Don’t Be the Restaurant No One Wants to Eat At Because It Is Empty
June 6, 2011

You are walking around an unfamiliar neighborhood with a couple of friends. You are on your way to a party or perhaps just a movie. But you have a bit of time and decide to stop to eat dinner first. You can’t be too choosy, but it appears you have two options. From the outside both look clean and well maintained.  The lights are working. From the menus posted in the windows, both seem to offer some appetizing choices. And neither you nor your friends are opposed to either due to personal tastes. But, there seems to be something off about one of them. You can’t quite put your finger on it at first, but then you realize what it is. One of them appears, for all practical purposes, to be empty, save the one out-of-place guy in the corner you see while peering through the window, while the other is overflowing with patrons waiting to be seated. Which do you choose?

Unless you are really short on time, you choose the one overflowing with people. Why? Social proof. You assume that the place with more people is probably better, while the place with no people is in some way deficient, even if the deficiency is not easily discerned from outward appearances. You assume if so many people like something, there must be something about it to like. You assume that if so few people like something, there must be a reason why.

Social proof is one of the six principles of influence professor of psychology and marketing, Robert Cialdini, wrote about in his popular book Influence, and he covers it there much more extensively than I can here. But, given the attention I have seen it getting recently in social media circles, felt it might be worth a brief discussion.

In an article I wrote up on Constant Contact’s recent “Get Down to Business” seminar, I wrote of how one of the points I took away, or at least felt was worth reiterating after it was reiterated to me, was the following:

“People trust third party recommendations more than they trust you! There is a lot to be said for the idea of social proof. But, put simply, when you say good things about you, you come off as a salesman who will say what he has to make a sale. When others say good things about you, such as those you have been building rapport with through you social media tools over a period of time, they come off as satisfied customers, and are seen as more trustworthy, or at least less biased.”

But, how do you get such displays of social proof on your social media page? Well, to begin, have you asked for a recommendation from one of your connections on LinkedIn? If so, assuming the person you asked provided it, then you already have attained some level of social proof through social media. But, the social proof you can get through social media does not end there. No, on LinkedIn you can get similar recommendations for your company pages. And, technically speaking, just having a large number of Facebook friends/fans, Twitter followers, or LinkedIn connections can serve as social proof as well. High levels of activity on a Facebook page or blog is even better. And, fully fledged recommendations or thank you by satisfied customers on your Facebook page are even more beneficial. Going back to the restaurant analogy, if both restaurants were equally well populated, having such a recommendation from a friend (or from Yelp) might make you choose one over the other, or maybe even go to the less populated one in the original example if the recommendation was strong enough or from the right person.

Yet, now you ask how do you get such recommendations on various social media sites beyond LinkedIn which already has recommendations as a built in feature you’re required to use if you want to get you profile to 100%?

Simple, you ask. When you have a satisfied customer or client who sends you a private email or tells you in person how much they appreciate what you have done for them, you thank them, but ask if they could post it on Facebook or tweet it on Twitter or write a review on Yelp. None of these take much time or effort on their parts, but can be greatly beneficial to you. And, if you have a very satisfied customer, you might even ask if they’d be willing to give a video testimonial for YouTube and your website.

Getting Down to Business with Constant Contact, Social Media, and Daniel Nuccio
May 31, 2011

Last month I had the opportunity to attend Constant Contact’s “Get Down to Business” seminar in Chicago.  Not only was I able to meet with a variety of people working in social media, or at least implementing it for their businesses, as well as see presentations from several top people in the industry, but I was also able to attend a special lunch with Steve Robinson, Gail Goodman, and a small handful of respected guests and loyal Constant Contact customers.

Now, trying to sum up a morning-long seminar with about half a dozen speakers, followed by an hour and a half lunch in only four to eight hundred words would be a bit of a challenge, and I know I surely would have to leave a number of things out. Therefore I will just present some highlights, and interesting pieces of information I learned, or had reiterated to me, that I believe may be beneficial to those I share them with. Some are deserving of full length blog posts, which, if you are one of our loyal readers, you may see in the future, while others are just small golden nuggets.

Everyone’s doing it…or at least soon will be. The numbers show that more than 160 million people are tweeting while 500 million people actively use Facebook. And, according to Sprout Social’s Justyn Howard, in the near future, more small businesses will have a Facebook page than a website. Similar numbers Howard presented at the seminar indicated that in 2005 marketing efforts typically consisted of TV commercials, emails, phone calls, and face to face contact, whereas today, many of those older forms of marketing are being overshadowed tweets, check-ins, and Facebook status updates

Get involved where your clients, prospects, and potential customers are involved.  If you do not know where they are involved, ask. There is no point in using LinkedIn if everyone you either have or want to have a business relationship with is on Twitter, and vice versa.

Social bookmarking sites are dead…or at least soon will be. The only people who still use them are diehard social bookmarking site users. Unless you know your clients or prospects are diehard social bookmarking site users, don’t waste your time on Digg, Reddit, StumbleUpon, or the others.

When you do get involved, be a concierge, not a salesman. There is a commonly used analogy in social media circles that going on Facebook or Twitter or any other social media site is like going to a cocktail party. When you arrive, you do not go to a bunch of random people saying “My name is Mr. X.  I sell Y. This is why Y is so great. Would you like to buy Y?” Instead, you mingle with people. You join the conversations already going on. Many of these conversations may have nothing to do with business. But, while you are mingling with people, you are building a certain level of rapport with them, and, when they need Y, or know someone who needs why, they will be more likely to think of you.

Social Media is not a quick fix! If your business is failing or has a bad business plan or has an ill developed sales process, social media probably can’t save you. Implementing social media takes time. Again, it is about relationship building, not selling!

People trust third party recommendations more than they trust you! There is a lot to be said for the idea of social proof. But, put simply, when you say good things about you, you come off as a salesman who will say what he has to make a sale. When others say good things about you, such as those you have been building rapport with through your social media tools over a period of time, they come off as satisfied customers, and are seen as more trustworthy, or at least less biased.

People are terrible at measuring the indirect effects of social media…probably partly because doing so can be difficult…if not near impossible. I am aware of how this sounds…It sounds like an easy out for any social media consultant not doing their job properly or investor in a bad social media tool trying to convince others things aren’t so bad, and unfortunately the above can be used this way. But, at the same time, simply taking a look at whether your business is doing better now compared to before you implemented a social media program may not necessarily give a clear answer given the myriad of factors that can influence success or failure. Now, I suppose an experiment or quasi-experiment can be done, things like the number of retweets you get or the level of activity on a Facebook page can be measured, and new clients/customers, can be asked or surveyed about how they found you, but, at the end of the day, activity on a social media page is not always converted into new business and even when asked, your new client/customer may not be able to tell you that they received your contact info after a friend recommended you after checking out your website after seeing a tweet of yours retweeted by a different friend.

There are no social media experts…just people who might know a little more and have a little more experience. Everyone who works in social media knows this. Anyone who says differently is likely doing so either due to ignorance or deceit. Now, again, this is not to say that there are not people who know more or have more experience, and if you are hiring someone to help you with social media you should be able to reasonably expect (or demand) that they have a certain level of familiarity with Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, that they know which sites are being phased out, and that they know how to use some of the more prominent social media management tools like Hootsuite and TweetDeck, but, that said, there are changes being made to all the major social media sites quite frequently, and new social media sites, management tools, and other various instruments to make any number of social media related tasks easier are being developed everyday, and even people like Steve Robinson, Gail Goodman, and Justyn Howard, among countless others, will admit that there is always more to learn.

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.

“The Accidental Billionaires”: The True Story of the Founding of Facebook?
November 8, 2010

Ben Mezrich’s The Accidental Billionaires: The Founders of Facebook reads like a novel, but allegedly tells the “true story” of Facebook’s early years. It covers much of the same territory as David Fincher’s film, The Social Network, for which it served as source material, but goes into more detail about things like what exactly is a Harvard Final Club, why it was better for Facebook to take money from VCs early on rather than sell advertising space, what made Facebook different from MySpace and Friendster and The Harvard Connection/ConnectU, and what was in the contracts Mark Zuckerberg’s former partner signed that resulted in him losing his share of the company.

With that said, many of the more contentious details from the film, such as Zuckerberg trying to use his invention to impress a former girlfriend, were absent, but, perhaps more importantly, many were still there. In the book Zuckerberg and his partner still picked up a pair of Facebook groupies at a Bill Gates lecture and subsequently hooked up with them in adjacent men’s room stalls, the application process for Facebook’s first summer internship still involved hacking while drunk, and Zuckerberg still came off as a socially awkward jerk, albeit without his dialogue provided by Aaron Sorkin, leaving questions of how true was the “true story” found in the book.  These details, among others have been highly contested and largely denied.

Sorkin and Fincher have responded by admitting to changing some things in the interest of making a better film, and this is acceptable given that they never claimed to have made anything other than a film, a work of fiction. This was actually to be expected on their parts. But Mezrich’s book is different because Mezrich does hold his work up to be a work of non-fiction, a work of narrative non-fiction for which he admits to condensing events and inventing dialogue and some locations, but a work of non-fiction nonetheless. But, if Mezrich invented so much that these more contentious details are false, then Mezrich’s work is simply a work of fiction  − a work of fiction with a rather simple style and without any real literary flare, making it simply an entertaining work of pop fiction but nothing more.

However, before completely discounting Mezrich and The Accidental Billionaires, there are a few other things worth considering. First, Mezrich’s work of narrative non-fiction seems to rely heavily on interviews, seemingly from sources that have unresolved issues with Zuckerberg or were only loosely connected to him. Second, Zuckerberg had denied Mezrich’s interview requests on multiple occasions, and it appears that those currently on more amicable terms with Zuckerberg did not agree to be interviewed either, leaving Mezrich with only more hostile and more distant sources (This is not to say Zuckerberg or his friends were under any obligation to cooperate with Mezrich, but they now do have the misfortune of his book being as popular as it is and having been used as the primary source material for the film). And third, even if those who currently know Zuckerberg have come forward and vouched that neither the book nor the film accurately portray his character, that is not to say that those portrayals are completely incongruent with how he may have been perceived by people from 2003-2005.

“Catfish”…the Other Facebook Movie
October 18, 2010

Most of us when we think of “The Facebook Movie,” likely think of David Fincher’s The Social Network, based on the controversial book, The Accidental Billionaires, by Ben Mezrich. It spent two weeks at the top of the box office, and has generated a considerable amount of Oscar buzz, and rightfully so.

However, there is another Facebook film  out there as well which has stirred up some controversy of its own. The film I speak of is Catfish, a recent documentary that has left many asking “What did I just see? Was that real?”

For those unacquainted  with it, Catfish follows a young photographer whose two buddies begin documenting his online relationship with an eight year old art prodigy, her mother, and her nineteen year old sister who he may have been beginning to fall in love with. However, after certain point certain details about the lives of the subject’s long distance friends begin to not add up, leading the photographer and his buddies on a road trip to confront his Facebook friends that leads to a series of twists and turns that are first weird, then creepy, and ultimately Hitchcockian, exploitative, or heartbreaking depending on your interpretation.

Initially the general consensus was that this was all a hoax, even leading the likes of David Fincher and Zack Galifinakis to pat its creators on the back for their mass deception. But the filmmakers insist it was true, and emerging evidence seems to concur. Yet, regardless, it is an interesting journey, and reveals a side to Facebook far darker than the legal battles, shattered friendships, and clashing egos found in The Social Network.

The Reluctant Social Media User
October 9, 2010

Having seen The Social Network over the weekend, I couldn’t help but think about the early days of Facebook, or at least my early days with it. When I first heard of Facebook, it was the spring of 2005. I was about to finish up my first year of college and a friend of mine from high school, who I hadn’t heard from in awhile, was pestering me about how I needed to join this cool new site that would allow me to post a bunch of information about myself to share with the people from college I saw every day, as well as the people from high school and middle school I didn’t bother to stay in touch with, and, in return, I could view the information these people were posting about themselves…and, as added benefits, we could post funny messages on one another’s “walls.”

My reaction was one of disinterest. If I wanted to speak with one of my friends from high school, I had their phone numbers and email addresses. If I didn’t, I probably wasn’t that close to them to begin with. If I wanted to talk to someone from one of my classes, I could talk to them when I got to class.

But, my friend protested, Facebook would allow me gather information about my friends before actually talking to them so I would know what to talk to them about before actually talking to them…and I could “poke” them, and maybe even marry one of them as a joke.

My reaction was still one of disinterest, but my friend was persistent, and one night while I was bored I decided to check it out and after taking the time to set up a profile and give it a chance I was overwhelmingly underwhelmed. What was the point of it, I wondered. I’m a private person. I don’t want to share my every thought with everyone and I don’t want to read theirs. But, because everyone else was doing it, I felt I sort of had to at least set up a very basic profile. I filled out a fair amount of information about myself, my interests, my likes, and contacted the dozen or so people from high school I was friends with in real life and looked up a few people from middle school I sort of regretted falling out of touch with at the time…But then what? I left the account inactive for several months until the Fall semester when I unsuccessfully tried using it for dating purposes, learning the hard way that just because someone is a petite redhead in their profile picture, does not mean they are a petite redhead in real life (perhaps more about this if I see Catfish)…then I let my account sit inactive again, only occasionally updating it every few months when I saw a really good movie or when I wanted to do a little research on one of my classmates.

And that’s the way it was for years until I saw an online posting for a social media internship with Randolph Sterling, Inc. and figured that it was time to really update my account, as well as do copious amounts of research, both in a hands on fashion, and by reading blogs like Mashable and Spin Sucks, ultimately finding that much had changed in the years my account was inactive. To sum up these changes, Facebook had  grown up. Unlike MySpace which could never shake its reputation as a place where people went to promote their failed bands and find semi-anonymous sex, while broadcasting their immaturity, Facebook had become a place for adults. It could now be used as a tool to search for news, similar to what Twitter was, and it allowed pretty much anyone to promote their businesses through pages, ads, and groups.

Anyway, now it’s my job to tell people 15-40 years older than me that they too need to get involved before their business competition does, and do so by trying to sell them on the idea that through Facebook and similar sites they can implement an indirect sales strategy in which they implement the social media to build relationships with prospects and clients they otherwise would have no excuse to stay in contact with, a strategy that, so far, is working pretty well for us at Randolph Sterling, Inc.

The Social Network
October 3, 2010

David Fincher’s The Social Network was released this week and was far more interesting and entertaining than most initially would think a movie about Facebook would be. Jesse Eisenberg, who a year or two ago was generally thought of as a second rate Michael Cera, does well as the film’s antihero, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, even if the film’s depiction of him as a socially awkward narcissist and brilliant programmer, who may have stolen the idea of Facebook from three of his fellow Harvard students, and who may have tricked his best friend and Facebook co-founder into blindly signing away his share of the company, remain open to debate.

Stylistically, the film is superb, brilliantly told from the points of view of multiple characters as they relate their accounts of the inception, creation, and evolution of Facebook at two separate depositions for legal proceedings against Zuckerberg.

Where last week’s Wall Street II: Money Never Sleeps seemed dated and stilted either because of or in spite of its obvious attempts to tie current events and recent history to its plot, it was The Social Network that seemed relevant and down to earth as opposed designed as a soap box from which to whack people with a political message.

After a summer of mediocre popcorn pictures, save Inception, The Social Network is a welcome relief that also provides some fascinating insights into what it may have been like to be present at the birth of a worldwide cultural phenomenon.

The End of Summer Is almost Here
September 1, 2010

Here we are, the “end of summer” as the kids get back to school, summer vacations have been taken, and it is back to the old routine. But wait a second, I went out for a walk this morning to just reflect a bit on 2010 so far and it was already in the 80’s with high humidity…are you sure that summer is ending?

I had a great summer. I probably traveled a bit more than I would have preferred and my softball teams didn’t quite win as much as I would have liked, but I had a great time none the less. Summer for Randolph Sterling, Inc. was pretty good too, I’d have to say. Every day, I am lucky enough to learn something, and this summer (well 2010 actually) has been no different. It may be the most simple of lessons that stuck with me the strongest, but it was remembering that relationships are key in doing business. It has been said before by many people that people buy from people they KNOW, LIKE, & TRUST.

It used to be that trust was built by going door to door, shaking hands and getting to know your prospect face to face. The “house call” if you will. Then the salesperson’s world changed as the calling card gave way to the cell phone and people saw that they could call more people than they could see. Not as personal. But still pretty effective.

Next came email and wow, I can send the same message to all of my contacts at once—how efficient. What’s next, but Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, LinkedIn, eNewsletters, and people all over the world knowing exactly what I think about a topic instantly!

It seems that each level of “improvement” in reaching our target contacts has made us more efficient, but has also taken us further away from that personal interaction. So why is it that this year has been so good for us? Well two reasons, actually. First, we realized pretty early that no one of these solutions will help us bring in the clients we want, so we developed an approach that allowed us to integrate all of these into our sales processes; allowing us to reach prospects many different ways but always in the way they would like. Second, our clients realized that there was no “magic bullet” either, so we have been doing a lot to help them find the right mix of marketing and sales to work for their team and the individuals who comprise it.

What are you doing to find new clients? Are you doing the same old thing and hoping for better results, or are you trying different approaches and evaluating the results? Let us know what you are doing and how it is working, or if you would like help developing or implementing a plan. Please don’t hesitate to call us…or visit us, email us, hit us up on Facebook or Twitter, or see us at a networking event!

Happy Labor Day everyone. Enjoy the fruits of your labor and then, get right back to it!

Do You Know What You’re Doing Online?
August 8, 2010

Back when I was in college I was fairly active with a few groups that dealt with issues related to science education. I ran the psychology club at my school for a number of years, bringing in three or four speakers per semester that would speak on such topics as getting into grad school, autism, the social psychology of mind control and love, the psychology of religion, the evolution of behavior, and an endless number of other subjects. I was (and technically still am) a member of Psi Chi and had the opportunity to represent my school’s chapter at the American Psychological Association’s conference in Boston in 2008. And after I graduated I met a number of people affiliated with non-profit science education groups that operate at the national level.

Since I began my career working with social media, I have been asked to and have offered to help some of these groups, usually pro bono since I know they don’t have a lot of money and I agree with their goals. In doing so I have noticed them making a number of mistakes that are all too common.

For example, I have noticed that some, or at least their affiliates, use poorly designed websites they seldom update as their primary means of reaching out to people through the internet, and sit around wondering why they are not making more connections. I have also noticed a fair amount of reluctance on the part of some of these groups to get involved in the social medial, often hearing that the social media is “still new” and that they would rather wait and see where it goes before they act. When they do get involved in the social media, I’ve noticed that many have done so half-heartedly, using it as a one way means of communication, assuming that if they make one post a month and put up a couple of links people will just flock to them. And when they seek or receive advice, I’ve noticed they are slow to implement it, and don’t even always do so completely.

Now, this is not an indictment of any of these groups, but examples of unfortunate social media practices that turn people off to it or convince them that it’s a passing fad that will soon fade, or something more than a fad that has no real value. And this kind of poor implementation of the social media is not unique to a handful science education non-profits I happen to know people at, but across practically every industry you can think of.

Some things to remember are that the social media is not new, an inactive website or social media account is as good as no website or account at all, and that these mediums are not one way, but are intended to encourage and foster conversation.

The Importance of Specific Social Media Goals
August 3, 2010

Back around the holidays I was at a party where I met a social media skeptic, who put me in one of those situations where I was given minimal information about a business and thirty seconds to explain how implementing the social media could vastly improve every aspect about it.

The business was a small medical office where this woman worked with maybe one or two other doctors. That was all I had to go on.

My response at the time was to rattle off a number of clichés about controlling the conversation about her business, increasing its visibility, letting people get to know her better, presenting herself as an expert in her field, etc.

She was unimpressed and our contact at the party pretty much ended there.

In retrospect, I can understand why she was unimpressed. I rattled off a list of clichés she had probably heard before, that ultimately had little relevance to her business (although, in my defense, I will say she should have given me more to go on, such as what she specifically hoped to accomplish).

Generally speaking, if you are a family physician running a small medical office with one other person, how much does controlling the conversation about your business really matter? And, although the number of people using the internet to do research on their doctors is probably more than one might initially think, I believe the question of how much Twitter, Facebook, and amateur blogs come into play (as opposed to specialized sites for grading doctors) is open to debate.

Now (and here is why having well thought out goals is important) if you wish to become a resident medical guru on sites like Twitter and Facebook, then, by all means, join them and get to work. If you’ve just written a book or are hoping to become the next Dr. Oz, then building a fan base through the social media is an excellent idea if you want to take the time (perhaps two or three hours per day) to research the big medical news stories, blog about them, and promote your blog through Facebook and Twitter. But, if you’re just simply hoping to increase your number of patients, how much do you really believe your writings or tweets are going to compel people to come to you the next time they get sick? Some would say quite a bit, but in the medical field that does seem like a tough idea to sell, even before you get to the professional and ethical concerns involved. A better decision in this situation, the situation of the doctor I met, might be to set up a Twitter account and a Facebook fan page as a way to stay in contact with your current patients, and maybe, if you feel enough is going on at your office to justify it, start sending out a monthly e-newsletter using a program such as Constant Contact.