Tag Archives: community

Social Media Success for Small Business

This is a presentation about social media success for small business.  It focuses on three areas (1) brand (2) community, and (3) passion. Focusing on the video Social Media in Plain English by Common Craft, we take the ice cream analogy to the next level and look at the behaviors that work for jumping into the social media game.

The slides are very visual and work best when used with the notes page or my live presentation.  I’m hoping to get audio, at least, up for these in a week or two.   Thanks to everyone who showed up to the presentation today at Nefesh B’Nefesh, and I am so impressed by all of you.  Remember, it is easy to get into social media.  Anyone can do it.  You just need to find your passion, bring that to your business, and get cranking.  Feel free to reach out if you need me.

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Building An Employee Community

Employee communities, internal social media platforms built for employee engagement by the employer, can be a wild success and source of innovation or an incredible flop. I have seen examples of both first hand. So how do you make your employee community an engaging place that workers will care about?

There are three primary tactics for building a powerful employee community:

1. Usefulness and relevance to day to day work, and a genuine value placed on engagement by senior leadership

2. Incentives

3. Passion for community and real opportunities to make a difference through it

Usefulness, Relevance, and Value

Leaders must make participation in the community useful to achieve the day-to-day work of the employee.  This may mean diverting conversations away from email and onto message boards.  Really progressive companies may want to get rid of email ENTIRELY and use only their internal social networking platform for messaging.  To do this of course, your system would need to have the functionality to tag, sort, and archive in-mail messages, but the key to abandoning email for community discussion platforms is changing the behavior of employees to have primary discussions on public or private threads rather than on fragmented email chains.

Expectations in business today are not always reasonable.  We’ve all heard that “build it and they will come” doesn’t apply to online communities.  Fostering true engagement and participation means making what goes on in the community relevant.  To be relevant, the conversations, content, and other activity within the community need to translate to real-world objectives, action, and results.  Any community platform you build for your workers is a tool – just like putting in a phone system didn’t start making employees innovate, putting in a community with fancy tools is just the first step; it will not cure your innovation problem.  What a community platform can do, however, is level the playing field for ideas to be heard.  That is what we mean by relevance.

Beyond the day-to-day behaviors moving to new tools, is the work product on your system valued?  When people put out ideas on the community who champions them?  Do you have a way of measuring the best contributions (not just the most)?  All these questions hint at the value placed on what goes up in the community and the value extracted from it.  Again, these are just tools.  Let me say that one more time: these are just tools.  They have the potential to change the way we work and add incredible value, but only if we first see how our old tools can be replaced.

Incentives

Money is one of the last on this list.  The most powerful incentive is when someone believes what they are doing is important.  Without this our efforts in a community or the very work we do just seems aimless.  How can you make what is going on in your community important?  This is the million dollar question, but a good place to start, what is important about the work you are doing now?  What are the goals of your company?  How you better reach them by using your community to communicate the mission, objectives, steps, and progress?  These questions all go to making the work you do on your community focused and important.

Beyond this, the community is a place where senior leaders can become real to employees, much the way celebrities have used social media to interact with fans.  Try having an executive write a regular blog where he solicits feedback and responds to comments received.  Another tactic is to create an innovation lab forum, where employees are invited to submit ideas for new directions the company can take the business in.  The highest rated ideas can be green lighted and those individuals or teams chosen to work directly with top level people to make them happen.  These are just some examples of non-tangible incentives that resonate with employees.  Give them a stage.

Passion and Making a Difference

Find your cheerleaders early.  Even better if they are people others in the company already respect.  Create a team of superusers, not just in name.  Make it part of their work to meet regularly, grow the group, and lay out a clear path for others to join their ranks (this is not so much an exclusive club as it is a milestone).  These users are the ones along with senior leadership who should be listening and fostering engagement in the community.  Hiring a dedicated community manager is also a good idea.

Passion that doesn’t translate to change is just enthusiasm.  An organization needs to commit to the new course that the group conscience of the company begins to plot.  Your community is worthless if it can’t change things in your company.  If you are “the decider” ask yourself: am I just going to do what I want anyway?  If so, your community exists to give the illusion of progress.  And what a shame, because it will be a missed opportunity to take your business to the next level that you know it needs to hit.

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Aardvark – Social Media Q&A (this ain’t your sister’s Magic 8-Ball)

Remember the ’80’s?  Of course you do: big hair, the start of MTV, Coke v. Pepsi, Back to the Future, and glam rock (even if you didn’t live through these wonderful times you can “relive” them with I Love the ’80’s).  One of the things I fondly remember was my sister’s Magic 8-ball, a little toy invented by the son of a clairvoyant in 1946, which made a big retro-come back in the ’80’s.  This was a plastic 8-ball filled with water with a little window at the top.  You would ask the 8-Ball a question, shake it up, and then see which sagely phrase came through on a blue icosahedral die (20-sides) inside.  It had phrases like, “As I see it, yes,” “Better not tell you now,”and “Outlook not so good.”  We made lots of decisions as kids based on what the 8-Ball said.

In today’s world, 20-vague answers just won’t do.  The social media and information overload of 2010 requires millions of answers to satisfy our hive mind.  My newest mobile obsession is a little social Q&A network called Aardvark.  It works like this:

  1. Create an Aardvark Account
  2. Ask questions about anything
  3. Answer questions that the system sends you based on your profile data

It’s that simple.  You can get into the business of “friending” people, but even as a lone-wolf on the network you can receive answer requests and ask anything (I only have one friend on there so far – hi Wade – but would love more: go join!).  Also, registration links Aardvark to your Facebook profile, so details can be filled in from your existing profile of what you may want to answer.  You can add other tags as well so that the system will send you additional topics  as well.
This is a far cry from shaking the 8-ball.  It gets addicting answering questions – you become an expert in everything!  Just to give you some examples of interesting questions I have answered in the past week (click the links to see my answers):

  • Hobby – “I’ve been bored lately.  Does anyone have some good hobby ideas to start up?”
  • Witness – “How do you cope with things as you witness your parent getting older and time getting shorter over the years..?”
  • DJ Qilk and Gift of Gab – “I am trying to contact the artists DJ Quik and Gift Of Gab to request to use a song for background music for a couple of storyboards. This is nothing that I won’t be selling just storyboards. I can’t seem to find an email address any where. Can anyone advise?”

As you can see from the list above, Aardvark keeps your history of questions asked and answered along with links.  It also gives you the option of posting the thread to Twitter, Facebook, or keeping it private.  Still not satisfied?  There is an Aardvark mobile app for iPhone that lets you ask and answer on the go.  You can also receive text messages or emails when activity happens in your Aardvark profile.

And now for my constructive feedback:

  • Sometimes Aardvark tells you it is sleeping (huh?) and doesn’t send out your questions or let you answer.  I am not sure if this means a human being has to push all those messages through?  Their FAQ says that sometimes the system is unavailable b/c the team is making upgrades, but in the 1-week of my being a Varker it has been down quite a bit.
  • The mobile app can be a bit … here it comes (the corporate speak) “kludgy” – sometimes repeatedly asking for my login credentials and then not working.
  • Profile – while I love the simplicity it is a bit oversimplified.  I’d like to be able to have some other data populate in the main profile field as well (like links to this blog!).

Overall, I think Aardvark brings something novel to the SM scene.  More than just another network it creates a personal knowledge base and facilitates meeting new people.  Yes – Linkedin has a Q&A function, but there is just something so streamlined about Aardvark’s approach that makes me want to engage.  Should this community hit a critical mass and do a good job at being a ready-made API for other community sites (something it seems to be doing well) then it can really be something else.  Will it tell you your future like a Magic 8-ball?  I don’t know: why don’t you try asking it?

What are your thoughts about Social Media Q&A?  Is it useful?  Are you an asker or an answerer?

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A Social Media Family Reunion

A funny thing happened on the way to the webinar (the one I moderated for Matindale Hubbell Connected last week; my first time doing that by the way). We scheduled a webinar as part of our “Social Media Solutions” theme about creating social media policies. VP of Legal from Chiney Capital, James Wong, was our first scheduled speaker. I spent the weeks before the webinar emailing with James and on the phone, while looking for two other panelists to accompany him. We got Melanie Green, CMO from Baker Daniels (a large law firm in Indianapolis). She brought a working knowledge of Twitter and how she had gone from social media skeptic to promoter after seeing how well the tool worked for her firm. To round out the panel we wanted a non-lawyer perspective. My colleague Alin Wagner-Lahmy enthusiastically suggested a new Connected member named Howard Greenstein, who was a recognized expert in social media.

With our panel firmly in place we turned towards having a group call with everybody the week before the webinar to coordinate roles and subject matter. The call went well. Everyone seemed to hit it off, and at the end of the call agreed that our presentation would be fine if we just did what we did on the call.

I thought nothing more about our presenters outside of the bounds of what we neededto do for the webinar. On Monday (or maybe it was Tuesday), Howard Greenstein called me to talk about the slides he had forwarded me for the presentation I was putting together. The idea was we’d put the power point and playback of the webinar in the Connected community for those who couldn’t make the Thursday event. About five minutes into the call, Howard says, “I’ve got to ask you something, unrelated to this.”

“Okay,” I said wondering what it could be.

“Do you have an Uncle Arthur,” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said (one of those longer yeahs that is almost a question itself: why do you ask).

“And cousins,” he said, “Ally and Rebecca?” I told him I did. “And your father’s name is Marc?”  What did this guy do a people search on me?

“Yeah,” I said, “why do you ask?”

“I’m your cousin,” he said, “your cousin Howard Greenstein. I thought your name sounded familiar when we first connected, but I didn’t put it together until this weekend.”

Wow: Howard Greenstein, social media guru was my cousin through marriage. I had known him practically whole life, but hadn’t seen him since my grandmother’s funeral twelve years ago.  And here we were, working on a webinar panel together, and it took a few exchanges to realize who we were to each other.  Such is the power of this thing we call “social media,” (by the way, I am getting sick of that term – we need to find a better thing to call this).  In any case, the webinar went well, I rediscovered a family tie that is closer now because of common interests, and proved that the web really has the power to do more than just collect chatter.

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Connected: using social media tools to recast yourself

mintz familyIt has been over 14-days since I last posted, a violation of the blogger’s code (never go more than 10-days without a post).  No, I am not turning in my blogger card just yet.  In fact, there have been some significant changes in my life over the last few weeks, some of which can be attributed directly to this blog.  Let me go back to the beginning.

My family and I have dreamed of making aliyah (moving to Israel and assuming dual citizenship) for some time now.  It has been put off for this reason or that, but this was the year we decided that we were going to do it.  Our son had just been born in January and our daughter was rapidly approaching the two-year mark.  They say that when you have kids a move like this is easier when they are still young, and so we thought now made the most sense.  We began the process and things started to take shape.

We would leave in August.  I took a trip at the end of 2008 to check things out and narrow down neighborhoods, which we did.  There was one variable that still remained, a job, but I was hopeful that I could remain with my company, which was a multi-national tech giant.  Based on everyones’ advice, I held off on saying anything to them.  It was my plan to wait until June 2009, present my boss with a business proposal for how everything could work, and hope for the best.  Life has a funny way of surprising us, as I found out that G-d had better plans for me.

My company had launched Martindale Hubbell Connected (limited Beta version)  in 2008; I only found out about it late in the year, but became very interested in this global network for legal professionals.  It was basically “Linkedin for lawyers,” and I immediately saw a use-case for this network to enhance many of the things I was working on in academic content development.  Disucssions begain with MHC developers and product planners to realize the potential of this network for law students.  We built a lot of sample content and wrote a lot of proposals, which (along with this technology blog) started to turn heads and recast me as a technology insider. 

Fast forward to a few weeks ago: I called a friend in MH to talk about functionality for one of my projects.  We really wanted to have some good stuff  ready for when MH actively promoted the network to law students at end of the summer (it opened up to non-lawyers, including law students last week). 

“The community manager position recently opened up,” my friend told me.

“Interesting,” I said.

She thought for a moment and then said, “you know … you’d be perfect for it.”  I told her that the position sounded great, and if I saw it posted I would definitely check it out.  In my head, though, I knew about my plan to tell my boss about Israel in a few weeks.  The plan was important, and I didn’t know if I wanted to risk going for something new.

A few days later, she called me.  “Can you come to NY next week?  Some people want to meet you.”  Basically, she had told some of the higher ups about me, and they were excited about the prospect of an attorney, who loves technology, and who already worked for the company filling the position.  At this point, I knew I had to bring my boss into the mix and tell him what was going on with this potential opportunity.

“It sounds right up your alley,” he said.  “Meet with them, find out more information, and see if it’s for you.”  It was advice like this that made him one of the best bosses I had ever had.  I went to the informal interview that same week and after speaking to a VP and a head of marketing, I really started to get excited about the possibilities here.  They seemed mutually intersted, but I made sure to mention that I wanted to be officially “home-based” b/c we had dreams of moving to Israel “one day.”  This fact did not seem to trouble them as the position was “home based” and it didn’t really matter where that home was as long as I could perform the job.

They called me in for a series of three, back-to-back interviews with other stakeholders, and within the hour the VP came back to me and made an offer.  I only had one more hurdle to clear and that was clarifying what I had meant by “one-day” moving to Israel.  I told her that we were planning for that day to be in August of this year.  She did a bit of a double take, but then said (much to my relief), “it doesn’t change my mind.  You are perfect for the role, and we are willing to work with you.” 

 This was like a dream come true.  The job promised to be everything I had wanted out of my professional life right now:  working in the professional networking and media space, staying on top of technology trends, engaging with members, building out content, and constantly working to develop the site.  I accepted the job, and called my old boss to tell him the news.

“Congratulations,” he said.

“There’s something else I need to tell you though,” I said.  “I was waiting until June to discuss this with you, but with the news of this new position breaking soon, you are probably going to hear it anyway.”  He listened as I told him that me and the family were making aliyah.

“Mazel tov!” he said.  “That’s wonderful! … and they are okay with you working from Israel?”  I told him that they were.  “That’s really amazing, Mike,” he said, “because I am not sure that arrangement would have been okay in our part of the organization.”  I thanked my old boss and told him how grateful I was for this opportunity and for all of the work we had done together.  That is when I had the stunning realization: my plan, the one I had been depending on for these last 8-months, would not have worked; G-d’s plan was much different, much better, and had materialized without much effort on my part.

I guess that is the point of this post (besides being an apology to my four or so readers that I have not posted in a while): regardless of what you believe, it is axiomatic that despite our best plans things sometimes have a funny way of working out differently than we expected.  The telling point is whether I can accept change and be grateful for whatever comes.  Of course this is a much easier proposition when it is something like the above situation, which worked out better than I had planned in the first place.  Still, this is what I am taking away from the experience and hope to have lots to write about in the days, weeks, years to come.  Welcome to the new chapter of my life.

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Making Money in Social Media?

I used to belong to a great little community called PGL (pregame lobby).  As a discussion site for gamers, PGL does a good job of providing a place to find a Halo pick up game, drool over the latest XBox 360 release, and meet like-minded adults who love interactive entertainment.  Site users can advance to different levels on their profile depending on how many posts they have written, (ex/ in the lobby, on the couch, in the VIP lounge, etc.).  Started by my co-worker and some of his friends, PGL grew to over 400 members before needing a new server to handle the traffic.

The site had a stickiness to it that made it fun to connect.  But one thing that I am not sure PGL ever did was make money.  They had ad space, but I am not sure if it paid space or just populated by friends.  People would plug their online business or sell swag with the PGL logo, but as an enterprise it never reached the epic proportions that social media has the potential of reaching.

An article on Content Nation asks this very question: “where is the money in social media?”  It says that a site like Facebook, which pulls in $450 million per year is small potatoes compared Yahoo’s $7 billion per year.   Despite the seeming disparity, author John Blossom says that there is money in social media, which can be found in “building relationships that develop social transactions which in turn build into largely pre-sold transactions for goods and services.”

The monetization focus in social media has focused on advertising, which Blossom says has it’s place when endorsements are built based on real relationships,  but he says “the essence of advertising is self-promotion in contexts that the advertiser doesn’t own.”  Namely, the advertiser must give up control and let the community grow.  Nothing strangles organic growth better than being smothered (see failed relationships…).  Blossom gives the example of a good, organic consumer relationship by citing story of the Grateful Dead.  The Dead encouraged their fans to tape their concerts and share them with each other (in direct violation of copyright) so that a community could (pardon the pun) blossom around the music.

It worked for The Dead and it could work for content providers, if they trust their consumers enough to let the magic happen.  A last quotation from Blossom, “Where is the money on social media? It’s right at the tips of our fingers as each and every one of us becomes empowered to market ourselves and to build our personal brands.”

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