.

This year, I was absolutely shocked that they invited me back to Austin to update us on their progress. I must say, it seems like Dell is finally taking social customer service seriously. There are people like me who would rather "tweet" for help than call Bangalore, India. This time, there were no excuses. Only real answers, metrics and process improvement updates.

And, I got to network with some of the smartest, nicest people on the planet, including Dave Gardner, who writes for Fast Company. Full disclosure: Dell paid for my trip, my expenses and my meals. But they did not try to control the discussions, and live-streamed the whole meeting. We even got to meet Michael Dell, and that was recorded too.

Dell has a new social customer service area that employs 70 people. So now, if you have an issue with a Dell machine, you can tweet your question, concern or complaint to @DellCares on Twitter or DellCares on Facebook. Your query will then be assigned to a social media customer service rep in Dell's social media listening center and handled by this special support team.

Dell has also implemented a very sophisticated Radian6 monitoring system due to the global, complicated nature of their business. By the way, I can vouch for Radian6. In my opinion, they are the best social monitoring system out there. And their people are very connected and smart. That's important to me.

This team's evolution is a direct result of the complaints lodged by customers. Dell has always had great employees who cared deeply about the customers who were experiencing pain in the customer service process. Now, the company has formally backed up these employees with official resources, office space and listening tools.

Here are the take-aways for your business. Listen up!

  1. People are taking to the social web to complain about poor service and defective products. Be prepared to deal with that. Knowing about it is the first step.
  2. Design a process to deal with a social media complaint. Whether it is a very simple refund process or an online apology, make it real and make it consistent.
  3. Monitor your brand. Set up Google Alerts, check your Facebook wall and your Twitter "@" replies daily. Respond as soon as possible after hearing the complaint. People will keep complaining until they feel like they are heard.
  4. Respond publicly in as much detail as possible without violating the privacy of your customer. Then follow up privately (offline) with more details of how you plan to fix the problem.
  5. Do not display anger and frustration online or verbally confront and embarrass your customer. Be as civil as you can, and model friendliness. Others are watching how you handle the problem.

Even for small business owners, monitoring and responding to social media questions, complaints and yes, even compliments(!), will be a part of your daily routine. The quicker you get with the program, the quicker your customers can get on with their lives and quit bugging you. Capice? 

- Claire Celsi

Social Media for Small Business: 5 Things to Do Right Now

ROI of social media Social networking is not a fad that is going to "go away." I remember this same feeling when the Internet became popular and businesses questioned the need to have a website. It's a simple truth: Businesses without websites are not seen as legitimate by some consumers. It will take a few years, but increasingly, business without a social media presence will be viewed the same way. Negatively.

Where does a small business start? It can be overwhelming, I know. I've worked with small businesses who are struggling to find the reasons, the time and the right employee to help them with social media. Here are five things you should start with:

1. Get on board yourself. You can't even HOPE to understand the connectivity of social networking unless you practice yourself. Setting up profiles is NOT good enough. You must sit down for at least 10 minutes a day and practice using it. Frankly, I am so sick of hearing how social media is a waste of time from people who have never used it.

2. Start listening to conversations, aka "Lurking." Or hire someone to do it for you. Listening consists of:

  • Searching for keywords on social sites and Google
  • Paying attention to what people are saying in your social stream (for example, your friends' posts on Facebook and Twitter)
  • Observing complaints, trends and positive recommendations

After gathering some intelligence, don't be afraid to act on it. Follow up with a dissatisfied customer, fix that leaky restroom people have been complaining about, offer a Tuesday night kids-eat-free special. People will tell you what's on their mind.

3. Post articles, videos and photos on your personal and business networks. As a general rule of thumb, make sure it's something that your spouse, mother and boss would be comfortable with. If it's questionable, don't share it.

4. Formulate a strategy and objectives: Just like any other form of marketing or PR, doing social media without thinking about why you're doing it guarantees disappointment in the results. Make your initial objectives modest. Here are a few examples:

  • Increase awareness of my business with (xyz) audience, by having at least 3 conversations per week with someone who didn't know about it before.
  • Inform my audience what my business offers, as measured by people stopping in the store or visiting the company website. Segmentation is possible if you talk about certain products and then measure the interest in purchases or web hits. For example: If you talk about Widget A for three days this week and Widget B for three days next week, check to see if visits to your website have increased accordingly. Obviously, you'll want to include links to Widget A and Widget B so people have the opportunity to learn more.

5. Try new things, but give it time to succeed before you give up. For example, offer a 20% discount on merchandise and services to Facebook customers, but you've got to offer it every week, repeatedly, week after week, to allow people to notice and take advantage of the deal. Just because no one uses your discount the first week doesn't mean it's a failure. It probably just means people haven't seen it yet.

The "ROI" (return on investment) of using social media is keeping your business relevant in the future. Here is a great video that illustrates some of the statistics regarding social media use that clearly show it's here to stay and worth knowing how to use properly.

What are your major social networking sticking points? I'd love to write future posts to address your questions. Here is the latest Eric Qualmann Social Media Revolution video. I listen to them as much for the music as the content! Enjoy.

 

Smartphones Cause People to Abandon All Common Sense!

Image representing iPad as depicted in CrunchBaseImage via CrunchBase

What happened to the days when people silenced phones during meetings, or better yet, left them in the drawer for the better part of the workday? Smartphones have allowed us to show everyone in the room how important and busy we are.

An employee that I supervised would bring her BlackBerry into client meetings. And when she didn't have a fresh personal email to read, she would allow herself to absently scroll through previous messages. Since I was her boss, I knew there was nothing so important that she could not wait to read it until after the meeting.

One time, a client asked her a direct question and, being engrossed in her most recent personal drama, completely missed the inquiry. I answered the question for her and wanted to kick her shin under the table. After the meeting, I told her to never bring that device to a meeting with her again.

Unfortunately, some people are answering social media queries, posting social media content and attending to all sorts of other unnecessary garbage during business meetings and other face-to-face gatherings. Last fall, I watched a government official spend an entire three-hour city council meeting on his BlackBerry. He did not ask a single question of any of the speakers. He was the last one to vote on every vote. He was too busy lap reading and lap texting to notice.

There is a time and a place for using personal devices. Meetings are NOT one of those times. Some people use the excuse of "multi-tasking" to explain away their behavior. This causes the person right in front of you to feel less important than the person you're tweeting, texting or emailing.

When my kids call me over and over, I simply send them a quick text: "In a meeting, call u later." All other messages go unanswered. Best yet, I send a quick pre-emptive text to anyone likely to call me. "In a meeting all afternoon, I'll call you when I'm done." PERIOD.

Smartphones and social media are a powerful aphrodisiac for technology addicts. There are only a few good reasons to take a phone call during a meeting. There aren't ANY good reasons to do social networking of any kind during meetings.

So, if you're one of those important people who just must play with your iPad while you're supposed to be listening, get over yourself and get back to work. If you just don't have the nerve to tell someone they're an obnoxious technology jerk, leave me a comment and I will gladly forward it on to the right person. Thanks for reading, and please share your own technology pet peeves!

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The Business Case for the Social Media Club Des Moines

SMCDSM logo I was on Facebook the other day, stirring up some political conversation. I happen to really love asking provocative questions on my page. It's part of who I am, but I never bring up a topic that I'm not prepared to defend. I guess I never listened to Sister Rachael - my grade school principal - who told me that "ladies don't discuss controversial issues."

Imagine my surprise when someone who was not my friend chimed in to the conversation with some extremely offensive remarks. I don't mind a little smack-talk among friends, but this person was not my friend. Nor was he characterizing my views properly, and was clearly belligerent.

I glanced at his Facebook profile, where, lo-and-behold... I saw that he plainly listed his occupation and his company name. Turns out, he was an agent for a very large and very prominent insurance company here in Central Iowa!

That made me think of two things. The first? I wonder if that company has a social media policy? The second? I am never buying anything from that company!

A majority of companies are certainly aware of social media. I'd even venture to say that many are either already active in social media or exploring their options. But there are obviously gaps in knowledge. That's where the Social Media Club Des Moines (SMCDSM) comes in.

The SMCDSM is a group of Central Iowans who share an interest in social media from multiple perspectives. Some are responsible for their company's social media efforts. Some just want to meet new people who are interested in social media. Others are newcomers to social media who want to learn more. And a few are experts who are willing to share their time and talent to teach others. You can join the group by visiting the website.

The club is just entering its second year of existence. I'm honored to be serving as president this year and along with a great board of directors, we're tying to make the club a resource for the business community. In the next few weeks, we'll be planning some events that will specifically cater to the Des Moines business community. I'd love to use this forum to get your input on what you'd like the SMCDSM to address on your behalf.

Please comment on this post and let's get a discussion started.

Based on my experience with my "non-Facebook friend," I'd say a lunch-n-learn on corporate social media policy might be in order!

Corporate Policy Meets Social Media Justice

Hey Home Depot, I got your 'corporate espionag...Image by Ben McLeod via Flickr

There's a controversy brewing in Ankeny over a corporate decision, and now social media justice is being meted out by everyday people. Here's the story.

In May 2010, Heather DeJoode was driving her minivan in Ankeny and was hit by a reckless driver. The result was devastating. Heather's two children, Carson and Claire, were killed. Heather survived, but she has been unable to return to work and is continuing her recovery.

Troy DeJoode, the father, was left to care for and comfort the surviving child, Chase.

Shelley Huss, the director of Chase's daycare in Ankeny, contacted her corporate office to see what the company could do for the DeJoode family. The company agreed to provide a week's worth of free care. Huss decided to offer free care to the family as long as it was needed. The family resumed paying for Chase's care in March 2011, but an audit caught the fact that Chase's care was provided at no cost.

Shelley Huss was fired for her decision to contradict corporate policy.

What happened next is a corporate nightmare. A spontaneous uprising is taking place on Childtime's Facebook page. Parents and other community members are expressing outrage that Childtime would fire Ms. Huss for her decision to extend free care to the family.

Here is some advice to help any company that is dealing with negative comments on social media pages.

  1. Get out in front of criticism: Childtime's first error was not to proactively address the controversy on its own page. By doing this, they left themselves open to getting slammed by negative comments, which is exactly what happened.
  2. Most importantly: Do NOT delete relevant comments. As tempting as it may be, most comments should be allowed to stand as is. Only off-subject and abusive comments should be deleted. Some posters to the Childtime Facebook page have reported that their posts have been removed, so they've reposted repeatedly. Don't get into a pissing match with people. Once you've deleted a comment and it reappears, you have a decision to make. Either allow the comment to stand, or delete it and block the person.
  3. Have a comments policy in place ahead of time. This policy should be posted on your Facebook page and website, and detail company policy for dealing with comments.
  4. Exercise limited control over "wall posts." Childtime's Facebook wall allows links and videos to be freely posted. At this point, they should not change the setting, but all companies should discuss limiting this option.
  5. Answer comments within reason. In this case, when all the comments are so overwhelmingly negative, it does not help to answer each and every post. Childtime is attempting to answer some negative posts with its side of the story, but it has also resorted to "astroturfing" its own profile with positive comments from made-up Facebook accounts. Classic case of what not to do!!!
  6. Offer to take hostile conversations offline. Childtime should host an informational conference call or post an online Q&A. Do not confront angry commentors with defensive posts.
  7. Don't change the subject. Instead of calmly answering complaints, Childtime is attempting to change the conversation by posting thank-you messages to the few people who agree with their point of view. They are killing themselves with that tactic, it's only making people angrier.

Social media presents both opportunity and risk for Childtime. Since the mainstream media has caught on to the story, the company should keep the conversation going. What do you think Childtime should do? Should they buckle to popular opinion and rehire Shelley Huss, or should they stick to their guns?

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Central Iowa Nonprofits Using Social Media

Give, take 'n shareImage by Funchye via Flickr

Nonprofit organizations were not the first on the social media bandwagon, but they seem to be making up for lost time. It seems not a day goes by that I am not invited by a friend to donate, volunteer or simply "like" the Facebook page of an organization. Some organizations are pretty quiet and just seem to be "collecting people" on their sites.

But there are quite a few others that are doing a great job with social media in Central Iowa. Here a three of my favorites:

  1. Central Iowa Shelter and Services - This homeless shelter uses both Facebook and Twitter to give updates on the shelter, request supplies and donations, and most importantly, thank shelter volunteers. With new shelter on the drawing board, this is great time for them to be more visible in the community.
  2. Prevent Blindness Iowa works to fight vision loss by educating Iowans about eye health and safety. March is Workplace Vision Wellness Month, so this Prevent Blindness Iowa blog post offers all employers free materials to hang up in the workplace to educate workers on preventing accidental eye injury. The organization also uses Facebook and Twitter to communicate its mission.
  3. The Pet Project Midwest's mission is to keep pets with loving families. Volunteers operate an Iowa Pet Alert (an Amber alert-type system for lost pets using social media) and a pet pantry to help families in need provide food and other items so they can keep their pets during times of financial hardship. The Twitter account is particularly effective in getting quick, short messages out to other pet lovers to find wayward animals quickly. The organization is also on Facebook, where they often share photos of people who donate to the organization.

Nonprofits have some special considerations when it comes to starting and maintaining a social media program. Most are understaffed or run by volunteers, therefore running the risk of leaving social media as the last thing on the "to do" list.

The entities listed in this post all have something in common; very passionate social media employees and volunteers who believe in the power of social media to make a difference. Any organization that starts a program should make sure that the person who does your social media posting is not the only reason you're doing it. Make it a part of your organization and its mission.

What's your favorite Central Iowa nonprofit? What did I miss?

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Listen to Twitter

As Gen-Xers and Gen-Yers hone their networking skills and secure footholds in the Hear-stock marketplace, more decision makers are looking to do business right out here in the open, in real time.

By broadening the use of new communication platforms, marketers and media professionals will have an opportunity to carve out an edge over their competitors while continuing to develop relationships in more traditional networking environments.

I don't update my Twitter feed every day. Nor do I spend an inordinate amount of time surfing social media sites. But I understand the value of building my brand while receiving short, timely updates from those whom I choose to follow. So I don't neglect the space. I gradually build up my presence online, just as I do in real life.

Lately, I’ve spent less time talking on Twitter and more time listening, which can be tough for sometimes, especially for somewhat loquacious individuals like me. I’ve set up Twitter searches with keywords such as “Business Record,” “IowaBiz,” “Des Moines,” and “Iowa.”

Trust me; I’m not looking for information overload. But I want to stay ahead of the curve on what others are saying about my employer, my community and the industries that I cover. Plus, I’m curious enough to find enjoyment in seeing people around the world mention my hometown or home state. 

Finally, the searches allow me to consume – on demand – timely and relevant information, including links to interesting articles, press releases, videos and other media that I may have missed or may not have been published on the websites I tend to follow.

I share some of the relevant information I find with the broader community – adding value while bolstering my credibility in the space – and reserve some of the best finds for internal research, discussion and development at my company.

Some industry leaders – no, not Charlie Sheen – have barely begun to dip their toes into the Twittersphere as others, such as Ben Milne of Dwolla Corp., Christian Renaud of Startup City Des Moines LLC and Nathan Wright of Lava Row Inc. are working to expand their respective businesses while partnering with like-minded entrepreneurs to explore new opportunities in Greater Des Moines’ tight-knit and collaborative online-offline environment.

Each day, more decision makers are looking to Twitter, Facebook and other social networking sites to make initial contacts in the business-to-business realms. They aren't going to your website to find the appropriate department. They aren't picking up the phone to call. They aren't even waiting until Monday.

When I listen to Twitter, I hear a constant stream of potential leads, local sources and timely information.

Twitter is talking. What do you hear?

- Todd Razor

Dwolla Allows Mobile Money Transfers Via Mobile & Social Media

Dwolla Dwolla is a combination of the words "Web" and "Dollar." Just go into an empty room and say it out loud three or four times. It rhymes with "holla." Now that you've got the pronunciation part down, let's explore this nifty little application.

If you own a retail business, you know how check fees and credit card fees can add up. If you pay your bills by check or shop with credit or debit cards, an increasing percentage of the cost of the merchandise are those fees being passed on to you in the form of higher prices.

According to Ben Milne, the founder of Dwolla, the idea of his company is to "create an ideal financial transaction," that's convenient, fast and cheap for consumers to use. That concept includes saving retailers money by reducing the cost of exchanging money. Here's how it works:

  1. The business or merchant sets up a Dwolla account so it is able to receive payments from people who use it. You can't receive Dwolla payments unless you have it set up in advance.
  2. The customer also must set up a Dwolla account to be able to transfer money from a bank account or credit union account to another Dwolla user.
  3. Once the accounts are in place, you can shop and pay online with Dwolla, use a free smartphone app (both the Droid platform and iPhone apps are available) to pay a retailer at the register in place of cash or plastic.
  4. Business-to-business transactions are also possible, as well as invoicing using Dwolla. I never even knew this option existed until a web developer I work with sent me an invoice using Dwolla.
  5. You can give people Dwolla dollars via social networks Facebook and Twitter as well. In fact, three separate individuals have given me a dollar each, which I have yet to retrieve.

The only fee per transaction is 25 cents, and it is paid by the receiver.

Milne thinks the time has come for an easily available and low-cost exchange system like Dwolla. The technology, ease of use and social media elements make Dwolla very attractive to young people, who are always connected via mobile phone. With a couple of keystrokes on a smartphone, the need to carry a wallet is gone. So far, Dwolla has thousands of registered users and has moved more than than $1 million in transactions.

Dwolla is a very popular with the social media glitteratzi, as well as technology angel investors and geek types in the mainstream media. Dwolla is just the latest reason the Silicon Prairie is growing into a real force.

On March 2, Dwolla gathered its friends and investors together at Cabaret West Glen to   introduce its newest feature, "Dwolla Spots." Spots will allow Dwolla users to find places that Ben and Shane accept Dwolla payments by seeing a map with retailer locations noted. Dwolla's founders think that users will appreciate users knowing ahead of time where they can use the cashless system. And Ben and his team make time to meet with their supporters and friends in person. Pictured here is Milne and Shane Neuerburg, also of Dwolla, sporting their cool new T-shirts.

Do you Dwolla? How long to you think it will take for this technology to go mainstream?

Do You Let Your Employees Eat Lunch Together?

Lunch break + CalligrapomorphicImage by moriza via Flickr

Sometimes, when company leaders contemplate implementing a new social media program, their biggest fear is not what customers will say, but what an "anonymous" employee might say.

They fear a disgruntled current or former employee might log on to their blog and give the company a black eye, or worse, expose a trade secret. Believe it or not, corporate attorneys put the kibosh on social networking because someone might say something bad.

That's so frustrating, and totally misguided. Here's why.

Leaders entrust their employees with the company's brand reputation every single day. They allow employees to log on to our secure servers, leave the company with briefcases full of sensitive documents, and stand at the copy machine, where they MIGHT be copying documents for their personal portfolio or running copies of their resume. Heck, they might even have lunch together! Out in the open! There's no way to know for sure what employees are doing.

Oh, wait. There is one way. Start a company-wide social media presence. The boss will be able to read everything everyone is saying.

There are two types of social media that companies can deploy. The first, and probably most important, is an internal social network, where employees can say whatever they want. The only caveat is that they have to create a profile and submit their remarks under their real name. One company in the metro area doing a great job with this is Aviva.

CEO Chris Littlefield has an internal blog, and the company has an extensive Intranet where employees from all over the globe can comment on corporate issues, or start their own groups to talk about whatever they want.

Even though the employees comment under their own name, it's surprising and fascinating to see them leave real opinions, for everyone to read. For employers, it's certainly an inexpensive way to gauge employee feedback, easily and quickly.

The second type of presence is public. This would include things like having a public-facing blog, Facebook page and Twitter feed. According to ComScore, 22 percent of Fortune 500 companies have a public-facing blog, and many more are planning to start one in the next year. I found this awesome guide to corporate blogging. It's free and yours for the taking!

There is a risk of getting negative comments on a public blog, but since you will have a real person monitoring your comments, that should not be a problem. By using comment moderation, you can assure that only on-topic comments get posted. Abusive or promotional stuff gets eliminated before its even posted and no one else besides the moderater get to see it. Constructive criticism is fair game, however. Any smart company should want to know what people are saying. Listening to your customers is the price of entry into the social space.

In reality, your employees will be motivated to help you spead the word about all the good things going on in your company. After all, it's public. Just like going to lunch and talking about the boss. Only the employees who want to keep their jobs are going to blab company secrets loud enough to be heard by the next booth.

But even if they did, you'd never know it. Would you?

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Blizzards + Social Media = Pizza

Gusto Gusto Pizza is the newest gastronomical marvel to spring upon the Des Moines restaurant scene. It's hip, it's cool and the menu is refreshingly different.

A few weeks ago, after the bad weather caused some Des Moines schools and businesses to completely shut down and send their employees home to safety, Gusto took the completely opposite tack. Gusto stayed open and turned up its social networks full blast. After all, people still get hungry for pizza during bad weather. Some people even seek out pizza during blizzards.

What makes Gusto so special? Why were they supremely positioned to open a new pizza place during the dead of winter, a time when most restaurants are experiencing very low customer traffic? What's in the secret sauce?

There's no doubt the "new place" syndrome is in play. People simply flock to a new place to try the food and be able to say "I've been there. Here's my opinion..." It's human nature. Even I did it. But they have a couple of unique ways of using social media that are worth observing and sharing.

  1. They know their specific audience. Gusto's audience is people who eat pizza. Specifically, it's young people who are very active in social media. Gusto caters to this audience, while still casting a wide net for whoever might be listening.
  2. They build excitement. The week before the business was opened, informational posts about the grand opening created a pent-up demand for the new products. The high-quality photos of their pizzas on their website helped, too!
  3. They share interesting information. How often do you get to see a brand new pizza oven being delivered? It was momentus to them, and they cared enough to share it with their friends. That's pretty cool.
  4. They create a social media "home base." Instead of random tweets and Facebook pages, they choose to have a website with a blog built in. Over time, this will build authority with search engines and send more people their way. But more importantly, it's a place to store their content. Think of it as a leather-bound scrapbook that will never get yellow around the edges. Gusto tweets
  5. They are "on" social media when their customers are "on." Instead of pre-programming tweets to come out automatically during the day, there is a live person tweeting and answering tweets during the dinner hour. This means Gusto will be able to answer questions, give directions and close sales that they might have otherwise missed.

These principles can be applied to any business trying to boost sales. Just remember, you can't phone this one in! There has to be a real person behind the wheel if you plan to win the race. Are you devoting enough face time to interacting with your customers in real time?

Follow through or I’ll spam you

(4/365) :: Golf ThursdaysImage by chispita_666 via Flickr

I'm not a great golfer. OK, let me rephrase that. I’m a terrible golfer.

But of the little I do know about the game, other than the fact that during the summer months more business deals may get done on the course than in the office, following through on your swing is pretty important.

And as our social networks grow, I’d like to suggest that following through is the most important thing one can do to stay ahead of the pack.

As media choices proliferate, messages are easily jumbled. E-mails are missed, voicemails are lost and feelings are hurt. And even when our message does get through, many times its significance is drowned out by a thousand other voices.

But in order to stay relevant in today’s digital world, we are expected to continually update our Facebook statuses, Twitter feeds and LinkedIn accounts, not to mention respond to e-mails and compose instant messages.

Then there’s that pesky telephone to consider.

I know it’s weird, but some folks actually still use the gadget, which was invented in 1876, the same year that the National League was founded in Chicago. (That one is to show all you sports fans that I’m cool and to illustrate that Wikipedia is the neatest thing since sardines were first canned that same year).

But I digress.

One popular twitterer, who has posted nearly 23,000 updates since October 2008, recently posted her take on all the various forms of electronic communication. She wrote: “Too many ways to be connected – text, IMs, emails, tweets, blah, blah. Yes, I get them confused sometimes. Deal with it ;).”

Nice.

So I guess until those geniuses over at BitMethod figure out a way for us to communicate telepathically, cutting out the need to develop technical skills or to meet people in person – wow, think of all the time I could spend watching “Mad Men” – I guess we’ll continue to spend our weekends memorizing passwords.

Heck, by the time I finish writing this post, some prodigy living in his mom’s basement will probably launch a new online social networking tool like Foursquare and I won’t have time to go outdoors anyway.

Ten years ago, a good rule of thumb was to give people three days to respond to an e-mail or telephone call before getting too worried. Today, if I don’t hear back from a friend, source or a professional contact within 24 hours, he or she had better be on vacation or in the hospital.

Then again, I’m coming from the perspective of a working journalist who this morning wrote a 1000-word article on deadline. And that was before breakfast.

So when I can’t get a local media “professional” to respond to an e-mail I sent on June 10 and a voicemail I left on July 21, I get cranky. It’s especially frustrating when I can see that he’s been active on Twitter.

Translation: My press credential says I’m entitled to immediate gratification and instant, unadulterated access to your company’s CEO. So deal with it.

Again, I digress.

Do I always manage to follow through? Nope. Do things sometimes fall through the cracks? Absolutely. Am I super busy? You bet. Is that a good excuse? Not really. Does blowing people off damage my reputation and credibility?

You had better believe it.

In the time it takes me to golf nine holes, a slightly above average athlete could probably run a marathon and still have time to eat breakfast. 

But I do know a thing or two about social networking.

If you want to build your brand, grow your business or advance your career, the best things you can do are play smart, play often, and play fair.

Did I get your attention? I hope so. Did you laugh? You’d better have or I’ll forward your home e-mail address to my friends in the pharmaceutical industry. You know. The ones who deliver those overnight e-mails so you won’t be disappointed when you wake up in the morning.

They will almost certainly follow through.

- Todd Razor

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How discerning are we?

Transparent Screen LaptopImage by FHKE via Flickr

Social networking has evolved far beyond the "let's do lunch" mentality of yesteryear as an ever-increasing number of individuals, businesses and organizations utilize inexpensive electronic publishing tools to reach new audiences.

But as the digital age leaps ahead, what questions are we asking ourselves to ensure that the norms traditionally associated with social interaction in the atom-based world are being carried over to the Internet?

I publish every day.

Whether in print or online via applications such as websites, electronic newsletters, Twitter and Facebook, producing and publishing content is not only a vital function of my job. It is a meaningful part of my life.

In recent months, while pausing from updating my blog on this site, I’ve had some interesting discussions on the ethics and etiquette of online publishing.

Here are a few questions I’ve been considering:

  • Has the blogosphere helped blur the lines between the hard-news articles, opinion pieces and paid advertising traditionally separated by credible media outlets?
  • How many companies shoot themselves in the proverbial foot with ceaseless self-promotion and clandestine sales tactics?
  • Do some people use their online prowess to bully, manipulate or silence those with differing opinions?
  • Does our ability to communicate electronically have any negative impact on real-world relationships?
  • Should our true personalities shine through online or should our avatars take on a life of their own?
  • How discerning are we, really?
On July 4, the Social Media Club, an international organization focused advancing social media literacy, celebrated “Freedom From Social Media Douchebaggery Day,” an event aimed at quelling self-promotional content.

I typically like to end my posts by asking HOW you are using social networking to build your brands, grow your businesses or advance your careers.

My penchant for consuming and sharing information goes far beyond my professional-development goals and regularly leads to fulfilling conversations that act as catalysts for personal growth.

Today, I’m asking WHY you use social networking to achieve your goals.

Regardless of the platforms we use to communicate – whether engaging with our peers and professional contacts at the lunch counter or on LinkedIn – we would do well to remember that it is our credibility – online and offline – that allows us to be taken seriously as we push out rich content to hungry audiences.

- Todd Razor
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Networking: It's a natural

City of Des MoinesImage via Wikipedia

The first few times I heard or read the word “networking” it sounded so stuffy, so forced. I pictured myself standing in a semi-crowded room, business card in hand, suit pressed, elevator speech primed.

No thanks, right? Sure, events like these have their purpose (picture a job fair), and real connections do happen, but social networking isn’t about a bunch of suits meeting at a given time, at a given venue, on a given day.

It’s organic. It’s natural.

Whether at work, school, church, a restaurant, tavern, coffee shop or grocery store, it’s about building relationships, day-to-day, in the course of your customary comings and goings.

It’s relating to people, not solely because he or she can help you grow your career or business, but because you are genuinely interested in building each other up…while identifying those in your circles or circles of influence that you want to impact and vice versa.

I’ve identified a number of guys and gals in Greater Des Moines that fit the bill. They're fresh. They're diverse. They're young and old. They're businesspeople and young professionals. They’re movers and shakers, entrepreneurs, go getters.

They conduct business with integrity. They care.

Are they interested in growing their businesses, their careers? Sure. Who isn’t? But one thing they really have in common is a genuine desire to share in the lives and passions of other people.

I know more than a few of these folks plan to attend the next BYOB Gathering hosted by Jeff Garrison of JCG Consulting and the crew at McLellan Marketing Group. There will be no program, no agenda, no speakers…just a bunch of really neat people chatting over a few cold beverages.

So if you’re ready for some serious grassroots networking, get May 28 marked off on your calendars now and show up from 5 to 7 p.m. at McLellan Marketing Group, 1430 Locust St., Des Moines. And don’t forget to bring a few bottles of your favorite beverage. Coolers will be provided.

Like the invitation says, “If you’re doing business in Central Iowa, you’re going to want to be there.”

- Todd Razor

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