14 Social Recommendations for Travel Destinations

BloomThink Can Help travel destinations must do better with social media
Creative Commons: Attribution by Flickr user apparena

Travel website Tnooz and the European Travel Commission recently ran an article with a laundry list of social media recommendations for travel destinations.  They scored the top travel locations and found that, in aggregate, they stink at social media.  This is surprising since most people love to holiday in exotic and exciting locations, have a good time when they’re there, and like to tell others how great their vacation was.  The list is a good start, but provides nothing in the way of how to do it.  So BloomThink has picked up the ball and has the recommendations AND some ideas of how travel destinations, boards of tourism, chambers of commerce and attractions can get started today.

There are some examples of companies doing it right.  Carnival Cruises is one example.  They are very engaged with their customers (and wanna-be-customers).  BloomThink has outlined what they have done right in our report “Wish You Were Here: Social Consumer Engagement in the Cruise Industry” (Free PDF Download)

Recommendation:

1) Concentrate on the inspire-before-during-after phases of travel for consumers

People love to share their positive experiences.  We love to share photos of ourselves in amazing locations.  These inspire and recommend locations to others in our social networks.  So if all that content is out there and already being created, tap into it!  If travelers are already posting photos at your locations, help them connect that content to your social presence while they’re there!  We are people who are willing to take an action if it is immediate and convenient.  So  Invite them to upload their photos on your Pinterest board while they’re at the beach.   Tell them the Twitter hash tag to use and invite them to post or tag you on Facebook while at your hotel or restaurant or city!  This focus on the easy transaction during travel builds up content that will inspire others before they travel.  Additional capabilities like searching for and repinning/reposting/retweeting photos and videos of others at your location help to amplify the experiences of your customers.  For some additional investment, create time bound microsites where visitors (especially leisure travelers) can view professional photos your staff takes of them.  This brings them back to your social “properties” and adds another opportunity for engagement and maybe purchase.

2) Create more interactivity

Interactivity is vital.  Each opportunity to interact is also an opportunity to transact.  Invite people at your location to comment, rate, upload funny photos of themselves, vote on the photos of others.  Gamify experiences at locations by providing items like badges or coupons or collectibles at each room or area on a property.  Don’t tie everything to a purchase.  Deliver some value and fun just for being there.

3) Include trip planners and itineraries and make them more visible for users

If you want people to explore everything your destination has to offer, create a trip planner for your travelers.  You know your location the best so you know what kinds of food, drinks, entertainment and conveniences go together.  Invite people to explore and participate by creating lists of items that go together.  These can be as simple as downloadable PDFs or as sophisticated as apps.  But definitely keep it mobile.  People will keep their phones and tablets with them, not their laptops. Plus it creates more opportunity for interactivity and that all-important engagement during their stay with you.

4) Support SMEs and “manage by jealousy” by encouraging the best to do better.

Do you have “regulars”?  Promote them.  Ask them to create some of those trip planner lists.  Get their testimonials and views.  If they’re regular, they like your location, brand and experience.  Help them spread their own word.  New customers and travelers are more likely to believe and trust them than you.

5) Create clusters of innovative users and support them

Similar to number 4 above, tap into groups of super users for insight and advocacy.  Host a “regulars only” event.  Give them specials and thank-yous over and above loyalty points or a free drink.  Make their experience remarkable and they will remark about it.  But don’t pander.  If users feel you are pandering to them their good will can quickly change into displeasure in a group setting.  People don’t like being manipulated.  They like feeling important and having their needs and desires met.  So do it.  Create a custom Twitter hashtag for groups at your location.  Encourage them to tweet about it with their own hash tag.  Then aggregate the tweets for them on a custom micro-site.  You deliver a special value to them for almost no cost.  They get a memorable experience that is tied to you.  Does your destination have a special family section or event?  Make sure families know about it and then ensure that their entire experience is tailored to that need.  Remember, businesses look at line items.  Groups look at the whole experience.  Adjust your perspective accordingly.

6) Produce themed microsites and use social media to address niche markets

We’ve already talked about social media.  Microsites are one page sites that are about one topic.  There are a ton of free micro site creation utilities available.  It’s also not difficult to create and host one yourself.  From about.me and check this to tumblr to wordpress and blogger there are many ways to quickly and easily set up one-topic sites that are easy-up, easy-down.  Just like a restaurant has a “specials” menu to showcase seasonal, special occasion or promoted items, your destination’s social and web presence can do the same.

7) Implement news feed of social media channels

The importance of social “listening” is huge.  Social listening is the intentional paying attention to the constant stream of updates, status reports, images and feedback that is happening all around you.  Key listening techniques include looking for your brand name, hash tags (even the <your name>FAIL tag!) and location.  But it also means listening to items related to your destination.  Cruise companies need to be looking not just for their brand name but also for people talking about sailing, cruising or even vacation.  Got a club in downtown?  Look for people tweeting about going out tonight in your town area.  Tweet them back with an incentive to come to your club.   When people do talk about your location, make sure that you amplify their message.  If it is positive, include it in an automatic feed on your website, or on a big screen at your location.  If it’s negative, respond with a “we’re on it!” style message and then make sure you get on it!  There are a ton of free and pay tools that can help automate this process.  But remember that automation alone is not the answer.

8) Integrate strategic marketing/online marketing/social media/PR

Too many organizations think that social marketing and traditional marketing are separate entities.  Not only must social practice be coordinated with traditional MarCom but when done intentionally, they can mutually reinforce each other.  Nothing is worse than a social marketing group completely missing the boat when it comes to traditional marketing.  From disasters like the Quantas PR Twitter nightmare not too long ago to the tragic social media missteps during the Aurora shootings, your destination cannot afford to mess this up.

9) Utilize user generated content as a major strategy to inspire prospective travelers

We’ve already mentioned how to make it easier for current travelers to share their experiences of your destination via images, instagram, videos, ratings and reviews.  But the reason this is so important doesn’t stop at creating a memorable experience for your traveler.  Prospective travelers are researching your destination (and competitive ones like it).  Study after study shows that people trust the comments and ratings and images of other customers much more than they trust the word of your brand.  They even trust the word of a stranger over your word.  This is because of the perception that, no matter what, you’re going to spin and airbrush everything to your favor.  Other consumers, they reason, would be a bit more honest if something isn’t quite up to par.  So when you enable and empower current users to tweet, like, check in, explore, collect and share you are providing more and more credible evidence of your desirability.

10) Take advantage of geo-tagging and prepare for location based services

Honestly, it’s to late to “prepare for location based services.”  They’re here.  Nearly all cell phone cameras (and certainly all higher end digital cameras) embed geo tagging information into photos.  The ubiquity of cell phone navigation means that whether through GPS or tower triangulation, consumers can tell where they are and where they want to go and how to get there  at any given moment.  If your destination is not listed, then your customers are missing out on your location.  If there is one area for investment it is interpretation and understanding of location based content.  It can be as simple as “where is the nearest bathroom” in your giant arena or “how to get back to the exact place on the beach in Cancun where you first proposed”.  At least start by listing your destination  – at an appropriate level of detail – in popular services like Google, Foursquare and Yelp.

11) Develop video and multimedia content and drive websites with visually attractive multimedia

Multimedia is where the interaction is at.  Right now pictures are prime.  According to Factbrowser, “people are most likely to engage with branded content on social media that contains pictures (44%), status updates (40%) and videos (37%) source”  The hyper ubiquity of cell phone cameras means not only does everyone have a digital camera / video recorder, but also they probably have one with them right now.  The popularity of YouTube (nearly 20% of allhttp traffic) means that we simply love to look.  We love pictures and videos that show WINs as much as FAILs.  The extreme popularity of Pinterest demonstrates the power of the picture.  So spend some of that marketing budget on some professionally produced but whimsical photo and video collateral.  Many good pros charge about $1000 per finished minute of video.  Think of that as 2 high quality video spots.  Then amplify this rich content through social and traditional channels.  Listen to the social feedback.  Ask people what they think.  Track their feelings then use that as input for your next rich media spend.

12) Integrate virtual reality applications, 360-degree tours or webcams to increase transparency of tourism product

This is a corollary of number 11 above.  While VR applications are in their infancy, you can go a long way to answer the “What Would It Be Like If I Was There” question with applications like these.  360 degree tours are important because they are more honest than a one shot picture.  They show all the corners rather than only the best angle.  Augment traditional marketing collateral with QR codes.  These codes are scanned by mobile devices and augment the current experience.  They show the beach at sunset, or during a party.  They bring up a picture of the item on the menu with wine pairing ideas as well.  In all, these kinds of applications will take a little more time and money to develop but not much.  But they will deliver a much deeper and richer experience for your current and prospective customers.

13) Improve current technologies and applications constantly to maintain standard

Technology is always changing and developing.  It is true that in order to achieve an ROI on one technology investment, you must stick with that platform for  a little while.  But also realize that the market and the consumer doesn’t care about your ROI.  They don’t care at all. So if you have 1 year left on your Garmin platform before it pays for itself, but you’re losing audience and market share because they’ve all moved to iPhones and Android phones with their free mapping.  It simply doesn’t matter.  You must be where your audience is.  Don’t let IT forget that all important point.  Make the best out of what you have but do not try and force your audience into an old or clunky interaction simply because you’re too tight.  It will be much harder to rebuild your audience after they’ve left you than it is to maintain and grow your audience because you’re meeting their expectations.

14) Develop consumers as advocates/ambassadors of a destination brand

Remember that customers and travelers are all interested in positive experiences.  When an experience is positive they like to share it.  But make it easy to share.  Sure, we’ll all share our experiences with our immediate family and maybe friends.  But if you want them to really get out there and share it, do some of the work for them!  Make it click button easy.  To this extent, a must have book is The Conversation Company by Steven Van Belleghem.  I’m still reviewing it but so far it is the best, most practical guide to building advocates and ambassadors of a brand that I have ever read.

So there you have it.  14 social recommendations with practical how-to steps to achieve them.  Engage BloomThink in the form here for help creating this strategy for YOUR business.


Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

How To Build A Killer Community – The Experts’ Roundtable

There are many kinds of customer communities, from fans on Facebook, to private communities that congregate on company forums.  But what makes people join up?  What keeps them coming back?  How can you start getting your customer community engaged?

We asked five highly credentialed experts about this.  They have practical advice and some profound insights on what makes amazing customer communities.  Peggy brings a brass-tacks practicality to her vision.  Cheryl has real-world examples backing up everything she says.  John brings a strategic approach to the conversation.  Tom is the most philosophical about the whole topic and has profound insight.  Justin brings a wealth of experience to bear and delivers solid advice.

Customer communities don’t just happen. What are the essential ingredients for the growth, then care and feeding of customer communities? 

All of the experts agree is that having practical, immediately useful content like How-To and answers to common but challenging questions of the community.  They also point out that what matters means what matters to the audience, not the company that hosts and manages the community. The goal is creating and delivering value to the audience.  The idea is that the audience goes to where their needs are met.  If you provide more value, they stick around to participate with each other and with you.

 Peggy Winton of AIIM Weighs in with BloomThink on how to build a killer communityPeggy Winton, CMO AIIM International: To attract community members, the community must offer value; valuable education and valuable peer engagement. The more prescriptive the content the better. Folks are looking for assistance in doing their jobs/completing projects that used to be done by someone else. To the extent that the community content and peer contributions can help them get their faster, that’s a winning ingredient. As much as we’d like to think that communities can self-manage, there has to be an owner responsible for maintaining the integrity of the community with a regular and committed cadre of contributors. At AIIM, we call those people “Ambassadors”. 

Cheryl Lesser of the Intranet Benchmark Forum Weighs in with BloomThink on how to build a killer communityCheryl Lesser, Intranet Consultant working with the Intranet Benchmarking Forum: Before a community session we make an effort to ensure the right participants are in attendance. We choose a hot topic (one that’s getting a lot of play in our forums and such). Then we invite at least one “expert” and one “learner.” This is key for setting the stage for a good back-and-forth. We ask the learners to send in their questions ahead of time to make sure the expert is prepared. Also we put the questions on a slide — having them as a visual often prompts the other participants to ask questions of their own.

John Brunswick of Oracle Weighs in with BloomThink on how to build a killer communityJohn Brunswick, Enterprise Collaboration Architect working with Oracle: The foundation of the community must be anchored around a strict focus on the needs of the community users, not the organization hosting the community.  This focus guides the creation of the community in a way that fosters the relationship between the community participants and organization – delivering real value to the members.  In order to maintain and build the relationship, open communication is essential as the community grows and evolves, elevating the significance of transparency, sincerity and responsiveness.  As communication has advanced, it is important to also understand that the engagement of members may now also take place outside of the actual community, through various social networks.  The investment of quality community management effort is not trivial, but the benefits of the bonds created within the community can create a wealth of value for the organization and participants.

Tom Motzel of Tesserae  Weighs in with BloomThink on how to build a killer communityTom Motzel, Owner Tesserae Talent Strategies: Authenticity, Interaction, Contribution and Fun. Let me explain.  First, authenticity – To build a community, you must be as passionate about the ’cause’ as those you hope to attract.  It’s important that your ‘community curator’ has passion before social media expertise.  Second, interaction – Individuals join communities to interact with real people who share their passion. Third, contribution – Members want to learn from and contribute to others.  If a community does not make YOU feel like an important member, you won’t stick around. Finally, fun – Engaging with online communities needs to feel more like going out with college friends than going to a meeting with colleagues.

Justin Schuster of Lithium Tech Weighs in with BloomThink on how to build a killer communityJustin Schuster, VP Product Marketing at Lithium Technology: There’s no one silver bullet for driving community growth. Healthy communities require a combination of traditional push marketing tactics as well as pull marketing strategies like search engine optimization and gamification. Leading brands are starting to embed links to community content in replies to posts on Twitter, Facebook, a Google+, which helps to scale direct response programs and increase community vibrancy. 

           

What are the major differences, challenges or opportunities between B2B customer communities and B2C customer communities?

Our experts found products and novelty matter most for B2C communities whereas practices and effectiveness predominate in B2B communities.  They agreed that the airing of dirty laundry is a risk and that gaffes become much more public.  But they agreed that these can also help with goals of transparency and authenticity, when authentically handled.

Peggy Winton of AIIM Weighs in with BloomThink on how to build a killer communityPeggy: Most B2C communities are focused around products; the conversations are mainly customer reviews or tips on better utilization. Given the growing power of the consumer, these communities have challenges in that they can become major “gripe sessions”. It is critical to appoint a CLO (Chief Listening Officer) who can provide non-defensive responses to complaints. In the B2B world, the content tends to be more about concepts and practices. The challenge there is that it’s not often sexy. As stated above, the key is to provide very practical and relevant information according to members’ roles and responsibilities.

John Brunswick agrees.  He writes:

John Brunswick of Oracle Weighs in with BloomThink on how to build a killer communityJohn: From a B2B standpoint, the design of a community experience may be less ambiguous than in the B2C space.  As a broad generalization, most B2B communities are established to allow people to resolve issues or engage in a process.  Their effectiveness could be measured on the basis of these factors.  B2C experiences are generally much richer around general exploration within the community and user generated content creation.  This is because members are engaging at will, versus participating in order to arrive at a specific outcome.  As most B2C communities are largely inclusive, they also may have to contend with very public customer service issues.  This poses a challenge to management of the community, but also presents an opportunity to highlight the approach of an organization to resolving negative issues, that may ultimately work in their favor.

Cheryl takes a pragmatic approach.

Cheryl Lesser of the Intranet Benchmark Forum Weighs in with BloomThink on how to build a killer communityCheryl: We have found that it is important to remind participants from time to time that we’re looking for interaction. Something as simple as identifying roles and titles helps.  That way, people know who is on the customer side and who is on the company side.  It seems simple but, doing this repeatedly helps to encourage participation.

Tom points out some significant advantages of B2B customer communities and challenges faced by B2C communities.

Tom Motzel of Tesserae  Weighs in with BloomThink on how to build a killer communityTomB2B Communities have the advantage of being more intimate.  These are likely people that you can talk to and interact with on a regular basis.  A more symbiotic relationship that likely rewards contribution and involvement.  B2C communities are more difficult to maintain because participation reflects an ‘infatuation’ with product or service.  How long does any individual stay committed to any particular product before something better (or life’s changing landscape) replaces it?  B2B communities generally contribute to our ‘industrious’ needs…our ‘bottom line’.  B2C communities generally offer more of an entertainment value…satisfying, but fleeting.

And Justin notes that B2B communities are often faster while B2C communities are often larger:

Justin Schuster of Lithium Tech Weighs in with BloomThink on how to build a killer communityJustin:  B2B communities typically have fewer participants than B2C communities, but they can be just as vital for a major brand. We often see collaboration across marketing and customer care teams emerge faster in B2B communities, particularly where brands are working to deliver an integrated customer experience. 

 

Any discussion of customer communities would be incomplete without acknowledging the amazing changes that the software landscape has undergone.  From news groups of the early web to Facebook pages to tailored and integrated CRM systems, the evolution of community software has been profound. So how much help does community software actually deliver to a community manager?

Our experts agreed that a successful community quickly outpaces the manual abilities of any individual manager, and that the software should be an enabler for the community rather than something that gets in the way of conversation, sharing and engagement.

Peggy Winton of AIIM Weighs in with BloomThink on how to build a killer communityPeggy: For a vibrant and dynamic community, you’ve got to be able to scale or the manual processes will never get managed. However, these tools come in all shapes and sizes. Usually, the members themselves are non-the-wiser about the backend tools. In my experience, they are much more interested in the content than the bells & whistles, particularly since 80% of them will NOT regularly contribute to content or conversation.

 

Cheryl Lesser of the Intranet Benchmark Forum Weighs in with BloomThink on how to build a killer communityCherylCommunity management software should foster channels of conversation rather than erecting barriers between the “audience” and the “moderator”.  For example, when we’re engaged in a real-time event in our community, we’re in the background, messaging participants, asking them if they have anything to share. Instead of doing a message blast, or a “sticky thread” (like “Feel free to join the conversation!”) we always tailor the message with the names of specific participants, names of companies, and any background info we have about them. For example: “Hi Sue, would you be willing to share your experiences/insights about your recent SharePoint upgrade at Acme?”  This bridges the divide and almost makes the technology fade into the background; which is a wonderful thing for vibrant community participation.

John Brunswick of Oracle Weighs in with BloomThink on how to build a killer communityJohn: Software can help supply structure, comprised of common community capabilities, for community managers to extend experiences to their members. As communication capabilities have evolved, user experience patterns similar to the Facebook Wall, Dropbox like file sharing, and discussion forums, are often readily identified by users.  By combining these patterns into a prepackaged solution, this can allow community managers to spend time focusing on the overall experience, content and communications that will be relevant for their members.  At Plumtree (software focused exclusively on portals), the mantra of “No Empty Portals” existed to remind us that as great as supporting software can be – success is all about making experiences relevant and valuable to our users.

Tom Motzel of Tesserae  Weighs in with BloomThink on how to build a killer communityTom: Community Software can be a powerful game changer, but only when you have an authentic community of passionate people who are aligned around a well-defined vision and mission.  Outside of those circumstances, it’s just another communication gateway that generally fractures our continuity as we desperately try to keep up with new tools.

 

 

Justin Schuster of Lithium Tech Weighs in with BloomThink on how to build a killer communityJustin: Of course we believe the software is critical, and the right tools can mean a world of difference when it comes to making the community blend seamlessly with your website, driving vibrancy, and proving ROI. The right services expertise is equally important, however, and there are many best practices that can make the difference between success and failure. This is why Lithium offers a range of services and even offers a certification program for community managers.

 

In the end our experts agreed that it takes as much imagination as anything to cultivate a great customer community.  Community managers cannot be human versions of software.  Their greatest strength is precisely their humanity, mistakes, misspellings and all.  But it is precisely this humanizing effect that great community managers have which keeps customers coming back.  They can find answers almost anywhere on the internet.  But a customer community is both a place where they can be heard as well as find answers and feel valued as a peer on a similar journey by those wonderful community managers.

So what is your recipe for building a killer customer community?  Share your thoughts below!

Oracle To Buy Vitrue – In Depth

Oracle Buys Vitrue
screen grab from Oracle’s presentation on the Vitrue acquisition

Oracle buys Vitrue (pronounced Vi-true)

It seems Oracle is getting religion on social…again.  This time they have acquired a multi-tenant SaaS social media management platform firm named Vitrue for a reported but unconfirmed $300M.  The big news with this acquisition is that Vitrue provides the software and analytics for big B2C businesses to management engagement across their various social properties.  You know, the ones we all use like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google+.  This is a big deal for B2B oriented Oracle who usually likes to force customers onto their platform – WebCenter, PeopleSoft, Siebel etc..   Native Oracle products like WebCenter “Social Network” are squarely focused inward at the organization rather than outward.  Recent acquisitions like Fat Wire, Taleo, InQuira, ATG, RightNow all have an outward social, consumer/customer engagment or listening component to them but all (so far) fall into the familiar Oracle model.  Roll it into the Oracle product stack, sell the stack to customers to use internally or as middleware for pretty front-end systems, repeat.

The Vitrue acquisition is different.  First, Vitrue provides a completely cloud based product with no on-site software.  Second, Vitrue enhances, *other* platforms and it does so in bite-sized pieces (see the list at the end of the article or just take a look at Vitrue’s website).  Third their product is a high-touch, high-service product. This is something that brand managers and marketers keep coming back to use for each campaign.  It is something that, try as they might, Oracle could never achieve with Siebel, Real-Time-Decisions, WCM, Sites or WebCenter.  In short, Vitrue would be the first outward focused offering available from Oracle.

According to Oracle’s published FAQ (PDF), they intend to, “…add Vitrue’s products to the Oracle Cloud to deliver the most comprehensive, integrated social relationship platform that can support social marketing, sales, commerce, service, data and analytics.”  This is huge.  All of the other Oracle public cloud offerings, from CRM, to HCM to “Social Network” are inward focused.  They are SaaS versions of back office utilities.  If Vitrue lands in the Oracle cloud it could become a useful tool from Oracle that helps businesses do better interacting with customers and constituents rather than with their own employees data processes.  Of course, Vitrue’s interest and development into social analytics and reporting is a natural draw for Oracle’s data business.  Think about what Oracle could do with all that aggregated Vitrue social analytics data if the SaaS offering takes off!  They could become to social data what SalesForce’s Data.com is to CRM & Contact data.  Of course, the reported $300M price Oracle paid for Vitrue is hardly considered huge.  But the recurring subscription revenue model is a big shift for Oracle who usually relies on heavy-handed maintenance payments from one-time big sales.  They’ve been beaten up in the past for their less-than-friendly tactics.  But a SaaS model where people opt-in to pay for a service gives Oracle the recurring revenue and puts a friendly face on it.  It could be a very good move for Oracle’s image.

I am eager to hear what competitors in this space think.  SalesForce’s Radian6, Lithium, Buddy Media, Zuberance, Adobe’s Efficient Frontier and others all have a stake in this game.  Contact me with your personal opinions – billy.cripe AT bloomthink.com

Vitrue has several different price points but according to their CEO, a typical starter package is reported to be at about $4000/month (PDF) for management of a Facebook page and Twitter account.  They are focused on big B2C organizations since lower end social management is teeming with free/freemium services like Buffer and Shortstack.

Virtue provides the following kinds of services:

  • Analytics – Social analytics for things like social listening (what are people saying about us, who has problems, who is cheering our product right now)
  • Publisher – Status and update queuing (think scheduling tweets and Facebook wall posts but coordinating it with blog posts, marketing campaigns etc for a holistic social marketing drip campaign management)
  • Tabs – Vitrue’s CEO Reggie Bradford describes these as “…content management system across your social properties.” (PDF) They incorporate translations/geo-aware targeting and scheduling.  The WebCenter Sites and Content as well as ATG and InQuira teams may want to sit up and take notice here.  Enterprising Oracle partners might want to build a connector to leverage content from one of Oracle’s many content management systems for Vitrue’s social scheduling tabs.  While tabs as such have been pushed to the background in the new Facebook Timeline layout, they still exist and are still important for things like landing pages, contests, contact forms and events.  Even more important is having coordinated messaging, themes, timing and content between  the social and traditional email, physical and event-driven marketing campaigns.
  • Social commerce – this is their ability to help businesses sell goods through facebook (and maybe Google+) which they do through partners.
  • They also have a program of offerings and tool sets enabling social media agencies to implement the strategy they create for their clients.
  • You can watch a demo of their product on their facebook page

This blog post is my own opinion.  I received no information from anyone from Oracle or Vitrue.

Empathy in Social Media

understanding
via Acts of Excellence Blog: http://actstraining.com/2011/04/communicating-for-understanding/

If you have read any social business articles, whitepapers or blogs lately you probably read that you need to have a plan, deploy the technology and engage the users.  Such advice barely scratches the surface.  It fails to advise how to plan, how to deploy and how to engage.  It is like describing the ingredients to a gourmet dessert but failing to explain how to make a mousse.

What guides successful planning, deployment and engagement is something much fuzzier and difficult to nail down: empathy.

Empathy is the ability to put yourself in the shoes of someone else and get a sense of what they’re feeling, experiencing and desiring.

Successful social engagement systems rely on empathy.  What separates successful Facebook contests from failures is the ability to anticipate and deliver a chance at a coveted experience or prize.  Similarly, some QR Code campaigns work and others bomb because the successful ones correctly anticipate the context and desire of the person scanning the code.  The failures simply splash a code on some packaging.  Successful internal social business systems gain adoption by anticipating and delivering relevant content to employees.

Did you notice the key words in those answers?  They were “anticipate”, “coveted”, “context”, and “relevant”.  These beg the question of How do you accurately anticipate? And How do you know what is coveted, contextual and relevant?  The only way is to hone your sense of empathy.

What will a suburban mother of 3 working part-time covet?  It will be different than the thing coveted by the urban hipster.  Which group are you targeting in your social marketing Facebook campaign? Which are you serving with your internal social business system?

Understanding your prospect’s context requires empathy.  A person willing to visit your business’s Facebook page that they saw at the bottom of a magazine ad while on a plane headed to 10,000 ft is in a different context than either the mother or hipster described above.  Your Facebook page (or tab) should respect and reflect that they are a traveler, away from home and have limited time.  Your social media campaign should tie your product or service to a sense of adventure (empathy with traveler), comfort (empathy with away from home) and convenience (empathy with limited time).

A person willing to scan a QR code in a store is doing other things as well.  They are away from a desktop or laptop computer, they’re on a mobile phone, they’re looking for a reason to buy.  This kind of empathic understanding should govern what your QR campaign actually does.  They’re on their iPhone and looking for a reason to buy?  Deliver a mobile only website with persuasive buy-it-now messaging. 

Thinking about those internal social business systems ask yourself, “Are all my colleagues/employees the same? “ Why would you think that simply deploying a social technology platform will secure adoption?  Platforms don’t meet the needs of end users.  They are foundations upon which solutions may be constructed.  Too many hyperbolic sales-pitches from big platform vendors ignore, omit or hide this fact.  So empathize with your different employee teams.  Who needs easier access to old email archives?  Who needs to find an “expert” in the company who they don’t already know?  Who needs to see the campus map?  Who needs to combine support call info with sales pipeline info with appointment scheduling?  When you identify real needs through empathizing with people you can start to craft solutions on that platform you bought.  Until then you’re going to suffer from adoption drain.

The answers to these empathy-driven questions will serve you well as you follow the ubiquitous but pedestrian advice to have a plan, deploy the technology and engage your audience.

Your Registration Forms Suck

You are making me do what?
You are making me do what?
Creative Commons Attribution by Flickr User JD Hancock http://www.flickr.com/photos/jdhancock/5061697780/sizes/l/in/photostream/

A recent article on UXMovement outlined 8 reasons why people don’t fill out those sign up forms on a website, Facebook page or inside your app.  The reasons were what you might expect: fear of getting spammed, fear of insecure data storage or transfer, asking for information that users feel they shouldn’t need to give up.

But a huge reason for avoiding sign up forms, registration walls and subscriptions was missed.

The content that is behind that form is probably available elsewhere without registration requirements.  Furthermore, someone in my social network probably knows where it is, or already has it and is willing to share.  This means that websites aren’t trading as much on *uniqueness* of content but rather on *convenience*.  If your registration form or sign up process is a big barrier to getting at your content, the convenience goes down and users will look elsewhere.  The failures of big news papers to put content behind paywalls and registration walls illustrates this point nicely.  Analyst reports are in a similar situation.  The purchaser persona for these has shifted away from an interested buyer doing market research and almost exclusively to the marketing departments of the companies covered in the reports.  The companies then post the analyst reports for all to see.  You and I get them for free, without registering.

So think about that registration form, contest entry or sign-up sheet you have.  Keep it simple and follow these 2 guidelines:

1) simple registration forms are OK – name, email, company name and maybe phone number (maybe!)  People are usually willing to trade basic information for access to your content.  But make sure it’s actually a trade.  Don’t gouge your market for their data.

2) keep it easy and convenient – forms should take less than 30 seconds to fill in and I should be able to do it as easily on my phone or tablet as I can on my laptop.  Remember that access to your content is a convenience.  I will go find it (or something like it from your competitor) elsewhere if you make my life difficult.

There are hundreds of opportunities to sign up for a chance to win an iPad. There are millions of tech blogs.  We have whitepapers, reports, infographics and webinars coming out our ears.  That information is easy to replicate, share and re-post.  It is good that information is shared and content goes viral through our interest networks.  So ensure that your content points back to you and lets people know how to get in touch when your content touches them.

That is engagement that no sign up form will ever mimic.

[my name is Billy Cripe – my site is BloomThink.com – I run a social media strategy agency – email: billy.cripe[at]bloomthink.com | facebook: facebook.com/bloomthink ]

The Social Media Shift

Here is a presentation I gave at the Rotary Club District Conference Yesterday.  The crowd was very receptive and laughed at all the right spots which is always good.

Please contact me if you’d like me to present this to your team, company or club.

The notes section contains speaking notes, references and image citations.

Like this?  Like us over on Facebook – http://facebook.com/bloomthink

 

The Interest Requirement – Getting Beneath the Advice.

 

Interest Means Wanting And Reaching For It
Creative Commons Attribution: by Flickr User ~ I P O X s t u d i o s ~

 Gartner says that a social business is one that provides “sustained value” through pulling together “talent, interests, experience, insights and knowledge”. But buried underneath this advice are requirements that must be uncovered if businesses have any hope of putting it to work. We talked about talent before. Let’s take a brief look at interests.

Interest means the curiosity to pursue a topic and the passion to stick with it.  Social media technology is good at providing an easy way for interested people to participate with teams and topics.  Whether chiming in on social forums, providing ad hoc feedback through messaging clients or rating products and project documents, social media technology enables the easy participation of the interested.  Yet it is vital to combine interest with talent, experience, insights and knowledge in order to become a social business. Failure to do so merely confuses passion with competence; something Harvard Business Review recently warned against.

The importance of interest is that it is a primary motivator.  When we’re interested in what we do we work smarter and achieve greater results than when we’re disengaged. HR study after HR study demonstrates that keeping employees interested and engaged is far more effective than money or perks in delivering high quality results and retaining high quality employees.

The challenge of interest is reflected in a study conducted by Nielsen in 2006.  That study shows that 90% of online community members lurk, 9% contribute sometimes and 1% are the core contributors.  This means that 99% make up the pool of likely interested people who want to interact with the (likely talented) 1% who are creating.  That is a huge disparity. So businesses must both identify interest and then work hard to plug in those interested people in ways that will be helpful.

Some strategies that work include

  • Posting project plans and summaries on your intranet and then inviting feedback – critical and constructive
  • Exposing a feedback forum or message stream for each project to your wider organization.  This allows the lurkers to browse other things your company is doing and chime in if they see something that piques their interest.
  • Designating a project liaison to act as the single point of contact for projects.  This allows all project team members to engage with others if they wish, but it also provides a hedge against distracting inquiries from outside interested parties – especially at times when team members are “heads down”.
  • Tracking what kinds of content employees are searching for and accessing on your corporate intranet or ECM system and then building up an “interest profile” for each employee.  When combined with a talent profile (LINK TO EARLIER ARTICLE) this can be used to proactively seek out project team mates or ad hoc advisors.

Many different social technologies exist to enable participation and sharing of interests.  The trick is to identify your purpose then specific, measurable goals that drive your  social business design.  Then you will see sustained value.