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Smart Decisions to Grow a Social Business

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Our third required reading for “Using Social and Digital Media” was “Smart Business, Social Business: A Playbook for Social Media in Your Organization” by Michael Brito. I think it is a very informative book that companies should pay attention to as they move forward in their business practices. As I began to read it, I didn’t see much in the early chapters that would help AmericanVETradio. They’re more focused on steps established businesses should follow as they move forward with social media internally and as they allow their employees to engage with customers externally through social media platforms.

I could relate to the early chapters, though, because I saw social media initiatives grow organically through the government consulting firm (I’ll refer to it as ABC) I worked at for several years. Not surprisingly, the progression was much like the book outlines with an exception. We weren’t doing only to sell a product or service. We started hearing that several of our government clients wanted to delve into areas like Twitter and the blogosphere because they had heard how their peers were “using them so effectively.” Unfortunately, some were clueless as to what they actually were supposed to do with social media and were looking for advice and thought leadership. There were several forward thinking ABC employees (many of them in their 20s or early 30s) who were using their personal Twitter accounts and blogs quite effectively, but we needed more organizational experience and expertise.

ABC had internal blog and file sharing platforms, but some of the employees were wary of using them because it was an intranet-based system. Other employees not located within the main geographic footprint of the company had trouble connecting remotely so the intranet didn’t work well for them. One of our employees started a Yammer account to facilitate discussion and file sharing outside of the intranet but within a controlled population. “Smart Business, Social Business” (SBSB) describes Yammer as a microblog that allows employees to share files, send direct messages, and can grow as a company expands. For our company, it worked quite well. There were several “super users” who facilitated discussions and started thought-provoking topics. We could post a question and often get help more quickly than trying to find the same information through official channels or through our intranet portal.

Screenshot from ABC’s Yammer site.

We found a couple of key drawbacks as our organization’s population on Yammer grew. You have to establish rules about what posters can and should talk about. Brito discusses this in his chapter on Governance. Yammer is not inside a company’s intranet. It is subject to hacking that the company can’t control and the possibility of monitoring by unwanted outsiders. For example, there is also no way to have employee accounts auto-delete when they leave your company because there is no official link between the two networks. You have to have a good gardener who is diligent in managing users and deleting accounts when they move on. You don’t want a disgruntled former employee continuing to have access and possibly learning company secrets. You also can’t be sure that someone sneaks in, so you have to be careful about discussion client work. In ABC’s case, we were told not to discuss client projects by name or to give specifics that would make projects easily identifiable. It was these kinds of experiences and insights that helped us speak intelligently about micro blogging sites when clients asked.

The back sections of “Smart Business, Social Business” are more relevant to AmericanVETradio in its current state than the front chapters. The station is new so it doesn’t have any employee base yet. What it needs to develop first is an audience. Right now, much of awareness for AmericanVETradio is through word-of-mouth campaigns by friends and former colleagues and coworkers. Chapter 10, “The Rise of Customer Advocacy” will help as we develop a social media campaign. It describes two key audiences that companies must ensure are well informed, Influences and Advocates. Influencers are the most far-reaching experts that a product can have. Their reach is generally far and wide. An Advocate, on the other hand, has a smaller sphere of influence, but can be more effective if a company has a good advocacy awareness and empowerment campaign strategy. While we need both to help spread the word, Advocates are at the center of a purchase because they often share their likes and dislikes more readily across the web and through their natural conversations. As you see from this graphic from SBSB, these people go through the steps to become purchasers, and like a product so much that they  spread the word to others. This is what we want.

The “Advocate” Purchase Funnel,” page 181.

As we move forward, we will definitely have to ensure we grow our Advocate community by finding those people who are already Advocates and ensuring they help us find others. If we can build a database of listeners, say through a sign-up system, we can then send them out a survey to see what they like and dislike about the station. That will help us refine our programming to what people want rather than what we think they want.

“Smart Business, Social Business” has some great tips for organizations that want to move forward with social marketing.  If you are thinking of setting up social media for your organization, this book should be on your bookshelf as well!

Remember, AmericanVETradio is the internet radio station Veterans can tune into for news and information 24 hours a day, 7 days a week! Please let listen in and then let us know what you think.

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Promo for AmericanVETradio

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As part of our class on “Using Social and Digital Media,” we were tasked to produce a video promo for our clients using a service called Animoto. My client, AmericanVETradio, is a new, internet-hosted station that is dedicated to bringing Veterans and military retirees news and information about their Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits. It could be boring just listening to informational programming all day long, but it’s not just talk. It’s contemporary music and classic hits mixed with important benefits news and information.

The Animoto platform allowed me to put a slideshow together using photos,text, and music. I couldn’t control the speed with which the photos changed. That’s part of the pre-programmed application. So from that point of view, it has an annoying limitation. For a free application, though, it worked well otherwise. I hope you enjoy my promo for AmericanVETradio and that it entices you to listen. You’ll find it at www.AmericanVETradio.com.

Please click this link to view the AmericanVETradio Promo.

AmericanVetradio promotional video

Applying ‘The Long Tail’ to AmericanVETradio

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I do a lot of driving so I often listen to books in audible formats. When my college reading list included The Long Tail by Chris Anderson, I was happy to find a spoken version so I could listen to my book when reading its hard-copy companion was not possible. As I started listening to The Long Tail, I was intrigued by the first chapter’s opening story about how a book on mountain climbing, Touching the Void, became a hit long after its first printing. Its rise, a decade after it hit store shelves for the first time, came because Amazon readers posted positive reviews about this earlier book when they were rating a newer book with a similar theme. This word-of-mouth advertising revived Touching the Void to the point that it was outselling the younger book. Had it not been for the consumers’ ability to share such reviews, and Amazon’s ability to handle the sale of such an obscure title through its virtual selling platform, Touching the Void may never have been resurrected.

I considered the rise of online retailers like Amazon and iTunes through the lens of Anderson’s Long Tail concept. It is impossible to deny that online sales are leaping madly ahead and leaving other, less forward thinking retailers to shutter their storefronts. Take Borders for example. They were the only true bookstore in my hometown. I liked shopping there, but the company’s online sales structure was a mess. I despised it so much, I stopped shopping Borders Online because it couldn’t meet my needs. Eventually, the entire company fell apart for a variety of small reasons and one large one, which happens to be linked to online sales and social media. Here’s how former CEO Mike Edwards described it, as recounted in a story in Publishers Weekly. “Borders’ most critical strategic blunder, he [Edwards] suggested, was not taking the Internet seriously enough in its early days and initially outsourcing its online business to Amazon.com. ‘We just handed our customer base to Amazon,’ Edwards lamented. ‘The view was that people were going to be in the stores.’ ”

He went on to describe exactly what The Long Tail points out, that brick-and-mortar stores can’t compete equally with online retailers because consumers can use computers and smart phones to find the same or similar products more cheaply through the web. They can also find obscure or unusual products that physical retailers can’t possibly stock and still make the rent. Borders leadership also underestimated social media, which, according to our previous reading, Engage!, can be a death sentence for any company. Borders did not consider that consumers would talk to other consumers online about products and want to purchase more obscure, out of-the-ordinary products than any one store could possible supply easily. Their thoughts were still in the “we built it, they will come” pre-Web 2.0 era.

Before you call me a harbinger of death for the brick-and-mortar set, I’m not saying all physical stores are headed to bankruptcy just yet. On June 6, 2012, Nielsonwire released data about where shoppers like to make their purchases, “Shopper Sentiment: How Consumers Feel About Shopping In-Store, Online, and via Mobile.”

From “Shopper Sentiment: How Consumers Feel About Shopping In-Store, Online, and via Mobile.”

It seems that we still think that in-store purchases are the most reliable and safest ways to buy merchandise. I definitely fall into this demographic for some of the products I purchase. As a consumer, I like the tactile nature of shopping. And because I have very narrow feet, I will not buy shoes without trying them on. The same holds true for clothes. I’ll rarely buy pants or suits unless I try them on first because I want to know they’ll fit. For hard copy books, though, I almost always go straight to Amazon. I also shop at an online company called Audible once a month where I download–you guessed it–audible versions of books. I’ve had a monthly subscription there since sometime in the mid-90s. My husband thinks nothing of purchasing expensive items like digital cameras online when he wants to upgrade. He just makes sure he reviews the seller with others first and investigates the possible hidden costs like shipping and handling.

The Long Tail is more than just “why mom-and-pop physical storefronts are failing” though. It is also about some places that are able to make their way because of the niche service or products they provide. AmericanVETradio is this type of supplier, one that exists in the long tail. It caters to a niche market, Veterans and others like them who need a specific product, which, in this case, is information about Veterans benefits, services, etc. We are going to take the guidance that Engage! and The Long Tail offer about getting our name, AmericanVETradio, out there and getting experts to help us gain recognition in order to best serve our Veterans. They have to know where we are or we will exist only for our own benefit.

We’ll be looking at various social media platforms and blogging options over the next several months to help us improve our social media optimization. In the meantime, please stay tuned … and listen to AmericanVETradio!