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Twitter: insight, engagement, affinity and stepping outside the echo chamber

I’ve been using Twitter for what feels like forever, but is probably closer to 18 months (internet years are the new dog years), and as time has passed and more people have joined the value of the service to me, projects I’m involved in & my clients has increased exponentially. It’s an odd little tool that can easily overwhelm at first, or seem like a waste of time – really who needs to know “what you are doing” at any given moment? But when used and integrated into your digital social participation has tremendous value, personally and professionally.

Tons of ink (pixels) have been written about how to use twitter, brands who are on twitter, word of mouth potential, etc. etc. and I’m of course now adding to that with this post. What I want to explore is how Twitter provides a breadth of insight into the online mix, adds another layer of engagement and can actually help build affinity – but truly only if you step outside of your comfort zone, or echo chamber, for the marketing & PR focused amongst us.

One of the beautiful things about Twitter is the connections you can make outside of your standard social circle. It’s easy to get wrapped up in talking to the same people all the time, in real life, and online – we naturally gravitate towards those we know, or people with similar interests. But for any online interaction to be truly meaningful, sometimes we have to step outside of our norms and expand our field of vision. I’m as guilty of this as the next person, but I have tried to broaden my horizons and engage (and listen) to people outside of my ‘norm’ in the last 6 months as the community has grown.

This is important regardless of whether you are using Twitter as a brand, using it to build your network/ connections, or using it to gain awareness/ affinity for personal reasons. The one thing that remains constant throughout it all is that Twitter is not a broadcast channel. If you just use it to push out your own interests it will be immediately obvious and you won’t get any true value out of it.

Participating on a network like twitter enables you to find out a ton of information about how people view the world, what interests them, what excites them, what ticks them off, what they’re reading, who they like to talk to, how they use social tools, etc. – all “in the moment“, but all relevant and available when and how you need it. If you only “follow” people who think like you, who are in the same field, or who share your tastes in whatever, you are missing valuable insight into the bigger picture. This doesn’t mean you have to follow everyone who follows you, it doesn’t mean you have to spend hours upon hours watching the “tweet stream” update, it doesn’t mean you have to stick your tweet into every conversation, but what it does mean is that to truly get the benefits for your brand you have to do more than just monitor your keyword usage for mentions of your company or product name. Who are these people who are talking about you? Why are they talking about you? Do they care that you are listening? Do they want you to jump in and start promoting or defending your brand? Or are they just unique individuals who are sharing their experiences “in the moment” who you should listen to and take insights away from? It all depends on the context, but if you aren’t willing to find out more about them than just what they said about you *at that moment* you are missing the broader insights.

Recently I organized SustainabilityCamp in Toronto. Truth be told I had no idea who would be interested in attending an unconference that wasn’t focused on start-ups, social media tools, or technology, but had a broader (and at the same time narrower) focus on social and environmental change & collaboration. To my delight, pretty much using Twitter alone to spread the word about what I was doing, and reaching out to people involved in the eco-movement I was pointed to via Twitter and other social networks, the conference not only sold out, but had 12 complimentary and relevant speakers sign up! And most of the attendees weren’t actually ON Twitter – they had just heard about it from people who were. And they came from all walks of life and areas of interest – marketing, PR, NGO’s, academia, small business, etc. I’ll put together a summary/ case study of the day over the next month, but what truly amazed me was how diverse my social network on Twitter IS. I was talking to all these fantastic people who weren’t in marketing or PR and hadn’t even realized it because it just seemed so natural that we all would connect for one reason or another over time. That is powerful.

It’s easy to get involved with Twitter, but it does take effort to get and give value. Sometimes I tweet nonsense about hockey or movies, or what have you (I also am known to rant every once in a while about things I’m passionate about), but I also participate, listen, and learn as much as I can. I don’t follow everyone back (mainly because with over 1,000 “followers” I had to turn email notifications off and it gets hard to carve out time to update my list), but I do regularly add people to my “circle” as I go. You never know what you can learn from someone – if you are there for the right reasons.

If you want to engage with me on Twitter — blah, blah, follow me here :) But if you really want to engage with me, send me an @ message and let’s start talking.

[photo credit: nomi & malcolm via Flickr]

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Recognizing the need for benchmarks in social media measurement

As the social space begins to mature and more attention is paid by marketers on how you can provide some type of measurement on your outreach efforts through social media channels, efforts are being made to define benchmarks for metrics. To that end, Joe Thornley, of Thornley Fallis Communications, has organized a Social Media Measurement Roundtable for May 20th, 2008 in Toronto. There are some very smart and accomplished people coming (yours truly included), and we will be spending the day debating and trying to establish “dashboards” for measurement and assembling the results in a white paper for social distribution. The participants hail from Communications, PR, Marketing, Analytics, and the social media space. Kudos to Joe & team for doing the heavy lifting and organizing this session.

As those who know me, or read my blog, are aware, I’m a wee bit of an oddity in the social media space because while recognizing the power (and necessity) of community, communications and honest engagement, I also come at the space from an integrated marketing standpoint and recognize the need for brands to continue to “brand”, that awareness still matters at a certain point in the interaction/funnel, that there will always be a “next” but history and context still matter, businesses need to sell stuff, and that the digital tools (and creative) used can impact the nature of the interaction… among other things! To that end, a few of the issues I’m very interested in talking about is interaction and engagement from the “time spent engaged”, “long-tail” & “opt-in” aspects. I’d also love to hear from the community on any questions or points you would like raised during the day-long session!

Leave a comment, drop me a line, or tweet @ me with your thoughts or insight… I’ll share results as we go, and plan on attending Third Tuesday Toronto (on yes, wait for it, a Tuesday this time! :)) and will be happy to chat further!

[photo credit: chrisjohnbeckett via flickr]

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Everyone has something to talk about…

(3i): Social media conversations

When I talk to marketers about content creation and value exchange in the social space, I like to make the analogy that in order to shift perspectives it requires taking yourself out of the marketing "storytelling" world, and instead try to envision how all that information you have about your product might actually mean something to someone, or help someone outside of the theatrics of THE BRAND. There is a time and a place for branding and positioning, but to make it matter and stick it has to be reality based.

Open up and give people a reason to talk to you or about you. Facilitate the discussion. Add value to it. Listen and find out what you have that they need. 

In other words… sometimes you talk, and sometimes you listen… because everyone has something to say and conversation is a two way street. Consumers have heard from brands for years; it’s time to stop talking and see if anyone is still listening.

[photo credit: kool_skatkat on Flickr]

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It’s the little things ~ v2

It's the little things ~ v2

It’s the little things you do that can make a big difference. What are you attempting to accomplish? What little thing can you do today that will make you more effective? You are probably only one step away from greatness. ~ Bob Proctor

This week’s version focuses on customer service at two local eateries. One, a national chain, the other a mom & pop shop.As the old adage goes: the devil‚Äôs in the details‚Ķ how much are you paying attention to the details that matter to your customers?

The ‘little things’ that made a difference featuring Timothy’s and House of Cheung:

There is a Timothy’s location in my neighbourhood which is closer than the local Starbucks (my coffee brand of choice) so occasionally, if I’m in a rush or the weather isn’t cooperating, I’ll head over there. I’m by no means one of their loyal customers, but I still am one. Unfortunately the service just seems to get worse and worse each time I stop in. Buying a cup of coffee and a pound of beans should not take 15 mins and require repeating ones self 5 times to each of the two people behind the counter. And yes, I was the only person in line. (That example was only the most egregious one out of many).

The employees at this Timothy’s just don’t care about their jobs and it shows. I’ve never seen a manager or supervisor working the floor; the coffee beans displayed have been expired for a year; the employees don’t appear to know how to work the cash register; and on and on.

That is a training issue and a motivation issue, the product itself is fine. It can be fixed if management is motivated themselves to do so. Until that time my visits to Timothy’s will cease – the walk a few blocks further will do me good. Paying attention to things like how long it takes to complete an order and donating expired product vs. offering it for sale really do make a difference.

This experience is contrasted with House of Cheung a restaurant in Toronto. We found this restaurant when Kevin was looking for solid reviews online for Chinese food delivery (we moved from Chinatown area and the restaurants we used to frequent don’t deliver) and after fruitless searching with all the “review” sites came across a post on a message board [how old skool!] that sealed the deal. We ordered and the food was fantastic. A month went by and we placed an order again. Lo and behold the same gent who delivered the food the last time was the one who answered the phone and remembered Kevin and where we lived exactly. The least painful food order in history.

That kind of attention to detail comes from a deep regard for your customers and the product you are providing. Not all employees will have the same commitment as a restaurant owner, but if they feel empowered, respected and part of a team it will resonate back to the customers they are interacting with.

Needless to say House of Cheung is our Chinese food restaurant of choice from here on out.

{ps – check out the comments from the inaugural post, both Colin and Jonathan have two great posts that fit right into the “little things” meme}

[photo credit: +lyn on Flickr]

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It’s the little things ~ v1

The birth of water

As I’ve been not enjoying the hot, humid summer as much as I should as I’ve been slammed with work, pitches and personal life, I’ve been noticing the little things that make an experience a good one vs. one that makes you cringe. Since I’ve had such a hard time getting back into the swing of posting (it isn’t for lack of things to talk about… just too much writing for business and the words just don’t flow as easily as they did a couple of months ago), I thought a good way to get things re-started is a regular feature on the little things that make a difference in the way you experience a brand, company, or product – whatever that may be, good or bad.

As the old adage goes: the devil’s in the details… how much are you paying attention to the details that matter to your customers?

To start things off for this inaugural post I have two interactions to share, one offline and one online. The ‘little things’ that made a difference featuring Chapters Indigo and Lush:

Offline -

  • Walking into a Lush location is like a mini holiday. The sights and scents are overwhelming, but in a way that produces glee. A Lush store is like a candy shop for grown ups. Although wildly successful around the world, your experience is distinctly unique. What sets Lush apart in my mind is how their employees are encouraged to use the products, even at work. The woman who rang me up on Friday did so while wearing a fresh face mask. A bit weird, sure, but it’s a damn good endorsement of the product that is literally in my face. Each time I go into the store I find out something new: a new idea for mixing two bath products together, how two products combine to form the ultimate pedicure mixture, to why they had to change the format of my favourite product because of the way the fresh ingredients adhered to each other. They also give away stuff… a lot. I don’t know the last time I walked out of a store without a sample of a product or an actual product because of their on-going promotions. Sampling has always worked in retail and Lush has it down to a science. I can’t possibly use all of the samples I get because I just bought all the products I need. So I pass them on and my circle of influence gets to experience Lush products… and become customers. I also can’t tell you how many times I bought a product just because one of the sales reps handed it to me and told me to smell it based on the other products they saw me looking at. They have the details down.

Online -

  • First there was Amazon… I used to shop at Amazon.com when I lived in the States. Moving back to Canada was an unwelcome jolt of reality in terms of e-commerce and our bricks and mortars. Back in the day there were none and paying duty for shipments from the U.S. was not fun. Slowly but surely that tide is shifting and now I can even shop Canadian Tire online (next week’s “little things” post :) )! Now Chapters Indigo does everything for me Amazon used to, with the exception of recommendations, although Amazon’s system is far from perfect. I buy a lot of books. Business books, history, politics, and mystery. I’m an iRewards member and the fee pays for itself each year, no worries. I’ve never had a shipping or ordering issue with them before so the details weren’t on my radar. Until this last order where they got one thing very right and one thing very wrong. I ordered about 15 books a couple of weeks ago and they all shipped out fine and dandy. Except for one. It didn’t ship at all; just sat there all by itself in my order history saying “awaiting shipment” for a couple of weeks even though their system indicated all books would arrive by a date that was now long past. It was in stock when I bought it so what was the issue, and why did I receive not one update from Chapters as to the status? Finally I decided to contact them about it. This is where the customer service details kicked into high gear and what I received back was excellent. They explained the problem and after a brief correspondence with an actual person they placed a replacement order for me and shipped it out without additional charge. They didn’t make me cancel and then order a different copy of the book, they just handled it. Quickly (well, once I contacted them), painlessly, and with a virtual smile.

To me, details mean everything. If you know me in real life you’ll know that I never get lost in the weeds, but I know how many there are in the garden. I can be a real pain about it sometimes because I feel they are so fundamentally important and form the foundation of any business or interaction. To get them nailed you have to put yourself directly in the others shoes and care about the experience. It’s just that significant of a cornerstone in my books.

In our age of instant feedback loops, short attention spans, and CHOICES, sometimes the little details can make an experience extraordinary; or as Godin says – what’s your purple cow? Sometimes it can be as simple as making a routine interaction painless for the end user.

Do you have any exceptional experiences with details to share? I’d love to end up compiling the posts into a list of companies that ‘get it’ after a few months, so please share if you’ve got tales to tell!

[Photo credit: Pisco Bandito on Flickr]

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