Social Media for the Intermediate User
March 22, 2011

Not too long ago I attended a social media seminar hosted by Constant Contact and presented by their regional director for Illinois, Steve Robinson at an Ing Direct Cafe in Downtown Chicago. Despite spending a little time brushing up on some basics, this was not Social Media 101, but an interactive discussion for intermediate users on how to use social media the right way.

At the event we talked about how many social media sites can be, and are being used as places of commerce, and as tools to market ones products and services. According to Constant Contact’s statistics, 51% of small businesses use Facebook, 29% use blogs, 27% use LinkedIn, 26% use Twitter, and 16% use YouTube. But, as any social media consultant will tell you, it is not enough to just use them. No, what is important is that you use them well.

You cannot have a static social media page. In fact, you really shouldn’t even have a static website any more. No, you need to have a social media page where you actively connect with, converse with, and disseminate valuable information and content to others while building and strengthening relationships with them. Through these pages you can reach out to fans, customers, and prospects, and build your network by sharing relevant, valuable content, and reaching out to and engaging more people. By doing this you can increase repeat business, as well as online referrals in the form of others sharing your content making online endorsements.

Unfortunately many people will never really get involved. Why? They psych themselves out knowing they’ll never have millions or even thousands of followers. They are unmotivated or uninterested in writing thought leadership articles. They think they will never have the dedicated staff to do it right. Or they feel they don’t have the time to stay current.

But what these people forget is that it is not about the quantity of your followers, but the quality. And, for those who feel unmotivated to write thought leadership articles or feel they lack the staff, ability, or time to do social media well, they may wish to consider hiring a consultant or content manager.

That said, if you do get involved, you may wonder how you decide which tools to use. Well, fist ask yourself where your customers, partners, suppliers, and competitors are. If you do not know, in most cases you can simply ask them. Also, use different media’s together.

Now, once you are setting up your pages, be sure to look professional, to take advantage of all the features each site has to offer (or at least the free ones), and to make sure that you properly brand your pages. Also, post some starter content to drive people to your pages or at least to make the pages look active. This can consist of company information, tips, practical advice, opinions, links to archived newsletters, polls, event announcements, blogs reviews of your products or services, articles, discussions, etc. Then, once your pages are up and your starter content is in place, announce your presence with an email with a strong call to action, ideally using an email marketing service such as Constant Contact. And, once you get going, be sure to be an expert, trade useful information, offer valuable insights, and engage your audience.

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The “Real Classroom” vs. the Real World: Did an “Innovative” Approach to Advertising 101 Prepare Me for the My Job?
September 5, 2010

For those of you who don’t know, my educational background is not in business. No, I double majored in psychology and history. However, while in college I did take a handful of electives in business as something practical in case I didn’t head to grad school immediately after graduation. Most of these courses were like any other class. There were terms to memorize and concepts to understand, as well as the occasional test to study for. However, a couple of these classes, to one degree or another, had professors who prided themselves on implementing what they saw as an innovative approach to teaching: setting up a classroom environment based on what we should expect to encounter once we entered the real world.

More than one of my professors talked about doing this, but only one truly followed through. In other business classes, I found myself working on group projects with my classmates, and these were no different than working on a group project in any other class. Best case scenario, I’m working with friends and the group project is just one extra thing to talk about while hanging out at Starbucks or picking up lunch at Café Baci between classes, or maybe while standing in line at a movie. Worst case scenario, I’m the one conscientious person in a group of underage alcoholics and stoners, during a time of year when one of the local sports teams just made the playoffs. The idea was that, like the real world, you had to learn to work with a group of diverse people, each with their own schedules and their own baggage, and that at the end of the day, if you wanted to succeed, you would have to work together.

However, as I said, only one class, my introduction to advertising course, truly implemented the idea of the classroom-workplace. The class was not a class, but an ad agency. Our professor was not a professor, but a client. We were not students, but admen. And, some of us even got to be group leaders or team mangers. The result though, often made me believe that the ad agency I was working at was one you might see on TV or in a movie.

But what TV show or movie was I stuck in?  Definitely not Mad Men. We weren’t well dressed and charismatic, taking three lunchtime martinis and flirting with attractive secretaries between serious meetings where our Don Draper would have a moment of inspiration that would lead to an ingenious advertising campaign. We weren’t even like Darren Stevens and Larry Tate on Betwitched because at least they still presumably got stuff done, despite the many misadventures caused by Darren’s wife’s twitching nose. No, we were more like that bad comedy you saw last March, but can’t remember the name of. You know the one where the screenwriters needed a stock-white-collar job for the lead character and thought something in medicine or law would require too much back-story. Yes, in this class we sat at oddly shaped tables, looked up brainteasers online, stared at cognitive illusions, and analyzed the deeper meaning of Super Bowl ads, all of which were supposed to get the old creative juices flowing, which, in turn, would help us think outside the box as we tossed the idea ball around. We also used a lot of jargon that didn’t mean anything. For our final exam, we had to describe the people we worked with for our group projects using car analogies: Who was the engine that got us going? Who were the headlights that allowed us to see clearly when things looked their darkest? Who was hood ornament who looked nice, but didn’t do anything useful?

Although I didn’t think to write it at the time, my answer to that last one should have been not a who but a what. And that what should have been the concept upon which the class was based. Why do I say that?

Because the artificial business environment which was supposed to instill a sense of professionalism in us was…well, artificial. At the end of the day we were still students in an introductory advertising class. Our group leaders had no real authority. And, if our client was unpleased, all anyone had to lose was a good grade, as opposed to a salary, a career, or a reputation. And, like any introductory class, there were a number of people without much interest or passion in the subject matter at hand who simply needed an elective and were more than happy to take a “C”.

So, to answer my question, if it is not obvious already, I can’t say the “Real Classroom” really helped prepare me for the real world. (Honestly, I would argue my two years of academic research were better preparation for my current position working in social media, but that’s a topic for another time). But, even worse, I don’t even feel the “Real Classroom” was that real.

Tell me, those of you currently working in advertising and marketing, those of you with several more years of experience than me: what shape is the table or desk you sit at? How much time have you spent this week staring at cognitive illusions for inspiration? And how does knowing how to take a baby, a dog, and a jar of rat poison across a lake in a tiny boat help you discover your next big ad campaign?

Master of Memory: How to Build Rapport, Increase Familiarity, and Get People to Like You
January 17, 2010

During my junior year of high school I took a college prep course which met everyday during first period. During this class we’d typically spend our time learning ACT and SAT strategies, but sometimes we’d have a special guest speaker come in to tell us about life as a professional in one field or another as a way to get us thinking about what career we might want to pursue, and how the decisions we made in the next couple years with regard to what major we chose and what classes we took would directly influence our potential in those fields.

Now, of the endless list of guests that came to speak with us, one of the most memorable for me was a man who had a long successful career in marketing and advertising before entering a state of semi-retirement during which he took a job as the head of admissions at our school, which was a post that included a number of miscellaneous tasks such as helping out with the yearbooks and with some of the school’s marketing and advertising needs. What made his presentation as memorable as it was, was not that it inspired me to seek a career in marketing or advertising. It didn’t. I studied psychology and history in college. No, what made it memorable was how good our speaker seemed to be at what he did, how much fun he seemed to have doing it, and how what he taught us in that forty minute period could be applicable in so many situations.

For example, one of the things he emphasized was the importance of building rapport with people, increasing familiarity with them, and getting them to like you. He talked about how people are always pleasantly surprised at how well he remembers minor details about their lives such as their children’s birthdays, the college they went to, or what their favorite sports teams were.  And then our guest shared with us his secret as he pulled from the pocket of his blazer a mini tape recorder and told us that we could have a memory like his too, if we carried one with us and knew what tape to listen to before meeting with a person for a second or third time.