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Social Networking

I Am The “IT” Department

Technology makes this a great time to be a small business. Rapid advances of technology have made it easier for small business owners to compete with the "big boys" on a newly leveled playing field.

From online postage to inexpensive accounting programs to easy web hosting and development, small businesses can operate nimbly, effectively and on par with larger competitors.

Want a great example? Barbara Heinrich, owner of Local Motion in Minneapolis, built her own mobile-phone application through BuildAnApp to display her hours, location and pictures of new arrivals. Several services have cropped up recently to help small businesses develop iPhone applications so that they can participate in the mobile market including:

If you are looking for a tool to maintain regular contact with customers that are on the go, you should probably check out one of these tools. Remember, you don’t have to be Southwest, CNBC or Amazon to have your own iPhone app.

We Need A Social Strategy, Just Don’t Expect To Use It Here

A majority of U.S. workplaces block access to social-networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, new survey results commissioned by consulting firm Robert Half Technology indicate. Fifty-four percent block social networks "completely," while another 19 percent only permit it "for business purposes."

Only 10 percent of companies surveyed permit social-network use on the job for any kind of personal use; 16 percent allow "limited" personal use.

Back in the 90’s, employers similarly blocked employee access to the internet and to personal email. Many of them were caught behind the tech curve and had to play catch-up for a very long time.

Businesses, especially in tough times, can be incredibly shortsighted. Recessions only exacerbate the problem.

The best way to leverage technology to grow your business is to have employees who know how to use and exploit technology. If they can get their work done, who cares if they post something personal on Twitter. Their Twitter question today might also elicit the solution to that troublesome project that has plagued your department for weeks, the answer to why your website keeps crashing, or it might give you a lead on that sponsorship opportunity you’ve been looking for to help launch your new product line.

Recessions fade, but the memories of your employees will not. Trusting your employees and giving them the freedom to learn will pay off in the long run. Walling them off from the world will only wall off your business from the world.

Quo Vadis Twitter

Rasmussen Reports has a few interesting notes on Twitter users in their June 24th release.

Just nine percent (9%) of Americans say they actually have a Twitter account. Seventy-one percent (71%) have read, seen or heard about Twitter.com, but an overwhelming majority (88%) of adults do not have an account.

Adults ages 18 to 39 are more likely to be Twitter users than those who are older. Those who earn $75,000 or more per year are more likely to have a Twitter account than those who earn less.

Apparently, Twitter is a lot like talk radio. Only a small portion of listeners ever call radio talk shows and it appears that only a small portion of Twitter users frequently post to the site.

Twenty percent (20%) send a tweet several times a month, while 11% post one several times a week. Only nine percent (9%) say they tweet nearly every day or several times a day.

Focus On Value And The Influencers Will Follow

Ed Keller, who co-authored the book THE INFLUENTIALS, answered some of the recent criticism of the concepts popularized by his book on Media Post’s Marketing Daily today. Based on decades of research through the Roper Polls, Keller’s book and his work at RoperASW, along with Malcolm Gladwell’s THE TIPPING POINT, popularized the concept of a small number of Americans (say 10%) determining how the rest consume and live by chatting about their likes and dislikes.

The concept of influencers was not a new one at the time Keller’s book was published. A hundred years after John Stuart Mill penned these words on opinion leaders, research began to empirically prove the concept:

The mass do not now take their opinions from dignitaries in Church or State, from ostensible leaders, or from books. Their thinking is done for them by men much like themselves, addressing or speaking in the name, on the spur of the moment...

-John Stuart Mill, ON LIBERTY

In short, Keller tries to refute Guy Kawasaki’s October blog post that declared: "Reliance on influentials is flawed because the Internet has flattened and democratized information..." maintaining that "it's better to have an army of committed nobodies than a few drive-by somebodies."

I think Kawasaki, like Mill, is correct. Yes, I just paired Kawasaki and John Stuart Mill. Everyone is influenced by their 10%, which differs from group to group, a point Keller acknowledges. As Kawasaki points out, social media has flattened how information flows. I think using a traditional top down approach is becoming less effective and I don’t think Keller would dispute that statement.

To me, it is pretty simple. Consumers respond to a quality product, a compelling story and are apt to tell others about their positive experience.

It always comes back to the perceived value of the product and how you communicate that value. The online tools available to spread that message, both positively and negatively, are now flatter and faster than ever before and the access to people and influences has never been greater.

As David Oligivy pointed out many years ago,

The consumer isn't a moron; she is your wife. You insult her intelligence if you assume that a mere slogan and a few vapid adjectives will persuade her to buy anything. She wants all the information you can give her.

It does not matter how many bloggers, followers, friends, media personalities, or perceived influencers you have promoting your product if there is no value. Creating a needed product or service, testing it to ensure it fulfills those needs, and communicating value are the three keys to success that everyone should focus on despite the available technologies to communicate the message.

The Twitter Rule

According to the TNS Compete and the Consumer Electronics Association joint study, older age segments 50+ use many technologies at or near comparable rates as younger age segments.

Older Americans, however, rely more heavily on in-person information sources for purchasing electronics products and sixty-three percent spoke with a sales associate in-person when researching their consumer electronics purchase, compared to 47 percent of those aged 18-49.

Sixty percent of consumers aged 50 and older also indicated that a product having too many features was a main reason for being frustrated with technology, compared to 39 percent of consumers aged 18-49.

A couple of key takeaways.

Regardless of the segment or age cohort, products have to be intuitive, seamlessly integrated, and easy to explain. The Tivo remote will go down as one of the best examples of an easy to use product that could be easily explained by a Best Buy or Circuit City rep. It does not matter that the product is superior in terms of benefits and technology if the average consumer has to invest significant time into understanding how to use it.

This applies to any product, not just technology. Insurance products are notoriously difficult to understand and most financial products look like the Chief Legal Counsel wrote the marketing copy.

One side effect of this economic downturn will be a focus on ease of use and an easily understood value proposition. Smart companies and marketers will focus on understanding what customers need, creating brands and products that fulfill real needs, are easy to use, and can be easily explained.

In a sense, you could call it the Twitter rule. You need to be able explain the value of your products or how to use your products in 140 characters or less. Twitter is easy to use and forces users to really think about what they are saying. As a marketer, I can’t think of a better method to test understanding of a product and the value it provides customers.

If you can tweet it, you can probably sell it.

The Real Potential Costs of Social Networking

San Francisco-based consultancy SALT Branding has released "Trends in Branding 2009" and cautions brands that "befriending" customers on social networks like Twitter and Facebook "has a price." That price, according to SALT includes providing consumers with financial discounts, inside information, sneak previews, competitions or incentives. The question brands need to ask about that price, SALT declares, is: "How high is it?"

While there is a short term cost that needs to be factored into the equation, it is important to measure the lifetime value of the relationship discounting potential expenses. The potential discounting involved in social launches are relatively modest compared with the potential lifetime value of the relationship.

Plus, there is an opportunity to acquire new customers and the acquisition costs for these programs are fairly modest vis-à-vis traditional programs.

The real danger or potential cost is launching online initiatives that don’t fit into the culture of the brand or the channel. Simply having a Facebook page promoting a product and discounts only indicates a lack of understanding of social media. This will simply damage the value of a brand and create a negative image of the company.

As with most new initiatives, it pays to do a lot of homework. Companies must really understand the audience, channel and their product to ensure that new social initiatives engages customers and does not detract from the brand. Being perceived as out of touch with the audience and the channel is the real cost to worry about.