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By Mike Falconer

The most popular post to date on my site is: “Why I hate Yelp (and you should too!).”

I still do by the way; and everything is that post still stands today three years later; however, I have grown to accept it as part of the daily life of being in business and feel that, a few road bumps aside, I’ve made my peace with online reviews and even with Yelp.

That mighty sound a little contradictory, but the bottom line is that reviews are here to stay so we all have to deal with it.

“Scott, we have a Yelp problem. We keep getting these horrible reviews what can we do about it?”

” – Build a better product.”

Scott Stratten @unmarketing

There is no strategy or tip that I, or anyone else, can give you that will fix your business and your online reviews overnight (those that promise to do so are scamming you). If you are a horrible business the chances are you will have horrible reviews online.

Now you can write your own reviews, and risk the wrath of companies like Yelp or Google which are filled with people smarter than you or I (sorry it’s true) who spend a lot of time and energy trying to foil the attempts of those gaming their systems. If you are really unlucky you could also find yourself the subject of a FTC investigation and slapped with a serious fine. It has happened a few times already to those trying to buy or reward those for reviews (many thanks to he great Mike Blumenthal @mblumenthal for this awesome nugget of info and indeed for solidifying my thoughts on Yelp, and online reviews, in general) and expect it to happen a lot more when the government figures out how prevalent it is and how much money can be made. But why bother? It is simpler, easier, and better for your business to just fix the problems in the first place.

Think Yelp or Google (or whatever review site you feel tortures you on a regular basis) does not accurately reflect what your clients think of your business? Prove it! Survey your clients. Make it easy for them to complain and give you feedback. Have a policy to deal with complaints. And, of course, read, learn, and above all, reply to your reviews. If your survey results really are different from what you are seeing from the review sites then publish the data and be honest about what people were complaining about and what you are doing to fix it.

When I started reviewing my business’s clients what I found from the was that they wanted to respond. The feedback I got was overwhelmingly positive, and it allowed me to fix issues, even minor ones, quickly before they blew up online. It also provided real data about what problems we did have and where we were excelling.

A splash page with links to review sites helped make it easy for those who already reviewing us privately to review us in public. As a rule I and not a big fan of asking for reviews – particularly when companies just try to flood one channel. (400 reviews on Google and 10 on Yelp just makes you look shady.) However, a simple splash page with three or four links is tasteful and is the least spam-like way I have found and does not seem to offend anyone.

Unhappy clients will, of course, still happen. How you respond to them is all important, not just for the client, but your future clients who will read your response and see how you deal with complaints.

Apologize – it costs you nothing.

Try to resolve the issue – D’uh!

If you can’t resolve the issue – apologize again!

Do not get into a protracted fight online – would you rather be right or have an unhappy client, a bad review, and maybe worse? Genuinely apologize and try to make things right.

And never, never ever, send, say, or do anything that that you are not completely happy with being splashed all over the Internet. “If you take your review down we will give you your money back” means you care more about the bad review than the unhappy client. If the client deserves their money back – give them their money back!

I am a big fan of responding to even positive reviews – a simple thank you goes a long way. The interesting thing about responding to every review and trying to keep clients happy is that it is not just new clients that notice. Potential new employees use the tools available to them when researching their potential new employer. Those tools are Yelp and Google.

While I still hate Yelp – it really is a flawed product. It exists because customers used to basically be powerless. The balance may have shifted but I know at my business we try to solve issues, I know that we sometimes succeed and sometimes we fail. We are not perfect, but we have not stopped trying and I think even those that view us on Yelp can see it.

And I can live with that.

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.

(Click on the image above to download the book from Amazon!)

Being, essentially, 128 pages long (the appendix takes it up to 163 pages) and a free download it would be difficult to complain too much about the e-book: “Winning the Zero Moment of Truth.” Luckily you really don’t have to, as it makes for an engaging, and brief, read. It also has the potential to become an important work for those of us who care about marketing our businesses and the tools that we use to achieve that.

The Zero Moment of Truth is an attempt to update a model, first coined by Procter and Gamble in 2005, used to describe the marketing’s effect on the consumer. The model goes something like this: Stimulus; in the form of an advertisement, First Moment of Truth; when the consumer sees the product on the shelf in the store, and Second Moment of Truth; when the customer experiences the product they have bought. Although the terms were coined in the 21st century, the concept would be understood by a character on the TV show Mad Men. Zero Moment of Truth is an attempt to explain and define how search, and social media, has changed our buying and consuming habits as now there is now an additional step to this marketing model. This additional step is that advertising is now prodding us, the consumer, to research, ask our friends, and ask even complete strangers, about the product online before we get anywhere near the store or an e-commerce site.

Inter-spaced with video introductions to each chapter by marketers and search professionals, the book neatly dissects what the Zero Moment of Truth means for all of us – including consumers. It particularly, has no time for manufacturers who feel that their product does not generate the interest for social media – I wish my business had as many fans as “Bounce dryer sheets” to give you an example!

Another, potentially even more important, concept in the book is the idea that customers do not talk about bad experiences online. Obviously, it is not always the case, but Mr. Lecinski puts forward a compelling case that in the majority of circumstances, clients want to give good reviews far more than they want to give bad ones – preferring to forget about bad experiences. This being the case, the book argues, that unless you have a serious problem in your business (and you’d probably want to know about it if you did) reviews and comments are a chance to engage your clients and should not be ignored.

Since Mr. Lecinski is managing director, U.S. Sales & Service, for Google a book that extolls the virtues of search and reviews (Google places anyone?) could be seen as a little self-serving. This is probably fair, but it does not make anything that is said in the book any more relevant and important. Although, it does have to be said that the lack of mentions of Facebook (mentioned five times) and Twitter (mentioned twice) can be a bit jarring when compared to Google (mentioned 72 times). This is a minor gripe, however, and a great book from a very clever marketer.

I do, however, have a major gripe about this book and others of its ilk.

I read a lot, and when I do I listen to music – like I imagine most people do. Adding video into the mix is a logical extension of the e-book medium and I think it has a place – particularly in a book such as this – is logical. The problem with video content in books, however, is when the producers decide that they have to add background music as they would if they were producing a spot for television. Some basic understanding of the way your product is being consumed please people! I don’t want to have to mute what I’m listening to at the start of each chapter just so I can listen to someone speak!

This is still a very good book and well worth your time even if you never watch the videos – which I suggest you do – just remember to keep the remote for the music handy.

As I’ve discussed previously here, being online is an incredibly important part of any business marketing strategy and social media is key part of that. It should not be mistaken, however, as a marketing strategy itself. It is a powerful and extremely useful tool, but like any tool, if welded by the wrong hands it can be dangerous! Social media is about engagement – having a conversation not about shouting or making speeches.

Social media is really pretty easy when it boils down to it. The problems arise when people do not understand the tool or try to apply 20th century marketing to what is very much a 21st century tool. Also please stay away from people calling themselves social medial gurus. There are very few people who actually qualify for the title, and the social media landscape keeps changing, that only the most general principles apply. For this reason I strongly advise everyone who asks about how to get started with social media to not use their business’s online reputation as an experimental playground. Get a feel for all the spaces we are going to talk about before launching on your grand social media adventure!

Facebook

For business to client businesses (b2c) such as veterinary practices or retail / service establishments Facebook is the social media site that you have to be part of if you are going to explore social media. A word about terminology: people on Facebook have profiles, businesses and famous people have pages. You cannot create a page without a profile. Profiles are friends of other profiles and are fans of pages. Confused yet?

The difference between profiles and pages is important because profiles exchange information between each other. With pages the flow of information is one way- from page to profile. There are businesses out there that have profiles. This is problem because it violates Facebook’s terms of service and because your clients might not want to open up their family photos to a buiness they frequent a couple of times a year!

If you have never been on Facebook, then sign yourself up and spend a significant amount of time getting used to the site. I’m not talking about a hour of two here, I’m talking about 10-30 minutes everyday for a couple of weeks. This is how people who use Facebook, use Facebook. Search for old and current friends, become fans of other businesses – even the odd movie star or TV program and see how others are using the site. But stay away from employees or bosses – too much to go wrong on all sides.

The biggest thing to understand about Facebook is that it is not a website in the traditional sense. Clients will rarely look at your business’s page or friends at your own profile for that matter. Facebook users look at their wall. The “wall” is like a notice board that constantly updates with information that is relevant to you – the pages you have “liked” and the profiles of your friends. As these profiles and pages are updated, those updates automatically appear on your wall. I take time explaining this because, as you will see, there plently of businesses who forget this and post 20 updates one after the other and then pat themselves on the back for all the information that is now on their Facebook page.

page

When you post to your page - you are looking at your page. But this is almost certainly not what your fans are going to see.

The problem is that this may as well be spam: who wants to read 20 posts all on the same buiness and on similar subjects all at the same time!? Also, Facebook users tend to respond to what is at the top of their wall, something that is a day or even a couple of hours old may get skipped over. Spreading those twenty posts over ten days will work far better for only slightly more effort.

Wall or News feed

Your fans are going to be looking at something like this. Note the small post at the bottom of the page - it is easy to get overlooked but becoming a spammer is worse!

We will talk more about content in future posts, but it is important to have something to say when starting a Facebook page. Remember, this is the voice of your business talking to your clients. Be friendly, but be professional. See what other businesses a doing and then do your own thing. Facebook is constantly evolving both as a website but also in how people use it.

Twitter

Twitter is a micro-blogging service. With only 140 characters with which to broadcast a message to your followers! Twitter is an excellent business to business (B2B) tool and can be used quite successfully as a B2C communication tool. Twitter, however, is not nearly as popular as Facebook and is demographically quite different. Twitter users tend to be younger and Twitter seems to be much more popular in major metropolitan areas than in smaller towns.

Unlike Facebook, Twitter does not have the same restriction on accounts having to be linked to a real person. Like Facebook, I strongly recommend getting a feel for Twitter by signing yourself up and seeing how other people and businesses are using it. Something to really keep in mind with Twitter is that everything, unless it is a direct message which you have to specifically select, is public.

Twitter page

Everything is public with Twitter - engagement is the name of the game.

There are few new conventions you’ll need to learn for Twitter: @ before someone’s name is how you specify that a message is for someone – it is still public, but allows you to flag the message for someone’s attention. A # before a term is a way of identifying that term as the subject of your message. It can also be used to provide context and helps with searching for messages on a subject. The message “I’ve been waiting for 2 hours” #thisvetsucks” would be a good example of context and providing a message that is easy to find by others – even if you might not want it to be! Retweeting the term used to describe the way twitter allows you to rebroadcast someone else’s message to your followers (similar to sharing on Facebook). Sometimes retweets are prefaced with RT for clarity.

Twitter is a lot of fun and although can take a bit more getting used to that Facebook, and it’s B2C benefits are less easy to see that Facebook, it is ultimately the tool which many find themselves turning for everything from advice to the latest news (Twitter regularly beats the major networks on breaking stories).

Google+

Very much the new kid on the block, Google+ is an interesting mix of Facebook and Twitter. The problem is that it is so new that no one has any idea how it is going to be used and It does not even cater to business at the moment. People who have Google+ accounts (it is still in closed tryouts at the moment) do seem to like it, but like everyone else, are not quite sure how it fits into the mix. I for one don’t even know if I want another social media network and find Google+ pretty limited due to how few of my friends and colleagues are on it.

I’ll cover a few other social media sites, briefly, next week but the bottom line is that social media is a significant part of today’s marketing landscape. If you a marketing, you need to be using Facebook and you need to be thinking about Twitter. Social Media really is a lot of fun. Discover the fun part first and then then work will not seem like quite such a chore.

Still confused? Social media not for you? Post a comment and I’ll see if I can help.

Next week: Waist High in Social Media Marketing

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