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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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Where are your customers?

There are an abundance of social networks vying for your attention as the social web matures. Not all of them “stick”, but the ones that do, really stick. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr, Pintrest (and Foursquare within a niche) are the immediate ones that come to mind.

How does a brand determine where to be and how to leverage each network? It’s not as hard as it appears, although it does take research and analysis. Where are YOUR customers? Who are your customers? How does your brand fit with the communication channels they’re using? Does it?

Play to your strengths and your USP (or better, your UVP – unique value proposition) – you can’t force your brand where it doesn’t fit naturally. You can begin to shift your culture to align with your *actual* customers & enthusiasts, but you can’t force fit it. Social media is not a panacea.

I’ve said for years that context is what matters in a social media environment and the best way to provide context to your customers is to be relevant where it makes sense, and in a *context* that makes sense.

It isn’t easy, but it’s worthwhile. If you can determine which social network(s) are right for your brand to focus on you’ll be in a much better place than spreading yourself too thin and trying to be everything to everyone.

Some brands can (and should) be omnipresent across all properties, but they still need to have their objectives and goals at the forefront. They need to understand the *Why* as well as the *How* of their communities interests and passions.

Are you prepared to do the leg work and really listen to your customers and prospects before jumping into tactics? Just because there’s a new shiny object that needs attention doesn’t mean it will do anything for your business. If you can add value to the stream be there with bells on because your customers will appreciate it.

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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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