How To Produce VALUABLE Content In Social Media

My #1 piece of advice for ANY entity on social media that wants to do a swell job is –> provide value to the consumer. This is nothing new. It has been preached in a million different ways across a million different blogs. It’s common sense, isn’t it? You want something from someone (consumers to engage with you on social media) –> So you give them something valuable to them in return (Here’s the tricky part). Notice, I wrote “valuable to THEM.”  The value you create for your consumers cannot, but what YOU think is valuable to them, or what you WANT to be valuable to them. The value you provide has to literally be something that they find valuable in their own life, and, as much as you try to control it, THEY have to decide what that is.

That last bit is where brands get hung up –> letting consumers decide a critical part of your brand strategy. When you have spent so much time cultivating exactly what you want your brand to be, it’s difficult to give up the reigns and let consumers influence it. Few brands will admit this, but we all experience it to some degree. YOU know what you want your brand to be, YOU know what you want to be valuable to your consumers, so YOU build content that you believe SHOULD be valuable to them. This is where most brands miss the mark.

If you want to have an effective content strategy, then you MUST provide content that is valuable to the consumer by the CONSUMER’s definition. Here are some tips to start:

  • ASK your consumers what they want.

    • Social media provides a perfect platform for you to dig into what your consumers are looking for from you. Use the lovely social media community you’ve built around your brand as a focus group for the types of content you should be creating. Sample questions include asking fans what they like most about your brand, to share content from your industry that they love, share trends they are seeing, and FLAT OUT ask them what they want from you.

    • OBSERVE your consumers’ online behavior.

      • Find out who the influencers in your industry are, and track what types of content they are sharing most. Tweak those types of content to your brand, and be an active participant in the conversations they are having about your industry online.

      • TEST multiple types of content.

        • Throw something out there and see if it sticks. What defines “sticks? –> It ignites conversations with your consumers, and is shared frequently. The conversation piece of this is VERY important. Valuable content means that it is sparking multiple conversations across your network. Pull any types of content that are left dead on your social networks. If content isn’t getting engagement, then there is absolutely no point in posting it.

Think of your consumers as someone you are trying to get to know in your personal life. What types of questions would you ask them? What would you want to find out about them on social media? You can produce the most valuable, beautiful content for your brand, but that means NOTHING on social media if it doesn’t resonate with your consumers. It’s the bare-bone basics that you learn in Communication 101–> To maintain a relationship, there has to be a give and a take on both ends.

– Marji J. Sherman

5 Tips For Presenting To Different Generations

As multiple generations come together in the workplace, it’s easy to alienate colleagues and clients by not becoming familiar with their generation and expectations. A millennial can easily confuse a baby boomer by using terms and phrases they are completely unfamiliar with, while a baby boomer can lose respect with millennials by using millennial slang in the wrong context. For all generations to work effectively together, they need to meet in the middle and understand that they do not come from the same environments. Most of the time, merging with other generation is best achieved through a high level of respect, rather than trying too hard to fit in with the other generation.

Here are some tips I’ve found useful in my career when presenting to multiple generations:

Don’t Try To Sound Like Them

This I have seen particularly with the baby boomer generation. They want to fit in with millennials, so they will quickly start using slang that they hear on TV and in the workplace. While this can definitely earn you some points for effort, it can also come across as trying too hard. On top of that, it is easy to use the slang in the wrong context which will lead to a few laughs, but probably take away from the overall message you are trying to present. If you just can’t stay away from the slang, sprinkle it here and there and run your presentation by a millennial before you present to make sure you are using it correctly.

Use Cultural References

The best way to bring in an audience from a different generation is to become familiar with their culture and then use some of their cultural references throughout your presentation. You might say, well, you told us not to use slang just a couple of sentences ago?! True, but the difference is cultural references provide examples of what you are presenting in their generation, while slang is just trying to speak like their generation. Using familiar references from their experiences in life will help them better connect to what you are saying.

Don’t Condescend

This is a tough one for ALL generations, and it mostly happens by accident. Most of the time, presenters are completely unaware that they are coming across condescendingly. Baby boomers tend to speak down to millennials because they feel they have more experience, while millennials will often speak down to baby boomers because they think they know it all (especially when it comes to presentations on technology and social media.) Make sure you practice your presentation and look with a fined tooth comb for any moments where it might sound like you are ‘above’ your audience.

Be Clear Before Hip

Millennials fall victim to this trap most frequently. They want to be cool and hip so they use trendy colors, fonts, and images that look awesome but are completely unreadable. As cool as some colors are, they are just too hard to read on a big screen, especially from the back of the room. Same with fonts. Images are great to have in a presentation, but when you get an entire collage of them on a screen, they all blend into an unrecognizable image. Make sure your point is visually crystal clear on the screen, rather than super hip. It’s most important that people can understand what you are presenting, rather than getting distracted by the glorious hipness of your presentation.

Present To A Member Of The Opposite Generation

The number one thing I do before any presentation I give is present it to my mom. She knows enough about social media by having me as a daughter, but also can raise flags where the audience might not necessarily understand what I am saying. Especially if I am presenting to the baby boomer generation, she can point out where I am using slang they are unfamiliar with and where I am a little too ‘hip’ on some slides so the font is not readable. Someone from the other generation can be a great gut check before you are presenting in front of hundreds of them.

There is a lot to be said by being able to present to a generation that primarily did not grow up in the same period you did. Connecting through various generations enables us to be more effective in our jobs and our personal lives. When we can show we are not just a stodgy member of our own generation, we can open doors to exciting new projects and new understandings of our line of work. Try a few of these tips and see if they work for you!

– Marji J. Sherman

5 Tips For Growing Up On Social Media

Seven years ago, I was going through a tragic college breakup and begged my mom and stepdad to attend a brand new art walk in Miami called The Wynwood Art Walk so I didn’t have to spend Saturday night alone. They agreed, and we all fell in love with the quaint walk among the huge graffiti walls and small galleries that lined the once seedy area near Midtown.

Two years later, I returned to the art walk with the same guy from the tragic college breakup. We reconnected, and it felt amazing being able to show him the place I told him about time and time again. Now, music filled the streets of the art walk and 20 food trucks welcomed us at the end. He acted interested in the art for me, and that was enough at the time. I was just euphoric that he was with me at all.

Shortly after, I attended the art walk again, broken up with the college boy. I had just met another boy the night before, and was still in awe of our magical first meeting in Brickell. As my mom and I walked the art walk we had walked a few years before, we were disillusioned by the EDM music that loudly filled the streets and the massive trucks with neon lights and dancing girls that seemed out of place in the hipster neighborhood. It was obvious the walk was slowly morphing into something else.

A few months later, I attended the art walk again with my best friend, Jess. I  raved to her that the boy I had a magical first meeting with a few months ago in Brickell was the one I was going to marry and I could feel it. We walked the massive walls, dreaming of what our futures would look like, and thinking about how this might be one of our last walks on our own before we created our own families.

Shortly after that, I attended the walk with the boy that I did end up marrying, and was shocked at how disinterested he was in the walk that had become a staple in my life. He was antsy, stressed about parking and not wanting to stay too long. He mainly wanted to find the food trucks.

Two drama-filled years past, and I returned to the art walk again last weekend. I met up with Jess, introduced her to my new date, and reflected on how the area had changed. I watched in awe as my date lit up like a child on Christmas when he saw the now famous Wynwood walls. We had conversations about the art, the similarities of the walk to our favorite places in NYC and how we felt most at home in this area of Miami. I was in shock as I saw the huge dance floor, multiple DJs, and the sea of tourists. The walk had grown up, and, in all honesty, so had I.

The Wynwood Walls have been witness to my growth over the past seven years. As they have grown into their own, I have grown into my own, and now understand a lot more about myself. When I find myself among the walls, I am forced to reflect on the situation I was in the time before, and, this time, was forced to smile that I was actually in a good place, with someone who appreciated the walls with me. That is true growth.

To be honest, it took me a minute to adjust to the new, flashy Wynwood Art Walk, but then I realized that I was a new, flashy version of Marji J. Sherman, too. Wynwood is different, as it should be. Seven years have passed, and it would be odd to return to a place that is unchanged by the times. I don’t want to be the same person I was seven years ago, and I shouldn’t expect Wynwood to be the same place.

I think we have an expectation of social media to always stay the same, as marketers, which is insane considering social media is an ever-changing landscape. We want so badly to hold onto what past brands have done, and what’s worked for us in the past, that we taint our future with expectations and strategies that are soon outdated.

Just like the Wynwood Art Walk, and myself, social media has evolved over the past decade, and it’s important that we grow-up with it as a social media marketers. Here’s five things your brand can start doing to ensure that it’s growing up with the times:

Learn To Drive

Social media has evolved from simply reading what other brands do, and following their lead. If you want traction, you have to learn how to drive your own brand into uncharted territory so you stand out among the vanillas.

Go On Your First Date

It’s no longer about isolating your brand and only conversing with your fans. Find brands that pair well with yours, and “date” them. When I was at KOHLER, we had a great relationship with Charmin because what goes together better than toilets and toilet paper? We had the unique opportunity of conversing about industry topics, without being direct competitors with each other. This allowed us to enter each other’s fan base, and leave a lasting impression on fans that might not have thought of the other brand.

Have Your First Break-Up

Social has moved beyond the world of talking to anybody and everybody. In fact, now talking to anybody and everybody could get your brand in extremely hot water. The social landscape is full of trolls just waiting for you to respond to one of their goating remarks. Break-up with trolls and learn to ignore them. The last thing you want is some article making fun of your brand in Mashable with a transcript of a conversation between your brand and a troll.

Live On Your Own

Be comfortable in your own skin, as your own brand. Do not rely on other brands to “be cool” first. Be brave and go out into the marketplace with the things that differentiate you as a brand. Don’t be afraid to speak about your differences, and your real-life struggles as a brand. Owning your brand will allow you to create authentic conversations with your followers.

Create Your Own Family

Take care of your followers as if they are your own family. Proactively reach out to them, and respond, when appropriate, to conversations they are having about their daily lives. By creating your own family on social media, you create a strong community of brand advocates that will also be there for you when anything emerges about your brand.

Growing up has some growing pains, but it also leads to beautiful moments in which you can look back and reflect on just how far you have come since you first started out. Try a few of these tips, and watch your brand mature into something amazing on social media. We are past the days of immature hot topics that get brands on the front page of Mashable, and moving forward into a social landscape that values mature, responsible conversations between brands and their communities.

– Marji J. Sherman

Three Critical Attributes For Effective Storytelling


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I was laid up on my couch Friday night in horrific pain because I have a lovely little thing called Endometriosis. If you’ve never heard of it, feel free to Google it, but the most important thing to know about it is that it feels like barbed wire having its way with your abdomen. It strikes whenever it feels like striking with very little warning.

While I tried to brave it out for the majority of the night, I finally found myself calling my mom for a midnight chat when the pain became just a little too unbearable. It started off with me being perhaps the biggest baby ever as I complained about the severe pain from an illness that is low on the totem pole compared to all of the major things out there. Considering its self-wallowing origin, it ended in a beautiful place.

An hour into the call, we started talking about something that’s become quite a hot topic for me → People I meet in real life stumbling upon my online life. Not just people, but rather potential dates. Come to find out people Google you before they go on dates with you, and when they find out that you have 150K followers on Twitter and run an inspirational blog, they tend to put you in “that box”. Suddenly, you’re no longer just someone they met at church, but you’re spreading a message to thousands of people on a daily basis and, from what I’ve heard, that can be a bit intimidating.

This is an absolutely strange concept to me, because I don’t walk around with a sign hanging around my neck that I’m pretty into Twitter. In fact, when most people bring up my social presence, my usual response is, “I’m pretty popular online. In person, not so much. Don’t let it fool you.”

See, my online presence is just an extension of my personal experiences with life. I don’t think about it as some great, huge presence that I have to keep up everyday. It’s my life, it’s my passion and it’s just in me. So when people try to pin it as some separate existence of me that suddenly makes me some intimidating person, I just don’t see it that way.

My mom said it’s my “secret garden”. She also quickly followed that up with that I have permission to use that quote in my blog 🙂 She’s absolutely right. My blog and online presence is my safe haven. It’s the place I go to write about things that I’m figuring out in life, and things I’ve gone through in life. It’s my escape.

Now, how super ironic is that considering it’s really not much of a safe haven or escape at all. I’m not sure the majority of the world would say broadcasting your life to the world is “safe” or an “escape”. However, there is something innately therapeutic and intuitive in my writing that makes it something that I just have to do. Period. Call it a spiritual calling, call it a ministry, call it plain blogging…it’s just something I know I need in my life as much as I need to breathe.

Fortunately, I have an incredible mom who talked to me long enough into the wee hours of Saturday morning, that she completely distracted me from the throbbing pas in pain enough to allow me some time to fall asleep.

The next morning I remembered a message I had received from a man who lives in NYC but also has a home in South Florida. He wanted to meet with me to discuss social media. Now, I receive a lot of requests to meet with people to discuss social media, and a lot of them end up being requests for me to be a free social media strategist to anyone and everyone. While I do love giving my time free of charge to help others, there has to be a line when you have 150K “others”. After all, this is my profession. So, I had put off his calls knowing I would eventually meet him, but not making it a priority among me moving into a new city and adjusting to a new job and new people.

However, as Saturday pushed on, and I continued to feel the lovely pain of my Endometriosis, I just felt called to return the man’s phone call. To protect his privacy, I’m not going to write the entire conversation here. However, I will tell you, that I was in complete shock when I heard the REAL reason of why he wanted to talk to me. This man randomly saw a friend’s RT of a Tweet of mine that had an inspirational message this man needed to see on that day because his wife was just diagnosed with cancer and he was in a dark place. He said this message completely changed his direction and he began reading my blog, and that my blog pulled him through that dark time of being a caregiver (His wife is all good now- Yay!). I literally stopped what I was doing and felt goosebumps overtake my body. Here I was, having a shitty weekend, and this man just dropped the highest compliment anyone could ever pay me.

I happily met him in person last night, and continuously had to pinch myself to confirm that it was real as he elaborated on how my words and candid sharing of my experiences positively impacted his life. HE continued to say he wanted to repay me, if that was even possible.

Here’s the thing –> This man had no idea that he was repaying me in more ways than he would ever know. My weekend suddenly went from, “OMG I am in so much pain and feel like I might die” to “OMG, I helped someone through my writing –> the one thing I have wanted to accomplish in my life.”

Point? You never, ever know who you’re influencing out there, so SHARE YOUR STORY. I’m not just talking to individuals out there either –> Brands have a responsibility to share their story, too. This can manifest in many different ways from giving the down home history of a brand to telling the true story when a crisis erupts. People want to hear about the good and the messy parts of life.

To this day, I still receive positive emails, calls, Tweets, etc. over this little nugget I shared over a year ago confessing that I was in an abusive marriage and finally found a way out –> Using Social Media For A Higher Purpose. It would have been so easy to sit back and pretend it didn’t happen, but I owned it, and by doing that I’ve seen people find their own strength to leave toxic situations and move forward.

Now, I’m not saying this to brag and tell you how awesome I am. I’m telling you this because I literally had no idea that post would go viral the way it did and people would so closely resonate with it. I had no idea that my candor about my mom’s battle with cancer would positively influence a man in NYC for the past two years.

What did I know? That I was called to write about my experiences, and share my story, no matter what the response. That I have a duty to be authentic, approachable and honest in every piece of content I put out there. Guess what? Brands do too.

If you want to be an awesome brand, or person, out there in the social universe than you need to have a come to Jesus meeting with yourself and ask yourself if the stories you’re telling are:

Authentic

All stories should ladder back to your values, missions and beliefs as a person/brand. I can’t say this enough –> A person should meet the same you in person that they meet online, and a consumer should find the same brand online that it finds in the store.

Approachable

Your stories should open the gateway for people to feel comfortable talking to you. If people don’t feel like they can relate to you, or approach you, then your story dies with them.

Honest

Your stories are awesome the way they are. There is no need to embellish, or try to blur the big, fat pimples in them. People want to see those flaws so they know you’re a human brand/person.

If you don’t want to take my word for it, take a look at some of the brands out there crumbling under the social media spotlight. I can guarantee you it’s because they were the opposite of authentic, approachable and honest and this day in age, you can’t hide who you really are. Consumers, fans, etc. will find out who you really are, and wouldn’t it be so much easier if it’s exactly who you portray yourself as in your social universe?

The best part about all of this? It’s an incredible circle that will come back to you in your life. Yes, I influenced this man during a dark time in his life, but he definitely returned the favor by adding sunshine to a weekend full of pain and strife.

Who will you positively influence today? You’re more empowered than you think to share your story and influence others.

-Marji J. Sherman

5 Things My Dog Taught Me About Social Media

image (1)Once upon a time, after visiting the Humane Society website, I became obsessed with a dog named Radcliff.  All I could think about was having this adorable rescued beagle in my house. So, I went to the Humane Society to claim Radcliff. Much to my fantasy life horror, Radcliff had already been claimed and was long gone. “We rarely update our website,” the woman at the front desk told me. Pissed is not even nearly close enough of a word to describe how I felt when she said that. I abstained from yelling at her and asked if she had any other medium-sized dogs I could take a look at. She recommended a huge pitbull named Peanut that needed a lot of training (NO), then an old husky who had been at the shelter for months. I explained I had a husky once, and he howled all day and all night. I said I needed a quieter dog for when I was at work during the day.

“Have you looked at Spencer?” A nurse who overheard me asked. “He’s the cutest Pomeranian.”

I look at that nurse like she had literally gone nuts. Flashbacks to annoying, feisty, stone-cold mean little dogs from my childhood started to play through my mind. “I don’t do small dogs.”

“I think you’d like this one,” she said. “He’s quiet, too.”

The minute I saw Spencer, I was sold. There was something about his shivering, tiny body hiding in the corner of his cage that reminded me of the abusive marriage I had just left. I could relate to the fear, the lack of trust, in his huge, brown eyes that stared at me with everything they had.

Two days later, on Valentine’s Day, I convinced the shelter to release him to me earlier than recommended, and we were inseparable everyday since. We both had tons of healing to do, and it was something we were able to do with each other, slowly gaining back trust and confidence in life.

I left Mr. Spencer with my mom when I moved to NYC, until I found a place that would accept dogs. However, I soon realized there was no way in the world I would have the time he needed from someone with my job and commute.

When I went to Colorado last weekend for my cousin’s birthday, my mom unexpectedly was able to meet me and bring Mr. Spencer, who had been pretty sick the past few days. We had an incredible weekend in the mountains, and he perked up like never before. You never would have guessed he was sick.

Three days after I left, Mr. Spencer fell asleep in his favorite red bed in my mom’s truck and never woke up again. See, Mr. Spencer had a heart four times larger than it was supposed to be, and, believe me, it showed everyday. There were numerous lessons I learned during the amazing time I was able to spend with him, but five stuck out to me in regards to social media:

Building Relationships Takes Time

Mr. Spencer and I did not hit it off right away. He had been severely abused, and would barely let me pet him. On top of that, he has the biggest attitude ever which showed through when he pooped right outside my yoga room multiple times while I was doing yoga, and kept marking his territory, even peeing a perfect circle around an entire table to dinner guests. He even used to pee on the leg of the table that my boyfriend used to leave his jacket and wallet on when he came to visit.

It took tons of nurturing and trust-building for us to see eye-to-eye, and the same goes for social. Brands have to take the time to build trust in consumers, they can’t just go out there and expect consumers to immediately engage with them. Brands have to find ways to earn consumer’s trust whether it’s through giving valuable advice, or respecting the consumer.

 

You Can’t Change A Consumer’s Identity

I was obsessed with the name Radcliff after falling in love with the taken beagle on the Humane Society’s website, so I tried calling Spencer Radcliff quite a few times. Spencer absolutely refused to answer to it. I guess ten year old dogs really do know their names.

You can’t try to change your consumer and morph them into the consumer your brand needs. Instead, you need to morph your brand’s social into what the consumer needs. Consumer first, right?

Brand Personality Is Critical

Mr. Spencer was incredibly popular on social media, but it wasn’t just because he was a cute Pomeranian. It was more because he had sass and attitude beyond anything or anyone I’ve ever met before. That little dude could throw a look, and people began knowing him for it.

No matter how boring the brand, it still needs a personality that sets it apart on social. Find that one thing that differentiates your brand from competitors and dial it up to create a memorable online personality.

The Non-Influencers On Social Media Are More Important Than You Think

Mr. Spencer was completely unwanted by everyone at the shelter, except this one nurse who saw potential in him. The shelter thanked me over and over again for taking him so they didn’t have to deal with him anymore (seriously?!). Yet, he became the shining light in every life he touched. He truly impacted people, including my grandma’s Alzheimer’s unit that he visited often.

It was once suggested that I not respond to anyone with less than 1500 followers. A few days later, I responded to someone with 250 followers, a celebrity saw it, and it led to a celebrity endorsement for the brand. Followers have little to do with who is truly important for your brand to be engaging with. Stop looking through a popularity filter, and start looking for the people that can actually add value beyond popularity to your brand.

It Matters How You Make People Feel

The outpouring amount of love I’ve received on social media since Mr. Spencer passed is overwhelming. I seriously am in awe of how many people his feisty personality and hilarious stories touched. He didn’t provide them with any out of this world statistics or social media insights, but he did make them feel happy and positive during stressful times in their lives. Now, he is on the top of their minds.

Sometimes consumers need more than statistics from your brand. Sometimes the best value you can give them is the way you make them feel about themselves. Make sure your brand is doing more than just spouting off statistics, but actually is adding value in an intangible way to your consumers’ lives –> That’s how you build loyalty for life.

[tweetthis]”Make sure your brand is doing more than just spouting off statistics, but actually is adding value.” @MarjiJSherman[/tweetthis]

It’s amazing how one little six pound dog left in a shelter by a truck driver to rot impacted the lives of thousands. I am still receiving notes about how he positively influenced the lives of others.

Try applying some of these things to your brand, and see how much your community changes for the better. It certainly worked for me, and other brands I’ve worked with.

In the meantime, RIP, Mr. Spencer. You are loved beyond belief, and have no idea how many lives you touched with your enlarged heart. Xoxo.

-Marji J. Sherman

5 Steps To Building Bridges In Real-Time Conversations

bridge-quote2There is an amazing sermon series happening at my church right now (I’m A Bridge) about building bridges. While one of my favorite quotes is, “Sometimes the hardest thing in life is to know which bridge to cross and which to burn,” this series focuses more on the actual building of the bridge.

Building bridges is a very critical thing that many brands are missing in social media. They look at which consumers they want to buy their product, and which they don’t really care that much about, and then go after them in their own unique social way. That’s all fine and dandy except most consumers have no reason to organically care about your brand seeking them out on social media.

A very interesting point that’s come out of this sermon series is that you have to meet people where they are in order to get through to them. I’ve touched on this a bit already in my post, Relating To Others Is Critical In Social Media. I really see this applying to the sought after Oreo Super Bowl win. Ever since Oreo so beautifully cashed in on the power outage at the Super Bowl, every brand has tried to emulate the real-time success. What most brands fail to realize is that Oreo knew where its fans were and how to enter the conversation in an authentic way that made sense to the brand.

Real-time engagement is one hundred percent necessary for brands on social media, now more than ever. My 2015 prediction is that one-to-one personal interaction between brands and their consumers will become a requirement for brands that want to succeed in social media. However, this does not mean just deciding what consumers you want to go after and crossing the bridge over to them –> it means BUILDING the bridge to those consumers, and here’s how:

Know Thyself 

Number one thing before any brand can build anything is knowing the brand’s value proposition. Who are you as a brand? What kind of conversations make sense for you to be entering on social? What’s the personality, tone, look, feel that you want to represent your brand? Create a list of the top topics you want to talk about online that sync with your brand identity.

Identify Influencers 

Find social influencers that complement your brand identity. These can be anything from a competitor brand that you look up to that is killing it on social, to individuals that you could see as brand advocates for your brand someday.

Listen

Sit back and listen to the conversations that your influencers are having online. Create a list of hashtags that are relevant to your brand and constantly monitor conversations around them. Get a good grasp on how the social community is talking about the topics you want to talk about, so when you’re ready to enter the conversation, you can do so effortlessly. Listen for places where you can build a bridge in the conversation.

Add Value

If you’re building a bridge, then you need to be adding value. You need to be connecting your social community in a way that benefits them. Don’t just enter the conversation for a laugh, but rather to add value in a way that no other brand could. Provide insights that you have, connect influencers that you think could help each other, point towards products/services that could help with an issue someone is talking about.

Follow-up

If you want to be in the business of building bridges and entering real-time conversations, then you have to commit. You have to follow-up on the conversations you’ve entered in order to not look like you were just entering the conversation on a whim for your benefit. Deepen the relationship with your social community by setting a reminder to check-in on those you built bridges for, making sure that you actually added value and seeing if there is anyway you can continue to add value to the conversation.

When all else fails, fall back on the cocktail party analogy. Would you enter a conversation at a cocktail party from left field, or would you make sure whatever you had to say was on point with what others were talking about? Ensuring you are building bridges, and not just deciding which ones to cross and which ones to burn for your selfish reason, is the number one way to ensure that you are entering the right real-time conversations at the right time.

– Marji J. Sherman

How To Weed Your Social Media Garden


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I heard a great sermon this morning about weeding out the negative things in our lives that strangle the positive, fruitful things we are trying to grow. Weeds often times grow faster than what we are trying to plant, which makes it even more critical to constantly weed them out, so they don’t end up suffocating everything we have been working towards.

Social Media seems to be an excellent playground for weeds, right? It is more likely for a brand to be flooded with negative comments, than receiving an entire news feed of positive ones. People will often only comment about a brand when something goes wrong, rather than when everything goes right.

So, brands have the unending challenging of weeding their social media feeds, making sure the negativity of complaints does not superseded the positive.

I was quite a large weed to one hotel chain earlier this week when I was traveling for business. I was incredibly looking forward to a night to trade in my closet-sized apartment in NYC for a comfy King sized bed in a beautiful Westin.

Granted, the day I arrived at the Westin was not going in the Westin’s favor. I woke up with an extremely sore throat just in time to catch an early morning flight to DC. By the time I arrived at the Westin, all I wanted to do was climb into bed, but I had way too much work to do. So, I quickly tried to connect to the internet. My coworker had already asked how, and the lady at the front desk said to simply use our last names and hotel room numbers. Seeing as how that’s all she said, I immediately assumed that the internet was included in the price of the hotel. Much to my surprise, it was $10.95 per connection. Yes, all I had to do was use my last name and hotel room number, but then it would charge that nice little fee to my room.

In my angst and irritation with a fee like that capped onto what was supposed to be a nice hotel experience, I took to Twitter:

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Now here’s where we all can learn a very valuable lesson in how to weed our social media gardens. SPG, Westin’s parent company, immediately responded to my Tweet with a standard, cookie cutter response. Then, before I had time to complain about the lack of emotion in that Tweet, they sent this gem:

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I had to leave for a meeting, but by the time I got back to the hotel, the manager was already telling my coworker that they received my Tweet and they were comping my entire team’s internet charges. When I met him, he immediately apologized. As I thanked him for listening to my Tweet on social media, he very profoundly answered, “Well, that’s what social media is for!”

When I got back up to my hotel room, I had a very personal, kind note waiting for me from the office manager of the hotel not only confirming that they were comping the internet charges, but also THANKING me for bringing the issue to their attention:

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As if all of that was not enough, the team at the Westin ensured that we were taken care of the rest of our stay. They let us use the dining area as a meeting spot, and served us coffee and snacks, even though it was closed.

I cannot even imagine what smooth CRM engine SPG has created for its brands to be able to not only respond, but take action, within minutes of a Tweet being sent out. Truly incredible.

So how do brands learn from this to weed their own feeds?:

Respond Immediately

SPG could already see that my Tweet was causing some ruckus online. Many people responded that it always seems to be the expensive hotels that ironically don’t offer internet. By responding immediately, SPG helped calm some of the conversation down, and definitely influenced how I responded to my followers as the Tweets came in.

Respond Personally 

SPG has an amazing system that allows them to personally find the person who made the complaint in the hotel and address it face-to-face. The manager having a personal conversation with me had way more of an impact than just receiving a code that would reimburse my internet charges.

Turn The Conversation Around

As the famous fictional Don Draper said, “If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation”. The Weston didn’t just quietly respond to my Tweet. They changed the conversation by first responding with a link to a new feature they are releasing in a month which will allow all SPG members to have free internet access. They didn’t keep on going down the road that it’s just too bad they don’t offer free internet now.

Take Action

SPG didn’t just send out an everyday apology. They immediately took action that resulted with a personal apology from the manager, and a letter in my room, within hours (probably would have been even sooner had I not had a meeting to go to). They proved there was integrity behind their words, and made sure to follow through on making sure that the problem was completely taken care of from beginning to end.

Take Responsibility

Never once did SPG say, “Well, that’s what we charge for internet”, which they had every right to say. After all, it wasn’t like I was complaining about dirty towels in the room or rude employees. I was complaining about a service they charge for, and have every right to charge for. SPG was smart, though, and knew that by going above and beyond and taking responsibility for something just because they saw it upset a customer, they would possibly keep a customer for life.

Dealing with weeds in social media (and life) is tough, and most of the time results in us having to take more responsibility than we’d like in order to keep a neat garden. The payoff for brands that go above and beyond like SPG is immense, though. By showing they are going miles above their job description, brands can build relationships that last a lifetime with consumers.

– Marji J. Sherman

Any Brand Messages Are Free Game For Social Media


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NewYorkAlwaysGoodIdeaI announced I was moving back to NYC strictly on Facebook yesterday. I tend to post important personal things first on Facebook, since most people that know me IRL are Facebook friends and not necessarily Twitter followers. Naive little me was caught off guard when this personal announcement  was suddenly ALL OVER Twitter. Well no shit, Marji.

The most ironic thing about this is that a lot of brands I’ve worked with struggle with the understanding that it is not about having a NETWORK strategy –> It is about having an OVERALL strategy. I’ve literally had clients that want me to release news on one social network, but not acknowledge it on another. Or, they want to talk about something publicly, but not acknowledge that same conversation in written social media conversations. What?!

The problem with that is once news is publicly released, you cannot control the public from speaking about it. They have a right to be excited and talk about whatever you chose to put into traditional media on social media, or whatever you put on Facebook on Twitter. In fact, it’s AWESOME if they choose to do this. Isn’t the point of social having authentic conversations with your consumers? Some brands would die to have consumers just happen to start up a conversation about them on social.

I found the most important thing when coaching brands through this idea was explaining to them that once the conversation has already happened, whether it be in traditional media, in a press conference, or a T.V. spot, it is automatically social. You have to understand that after you discuss something on ANY outlet, it is free game in the social media landscape and has to be addressed. If you don’t want it on social media, then don’t talk about it in the first place.

Then, comes the next step that it is not just about keeping conversations to one network. You have to create a strategy that allows fluid conversations across all networks, and even across all digital and traditional landscapes. You want consumers to feel like the brand they see in a magazine, is the same brand on TV, and the same brand having conversations with them on social. Having this cohesive brand strategy will allow consumers to identify more with your brand, and set expectations for them. Yes, messages need to be tailored to each network, but, at the end of the day, it needs to be the same message and same brand the consumer is finding on all networks.

Social media is NOT just about social media. It’s not a separate department that should be siloed off somewhere. It’s a critical tool that can help amplify messages already being sent out through other media. I mean, just break the world apart (elementary, I know) –> Media that is social. Brands can try to fit in a box, if they like, but they will soon find out that it is not a controlled environment where they can harness every single conversation.

Oh, and, by the way, I’m moving back to NYC (Might as well cover all the bases 😉 ).

– Marji J. Sherman

Would You Rather Have 100K Followers, Or 100K Conversations?

As an experienced social pro, the answer to this seems like common sense to me. As an experienced social pro conversing with non- social pros, I realize that this is a dilemma for many, MANY brands of all sizes. Until every click farm and “100K Twitter followers for $39!” bot goes away, it will continue to be a hot topic.

If you know anything about me, or have read any other Sherman Social blog post, then you already know where I stand on this. If this is your first introduction to me (hello!), I strongly believe that conversations should be the #1 goal of a social media strategy. Not sales, not popularity, not empty followers, not 15-minutes-of-fame viral content –> but true, authentic conversations around your brand, your fans and your industry.
most-people-do-not-listen Now, there’s the catch –> When I talk about conversations I am not referring to the one-way conversations brands send out advertising their newest invention. No! I am talking about real, two-way conversations that acknowledge your fans’ interests as much as they acknowledge your products.

IMHO, brand conversations should include a hodgepodge of the following:

Your BRAND –> You are on social media for a reason –> you have something to sell. It would be pointless for you to be on social and not update fans on your brand and products. Fans are also following your social networks because they have an interest in your brand, so don’t shy away from speaking about it. They signed a contract stating their interest in you the moment they decided to become a part of your social community. While overdoing your brand messaging is NOT the way to go, providing relevant, VALUABLE content to your fans is vital to have an effective social media strategy.

Your FANS –> This is the single MOST important part of your social conversations. These are the people you NEED in order to have a social universe, and can easily turn away from your brand by overdoing brand messaging or not giving them the attention they deserve on social media. While you should do the everyday community management with your fans, you ALSO should pay attention to what else they are talking about on social media. Don’t be afraid to talk about something a bit outside of your brand in order to connect to a fan. It’s like the popular analogy goes –> social media is like a cocktail party. If you talk only about yourself at a cocktail party, no one else is going to want to talk to you. However, if you act interested in what the other party goers have to say, the you will be the most liked person there!

Your INDUSTRY –> Whether you are a publishing platform, a design firm, a fashion brand, a doctor’s office –> you have to know what is going on in your industry and participate in those conversations online. Not only will this connect you to others you have things in common with, only expanding your social network, it will also position you as a thought leader within your industry. This will automatically build trust within your social community that you actually know what you’re talking about, which will only enhance the value of your social ecosystem.

Yes, this type of social media conversation takes more time, but it’s WORTH IT. The value that will come from an audience that trusts you as a thought leader, and knows you genuinely care about their interests, will create a brand loyalty like you’ve never seen before. Just watch.

– Marji J. Sherman

Empower Your Employees with Social Media

I remember when I first started in social media, I was always getting in trouble for being on Facebook at work ALL OF THE TIME. WTF. I had to go around and around about how social media is what they hired me to do, which meant that I had to be on Facebook –> duh. Once, I even got in trouble for being on my cell phone during work hours when I was on Instagram. Mind you, this was when Instagram was first released and was only available on the phone! When I explained this to my boss, she asked me to find some other way to access it through the computer because there was a no cell phone policy in the office.

Fortunately, at least when it comes to being the social media strategist, companies now understand that it requires massive amounts of time on social media. However, some companies are still in the vast debate about whether other employees are allowed to access social media during office hours.

I’ve worked for businesses on every side of this spectrum:

One company would let employees on social if they only participated in conversations about the brand during work hours. Employees were not allowed to engage with any other content, such as their friends’ posts, during office hours. If they were caught liking a friend’s post that had nothing to do with the brand, their social media privileges were revoked.This bred a fear in the employees that they were being constantly spied on by upper management, so some stayed off altogether, while others kept getting caught for not being able to resist liking friends’ posts while online to participate in brand conversations.

Another company blocked social media altogether. Employees could not even get to Facebook even if they wanted to. Only select employees had access, such as those on the digital and social teams. This tended to just piss employees off more than anything, or at least made them feel untrustworthy to their management.

Two companies actually included teaching social media in my job description, so I held workshops and classes where I would actually teach employees how to use all of the social networks. I also coached employees on what forums they should get involved in, and what LinkedIn groups would be best for them. This, of course, made for the happiest employees.

However, which companies do you think had the best social media community in general?! —> The ones that empowered employees to use their own social networks, even during work hours. Your employees are a valuable resource to your social ecosystem. They help cultivate conversations around your brand, and give an authentic insider’s view to the company that consumers love. It’s nothing new –> employees are your best brand advocates. They are trusted by social communities because they have this inside view of the company and let people know that all is well within the brand.

I highly recommend tapping into your social media strategist’s expertise, and allowing them to hold classes within your company for your employees. Let them teach your employees how to use their own social networks to be brand advocates. And, if they happen to like a friend’s post during work hours, so what? Their ten seconds of liking a post not related to work is well worth the advocacy and trust that will come from letting them use social media.

What are your thoughts? Does your brand allow employees to be on social during work hours?

– Marji J. Sherman