Social Media: Where Do Your Opportunities Lie?

If you’re trying to pitch social media to your leadership, here are five steps you can think through to help you evaluate where your company stands with this media and opportunities to leverage it to the benefit of the business.

1 Look at social media in the context of your company’s communications landscape as a whole. Think about what other venues your company uses to advertise or communicate with employees. Don’t sell social media as the sole solution, but rather as something to be incorporated into your existing communications plan.

2 Plan for measurement. It’s truly no more complicated to measure it than any other sort of media. Think about measuring the effectiveness of a TV campaign now that there’s TIVO. Or the time it takes to get feedback on a printed piece that’s mailed to employees’ homes. And, even if you get, for instance, 30 percent of your management team to log on to your intranet – is that good?

3 Recognize that every generation is participating. What age groups are you reaching out to – there’s a social media network for all ages. Technology simply is less intimidating than it used to be. There are plenty of stats out there, but here are a few: One says that ninety-six percent of Gen Y has joined a social network. Another says that forty-six percent of adults participate in social media – and 25 percent of those participate weekly. The median user age for LinkedIn is around 40. I know grandmothers who use Facebook and kids attending webinars.

4 Capitalize on the fact that it’s a good M2W channel (although men are on it, too). Men are usually early adopters of technology, but in this case women are at the forefront. If you’re company has an M2W plan, then social media needs to be a part of it. An important part. I just came across a stat that 42 million women in America use social media at least once a week, which is 53 percent of the U.S. female online population. The most popular activity is social networking, which is done by 75 percent of online females. Second is any kind of blog activity (writing, reading, commenting), which 55 percent do.

5 See no color to reach all colors. It’s hard to argue that you can’t reach a certain demographic through social media. I’ve heard that more African Americans use twitter than any other group, but I also know that Hispanics and Asians are using social networks, too. If your business is global, then you’ve definitely got a mix of users whether you’re aware that they’re using social media or not. According to one study, over the next four years, African Americans will see the greatest percentage growth of online users, nearly pulling even with Hispanics. As of last year, just 46.4 percent of African Americans were online.

If you’re talking with a group that’s still on the fence, invite them to google the stats for themselves. They’re bound to find what most people find – that the answers are at everyone’s fingertips.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Paid Ads in Twitter Updates: Trust Busters?

What do you think of a Twitter update that’s a paid advertisement for M&Ms or Cheese Doodles? Brad Stone’s column yesterday in the New York Times explored this new trend, which seems to be an anathema to the whole spirit of social media. At least at first glance.

The idea is that “people trust recommendations from those they know and respect, while they increasingly ignore nearly every other kind of ad message in print, on television and online,” according those interviewed for Stone’s article.

Then again, a social media update that’s actually a paid ad could quickly erode that trust. At Tribe, we counsel our clients to confine the sales messages to their websites, and not to use their blogs or social media updates as free advertising. Social media is for  starting conversations, building relationships, and offering your expertise, we tell them.

But really, most grownups who are blogging and tweeting are doing so to build their business. It’s an indirect form of sales, but behind all that social media you’ll generally find specific business goals which include increasing sales. We are all working to be helpful to others and engage in dialogue and connect with people beyond our existing circle. But it would be dishonest to say we’re doing that just to be nice. We’re doing it to attract clients and customers.

So maybe the paid ad for M&Ms is more honest in the long run. A tweet that begins with a hashtag like #ad or #sponsored is at least transparent. What do you think? Is a paid ad in a personal update a slap in the face of social media’s non-commercial spirit? Would you unfollow someone on Twitter if they sent you an ad? If you were asked to promote a product to your followers, for a fee, would you refuse?

Is Social Media Good for Internal Communications? 5 More Reasons Why Companies Should Consider It

Social media makes the world a much smaller place like no other mode of technology or transportation. For instance, LinkedIn has turned seven degrees of separation into only two or three degrees. People can connect with other people who have the same passions and interests at any time in a matter of seconds. Years ago, everyone liked to say you pull up information on the web at the click of a mouse. Everyone’s sick of that phrase now, but it’s true. And we couldn’t live without it.

If before you felt that you had to actually see the person you were talking to, well, that’s easy to do now. You can Skype. You can iChat. You can take a webinar. You don’t have to ever budge from your desk if you don’t want to (although you should). I have a colleague at a global technology company where every management employee was issued a webcam. Every day when I fire up my computer (which isn’t exactly true because I never really “go dark”), I’m excited to learn what my colleagues are up to in London and all over Europe since we last connected.

It’s this collaboration and sharing of ideas that is going to help make the world not just a smaller place, but a better place, too. There are piles of research that show that anything that connects people with each other has positive long-term implications.

So that’s great for people, right? But, why should a business care? Well, there are a couple of reasons. One: Businesses are made up of people who want more meaningful engagement with their jobs. Two: Companies that are effectively engaging employees using social media have a higher percent return for shareholders.

Does that mean it’s worth it for companies to run about and buy a collaboration tool for employees? The answer to that is only if you plan to promote and reward collaboration. Does it mean that your CEO should immediately blog to employees? Only if he or she thinks it’s a good idea. Otherwise, their reticence will show and employees won’t like that.

The thing is that people are more likely to be resistant to the message itself, rather than the channel (social media). After all, employees are telling leadership that they want more communication. And employees want this to happen in a meaningful, authentic, real-time way with a method for giving feedback. If there’s a way to communicate your message as effectively and efficiently and as quickly in print or on your intranet (usually very static in nature), then go for it.

A few months ago, I posted five reasons to consider using social media for engaging employees. Here are an additional five reasons to consider leveraging this tool for internal communications:

  1. You can focus on content instead of production. Crafting messages and measuring effectiveness still takes time, but with social media you can spend your financial and people resources on that rather than production. Say goodbye to building websites and then posting a bunch of static copy because nobody has the time to maintain it.
  2. You can break down old stereotypes. No, simply using a new technology doesn’t make you cool, but communicating timeless and key messages in new ways to engage a diverse workforce does.
  3. You can give special attention to engaged employees. Employees who connect with each other via collaboration-sharing tools or use twitter to connect with consumers are usually already engaged with their employer’s brand. That’s a good crowd to have a communications pipeline to. (There is the intranet, but employees who go there are usually looking for particular information, like benefits, and then they log off. People who use social media are there for interaction.)
  4. You can hear from people who have good ideas who you wouldn’t have heard from before. People get excited when the have the opportunity to share something they’re passionate about. Social media is like pouring gasoline on a fire of great ideas.
  5. You can help employees make history. Before social media, many communications were dedicated towards documenting the history of a company. This technology allows employees to be involved in making history and contributing more than ever.

Social Media: Posturing or Meaningful to Employees?

It’s good for me to be reminded that for every passionate proponent of social media and its benefits, there’s someone out there who is just as passionately dismissive of the channel. Or, maybe it’s not so much the channel they don’t trust as the good intentions of the leaders who are using it.

For instance, one of my readers posted a rather negative but thoughtful comment to a statement I made about how social media will be key to fostering high employee morale. It seemed pretty straight-forward to me, even innocuous considering all of the other comments I’ve made about the benefits of social media on my blog, so I’m extremely grateful for comments like this one that offer a window into the minds of nay-sayers of this channel. This is someone who obviously believes social media to be a patently false way of communicating that let’s leadership off the hook.

Here was the reader’s response (actually, I cut out a couple of sentences for the purpose of this post, but left them in his full comment).

Issue: “If to know what’s going on at my company I have to read the CEO’s blog, I am not gonna feel more involved than if the CEO actually sends an email telling the same (and even more detailed, due to the ‘privacy’ of the message as opposed to a public blog) information.

Thought: In most cases, it isn’t feasible from a timing standpoint for the CEO to send an email to everyone with detailed information appropriate for each recipient. My thought is that the willingness of a CEO to take the time to communicate key messages to employees in an authentic and real-time way is a sign of a good leader. Yes, email is an option, but Yum! Brands’ David Novak’s blog for employees is down to earth and inspiring – and employees are the ones who say that – not David. I do agree however, that if a blog is created for the sole purpose of posturing, then employees are going to see right through that and should dismiss it similar to dismissing false advertising or fake overtures of friendship or teamwork.

Issue: “Employees need to have a good channel to communicate with each other and with management. That’s been there for years, it’s called forums, for example. No need to have a ‘social network’ nor to have a profile page.
The problem is that the ones implementing these solutions…are more interested in saying ‘we have a forum’ (as in the 90s) or ‘we are a modern company: we use social media!’ (as in the past few years) – or even better, ‘we are a modern company: we use social media based on web2.0 technologies!’ – than in actually implementing a solution that indeed serves a purpose and improves communication.

Thought: I agree that employees need a good channel for communicating with each other and leadership in the company, but those systems and processes for communicating need to evolve with the times. I think what’s been described above is part of the story of the evolution of engagement marketing, and that’s not all bad. It sounds like maybe some of the communicators in this case might have been caught up in – or just not thinking through – how they were referring to the communication. Or maybe their hearts were in the right place, but the execution went awry. The best thing sometimes is just not to call it “social media” and focus more on what needs to be achieved rather than the technology. As a colleague of mine said on this very topic in my discussion group for social media in internal communications on LinkedIn, “As soon as you label it as part of social media, you are at risk of the nay sayers backing off. I see lot of people creating a social media strategy as an isolated piece of work. My view is that it should be an evolution of your existing communications strategy – after all, it’s all part of the same thing isn’t it?”

Again, the more we learn, the more we know. When it comes to engaging employees, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach (wouldn’t it be easier if there was?). But here’s to the journey of finding what works for the sake of everyone who wants to be a good employer and/or employee.

Recruiting Top Talent in A Recession

I was talking the other day with Angee Linsey, a recruiting consultant who works with Fortune 500 companies to secure the right talent for them. We were debating whether companies truly were trying to “snap up deals” and hire people on the cheap during this recession. I’ve actually heard this sentiment from some of my contacts and was interested in her thoughts. Here are some highlights from our conversation:

  • It’s not all about the $$$. “In the past, pay was not a reason people would leave,” said Angee. “Today, however, it is more so … especially for top performers.  With all of the cuts, as things are loosening up, pay can lure top talent away.  Of course, it remains important for there to be an equal feeling of value for both the employee and the employer.” Angee also noted that companies will consider increasing the salary range for the right candidate.
  • Stop looking for the Holy Grail. Angee says companies are taking more time to find the perfect person, because they think there is someone out there who can do it all in such a down job market. “They’ll say, ‘Here are my top three qualifications. They have to be able to 1) speak four languages, 2) have managed over 30 people and 3) be willing to travel to eight different locations in a week.’ And the company won’t budge. Two out of three isn’t good enough. In the past it might have been.” Angee’s advice is not to rule out the close-to-perfect prospect. “Getting the right personal attributes is essential, but some skills can be learned,” she says.
  • Start looking for curiosity. Angee says “curiosity” should be listed as a requirement for every job description. “But I bet there’s not a single job script out there that lists a natural state of curiosity as a top requirement,” she says, “For example, especially when I’m interviewing sales people, I look for someone who will keep asking questions until they get the problem solved. There pitch can’t be, ‘Here’s a widget. Buy it.’ You need someone who can find the solution that the customer will buy makes sense for the customer.”
  • Look for patterns of success. “Hiring managers need to look for patterns of success (or of a string of failures). Look for people who consistently rise to the top – whether on a project, in a volunteer organization, or even in school. Everything they touch turns into gold. On the other hand, even if someone has a good excuse for everything that’s ever gone wrong – that’s the wrong kind of pattern.”
  • Ah, kids today! With younger recruits, social media and internal communications are a big deal. Employee engagement is so important to Gen Y. “As is being a good corporate citizen,” says Angee. “The thing is, the jobs (or the work) is the same. It’s just how corporations talk about them.”
  • Who’s on your bus? “If you consistently hire ‘bad people,’ then it might be that you are not screening for the right things (it’s really you – it’s not them). That’s the good thing about quality recruiters, they help you work through all of those issues that are not on the job description,” says Angee. “That outside perspective can often help you see beyond if you ‘like’ the candidate.  It’s about getting down to the root of if that person can do the job in your organization – and do it well. Those are often the most important things.”

Communication Trends: Employees Want to Know More

Next time you’re talking with your colleagues about how to grow the business, and you’re covering issues such as price points, a product launch, distribution, consumer mindsets or cash flow – and you’re looking for a way to turn the conversation to communication or people – here’s a thought on how get your group’s attention. Tell them about a new study that says they can get a 47 percent higher total return to shareholders if the company effectively communicates to employees. This information should at least give them pause for thought. I know it caught my attention.

And, well, OK, this can’t be true for every company because every company is different for a thousand different reasons. Some companies are already extremely effective communicators, so they don’t have as far to climb up the ladder to reach elite status. And, even if you’re an effective communicator today, that doesn’t mean you’ll be one tomorrow, considering the ever-changing media channels.

In a way, this report is great news. We can always be better, and if you believe that – then there’s always more that can be achieved. If you’re not leveraging communications to forge a bond with employees and help them help you propel the company forward – then you have a fantastic opportunity sitting right in front of you.

Tribe’s research tells us that employees want to be communicated with more, not less. Don’t get discouraged if you’re hearing from employees that they’re getting “too much stuff.” Dig a little deeper when you hear that from people. That sometimes truly means that they can’t tell what’s what when it hits their inbox. It’s more of a problem about prioritizing and organizing than not wanting the information.

For instance, we know a few companies that have re-branded employee emails in the name of consistency to make it easier for employees to be able to identify corporate communications. (This example applies to many types of communications. I’m using this one for simplicity.) Here’s why this approach didn’t work:

  • Not everything is right for every channel. Some employees say they get dozens of emails from corporate a day. There should be a limit of how much you use any channel, or you risk devaluing it.
  • Prioritizing communications shouldn’t be a research project for employees. Let’s say one email is about the company entering a new field of business and the second is about a deadline for healthcare. Another email is about a change in the corporate gym’s hours of operation and another is about the lunch special (and there are 16 more emails after these of varying degrees of importance and urgency). By the time an employee has read through 20 or so of these emails to put together a to-do list, who knows how much time has been wasted?
  • Communications need to be efficient to be effective. Employees need to be uber efficient these days, so they need some help understanding at a glance which item to tackle first. If everything looks and sounds the same, then how do they do that? If they miss an important message about updating their healthcare by 5 pm or a change in company direction, the ramifications of this can lag on for a long time. They could not have health care for a year, or their staff could be angry because they weren’t informed about the change in company direction in a timely manner.

Back to the report I was referencing. It’s too impressive to dismiss. It included 328 companies representing 5 million employees in various regions around the world. They did their homework. Now it’s up to us what we’re going to do with this compelling information.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

How To Ruin Years Of Effort With One Dumb Mistake

directionsThis is how you can make years of progress toward a goal and then ruin your chances with one stupid mistake. We completely blew a meeting yesterday with a prospective client. The client’s assistant had sent us typed directions for several possible routes to their office, but no one at Tribe had stopped to read them very carefully. An hour or so before the meeting, we briefly discussed as a group which set of directions we should take and decided on one. Then my business partner and I set out for the meeting, an ample 45 minutes ahead of time.

The route we chose was the wrong one. Instead of the 20 or 3o minutes the trip should have taken, we drove around our elbow and through four counties (I’m serious), all the while following our typed directions. At five minutes before our meeting was scheduled, we were still whipping along some distant suburban highway and trying to come to terms with the fact that we were going to be late. We had GPS, we had our iPhone Map application and we had the office on the phone. All three assured us we were heading in the right direction, but we had a long way to go.

We apologized profusely and the prospective client was very gracious about it. But it’s a tough first impression to overcome. We were also rattled in the meeting and I’m sure we were not anywhere near the top of our game. The client turned out to be someone we enjoyed immensely. She was smart and energetic and funny and we would probably love working with her, but I’d be very surprised if we ever landed any of her business. And that’s completely our fault.

Our dumb mistake has much larger repercussions than one meeting. The drive back to our office (taking another of the listed routes on the assistant’s sheet) took less than 20 minutes. The crew back at Tribe understood that we’d shot ourselves in the foot with that meeting, but I don’t think they truly realized that we’d blown much more than one hour of a prospect’s time.

The effort it took to land that meeting began years ago. That prospective client works for a large Atlanta company which has been on our hit list since 2004 . For five years, my business partner has been reaching out to them with mailings and promotional pieces and emails and phone calls.

Over a year ago, in August of 2008, I finally connected on LinkedIn with Jo Ann, the then-marketing director of the company. Six months ago, Jo Ann left the company to start her own business and emailed to see if I’d like to get together for lunch or a glass of wine. Three weeks later, we finally met for lunch. She asked some advice on running her own company; In return, she kindly offered to set up an introduction with Leigh, the marketing director who took her place at her old company. Several weeks later, the introduction was made. It took my business partner a month after that to get Leigh to agree to a meeting. The meeting we had with her yesterday.

So there was a long road to that meeting yesterday, and I don’t mean the one we were following through four different counties. What we blew wasn’t one meeting. It was the years of effort to create a long series of very tiny movements toward that meeting.

Moral of the story: There’s so much a small business can’t control about whether a client hires us or not. Let’s control the ones we can. For instance, check out your directions ahead of time.


Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Sustainable Startup: Worthwhile Wine From South Africa


Tom Lynch’s new company really began on a father-daughter trip. He and his 13-year-old Miranda were planning a trip to South Africa, and decided they should spend a week of their time there doing something to help. They ended up in Nzinga, a remote village of mud huts, where Miranda read books to the children and helped out in the school while her dad was put to work planting potatoes and working in the communal garden.

On the trip home, Miranda told her father they couldn’t just leave and do nothing else. She wanted to keep working to help this village. Tom agreed to help her launch a non-profit, which Miranda named Isopho, a Zulu word for “gift” and the children’s nickname for Miranda. While they were sitting there waiting for the plane, Tom searched for available URLs and registered then and there.

Eventually, Tom began to feel a disconnect between his work with Isopho on nights and weekends and his daytime job as a VP of Strategy & Planning for a large digital agency. Doing more of the same each day at work felt insufficient, in light of the challenges he’d accepted in Nzinga. When the company began to consider layoffs, he suggested a mutually beneficial exit agreement for himself so that he could spend more time on Isopho.

He also began thinking about starting a company that might be a better complement to Isopho. On one trip to South Africa, he stayed an extra few weeks to visit an extensive list of wineries he had culled from an even larger list.  His first requirement was that the vineyard consistently win awards for great wine. And the second was that it contribute to sustainability in some major ways. Despite its unfortunate history, the South African wine industry is now one of the most progressive in the world.

The result is Tom’s new company, Worthwhile Wines, which will import 261 sustainable wines from 21 different South African Vineyards. Although the history of winemaking in South Africa is oppressive at best, the vineyards Tom selected are doing things like putting a third of the land in the names of the Black workers, providing school and decent housing for the families working there, developing ways to use fewer pesticides, using organic grapes and employing Blacks in management roles.

Most of us would choose a sustainable product over a similar one that’s not sustainable. But few of us want to go to much trouble to figure that out. Choosing a bottle imported by WorthWhile Wines will be a quick and easy way for consumers to know they’re a) getting a good wine, that B) is from a vineyard that ‘s doing good.

Worthwhile Wines will also be a way Tom Lynch can a) run a good business that b) does some good in the world.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

The Weird Resumes That Lead To Successful Entrepreneurs

ML hurdles026
Marilou (in white) hurdles toward her future startup

The path to entrepreneurship often covers exactly the right ground, in ways we could never predict. Interests and experience that seem to be unrelated eventually turn out to be precisely the preparation a specific new venture requires.

Marilou McFarlane, for example, has recently launched Vivo Girls Sports, an online community for athletic girls aged 13-22. If she had known when she was a kid that this was the company she’d start at age 48, she could not have plotted a more useful resume of stepping stones to this moment.

Sure, Marilou played sports as a girl. Soccer and track and tennis and more. She also grew up around college sports, since her father, Jim Heavner, announced many of the Tarheel games for WCHL,  the radio station he started in Chapel Hill. (Being the daughter of an entrepreneur also helps pave the way for starting your own gig later.) After college, she worked for Turner, back when Ted still owned it all, so that gave her some good experience in media, as well as a chance to work for another entrepreneur who thinks big. Later, in San Francisco, she was a media rep for KCBS for many years, before she started her own company, McFarlane Marketing. She had two daughters, both athletic, and was involved in season after season of their sports. For two years, she served as president of their soccer league, a full-time volunteer position she handled while continuing to build her marketing company. She also started an offshoot of  her marketing company that targeted colleges specifically. And now her oldest daughter, Kelly, will be playing for the Tarheels in Chapel Hill starting next year — on their very impressive women’s soccer team.

Marilou knows sports and she knows marketing. She understands teenagers and college students. She has a deep affinity for the issues that girls in those age brackets are facing. She’s savvy to the incredible buying power of this group and its appeal to marketers. And she’s not afraid to start something  new.

Starting a company is not just a way to make a living. Sometimes it’s how we reconcile and integrate everything we are.

Employees Engaging Consumers Through Social Media

I was reading an article today at Advertising Age on “Ten Things Social Media Can’t Do”. It’s a good article and worth a read, although it’s not from an internal communications perspective. One thing that really jumped out at me came from the second point on top management buy-in:

Social media can’t: Succeed without top management buy-in. Social media requires a way of thinking that includes willingness to listen to customers, make changes based on feedback and trust employees to talk to customers. The culture of fear (of job loss, of losing message control, of change) is ingrained in corporate cultures. Top management has to want to change.

“Trusting employees to talk to customers” is huge. One of the main reasons for companies to roll out social media internally is to build trust between employees and management, and nothing says “I trust you” more than allowing free communications between employees and customers. In my recent post on how Nationwide is using Yammer for internal communications, Nationwide Director of Social Media Shawn Morton expressed the same belief. This really is the sweet spot, and a growing trend in social media.

By trusting employees to directly communicate with customers on a one-on-one basis, companies will do wonders in terms of creating brand ambassadors. Moving beyond the “culture of fear” opens the door to everything companies want to be: open, honest, transparent and responsive. Could blurring the line between internal and external communications be the new trend in corporate communications? If so, Best Buy’s TwelpForce could be leading the way.