Archives for posts with tag: Facebook

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To the casual observer, the world of online reviews has never been healthier.

We are constantly asked to leave reviews, or check-in, and the worst excesses of Yelp and the businesses that try to control posts, seem to have been brought under control.
However, all is not well in the world of online reviews, if it ever was.

The story of the gentleman who created a fake restaurant and got it to become the Top-Rated restaurant on TripAdvisor really should have us never trusting a review site ever again. The story is extraordinary in many ways. That the gentleman concerned made a living writing fake reviews for restaurants, and then was able to manipulate the system to such an extent that a non-existent restaurant, that nobody could find (and they tried), are just two. That the whole thing went on to become such a phenomenon that he effectively had no choice but to create the restaurant to service the demand, is just the icing on the cake.

Yelp, that boogie man to most small businesses, are increasingly cracking down on those who request reviews. Always against Yelp’s terms of service, the practice of asking for reviews is considered best practice by most marketing professionals with the occasional caveat for Yelp. One look at the unregulated, and widely gamed world of Google Local reviews, where a significant proportion of reviews seem to be highly suspicious, and that lack even the admittedly flawed tools that Yelp uses to protect their review ecosystem, should give one pause. The wild west of Google’s review space is so out of control that businesses that do not game the system are at a distinct disadvantage.

It is actually to Yelp’s credit that they do care about their review ecosystem. It is easier to report a Yelp review that a business has issues with, than with any other platform. Yelp also takes seriously the practice of Yelp Bombing and the Weaponizing of Reviews;

particularly when it comes to a business in the news. However, far too many customers use Yelp as a threat, or even as downright extortion, on a daily basis. Even with Yelp’s reporting tools, the rules are still so arcane and at times they can seem downright arbitrary.

To add to the bad news in the reviews world we have to add the knots that both Glassdoor and Indeed are tying themselves up in by trying to have their cake and eat it. Glassdoor, which created a space for employees to share salary, benefits, and culture reviews about their former, and current employers reads more like a platform for griping from former employees unless your company is of sufficient size to generate more than just a handful of reviews. In order to monetize their site, Glassdoor are now encouraging employers to advertise on their platform with limited success. Why would an employer help pay for a site that essentially tries to undermine the narrative that an employer tries to portray to new hires?

Indeed, the highly successful job board that bases its pricing model on an adwords like format, now want to try and imbed employee reviews about the companies posting jobs. Effectively Glassdoor is trying to become Indeed, and Indeed is trying to become more like Glassdoor. What both companies are only now coming to realize that businesses are generally not fans of an unregulated review space, which all too quickly devolves into a method for revenge for former employees who feel wronged. Which in turn means employers can feel they have no option but to try and game these sites themselves. Plenty of new employee orientation sessions now include a “write a review” segment.

So, the review world is a mess. How to fix it?

In a twist worthy of one of its own plot lines, the dystopian science fiction anthology show “Black Mirror,” currently on Netflix, potentially shows a way out of the quagmire of everyone trying to manipulate the review space to their own ends. Titled “Nosedive,” the Black Mirror episode is set in the near future where everyone is concerned about their social media profile, which affects everything from their job to where they can live, and follows a young lady trying to leverage a wedding invitation to increase her social standing. However, things do not go as planned.

What is interesting about the episode is the idea of a single social profile that has, for want of a better word, a points system based on karma. Be nice to gas station attendant and your karma goes up. Be a jerk and it goes down. Of course, things work both ways, but it does highlight the problem with the review space as it currently stands. With the possible exception of Facebook, the vast majority review sites do not require, and sometimes do not even allow, real names. None of the review platforms allow for business to review customers, and while on Yelp and Google, one can see what their history of reviewing is like, there are no consequences for constantly leaving bad reviews, or trying to blackmail a business.

Lyft and Uber do have a review platform that works both ways, between customer and driver, however this is less of an open system than just a general ranking. It is a step in the right direction though and one that the more traditional review sites could learn from.

Facebook is probably in the best place to implement a customer ranking, or even a review ranking system. Facebook is become ubiquitous in so many areas. For those who have read Ernest Cline’s superb “Ready Player One” will recognize that Facebook is essentially placing itself as an equivalent of “The Oasis:” a portal on an online virtual reality environment where people work, learn, and play.

There was a time when if a customer had a problem they would complain to what was essentially an independent body, who would help to try and come up with a compromise to customer service issues and arbiter disputes. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) did not fair well in the internet age and is now pretty irrelevant with most customers now turning to Yelp or Google.

Businesses are mostly at fault for not doing a better job of embracing the BBB, however, with the swing firmly going in the other direction now, and the space being corrupted out of all reason and sense by both businesses and customers, things have to change if reviews are to be of any relevance or even any use.

The days of the BBB do seem rather quaint, but maybe their model was right after all. I look forward to a level playing field with or with out a referee.

And remember to leave me a review!

Reviews are here to stay, and that’s a good thing. But how do businesses defend themselves from those who would abuse the review system for their own ends? In this three-part series, I offer practical advice on how to handle Yelp bombing campaigns and how to mitigate their effects. In part two, we look at how to hopefully prevent, and then handle a weaponized review campaign going viral. You can find part one, on prevention and initial responses, here and you can find part three on the other tactics undertaken by Yelp bombers, other than just posting reviews, and coming to a resolution, here.

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(image courtesy of http://pexels.com )

Whack-A Mole

After you have responded to the initial review, you now have several reviews all referencing the same issue / incident. The good news is that most review platforms care about their review eco-space and you can report these reviews as violations of their Terms of Service. Brevity is the key. Don’t explain why the reviewer is wrong just explain that the review is essentially a duplicate and part of a campaign or a review by someone who is not a customer.

Make sure to start checking your other platforms for reviews, respond to the first one with your measured response, and then report any duplicates. Don’t forget about other opportunities to post on your social media pages and channels. Yelp Tips, which can only be viewed on mobile devices, are often forgotten. Posts to your Facebook page, or check-ins on Facebook and other location based services, are also areas that need to be monitored. Other than the initial measured response, do not engage on that platform any further. If a customer has a genuine question then of course you should answer, but it ideally should just be a version of your measured response.

Going Viral

Making something go viral, for any reason, is hard. You should take solace in this. As a marketing professional, I have only had one thing go truly viral, and that is not so unusual. An amateur trying to make something go viral will have to be very lucky indeed. However, we do live in an age of ordinary people with extraordinary social reach. If review / story has legs and starts to go viral, you need to be prepared.

Banning people from your Facebook page, and other social media channels, can be counterproductive. In the minds of those posting, it just proves that you have something to hide. Take the moral high ground and post your measured response on your social media channels and your website. This can be a little risky as you are letting your clients and followers know about something you have been trying make go away. It can also be a hard sell to those you report to. It does, however, have the advantage of letting you shape the story rather than letting others shape it and just leaving you to respond.

A great example of this working is how FedEx responded to one of their drivers caught on camera throwing a computer monitor over a fence. By responding publicly, with an apology, and what and how they were going to change, the story went from a FedEx driver throwing a package over a fence as an example of how packages are delivered, to how FedEx’s quick response was indicative of their customer service and culture. I believe one of the genius elements of FedEx’s response was to make a video statement so that their own video could be played alongside the video of their employee throwing the package. This looked a lot better than an uncomfortable interview, or a written statement.

By taking the moral high ground and being open, you may not convince your initial detractors that you are sorry / wanting the resolve the issue, but you may well persuade some that are on the fence about the issue. You will also give ammunition to those in your network, that support you, to help defend you. Your existing loyal customers will often be your biggest defenders and cheerleaders, but they need guidance. For this reason, I am not a big fan of disabling reviews on Facebook pages and the ability of users to post – but that is decision that needs to be based on the individual situation.

The Press

News organizations, and particularly local TV news, get pitched multiple times every day by people angry by how they feel they have been treated by a business. The good news for businesses is that it takes a lot for a story to be picked up, and anyone who is waging a campaign against you is unlikely to get past their screening process. The bad news is that news organizations need human interest stories, and if the customer is credible, and has a story with legs, then the media may get involved.

It is important that whomever answers the phones in your company, and your entire frontline staff for that matter, understand how to deal with the press when they come calling. “I know that the management will want to talk with you and address the situation. I am not the right person for you to talk with, but let me get you someone who is.” is an example of how to correctly respond to an enquiry. “No comment” is about the worst thing that anyone can say to press. The lack of a comment becomes the story. It makes it look like whomever has said it has something to hide because they don’t want to speak.

When talking to the press be very brief. The longer the answer you give, the more chance there is for something to be taken out of context. If you do not speak to the press; however, you will not make the story go away. Reporters have deadlines, so be cognizant and respectful of that. For the most part reporters are not looking to burn anyone, but they do want a story – try to make it yours, and not defined by someone else.

Unfortunately, once the media gets involved with viral story, it can self-perpetuate a Yelp bombing campaign with others who have read about / or seen the story leaving reviews. Again, Yelp itself is pretty good about dealing with this. If you send a link to the story in the media story when flagging the review Yelp can suspend all reviews to your account until interest burns out.

If you have stories, or additional tips on how to solve Yelp Bombing / review campaigns, please let me know in the comments. If you have an ongoing issue, please feel free to reach out to me.

Reviews are here to stay, and that’s a good thing. But how do businesses defend themselves from those who would abuse the review system for their own ends? In this three-part series, I offer practical advice on how to handle Yelp bombing campaigns and how to mitigate their effects. In part one, we look at how to prevent, and initially respond, to weaponized reviews. In part two, we look at preventing and then handling a weaponized review campaign going viral. In part three, we look at other tactics undertaken by Yelp bombers, other than just posting reviews, and coming to a resolution.

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(image courtesy of http://pexels.com )

Nobody in business likes getting bad reviews. Anyone who pours their heart and soul into an enterprise can feel dispirited, and treated unfairly, when receiving criticism; particularly when you have not been given the chance to try and resolve the issue.

Like it or not, reviews are here to stay. They are a fact of doing business today. To deal with everyday review issues, I highly recommend Jay Baer’s excellent “Hug Your Haters,” which I reviewed here.

Unfortunately, however, there are people who try to turn reviews into a weapon. This is usually achieved by posting multiple reviews, sometimes across multiple platforms, using multiple different accounts, giving the impression of a serious issue or to destroy the businesses review platform rating. This can be to extort money and / or services, or as an act of revenge. This kind of review warfare is also sometimes known by the term “Yelp bombing.” This series, hopefully, will give you some grounding, and tools, to help protect yourself, and your business, from weaponized reviews.

It is important to recognize the difference between a Yelp bombing campaign and a review going viral. If something is going viral, it is because strangers like, or are outraged by, what they see or read. When it comes to a concerted attack, there may be a hope that the attack will become viral, but it is originally perpetrated one person, or a small group, trying to exert influence. This could be a customer, a former employee, a competitor, or just a bully trying to change something about you or your business.

Prevention

It is a cliché, but an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Have a complaints procedure for your clients. Empower your staff to solve small issues before they turn into big issues. Listen, learn, and respond to your reviews. Try to divorce yourself from the idea that you are right and they are wrong. It does not matter if you win the argument in your place of business. If you turn your customer into an enemy, and they then bash you online, you have lost.

Usually, apologies cost nothing. Make them sincere and swallow your pride. If the dispute cannot be resolved with an apology ask a simple question: “how much am I willing to pay to not have this appear on Yelp or other review sites?” Whatever the answer is, there is your budget for resolving this complaint.

Obviously, you have to have claimed your business on all the major review platforms. Going through this in detail is really outside the realm of this article; however, you should receive an email, or alert, anytime someone posts a review on Yelp, Google, or Facebook. I would also strongly suggest that you have a Google Alert running for mentions of your business name, names of key personal, or anything else that someone may use to identify or describe your business. You can setup alerts here: https://www.google.com/alerts

Stay away from controversial subjects with your online presence. Businesses should standup and be counted for causes and ideas they support, but go into it with your eyes open. With any controversial subject, there is the potential for someone to become upset and try to change your stance by methods other than debate or no longer giving you their custom.

Assessment

Despite your best efforts; however, you find yourself a target of a Yelp bombing campaign. It is important to note, that while the term “Yelp bombing” has become a generic term for an online review attack, Yelp is actually the platform you want this kind of attack to take place on. Yelp tends to have the best tools and resources for a business to protect itself. I am not a big fan of Yelp, you can read my feelings about Yelp and why I dislike their business model here, but when it comes to Yelp bombing they really do have their act together.

The first signs of a campaign against your business will usually be you being alerted to, or reading, a 1-star review. Speed is of the essence. If the review is seemingly out of nowhere, then reach out to the reviewer apologizing for their experience and asking if you can help to resolve the situation. If the platform allows it, message the reviewer privately. Don’t be afraid to ask them for their name so you can look into the matter.
If, despite your speedy response, more reviews are posted, then you have genuine situation on your hands.

First, breathe.

It is easy to feel panicked and that events are completely out of your control. You need to be the one with the cool head. People undertaking a Yelp bombing campaign are not doing so from a particularly rational place. This usually shows up in the writing and the nature of the complaint.

Read the review(s). Does the client have a point from reading the review? Is it a good story? If you were not connected to the business would you want to learn more? Remember right and wrong does not enter into your assessment of the campaign. What you need to assess is whether the story has “legs.” Is what has been written true? If someone reads this who knows nothing about your business will they believe it? Get other people’s opinions – this will help bring some perspective. If you make the assessment that the reviewer has a point and that the story has legs then there is the potential for it go viral, which is what you are trying to stop.

First Responses

Do not, I repeat, do not be in too much of a hurry to tell your side of the story. However, while it is important to not to lash out immediately with why your customer is “wrong, crazy, or clueless,” it is also important that your response is prompt and the correct response.

If the reviewer is not communicating, then start to craft a public response that addresses your position in very general terms and that you are happy to engage further via a different channel. I am a big proponent for email as this new channel. Email keeps the communication out of the public eye, unless someone posts it, it takes the heat out of conversations, and it gives you a written record. I know others feel that responding by a phone call, or even meeting in person, are better solutions. I would suggest that you choose whatever you are the most comfortable with.

Your response should be read by multiple other people and you should all agree that it is reasonable, conciliatory, and addresses the reviewer’s primary complaint. If the campaign against you has legs, and starts to go viral, your response will also be featured so it is important that the response is the right one.

It should also go without saying, that you should never retaliate. You need to be the adult, and it needs to be clearly seen by any 3rd party that you are conciliatory, level headed, and just trying to resolve the issue.

If you have stories, or additional tips on how to solve Yelp bombing / review campaigns, please let me know in the comments. If you have an ongoing issue, please feel free to reach out to me.

By Mike Falconer

In the very short history of live streaming with mobile devices through apps such as Periscope, and perhaps more importantly Facebook due to its ubiquity, there have been number of notable firsts. Some have been amazing, some have been funny, and lots have been horrific.

The shooting death during a traffic stop of Philando Castile by a Police Officer, quite apart from being an awful tragedy which is still under investigation, had its immediate aftermath streamed live over Facebook as you have undoubtably heard if not indeed actually seen.

The debate, the police response, and I am sure the entire investigation, surrounding this shooting has been framed by one of the witnessing participants and their actions. Not that fact that a video exists but that a video exists and a significant portion of the population of the country, if not the world, will have seen and even taken part in the immediate aftermath.

There may actually be a lot of good that comes from the instant live streaming of events, even when bad things happen; however, we live in a pretty unforgiving world. And so it was the Philando Castile shooting that started me thinking about the wider implications not just for race relations and policing, but for how people will deal with difficult, or even impossible situations, and how that will impact those on the other end of those situations.

Social media, and its close cousin the online review, has created a culture that embraces the shaming of mistakes and, for the most part, rejects the idea of context. All to often these tools are used as instruments of revenge rather than as a tool to achieve resolution or inform other consumers. We don’t put people in stocks in the town square any more, but we do ruin their lives for a bad joke in ill taste or a photograph that seems to mock our most cherished beliefs. As Jon Ronson writes in his excellent – So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed – “We have always had some influence over the justice system but for the first time in 180 years, since the stocks and the pillory were outlawed we have the power to determine the severity of some punishments and so we have to think about what level of mercilessness we feel comfortable with.”

In business, we may yet yearn for the days when an unhappy client meant a vitriolic Yelp post at 2AM. All businesses prefer, or at least they should, clients to complain when they are unhappy for whatever reason. A complaint from a client is an opportunity to salvage a situation and gain a more loyal client at the end of it. However, when the complaint itself becomes an instrument of revenge and shaming how should, or indeed how can, businesses respond?

The nightmare scenario could take many forms, however in the veterinary world it could take the form of difficult conversation about quality of life, cost of treatment, and accusations of medical error live streaming across the Internet, with the client’s social circle providing encouragement and additional fuel to the fire. Add to that nightmare scenario that most people are nervous when on camera and that as a business you have little chance to respond due to social circles being closed and content being shared far and wide. Imagine your worst experience in an exam room and then add 10s, 100s, maybe even 1,000s of additional participants not as a moment on what happened, but actively participating.

In this situation, it will not be about customer service and it will not be about a complaint. It will be about damage control. This will be about the power of one person to control their environment, and those around them, by leveraging their social circle and social reach. This will no longer be a conversation with a client, it will become responding to a leader of an angry mob.

With power comes great responsibility, but also the potential for great irresponsibility.

As people who deal with the public at stressful times we all need to be comfortable with the fact that live streaming is here and what it could mean for all interactions. The time to be thinking about this is not as the person across from you says “by the way I’m streaming this on Facebook.”

I do not have great insights into how to deal with these situations other than the same insights as to how to deal with online reviews. Deal with them the same way as if the camera was not there. Easier said than done I know. Try and address your clients concerns, be accommodating, and try and deliver excellent customer service. Be the reasonable one – be the professional. It may mean that we all need to be comfortable on camera – how we sound, how we talk, and what to say and not to say.

Live streaming has huge potential and has already affected the world and how we view events. However, it’s greatest impact may be at the personal level and end, or a new appreciation for, personal privacy. Banning technology rarely works. Adapting and being prepared, however, is far better option that sticking ones head in the sand. Facebook will still see the rest of you if you do anyway.

Notes on Startups, or how to build the future – with Blake Masters.


(Clicking on the image above will take you to Amazon where a tiny percentage goes to help fund my book buying habit.)

Some will know Peter Thiel (pronounced teal) as one of the founders of PayPal, or maybe even as an Silicon Valley investor. However, it is much more likely that you recognize his name from his brief portrayal in the movie: “The Social Network.” Wherever you know is name from, even if it is from my blog, he is a man worth listening to. Blake Masters certainly thought so when he attended a series of lectures that Theil gave at Stanford and took more copious notes than anyone else. These notes started to circulate to a much wider audience than the student body and so a book project was born.

Zero to One is a reference to the ability of a technology company to go from nothing to something and thereby change the world. Interestingly, Theil defines a technology company as any company with new ideas – doing more with less. This generally means software startups in the mold of Google, Apple, and Facebook, but he is at pains to stress it does not have to be.

Zero to One is interesting because the ideas it contains about business are quite contrarian to what we believe as outsiders about startups and Silicon Valley (and I’m sure to a number insiders as well). We have all been brought up to believe that competition is a good thing; however, Theil makes a convincing case for competition as a destructive force. “Monopoly is the condition of every successful business” and “Every business is successful to exactly to the extent that it does something that others cannot.”

He is on less firm ground when he tries to apply his startup thinking to the wider geo-political world. Although he is undoubtedly on to something with defining groups of people as “indefinite optimists” “indefinite pessimists” “definite optimists” and “definite pessimists” – particularly as it relates to politicians, and finance – it is hard to buy this as it relates to entire continents.

It is interesting to note that a lot of the ideas contained in Zero to One are self evident but are so against standard business thinking (it is a brave man who says Malcolm Gladwell needs to rethink his ideas) that they have the favor of heresy. Why should you expect any business to succeed without a plan? A business that cannot provide a ten fold improvement in technology over its competitors is doomed to competition death. Don’t disrupt – avoid competition. The history of progress is one of monopolistic innovation.

What helps sell these heresies is how Theil relates these to the high tech modern fables that we have all grown to know, but not understand: Google vs. Microsoft. Microsoft vs. the United States Government. The rise of Facebook. And the reemergence of Apple.

One thing that explains a lot of the success of the Silicon Valley startup is the focus and vision of founders. However, as Theil points out this comes with its own drawbacks and potential pitfalls – particularly as you try to apply his thinking to general business environments.

“…(the) strange way that new technology companies often resemble feudal monarchies rather than organizations that are supposedly more modern. A unique founder can make authoritative decisions. Inspire strong personal loyalty. And plan ahead for decades. Paradoxically, impersonal bureaucracies staffed by trained professionals can last longer than any lifetime but usually act on short time horizons.”

The cult of personality can come at a cost for both the founder and the companies they have created. Founders are important not because they are the only ones who’s work and add value but because they can bring out the best work in other people. Adulation of a founder has to be tempered by the fact that it can turn into demonization and notoriety at any point. Theil indeed makes a striking comparison between founders and the worshiping of scapegoats and sacrifices of ancient peoples.

Zero to One is that most rare of things, a business book that actually contains new and interesting ideas about companies and markets that you felt you already knew about. It also has some stark lessons for those who seek to emulate the success of the startup model, without understanding what makes it successful in the first place. Hint: it is not the perks!

This is less a manual for the modern startup, and more a cautionary tale about borrowing ideas without understanding context. Whatever you take from it, it is certainly a book worth reading and Theil is a thinker we should hear more from outside of Silicon Valley.

I am all for Return On Investment (ROI).

However, defining ROI in any small service business, particularly in marketing, can be incredibly difficult to be even remotely useful. Most businesses don’t bother except when it is easy. But for some reason, when it comes to social media, ROI is mission critical.

Why?

You can place an ad for discounted services, with a coupon, running for a month, and a unique web address, and  a unique phone number, and track that (but honestly how many actually do this?) But how can you track the person who becomes aware of your business through that ad, spots your sign one day while driving by, and then six months later needs and uses your services unrelated to the ad?

What is the ROI of your fax machine?

What is the ROI of customer service?

What is the ROI of a strong brand?

How do you place a value on communicating with a significant proportion of your clients every day?

Most businesses consider word of mouth one of the most important forms of promotion. It is essentially free and it is highly effective. With social media, we have the opportunity to insert our businesses into the “word of mouth” of our customers, and thereby their friends, and their friends friends. Why would you not get involved and take advantage of that?

Facebook for my business probably takes up 15 minutes of my day on average. An email, or even a call by the time I’ve documented it, to an upset client can easily take an hour. Should I not deal with an upset client when I don’t have to because the ROI is lousy? Yes, you can place a value on a client and on retaining that client. You can even track that you do get some clients from Facebook, but you may also get clients because you have an email address or a telephone number. When was the last time that anyone figured out the ROI of their email system? Even when buying a new phone system most businesses to not justify it with ROI, but rather than as the cost of doing business.

Small businesses often look up to companies such as Nike and Apple and see their devoted, and almost rabid, fan bases as evidence of marketing in action. I would argue, however, that companies like Apple and Nike create devoted fan bases is by being approachable and interacting with their clients – Apple in particular. I’m not the greatest Steve Jobs fan, but there are lots of examples of Steve taking the time to reply to ordinary consumers and being very interested in what they had to say. HP, Dell, et al. for a number of years, sold dramatically more computers than Apple, but it was Apple who held Mac World every year. Nike became cool because they did not go after deals, they went after people who actually used their shoes – athletes. They engaged their most high profile target market.

Of course, there is a lot of other marketing involved, but remember Apple’s most famous ad only ran once in most markets. Apple, and Nike for that matter, opened their own stores that operate on a quite a different model from other retail outlets. There is some argument that this was to help control the customer experience, but I also feel it was to be able to respond, and engage, with customers. Like all companies, they do not always get it right, but I do think that it is the willingness to attempt true engagement, and a real concern for the customer experience, that breeds fierce loyalty.

Social media is not a strategy – engagement, however, is.

So how to do social media and get some results and some traction?

To me, a major issue for small businesses is when they are on Facebook, Twitter, Google +, YouTube, and are doing all of them badly. Focus on one, and only one, and do it well. Then you can move on to another one.

Create things,or provide a service, using social media that other people will value.

Share other people’s content sparingly.

Self promotion has to have value, or at least not look like self promotion.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions of your fan base or ask them to share.

Drive fans to your website, or blog, from places like Facebook or YouTube not the other way round.

Pick your social media sites carefully. In my opinion, YouTube, for example, is very useful and can expose you to an enormous audiences, but the attention span is fleeting and the sense of community is almost non-existent. Embed videos in your site or page. Facebook works for my business and my previous business. Twitter does not. However, Twitter will almost certainly work for my new business, and it works for me personally. This has a lot to do with the small towns versus large cities and the  nature of my business – it may well be different for yours. Google+ has some personal value, and some SEO benefits, but has little real world value at this point in time in my opinion. But it does look very pretty!

Numbers of likes or followers are pretty irrelevant. It is the level of engagement that counts. I’d much rather have two hundred relevant, and engaged, fans or followers than 6,000 just making up the numbers. As someone much smarter than me once said: “If you believe business is built on relationships, make building them your business.”

And finally, don’t cross post, post from one social network to another, unless you really know what you are doing.

And even then just don’t do it.

Please.

I beg of you.

I see people I respect and who should really know better, cross posting and it is counterproductive. Content for Facebook does not translate well to Twitter because of the character limit. Twitter’s special characters are not understood by most Facebook users.

There are social networks where cross posting seems to work pretty well, but again, it is a black art, and if you are questioning the ROI of any social network, cross posting from a different network is not any kind of an investment.

To sum up this long, and sprawling post, the ROI of social media is the ROI of engagement. If talking to existing and new customers is not for you then I wish you well.

That just means more customers for the rest of us.

Many thanks to my friends and colleagues on the Marking in Veterinary Medicine LinkedIn group for the conversation that this post was cannibalized from. Also many thanks to Ali Burden-Blake (@inkspotsocial) for her excellent blog post: “Stop! Why using social media won’t work for your veterinary practice.” which inspired the conversation in the first place.

For a field supposedly bereft of metrics, social media is full of them.

I have more Facebook fans / Twitter followers / blog subscribers than you do. My tweets get re-tweeted more often, more people are talking about this on Facebook, and every blog post has a hundred comments. And, of course, the crowning achievement, my Klout score is higher than yours.

I’ve had a couple of run-ins lately with social media envy. The first was a blog post that was very popular for all the wrong reasons – I took a position that lots of people disagreed with. I don’t regret that post (or the sentiment it contained), but it did get me thinking on the nature of why that post was so “popular” compared to others on my blog. Certainly, it has been a long understood concept that controversy boosts readership (just ask a tabloid journalist). However, what really made me start thinking on this topic was why would readers engage more just to tell me I’m wrong? Does this kind of thinking carry over into more corporate blogging? Should I start my next vet practice blog with the words “I hate pets?”

Obviously, you won’t find any anti-pet blog posts from me any time soon. But it led me to start reassessing as to why I decided to start blogging in the first place.

The next thing that really set off the social media envy was Facebook. Working in small communities, and have having a very successful Facebook presence on the two major pages I have run as a veterinary practice manager, I believe I am justifiably proud of both the number of fans and the level of engagement, without vast sums of cash being sunk into the pockets of Mark Zuckerberg. My pages have had significantly better engagement, and fan bases than my competitors, or other local businesses. Of course, it is therefore disheartening to come across others who seem to be doing a better job – with more fans and better engagement, even if they are not in your market. Social Media envy I hate you.

The bottom line, however, is that social media envy, like envy and jealously in general is pointless and stupid. The real questions to be asking ones self when faced with social media envy are:

1: Does my presence achieve what I want it to achieve?

2: If someone else is achieving more than I am how can I learn from them and is it even possible for me to do something similar? There is a big difference, for example, in running a Facebook page for a rock band versus running a page for a veterinary hospital or a restaurant.

3: Am I making forward progress and do my clients, and potential clients, like what my online presence delivers for them?

Social media, is a element of a marketing strategy, not a marketing strategy in itself. It is a tool to achieve your goals. And those goals can be quite ethereal. If social media is not working for you, then it is time to try something else or learn from those who doing what you want to be able to do.

It is not a race.

It is not a competition.

It is a tool.

It makes no sense to judge yourself, or even the tool, by how others use it.

Comments, good, bad, and indifferent are always welcome – flame away!   

You build a marketing strategy, craft your brand, have a good grasp of your online identity, lots of likes and followers on the various social media platforms, and even have developed great connections to your local media…and then you do something really stupid that could potentially blow it all.

Nobody is perfect, and we all makes mistakes – I’ve made some doozers. But there is a real difference between making mistakes, admitting those mistakes and then trying to fix the problem, as opposed to declaring war on your customers and ultimately your own business.

Lets take this little Twitter gem for starters courtesy of the Daily Mail. A customer in your restaurant overhears a waiter being rude about another restaurant owner who the customer happens to know personally. Your customer is not to thrilled with the service already, and finds this behavior to be rather off, so they Tweet about it. What you do not do, as a restaurant owner, is call up from home, ask to speak to the customer in question, curse at them down the phone, and then demand they leave. That, however, is exactly what happened. In the ensuing Twitter onslaught, the restaurant came off far worse and created a massive (the restaurant is in Texas, the Daily Mail is a UK newspaper as an example) amount of negative publicity over a customer service issue. An apology, and a courtesy meal or bottle of wine, could have turned this incident into a minor win instead of this major fail.

Next up, the auto-body shop that after using a photographer’s work on their Facebook page without permission, proceeded to threaten and abuse the photographer on their own Facebook page for all to see. Needless to say, the page went viral over Twitter and Facebook. With the almost universally courteous, and intelligent, posts from supporters of the photographer, and gangsta inspired vitriol from the body shop it could only be seen as a massive marketing failure right in front of the businesses own 500+ fans. I believe the page is now been taken down as I can no longer find it, but if anyone knows if it is still up please drop me a line so I can share the link.

The Airbnb saga, has been done to death but is instructive because even very smart people can do really dumb things. The basic outline is that Airbnb is a service that allows homeowners to rent out a room on a short term basis like a hotel. Unfortunately, when an owner returned to find their apartment trashed, and their identity stolen, Airbnb basically stuck their heads in the sand and appeared to try and discredit the victim to stop her blogging about her experience. After a major backlash, Airbnb added safeguards, an insurance policy, and tried to do the right thing by the victim. But it could be too little too late considering their model is very easy to copy and already has a number of competitors. Most people had never even heard of Airbnb until this story exploded.

Finally, something a bit closer to home, how would you, or your staff, feel about having this tweeted from your hospital by a doctor, or about your pet?

Twitter vet image blanked out

Not only is this amazingly unprofessional, but all it will take is a single person to make the connection between hospital and Twitter account (the account does not identify the hospital, or the doctor, but I have still blanked out what is there in the interests of fairness) and this will become a huge problem. I’m sure it violates the hospital’s social media policy and I’m sure you could make an argument for it also being damaging to the profession to boot!

The bottom line is that your reputation and your brand are fragile. It is very easy for it to be damaged by just forgetting the basics of customer service. Never do anything, or say anything online, that you wouldn’t want on the front page of the paper or on a billboard. This is an age where it is easier to get your message out than ever before, but it is also just as easy for everyone else. And nothing travels, or goes viral, quite as well as scandal or bad news.

Does anyone have disastrous stories they would like to share or other examples they have seen online? Share with the rest of us in the comments!

(Click on the image above to view the book on Amazon!)

With possibly the longest subtitle ever: “Move your business forward through the convergence of search, social & content marketing,” Accelerate! cannot be accused of false advertising.

Quiet simply, Accelerate is a blueprint for successfully using 21st century tools for small business online marketing. Written by Arnie Kuenn, the president of Vertical Measures in Phoenix, and a co-founder of the Arizona Interactive Marketing Association; Mr. Kuenn certainly knows his stuff. In fact, it is one of the few criticism of the book that I have, is that it gets a little dense at times, particularly early on. The Search Engine Optimization (SEO) section while being very detailed gets to be a little much and will require a couple of readings for all but the most experienced of readers. However, the style does settle down, and it would be a mistake to give up on the book as and what you are left with in the end is, a user friendly handbook for search, social media, and content marketing.

The book covers all the major players as you might expect; Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google; but is also covers a lot of the less mainstream sites. Accelerate! plucks a number online tools out from the magic geek SEO toolbox to help with almost every aspect of the radical overhaul of your marketing strategy that will undoubtedly unfold once you have finished the book. I myself, am already looking carefully at how I put posts together for my site and have joined a number of social bookmarking sites directly because of this book.

A self published book, also available in a Kindle edition, I was initially concerned about the physical binding on Accelerate! I’ve had problems in the past with the spines of self published books cracking and then loosing pages after a single reading. I’m happy to report that this is not the case with Accelerate! I did take care not to be too absusive to the spine, but i needn’t have worried, the book is in great shape and looks the same as when it arrived.

I mention the self publishing issue, not just because of quality, but also because the text of the book directly references it as well. With a subject such as search and social media marketing, it is easy to get very out of date very quickly – Google+, for example, is not mentioned once. As the text explains, being a self published book, in addition to being an E-book, allows for easier updates than traditional publishing. I, for one, hope we do get new editions on a fairly regular basis, because this a great resource and one I know I will be referring to for quite some time. In fact, I found it quite odd to see URLs in the footnotes and be unable to click on them – should have got the Kindle version!

Mr. Kuenn’s book will not tell you how to brand and create a marketing strategy for your business – hopefully that is why you read my blog! What Accelerate! will do, however, is tell you how to navigate the waters of the increasingly complex world of search, social media, and content marketing. This still might not mean that you still don’t need to hire someone of Mr. Kuenn’s caliber, or the man himself, to work with you on these magic things. But if you do you’ll at least know what they are talking about and why.

If you want to get serious about search, social media and content marketing, you need to buy this book – it does what is says on the cover!

(Clicking on the cover above will take you to the book’s Amazon page and contribute to my book buying habit / problem.)

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