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First things first: define your brand ID in social channels

As social media use becomes the norm for brands both large and small, one constant that everyone struggles with is brand identity on social channels. Especially when you have more than one individual manning your account, or teams of copywriters trying to translate traditional copy to social snippets. How do you define your brand and ensure that anyone from customer service to front line community managers are literally speaking the same language? How do you ensure that when a key employee leaves your identity isn’t lost with them?

The first step to successfully translating your brand in consumer interaction channels is to understand who you are as a “person”, not as a corporate behemoth, but as an entity someone would want to interact with outside of from a customer service perspective. That’s how you can sustain engagement long-term and be invited to the dinner party that is social media.

Brands have a “brand book” that details everything from proper logo usage to mission statements, tag lines and beyond. Developing and integrating a social identity into that is a must. As there really isn’t an “above the line” and “below the line” these days, your social persona must be integrated into all aspects of your marketing, where and how it makes sense.

One of the ways I’ve found incredibly useful, as I’ve helped launch brands into the social sphere is to start with the “traditional” brand persona and then dive deep on social. This can take a variety of forms, but must include social listening for your core customers. Who are they? What do they care about? How can you add value to their daily interactions? What other brands do they use or care about? How does your customer service live up to your brand premise? (Or if it doesn’t, why doesn’t it?). If you could choose a living person to represent your brand, who would it be?

Pick your niche. Are you funny? Witty? Value-based? Traditional? Put yourself into your customers’ shoes (not all brands appeal to all people). This will help you to define a voice and channel-specific strategy and enable your creative team & strategists to brainstorm on effective ways of reaching them, and give you a solid platform to engage on a daily basis, no matter who is doing the talking.

[photo credit: nomadic_lass on Flickr]

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Thoughts on the Twitter archive deal with Gnip

After turning off the firehose to Google last year I’d been wondering what they would do with their huge database of users tweets as the next logical step appeared to be granting the search giant access to their archives as well. They announced today that they’ve partnered with Gnip to provide the company with every tweet back to March 2006 when the company launched.

As someone who has developed social/ digital personas as part of the larger marketing strategy this is great news. Using data from various social platforms is a fantastic way to get a broad (and granular) sense of what issues most resonate with consumers, how they feel about your products and your competitors. By analyzing that data a richer picture of your customer emerges.

In the past we’ve only really been able to gather data for the past year, but with this announcement the ability to look at trends over time becomes a possibility. Is the same issue recurring? Has customer service improved over time or gotten worse year over year? Are there seasonality trends that weren’t immediately apparent? All of these data points could now be analyzed (or re-analyzed) based on this new data.

Unless you’re a very sophisticated (and deep pocketed) brand storing broad term data year over year and merging it with the same query sets was probably not at the top of your radar. As Gnip merges this data into standard listening tools running ad hoc reports and performing a detailed analysis becomes much simpler.

I’m looking forward to seeing this roll out and doing some digging. What do you think about this move by Twitter?

Image credit: fagalar on Flickr

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Are you prepared for stormy seas as well as calm ones?

As social media platforms and participation become ubiquitous amongst all demographics it’s more important than ever to understand how to navigate both the calm weather and the storms that will inevitably occur. Social media is an extension of life and as such all the same variables come into play. If a customer loses their temper at your call centre rep they will certainly do so in the more public forum of Twitter or your Facebook wall.

It isn’t just about the huge crisis, it’s about day-to-day interactions where customers are upset with something about the company. How you handle the everyday interactions makes the difference between having a sustainable social presence outside of a “push” campaign mentality. It also allows your campaigns to resonate more as your customers don’t see them as your only use of the medium that they are primarily using to connect with their friends, family, and colleagues.

How do you handle the negatives? Be prepared in advance!

First, before you dive right in know that your company isn’t perfect. This is a tough one for most companies, but it’s true. No one is perfect so accept it and move forward with a plan.

Here are some initial steps you can take to get off on the right foot in social media channels:

  • Gather a list of known issues from your customer service department and any other customer facing departments (retail managers, etc). Identify how you are working to fix those issues.
  • Check your analytics – are there specific patterns you can discern? Content paths, keywords, time spent on specific pages?
  • Talk to your marketing team – what offers have resonated in the past and which have fallen flat? Talk to your PR department – what kinds of feedback do they get from journalists and investors? Have there been any big crises in the recent past?
  • Conduct a social listening audit across all of your business units and find out what your customers are actually talking about (your brand and your competitors).
  • Talk to your product development team – what’s coming down the pipe in the next 6 months and how will that impact your customer base (be honest about this; will it be received well without any need for spin)?

Now put them all together to determine what your hot button issues are likely to be and craft a plan to ensure your front line social media team can address them properly and transparently. Make no mistake, it isn’t a script, but an outline of who your company really is: a human-centric business.

Taking these steps and ensuring your employees are all operating from the same playbook will set your team, and your brand up to be prepared for any storms that arise (which they inevitably will as they do in the physical world) and hopefully allow you to mitigate them before they can manifest into an actual crisis.

Finally, keep in mind that it doesn’t stop here: the learning, discussions, info gathering etc. MUST continue. Change happens; be prepared to roll with it.

Happy sailing!

[photo credit: FnJBnN]

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Respect and the #SXSMROI panel

This piece is in response to @thebrandbuilder post about the #SxsmROI panel and his multiple posts about his book. He deserves your respect, but if you aren’t open to critique along the same lines as he delivers, please do us all a favour and stop reading.

Hi, Brand Builder, you may not remember me, but we talked about military strategy and Sun Tzu about a year or so ago when you were going off on one of your famous tangents on Twitter about Content Strategy and the proper definition of it. I’m not entirely certain, there have been so many over the years. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good rant, it’s entirely appropriate at points. I kinda agreed with you at the time, kinda, but I saw past the black and white to the grey which is what life is lived in. But, here we are again with your latest rant on #SXSWi and the SM ROI panel. You’ve written a book. Trust me, we are ALL aware of this fact. You talk about it constantly. Kudos. A book is an amazing achievement. I would to. Believe me. I know quite a few successful authors. They are all worthy of kudos. I’m sure you would agree. It’s a BIG DEAL. I’ve been wanting to write a book for longer than I’ve been on Twitter (which is over 5 years now, but client work got in the way unfortunately, and kids. Primarily the kids).

Since you brought it up and made a point of it, umm, why weren’t you able to make it onto the panel you then skewered at SXWS? I can understand if, like me, you’re a mom of twin 3 year olds and something tragic happened: babysitter fell through, they got sick, someone died, etc. But client stuff came up? Nope, not a good enough reason if you’re going to put it out there like that. Clients, unless it’s a crisis, and I don’t believe you’re in PR, understand and are actually pretty pumped if you have a speaking engagement that is as big as SXSW that showcases and provides THEIR CASE STUDIES (which a panel on ROI that you were planning to speak on would surely cover, right?)… And, as I’ve spoken at many conferences, you deal with client stuff when you aren’t in your 45 min session. Your hotel room is always available, you aren’t able to schmooze, but you make your session. You also, presumably have a laptop and smartphone that makes you accessible… no? So, what was it that prevented you from attending this panel but allowed you the time to snark from afar during the panel? I’m not saying there wasn’t a good reason, but for a communicator, it sure wasn’t articulated; other than you had a beef – WITH THIS PANEL. That you weren’t on. From afar, it feels a tad convenient.

So let’s get down to the panel itself… could you please articulate for all the Fortune 500 clients and those not in the 500, what exactly a “Back Channel” is, and where one would find such a thing? This is surely a huge issue for them as they seek to monetize and participate in conversations. There’s some kind of place where their consultants and agencies speak freely they aren’t aware of? Wow. Let’s make sure we get in on that action! Having an ability to freely discuss ideas amongst colleagues is paramount, calling it out as a weapon to use when it suits your purposes kinda defeats the purpose of it. As well, attribution of quotes could help companies understand who their audience is and what their perspective is. I think this would be really helpful as social media is about transparency and trust. This is the mantra everyone has been preaching to their clients for years now and is best practices amongst bloggers and journalists.

Also, if you’re going this route, could you please NAME the people you have such an obvious issue with? These aren’t sources you need to protect. I think that in the age of transparency and social media they should be given the ability to respond directly to criticism. Especially if it’s a 5-person panel and they took the time to prepare and show up to speak in front of their peers and potential clients.

Now, to the ROI issues, yes, we all recognize you have a very distinct take on ROI. I agree in its most clinical sense. But, just like all marketing, that’s not ALWAYS the key driver in communications. Sometimes you just need to build awareness and later on the purchase, or recommendation will happen. It’s not ALWAYS the case, but it is a key product driver. That will never change. And, truth be told, what you’re stridently advocating is, at its core, actually anti-social and doesn’t take the marketing funnel into consideration or consumer/ user needs or wants. Social serves many purposes, from the top of the funnel to the bottom. All of those are valuable in a true marketing environment.

Social is not (primarily) about direct sales, nor does it need to be. Social is an extension of many marketing functions and to claim otherwise shows a lack of holistic marketing knowledge that doesn’t belong in this channel. I know a lot of really smart people who attended and tweeted that panel and they were not “duped”. They work in the space every day with large clients and measure and do great work. If you don’t understand, then don’t judge, it’s that simple. If we were to take you at face value you’d be calling for them to be fired as they bought into BS. I’m certain that’s not what you meant. Do you have visibility into every client across the globe that is doing social or what their goals are? A lot of them are actually looking to the top of the funnel. You may not agree, but that’s marketing. Change it from insights, not a bully pulpit.

Now, in all fairness, I haven’t read your book, but it was on my list after I had time and stopped figuring out ROI on social channels for large clients. I’m always open to other opinions/ perspectives, but you know what, the kind of post and tweets you posted about that panel makes me think I don’t need to. The appearance is inflexible, nor are you looking at marcomm as a holistic enterprise/ experience. Prove me wrong. Or don’t, but I think the panel at SXSW had one kind of a distinct point. And that’s okay; you have yours, so show up or write another book about it, but the position that there is only one way to do things doesn’t actually feel very, well, social.

Speaking of social, you would have taken off your mike and walked out? REALLY? How does that help anyone? We aren’t in grade school; we’re in business. Don’t trash them passive aggressively. State your case: people will agree or disagree, as is their RIGHT. Maybe you were joking, but that smacks of pettiness. The social (and tech) space has been struggling with the people who feel it’s awesome to snark from afar at conferences and in blog posts about highly intelligent people they just don’t appreciate for some reason. I remember the Sarah Lacy mess with Zuckerberg and the danah boyd keynote where she couldn’t see the tweet stream behind her as two famous examples. Does anyone now doubt those are two smart people who perhaps have a different style than others but deserve respect? No. But the way they were treated after their appearances wasn’t fair. You’re doing the same thing now with the people on that panel, except you’re leaving it for us to guess who you’re talking about. There was nothing constructive about your post.

Everyone needs to measure ROI, yes, this is true, but not every channel actually needs to deliver ROI to be successful in its most purist form. Awareness and consideration is actually part of the purchase funnel, and if you can add trust to boot, well, my god, you’re ahead of the game. Do I want to buy things on Facebook? Nope. Twitter? Nope. Do I think about and talk about the awesome experiences with brands on those channels that later led me (maybe) to purchase? Yep. If I don’t purchase from those companies but know they treat their customers right, do I refer them? YOU’RE DAMN RIGHT I DO. But that could be days or weeks or years later.

It ultimately IS about trust, goodwill, and just being a good human behind the company. ROI comes if you’ve got those things right… and probably through other channels that can’t be immediately tied back to a tweet or post. But you can measure other stuff – but that’s a different topic and much more complex.

Thanks for listening :)

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Working in the Cloud!

I know I’ve been a bit cagey about what I’ve been up to the last two months, but the time has come to share the great news!

I’m joining Cloud AdAgents as Managing Director, effective today. I’m thrilled to be running the Toronto shop, working with some fantastic clients, and a stellar bunch of people as we grow the business and continue to refine our new agency model.

So what is Cloud? We are what the name suggests, an agency that taps into the best and brightest talent from anywhere in the world. We believe that you don’t need to be tied to a desk to do your best work. You don’t need to work in a large formalized structure. Sometimes that works, but it doesn’t for everyone – either employee or client.

We believe in the power of ideas; ideas that can come from anywhere. Quite literally, the World Is Our Office ™. Clients don’t need to be limited to getting great work from a single geographic location, or a single type of cultural experience. We believe in empowering entrepreneurs and freelancers and enabling them to work on large client business as part of a larger team. We believe in giving back to the community, and are really looking forward to what we can all achieve together in the coming years.

We have a foundation in digital and social media, but we embrace integration with all mediums, as they make sense strategically. We believe relationships matter: with our clients and with our partners. We are headquartered out of the espresso bar on Queen West where we have a collaboration space (and amazing coffee & snacks), but most of the time you’ll find us using the digital tools to get things done. Skype. Email. SMS. WebEx.

I’m really excited about being a part of this new agency model and seeing where it takes us. It’s daring, it’s challenging, and it is in the cloud.

And … I like challenging the status quo.

Come by, say hi and have an espresso (just ping me first because I may be any number of places!) :)

You can also find us on Twitter: @CloudAdAgents and Facebook: Espresso Bar / Agency and be sure to check in on Foursquare when you drop by, we’ve got a new deal at the Espresso Bar each week!

ps – look for our new website in the coming weeks!

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