Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Age of Self Marketing

We live in an amazing age. If marketing is part of your professional job responsibilities you have far more venues than ever before. Most of the tools I write about are free and in the world of social networking.  The only investment is a computer, a digital camera, and an internet connection.

It also takes time to develop and polish content.  A good editor also helps.  Brief is good. It is a different kind of language. Think of it as texting with a professional orientation.  In these networks spelling and grammar really matter, Twitter is an exception. You will see why.

Before I get too far into this, it is important to differentiate between sales and marketing. As my sister explained it to me, marketing is creating the environment/perception of a product or service so the sales process can start much quicker.  If the marketing is done correctly then closing the sale is far easier.

For any organization that markets a product or service, the choices are formidable and allow for easier audience segmentation.  A few of my preferred avenues:
  • Twitter.  Twitter is very much like a news feed. You can post updates, photos and articles that your audience may find helpful.  Fortunately or unfortunately, you are only allowed 140 characters.  It takes great discipline to write a tweet.  Anybody can follow you (so be sure you are careful what you post).

    The beauty of Twitter is you can actually segment your audience.  You get followers and you follow people and/or organizations that you like.  Ford's various twitter accounts are an excellent example. The company has twitter accounts for different cars and trucks. As a consumer I do not waste time with information I am not interested in. Very smart.

    Former GE CEO Jack Welch had the best description of Twitter. Think of it as a cocktail party. You can go around and find a discussion or commentary that is of interest to you.  He is absolutely right. That is the same way I look at it.
  • LinkeIn. This is the most professional social networking site. Unlike Twitter, you are the reason people choose to connect. You must accept an invitation or you must issue an invitation to connect. 

    LinkedIn is the premier peer-to-peer social network. It allows the formation of groups to post questions and discuss issues of mutual interest.  Several people have posted questions or challenges and have received numerous helpful comments and suggestions.  Perhaps the best way to look at LinkedIn is to consider it as a virtual professional association.

    In spite of the potential abuse, most members do a very good job limiting the sales effort.  When a member oversteps the boundary of an overt sales push, other LinkedIn members usually issue a sharp response. 

    Generally, you find professional updates on an individual and organization. It is quite refreshing. 

    A new service offered by LinkedIn is the ability to follow companies. 
  • Facebook. Among the first of the social networks and the only one that was the subject of a major motion picture and a CNBC profile.  The founder is Zuckerman. He is to social networks what Bill Gates is to software.

    Facebook was originally a way for teenagers to connect.  We parents monitored it because we were unsure about what our kids were involved with. Now, we use it too. In fact, middle agers use it so much Facebook is no longer considered cool. 

    For posting pictures and videos, no social network site makes it easier. It is equally easy to access photos/videos. 

    A key concern is privacy.  I think several people add somewhat personal data and do not realize that it can be accessed by the entire Facebook family.

    Facebook made a strategic move into business. Now, businesses can post profiles, cultivate followers and post items for discussion. 
  • Blogs.  A blog is defined as a web log.  Most blogs remind me of a journal, the only difference is everybody can read it.  Blogs are popular when combined with Twitter and an organization’s website. On a blog you have virtually unlimited space. You can also post pictures, etc. I have a blog, www.georgeharben.blogspot.com
A key component of all social networks is creating content that is of interest to your target market. That is no easy or simple task. You should spend at least an hour creating content and commenting on social network discussions in LinkedIn and to a lesser degree Facebook.  You will need to ratchet up your professional reading. In addition, you will learn a new language when Tweeting (remember, 140 characters).  One key point, YOU are commenting, not an abstract organization. So you are accountable and you should exercise great caution.

Unlike other media forms (think advertising), these networks are truly a combination of your reputation, your contacts and the product or service you are marketing.  An ad is focuses on the final product; social media networks in large part are oriented to the individual.  As noted earlier, LinkedIn requires that you give permission to connect to your account. Generally, people accept invitations from people, not from a company. This is where your contacts, reputation, and relationships can really pay off.  As you participate in discussions and offer useful updates to your targets, you may receive new invitations and issue new ones.  

As noted earlier, Twitter is one where people choose to follow you.  Generally people start on Twitter by searching for people they know or respect and then follow them.  Or, people follow companies, organizations, and products. As we all know, Twitter allows only 140 characters per Tweet (or post). Fortunately, if you decide to post a link, TweetDeck automatically shortens it. Tweetdeck is a program that allows you to follow multiple Twitter and other accounts (LinkedIn and Facebook) and post updates and links. 

What types of updates are appropriate? Well, any news on an organization, announcement, self-improvement (like attending a seminar or webinar), and links to interesting and appropriate news stories. What is likely not appropriate – any update on family. Save those updates for Facebook. 

I know people mix the business and personal content and posts on their social media networks. I try not to. From my perspective, Facebook is really for family and friends. I am highly selective who I invite on Facebook.  On Twitter anyone can follow.  WIth LinkedIn, I am selective as to who I invite, but usually accept any invitation received.  My Facebook account has no work references or business contact information.  Facebook posts are almost strictly family and personally oriented.  My LinkedIn account has very little personal information and all posts are professional. 

Unlike other social networks, I have three Twitter accounts. One is strictly professional (@Harben_eco_dev). The other two are more like my news feeds (@Harben_business and @GNHarben). By far most of my Tweets are on my professional account.  In general, I offer appropriate updates; retweet Tweets I read and think will be of interest to my followers; and commentary on Tweets posted by my followers.  Sometimes I post to LinkedIn via TweetDeck.  A new service I recently discovered is that you can post updates to Twitter from a Kindle. If you subscribe to various business publications via Kindle, then you can select a small amount of text and post it directly to a Twitter account.

It can be confusing, but an important component is the ability of Twitter to segment markets and professional vs. personal interests.

A blog is used by businesses for a variety of purposes. I think the ease of use, virtually unlimited space, and link to a website are a few reasons. An interesting blog I saw was by the CEO of a start-up automotive assembly operation. I thought of his blog as receiving a small part of his annual report to stakeholders on a daily or weekly basis.

As I first wrote, we live in an amazing time.  Our ability to reach out and discover is unparalleled to any time in history.  These are not programs to be afraid of. Rather, they should be embraced. You can customize each network to fit your needs and challenges.  Come on in. Send me an invitation or follow me on Twitter. You are welcome and I look forward to reading your posts.

Postscript - March 9, 2011

I started writing this post a couple of weeks ago.  Today I read a Tweet that is on point. 

One issue that continues to nag me is who owns a social media account? The company or the individual?  I think this is an interesting question.  A recent court case in CA said a policeman's texts sent from his business phone belong to the police department. Another article I found said if you use the company WiFi network, the company has access to the data (not sure how that will work).

So, who owns the social networks?  According to the article I read on Twitter, most companies prefer that the question not be asked. Second, it is generally accepted that the individual owns the social networks.  The article notes, as does my blog, that the connections are with an individual, not with a company. Hence, the connections do will not have the same value should the primary connection depart.  I understand that line of reasoning. 

But, I have no doubt, this will soon be a very hot topic. An example. An employee attends a tradeshow, then issues invitations to every person he met to connect on a social network.  Who owns the contact?  The company paid for the employee to attend the tradeshow, the company paid of the computer, the company paid the employee. 

A second consideration.  What about people you hire and bring in their own social networks and corresponding contacts?  I think this is easier issue.  This could be a very interesting debate.

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