Saturday, April 5, 2014

How Does Your Business Create Social Media Circles?

While most of us are familiar with Google Plus circles, there’s a similar concept that exists throughout social media. When people network on a personal level, they develop circles of influence. But in the business environment, how does this concept of circles fit? How does your business create social media circles?

Recently, I read a post on the blog of a nationally-known expert who specializes in customer service tips and strategies, Shep Hyken. The post was not written by the blogger, but instead, by a guest contributor. Since I admire and respect the owners of the blogs I regularly read, I always check out posts by their guests.

This particular post was written by the president of a furniture store, and the title was, “Ten Tips for Achieving 100% Customer Satisfaction.” As I read the post, I was nodding my head in agreement with each tip. My favorite tips were:

[1] Never answer a question by telling a customer that something is “company policy.”

[2] Mistakes and problems always result in opportunities to create long-term loyal customers by exceeding expectations.

[3] Unhappy employees cannot create delighted customers.

When I finished reading the post, I immediately opened Twitter on my iPhone to share the post. 

I Tweeted:  Transforming an “angry” customer into an enthusiastic advocate is always worth the cost. -Jeff Frank of @SimplicitySofas via @Hyken.

Within a few moments, I noticed that my Tweet was Re-Tweeted by the Twitter account of Simplicity Sofas. That was a kind gesture, but I had not expected the Re-Tweet.

But what was even more amazing was something that happened shortly thereafter. I received an email from the post’s writer, Jeff Frank, the President of Simplicity Sofas. My email does not appear in my bio on Twitter, so Jeff had to take the time to research me on the Internet and find a way to communicate with me. In his email, he thanked me for the mention on Twitter and also shared some details about his company.

I was so impressed by Jeff’s email that I responded to him, “Hi Jeff, your outreach resulting from my Tweet of your post on Shep’s website is inspirational and represents the quintessential core of social networking. If only you were closer to my hometown in California, I would be thrilled to shop for a sofa at your showroom in North Carolina. Thanks again for showcasing the best of social, or as Vala Afshar Tweets: Don't do social, be SOCIAL: sincere, open, collaborative, interested, authentic, and likeable.”

After thanking Jeff for his email, I wrote to the blog’s owner and fellow customer service advocate, Shep Hyken, to share my memorable interaction with Jeff. Shep responded, “Hi Debbie, It really is amazing how connections are made. Jeff’s company does amazing customer service.”

This exchange made me think about how most businesses use and view social media. In today’s social climate, many of us in the marketing arena think about ROI and metrics on a daily basis, but too often, we lose sight of the simple ways to measure our social media marketing efforts: one-on-one connections. Ask yourself, when was the last time your business continued a conversation past a single Tweet or single Facebook post? When did a telephone call result from a Tweet or a Facebook post? When did your business follow a Tweet or Facebook comment with a letter from your President?

If your business doesn’t spend the time to really develop personal relationships with prospective customers, you’re losing out on what makes social media such an effective marketing tool.

Inspiration for this post:
Ten Tips for Achieving 100% Customer Satisfaction by Jeff Frank on Shep Hyken’s Blog: 


This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Leadership Is All About Serving Others

Would You Bring A Ladder to Your Employees If They Needed One?

Leadership has many definitions, and when you ask 100 people, it's likely that you'll get more than 100 definitions. One definition for leadership is that leaders serve others. How often have you thought about leadership from that perspective? Someone who has given much thought to this perspective is James Strock, an entrepreneur, professional speaker, and citizen servant. He has served in a wide range of roles, from chief executive to board member to consultant; from starting up and turning around businesses and public agencies; to serving as an author and speaker, adviser, and mentor. Recently, Jim and I discussed a variety of leadership topics, and the highlights follow below.

QUESTION: How do you differentiate between a leader and a manager?
JAMES STROCK: A leader’s capacity to serve others - to add value - is based in large part on crafting a vision. A leader can help us to find a path to understanding and action. Ideally, he or she enables us to see our way to break new paths. By contrast, a manager adds value by advancing the vision. He or she directs scarce resources in the most effective way. Of course, in practice, the lines between managing and leading can be blurred. An effective leader must have a sure sense of resources and their application. An effective manager likely has cultivated leadership skills.

QUESTION: What three things can an individual do to inspire others?
JAMES STROCK: Serve, serve, and serve again. The farther one serves others, the more one can inspire others. Courage - giving one’s heart and well-being to the service of others - is invariably inspiring.

QUESTION: How can an individual gain respect without a leadership title?
JAMES STROCK: Achieving results, working effectively with others, these are approaches that will be recognized and rewarded in any properly functioning enterprise. Today, more than ever, leadership and position are recognized as not necessarily being one and the same.

QUESTION: What three things can individuals do to create a positive leadership legacy?
JAMES STROCK: Leadership legacies are vitalized through relationships with future generations. It’s said that life is short, art is long. Accomplishments per se can distinguish a life. And yet, most individual accomplishments are forgotten over time. Leadership is an art. It can have enduring impact, to the extent it inspires new generations.

Three things that people can do to create such a leadership legacy are:
1. Think of the rising generations always.
2. Study history. History provides examples of lasting leadership legacies.
3. Craft a vision that builds upon fundamentals. That will open up historical examples with relevance today. And a vision built on fundamentals can have continuing relevance - even as future generations build on it to meet their own goals.

QUESTION: What three tips would you give to a new leader?
JAMES STROCK: One can become a “leader” or a “new leader” anytime, simply by one’s own decision. Leadership is all about the service. This can be seen as profound or aspirational; it’s also entirely practical. In any kind of new leadership role, three areas of focus come to mind.

First: listen, listen, listen. Observe with an artist’s eye for detail. Leadership, by definition, is about working with others, serving others. Listening is at the core of all effectiveness. It’s also an unmistakable manifestation of virtues that make a difference: love, humility, a servant’s perspective.

Second, if your new role includes responsibility for others’ well-being, make certain that you adjust your own day-to-day, hour-by-hour attention and work toward that end. Many people who are “promoted” from staff positions, where their work is directed by others, have some difficulty in making this adjustment.

Third, remember that first impressions matter. They can advance your goals dramatically. Or, mishandled, they can set your cause back.

QUESTION: Can you provide some examples of impressive leadership that you've seen in your experiences?
JAMES STROCK: Once one internalizes the notion that “everyone can lead, because everyone can serve,” one notices great and small acts of leadership everywhere. Here's one example from history: the presidential leadership of Theodore Roosevelt. Among his greatest legacies is America’s commitment to environmental protection as a fundamental value. TR’s push for environmental stewardship was not the result of public or interest group pressure, much less polling. He saw that there were a series of challenges that were not yet recognized, much less seen as related: building the “national character,” properly conserving the nation’s resources, and connecting past and future generations to the American project. Roosevelt’s example - of moving the nation to action, in the absence of a universally-recognized crisis such as a war or calamitous economic downturn - is quite relevant at the dawn of the 21st century.

I have compiled a list of inspiring 21st Century Leaders with reasons why I chose them. Some members of the list include: Jeff Bezos, Sir Richard Branson, Bill Gates, Tony Hsieh, Steve Jobs, Herb Kelleher, Indra Nooyi, and Howard Shultz. 

Check out this page on my website at

QUESTION: One of my favorite quotes about leadership is from author and consultant Mark Herbert:
Leadership is a gift, not a position. It doesn’t require you to be the smartest person in the room. It requires you to trust and be trusted – and block and tackle for others. What does this quote mean to you?
JAMES STROCK: Such a fundamental, clarifying insight is embedded in that fine quotation! Ronald Reagan put it this way: “The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things.” Lao Tzu merits the last word: “Fail to honor people, they will fail to honor you. But of a Great Leader, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, the people will all say, ‘We did this ourselves.’”

Learn more insights from James Strock on his website at, and connect on Twitter at @jamesstrock.

Image Credit: jesadaphorn via

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

5 Business Lessons from the Sochi Olympics

By now, many of us may have tired of seeing the Olympics logo at the bottom of television screens and hearing about gold medal winners hours after the events – sometimes even days later. But while the results of the Sochi Olympics are now in the history books, there are some important business lessons we can all apply and learn from this international athletic event.

There was no doubt that viewers were watching something spectacular. Opening ceremonies were full of lights, action, music, and of course, the distinctive outfits worn by athletes representing all the different countries. As a business, how often do you create events with the sole purpose of putting on a memorable show to develop employee loyalty and recognize employees? This can be done with summer picnics, beach parties, birthday parties, holiday parties, etc.

All countries showcase their individuality with the outfits their athletes wear during the opening ceremonies. Does your business have shirts, jackets, or caps that showcase your logo or brand identity? Or do your employees wear their own clothes – and in the process confuse customers?

Even if an athlete doesn’t win a Gold, Silver, or Bronze medal, he or she is an Olympic athlete. For your business, even if an employee doesn’t make the biggest sale or develop the next iPad, he or she is still contributing in some way to the overall bottom line.

How transparent is your leadership team? There may be things going on that many employees don’t understand – think about the confusion surrounding the curling event – so take the time and make the effort to explain and provide a big picture view so everyone is on the same page. Many employees are more productive and more successful if they understand how their piece of the pie impacts the entire project.


Sportscaster and commentator Bob Costas had a medical issue (an eye infection that oddly became the most talked about news of the Sochi games) and had to be replaced by a member of his team. Are there individuals in your business who understand a variety of specialty areas and who could step in at the eleventh hour? No one should own all information about a specific area or project. If so, your company could be at risk. Consider if there is a data breach and no one can locate the IT manager. Or consider if there is a media emergency and no one can locate the President to talk with the media. Create policies, plans, and alternate employees to assist in a variety of scenarios.

What other lessons did you learn from the Olympics that you can apply to your business and workplace? Please chime in.

Image Credit: Iamnee via

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Sharing 50 Social Media Secrets

Everyone who spends time in social media has one or two favorite platforms. Some may prefer using Twitter, some may prefer using Facebook, and some may prefer an obscure site or one that fits a particular industry. But many of us who use social media as a marketing tool to build our employer's brand and/or our personal brands have developed a secret or two along the way.

I have met a variety of amazing people as a result of my activity in social media and invited them to share their social media secrets here on my blog. Check out and apply the following secrets – and follow the Twitter accounts too:

Eric Jacobson (@EricJacobsonKC)
I like to congratulate LinkedIn members on their promotions and job anniversaries by responding to the LinkedIn prompts to do so.  It's an easy, subtle, and fast way to stay top of mind with customers and prospects.

Amanda Brazel (@amandabrazel)
My secret tip for 2014 is to get on Instagram and FAST. Right now, Instagram is the fastest growing network worldwide and is going to get bigger and bigger. Get comfortable with how to use the platform before you start using it to market your business. Make sure you write a dynamite bio and include your website. Follow other top people in your niche and know how to use has tags appropriately.  Post 3-4 photos throughout the day.  Learn fast and grow faster. Here's my page:

David Jacques (@DavidJacques)
On Twitter, I look to share interesting customer experience-related content that people might not have come across otherwise through the usual #cem, #custexp, #cxo and #custserv circles and sources. One app I use almost daily through which I find these nuggets is Zite.

Nancy O'Neill (@onedotnancy)
You don't have to be on social media sites every day, all day long in order to take advantage of its power. Think of it like a party. You show up, have meaningful conversations with people, share information, but recognize when it's time to leave. That way you also have time to get your job done which is why you're using social media sites in the first place.

Marilyn Suttle (@marilynsuttle)
Be conversational. Before you post a tweet or message on any social media platform, ask yourself, “If I said this in a face-to-face conversation, would it sound like me, or would it come across odd?" If you wouldn’t say it face-to-face, don’t post it.

Gina Schreck (@ginaschreck)

My not-so-secret secret weapon is Picmonkey. We all know that GREAT photos are key on almost every social media site. On our blog, Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook Page, Google Plus page and now, even on Twitter, we want to share more fabulous photos. PicMonkey allows you to edit, add great filters, overlay text, or your logo to protect your photos and so much more. Our entire team uses it multiple times per day. There is a free version that allows you to use all of the basic features, or a premium version that adds more font choices and a few more features. Check it out for'll be hooked in no time!

Neen James (@neenjames)
Here are some of my fave tips: 1) Use Hootsuite for everything (I use it a lot because I have tweets drop while I am keynoting and the audiences love it); 2) Use Anti Social (it is a blocking app) for all the social media sites when you are trying to get work done; 3) If you're working on a big project only allow yourself to check FB/Twitter/Pinterest on your iPad if you want to get something completed - consider checking in as a treat -  that way you consciously have to change tools; 4) Only engage in social media for 15 minutes at a time; and 5) Put yourself on a Facebook diet if you're spending/wasting too much time.

Deb Scott (@GreenSkyDeb)
I believe being honest and having integrity are more important than anything else. It does concern me how many people get caught up on how many followers people have on Twitter - when half of them buy their followers! While social media seems different than being in person, the same rules apply. Tell the truth, be good at what you do, and help others.

Cyndy Trivella (@CyndyTrivella)

My best tip is to always remember that social is an experience. So as we interact with people by forming connections and making acquaintances, we need to be mindful of our words and to use the same manners and sense of being polite that we would normally exhibit upon meeting people for the first time.

Shaun Dakin (@ShaunDakin)
You must live Facebook 24/7. One of my clients had the most popular post on all of Facebook during New Year's Day for Political groups.  Why?  We were monitoring their page AND Facebook to see what was resonating with their audience. And get CrowdTangle; it's a must-have app/tool to discover what content is working on Facebook RIGHT NOW across entire categories that you care about. Without CrowdTangle you are flying blind without any insights into what is working on Facebook and why.

Kathi Kruse (@kathikruse)
My one fave social media secret is Hootsuite Geo Search. You can easily locate tweets/conversations around a particular keyword or phrase that are happening in your local area, and it's free! When someone tweets about something you can help them with, you respond "socially" (not spammy) and provide help, even ask questions. Keep them engaged and the lead will just happen naturally!

Jeannie Walters (@jeanniecw)

My best social media secret is about sharing who you really are as a brand, as a person, or as a company. People respond to transparency and authenticity, so the best way to create meaningful relationships is by being yourself.

Dawn Swick (@dswick)
My favorite social media tool is passion. Social media is a completely different marketing tool and you're able to reach people and interact with them in real time. Don't abuse that by trying to immediately get into their wallet. Be their friend, because friends always love doing business with friends.

Kim Yuhl (@KimYuhl)
I try to initiate a conversation with 3 new people every day. Read their stuff and comment on something you like, respond to a question they pose, or just ask how someone's day is. Not everyone will respond, but it's a great tool at growing your relationship circle.

David Shedd (@DavidMShedd)
My key social media secret is LinkedIn. You can use it to learn about your other employees and most importantly, your current and future customers. This gives you a way to more quickly establish a rapport with them and figure out your sales approach (e.g. if your buyer customer has a technical background you would approach them quite differently than if they have a sales background).

Ken Peters (@brand_BIG)
Viewing social networks as venues for frivolous chit chat is naïve. Social media is a business intelligence and customer relations tool that can save you time, make you money and provide a competitive edge. There's nothing frivolous about that.

Melissa Michel (@melissapmichel)
Including graphics in your social media campaign is key! It's proven that posts with pictures increase the amount of likes, comments, and shares. A graphic designer I am not; however, two of my favorite easy-to-use applications are Canva (, and an App called InstaWord. Check these out and you’ll be creating professional-looking graphics in no time!

Lyn Boyer (@Lyn_Boyer)
My most important social media strategy is to develop and stick to a schedule so that I don't get lost in the interesting but irrelevant information coming at me all the time. Some tools I use are the digital dashboard I developed, Hootsuite, RSS feeds, news alerts on specific topics and Last Pass (to generate and keep passwords).

Jim Joseph (@JimJosephExp)
Keep your tabs open all day. There's nothing worse than someone who is in for a few then out for a lot. To keep your game on in social media, you have to stay connected especially to those who are engaging with you. So I keep my social media accounts on separate tabs all day long so I can easily and quickly ping back and forth. It keeps the engagement alive!

Alli Polin (@AlliPolin)
My biggest social media secret is to share original thoughts. It's important to RT and share but also show the world who you are and what you believe.

Elaine Fogel (@elaine_fogel)
I would say that the one indispensable social media tool I use is HootSuite. I have all my accounts in one window, including Facebook and LinkedIn groups. I can post and select which groups and sites to include, postdate my posts, and follow people easily. It's not quite a secret, but it is surely valuable.

Mark Wing (@markwing)
A new App I've started to use is called Strava. Using GPS, it records my personal cycling achievements. However it also allows me to do this socially, in the company of my cycling buddies, and it's an incredible example of how technology is encouraging me to exercise more regularly.

Keri Jaehnig (@kerijaehnig)
Especially in 2014, savvy social media marketers will concentrate on what is actually social: commenting and responding. Simply syndicating content will not be enough. The two-way dialogue will win (as it should)! So, preparing and curating good content in efficient ways will be even more important. I use Trello in an untraditional way to stay organized. Instead of the suggested ways to organize lists and to-do lists, I organize my content calendars to also include both messaging and images. This allows me to get a big picture view, but still change things quickly if needed, based on current trends.

Robert Caruso (@fondalo)
Content marketing, creation, and curation will become an even more frequent and required activity to be effective in social media marketing. The most effective, efficient and profitable way to do that is with my secret tool, BundlePost.

Jessica Kupferman (@JessKupferman)
My secret is ManageFlitter; I use almost every function it has, and it's helped me grow tremendously.

JoAnne Hines (@packagingdiva)
What makes me #1 in social media for packaging? Consistency and longevity. I didn't get there overnight. It took a lot of work, positive engagement, and interaction with other peeps to build a following. No matter how discouraged I got initially with social media, persistence paid off.

Dorie Clark (@dorieclark)
Instead of writing a blog and tweeting it once, use up to 5 different "pull quotes" from the piece and then tweet them out with the link. That way, there's more life in your post and opportunities for others to discover it, but you're not spamming people by tweeting the exact same thing 100 times.

Gretchen Pritts (@gretchenpritts)
By giving your audience what they want INSTEAD of what you want to give, you are being of service. It changes the feel of your social media platforms from salesy and pushy to culture and community! We can change the world with this philosophy!

Jennifer Gilreath Hanford (@JennGHanford)
My go-to app for content curation is It's a great tool for engaging and has a ton of sharing options. It also integrates with Buffer (which I also adore) so I can schedule the posts for Twitter as well.

Aaron Biebert (@biebert)
Get visual. I like to include a picture or video if possible with every Facebook update, blog post, etc. If you're running short on time, Instagram allows you to post simultaneously to Twitter and Facebook.

Evan Carmichael (@evancarmichael)
Follow your passion. That's all that matters. Believe in yourself more than in the LittleMan who doubts you.

Allan Pratt (@Tips4Tech)

Social media secrets for creating and sharing content are useful, but if you don't keep your devices secure, you never know if or when you may be hacked. Therefore, add a security app to your smartphone, preferably Lookout. If your device is lost or stolen, you can wipe your data remotely. And if you are logged in to all your favorite social sites and don't have a password to access the device, someone may start posting on your accounts with inappropriate content.

Randy Bowden (@bowden2bowden)
Companies who are currently celebrating the most success in social media focus on engagement, building relationships, and sharing value through their social outreach. Customers and prospects will seek out those companies who are offering value, entertainment, discounts, help, and engagement. The old saying that "People love to buy but they hate to be sold" is even truer in today's social space.

Anton Rius (@Anton_Rius)
The real value in social media is in the relationships you can form there. My biggest piece of advice is to take the time to reply to every single comment, retweet, mention, and message you get. Start small, 5-10 minute conversations with people at every opportunity. It may seem overly simple, but it works!

Anne Reuss (@AnneReuss)
I can't get my blog nutrition without Feedly or Pocket. It's no secret these apps have a stunning user interface and make it easy to save content you want to read later or subscribe to your favorite ones. But if I find a blog I really want to comment on to engage with the community or author, or even refer to for my own blog, I will put the link in my email and use Gmail's Boomerang to send it to myself later at a time I know I will be able to write a quality response on busy days. With a command in the subject line "read this and comment!" (Usually night time). Love it.

Sarah Arrow (@SarahArrow)
I use Curation Soft for curating posts. It takes about 10 minutes to write something and write something good. This is the perfect tool for curating a heap of content from Google News, videos, or feeds that you add yourself. If you add this tool to your content marketing strategy, you'll save around 3 hours a week.

Sean Smith (@SeanSmithCR)
In 2014, the app to watch is going to be Jelly. Like Twitter, people are still trying to figure where it fits.

Rebecca Herold (@PrivacyProf)
It's not a secret, but everyone should know (most still don't) that "anything" posted to a social media site may be view-able by virtually the world. No one should post to a social media site, even to a so-called private or protected area, if they wouldn't want the entire world to see it.

Ian Buckingham (@IanPBuckingham)

I find it a little disingenuous to use Facebook to promote business as it's ostensibly not a business forum in my view. However, I've managed to break through some of the stuffiness, political correctness, and formality on LinkedIn by finding both vocational groups and those that reflect my social interests, like rugby. This allows me to network authentically with like minds and people who share my values. Try it!

Mike Kappel (@MikeKappel)
Don't Be The Jerk At The Party. Don't meet people in social media and instantly ask them if they want to buy your stuff. You would think most people "get this," but I'm still amazed how many people each day DM me and think I'm going to fall over myself to buy their wares.

Sidneyeve Matrix (@sidneyeve)
My secret for having a never-ending supply of great share-worthy content is my amazing network. Spending time every day reading updates and links posted by those in my networks on Google+ and Twitter is a continuous learning experience -- filled with so much intriguing, inspiring, curated content. Bottom line: extend and engage with your network every day to continuously increase your social media ROI, and you'll always have something to say and share online.

Wendy Appel (@WendyAppel)
Continue to share and promote your older blog posts. If it’s something worth reading, it should have long legs and stand the test of time. Just because you’ve promoted it once, doesn’t mean even a small fraction of people have seen it. Remember that you are growing your social media audience all the time, and new followers won’t have necessarily seen prior posts.

David Brier (@davidbrier)
Triberr is a collective of influencers and bloggers who help one another excel and rise above the noise. That is one of my favorite tools for social media growth and empowerment. That and routinely studying for its generally excellent headlines that it sweats over to get amazing virality.

Amy Tobin (@AmyMccTobin)
There is one secret that ALL companies, no matter their size, try to ignore: it takes time and personal interaction. I use a wide variety of apps and measuring tools, but NOTHING replaces jumping on a platform and connecting individually to build brand advocates.

Paul Cooley (@PaulCooley and @iBoostCo)
Think things through, don't just do what everything tells you to you. Make social media work for your business model, not against it.

Melanie Spring (@MelanieSpring and @Sisarina)
The one thing I share with everyone is stop selling. People don't buy from people who are selling, especially on social media. Find a way to tell a story and share it. Create and curate content but never sell.

Martina McGowan (@MartinaMcGowan)
Having real conversations with people is important, as well as always being open to learning new things and stepping out of your comfort zone. I like the idea of curation, but have found that I have little time to comb the net myself, so I rely on several services who gather information, like Everpost, Paperli, Meddle, ScoopIt, to name a few, and I use Buffer to share this information with others. Buffer gives me an easy way to tap into several channels. Not all of the information gathered is for every audience.

Tracy Sestili (@tracysestili and @SocialStrand)
Take 10 minutes a day to comment on other people's content to build and nurture relationships. Hopefully, they will return the favor when you need something amplified.

Jeffrey Summers (@JeffreySummers)
The biggest social secret is that there are no secrets. If you aren't engaging consumers in a meaningfully differentiated way, you lose.

And finally, here are a few of my social media secrets (@DebbieLaskeyMBA):
Every morning, I check out my fave apps, Blogkeen and Zite to read posts from my favorite bloggers. I then share posts on Twitter, flip on Flipboard, and create an image or two with a quote from great blog posts on Instagram. These five apps are excellent brand-building tools.

In the spirit of the timeless Tweet (and my fave Tweet of all time) from Vala Afshar (@ValaAfshar), “Don't do social, be S.O.C.I.A.L.: sincere, open, collaborative, interested, authentic, and likeable,” I thank all of my social media colleagues for their contributions and invite you to share a social media secret of your own.

Image Credit: Basketman via

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Customer Service vs. Customer Experience: Does Your Business Know the Difference?

I’d like to introduce Shep Hyken to my blog. Shep is a customer service expert, professional speaker, and New York Times bestselling author who works with companies and organizations who want to build loyal relationships with their customers and employees. His articles have been read in hundreds of publications, and he’s also the creator of The Customer Focus program which helps clients develop a customer service culture and loyalty mindset. Shep’s most requested programs focus on customer service, customer loyalty, internal service, and customer experience. He’s known for his high energy presentations which combine important information with entertainment to create exciting programs for his audiences. Shep and I recently discussed a variety of customer service topics, and the highlights follow below.

QUESTION: What is the difference between customer service and customer experience?

SHEP HYKEN: It used to be that customer service was the experience. It was primarily focused on the interactions between the front line and the customer. However, customer experience has grown to include much more than just the front line touch-points. It now includes every touch-point the customer has with anything related to doing business with your company. It includes the online (website) user experience, the packaging that the customer receives in the mail, the look and feel of the onsite experience, and much more. Think of every interaction the customer has with your company, even if it doesn’t involve your employees, and you start to get an idea that the customer’s experience is much more than traditional sales or support.

QUESTION: Who owns customer service in today's competitive marketplace?
SHEP HYKEN: If you’re asking me who, inside of a company, owns the responsibility of customer service, the answer is everyone. Customer service is no longer a department. It’s a philosophy that should be embraced by every employee at every level. It’s part of everyone’s job.

QUESTION: How can you teach all departments or silos within companies (HR, IT, Marketing, Sales R&D, Finance, etc.) to work together to improve customer service?
SHEP HYKEN: First, take a look at the answer to the last question. Next, recognize that the customer service culture of a company starts at the top. It’s defined and deployed through training and leaders’ modeling that behavior. Walt Disney used to say that everyone had three jobs at Disney. First was to do the job they were hired to do. Second was to take care of the guest. And third was to keep the park clean. Now, you may not have a theme park to keep clean, but when you truly embrace the first and second responsibilities, you realize that regardless of your job and department, you are there to take care of the customer. Everyone must be on board with this concept.
QUESTION: Do you believe that this is the “Age of the Customer?”
SHEP HYKEN: I like the concept of the “Age of the Customer” and believe we are in an age or era that requires a company to be customer-focused. There are two reasons. First, it makes competitive sense. Customer service can be a differentiator that sets you apart from your competition. And second, the customer is smarter and has higher expectations than ever before. Customers are promised good service by most companies and do receive it from some. And they recognize it when they get it. But they no longer compare you to your direct competition. Instead, they compare you to the companies they admire and like doing business with most. For example: Your customer may have done business with a company that is completely unrelated to what you do. That company may return their phone calls and emails within 30 minutes. So that’s what they have learned to expect (and now want), and to meet and exceed their expectations, you better deliver.

QUESTION: What are some key reasons that customer service fails?
SHEP HYKEN: Start with people. Without the right people in place, customer service can fail.  But even with the right people, there has to be a system that supports the customer, and that comes from the top. Leadership defines the culture of the company and the customer service experience. Those must be synergistic. Once defined, the employees must be properly trained and be in alignment with the customer service vision. Then, they must execute. You can create the best system and have the best intentions, but you are only as good as the one person who is interacting with the customer (both internal and external).  Customer service is everyone’s job, and if one person doesn’t realize it and buy in, the system can fail.

QUESTION: What three tips would you give to a company that wants to improve its customer service?
SHEP HYKEN: Just three? I have dozens and dozens, but here are three of my favorites: 
1. Customer service isn’t a department. It’s a philosophy to be embraced by every employee.
2. While leadership may set the tone and create the customer service vision, everyone must assume a leadership role when it comes to customer service. Be the person that others look to and aspire to be. Be a role model for what good customer service is all about.
3. The customer is NOT always right. Even when customers are wrong, and they are, let them be wrong with dignity and respect.

Learn more insights from Shep Hyken on his website at and on Twitter @Hyken.

Image Credit: Thanunkorn via

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Game Ended Early, But The Super Bowl Ads Live On

Image Credit: Budweiser via Adweek.

Every winter, on one Sunday, every TV around the world tunes in for one super football game. But for those of us who live and breathe all things marketing, the final football showdown each season provides a different focus. That focus costs a pretty penny - or several million to be exact. The incredibly high-priced ads that grace the TV screen during the Super Bowl have become known as the Brand Bowl, and I'm thrilled to share a three-peat review of these ads with Julia Carcamo.

As a brand marketing professional, I recall many of the ads despite this year's one-sided Game. What about you? Read about my faves and Julia's faves. A few quick notes before we begin: Julia and I began this annual review back in 2012, and repeated last year. This year, we provide a three-peat. Julia's bio precedes her comments below, and I encourage you to visit her blog and connect on Twitter. Also, if you missed any of the ads or want to know which 10 were the most engaging, links are provided at the end of our joint post.

Here were my faves:
[1] MetLife featured the entire Peanuts gang with a preamble to the Game, and since the game took place at MetLife Stadium, this was a good intro to the Game.
[2] Budweiser's puppy and Clydesdale with the hashtag #BestBuds: this ad was memorable and tugged at the heartstrings.
[3] Budweiser's thanks for military service: this ad was memorable and reminiscent of Budweiser's timeless post-911 ad.
[4] Doritos time machine ad was funny but would have been funnier if it had run after Radio Shack's Back to the Eighties spot.
[5] TurboTax's ad was amusing except for the fact that no one wants to think about filing tax returns the first week of February.

I appreciated the presence of more cause-related marketing ads, especially Microsoft's #empowerment ad and Chevrolet's cancer awareness ad.

However, one element was different for me this year. While watching the Game, instead of simply Tweeting once I saw the hashtags after each ad, I participated in a TweetChat with the hashtag #SBexp for "Super Bowl experience" hosted by Jim Joseph ( of Cohn and Wolfe. Jim will host similar TweetChats during the upcoming Olympics with the hashtag #OlympicsExp.

Now, please welcome Julia Carcamo back to my blog. After the last two Super Bowls, we connected across the miles and shared joint posts on my blog and also on hers. Julia is a brand strategy consultant for J. Carcamo & Associates and develops marketing strategies and tools to revitalize brands and engage customers. Check out her blog at and connect on Twitter at

This year was a little disappointing, both on and off the field. Gone are the days when massive production budgets and huge theatrical events were the commercials that we saw. Here are my Top 5 in order of appearance:
[1] RadioShack came out of nowhere for me. They were smart in not releasing their spot early so they could surprise everyone on Sunday. I can't wait to see what they do with their brand, with their stores, and with their business.
[2] Another big surprise for me was Tim Tebow in the T-Mobile commercials. Who knew not having a contract to be so liberating?
[3] The girls of GoldieBlox showed everyone that girl power is pretty awesome, even in the midst of what is typically a testosterone-filled day.
[4] Pepsi did a nice job of hyping halftime. Their "Souncheck" was a creative use of the New York City skyline.
[5] I tried to not make it my favorite, but I just couldn't help it! My winner was Budweiser's "Puppy Love" and now I want to adopt a Labrador.
And lastly, I have to give points to those advertisers that spent money to shine a light on a good cause: Bank of America for (red) and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and Chevy for World Cancer Day.

Here's a list of the top 10 most engaging ads according to for Advertising Age:

Here's a link to catch any of the ads if you missed watching them:

What about you? What was your fave ad?

Here was our joint post on February 4, 2013:

Here was our joint post on February 6, 2012:

Friday, January 31, 2014

Does Your Brand Tweet?

Image Credit: Twitter.

There is no denying that Twitter is an amazing communication tool, but is it a branding tool? To answer that question, all we have to do is recall that famous tweet by Oreo from last year’s Super Bowl game.

The lights may have gone out on the game, but the Twitterverse has never been brighter. Humor, creativity, and engagement filled everyone’s streams. We laughed with Oreo, Walgreens, Lowe’s, Audi, Tide, and PBS. It was clear that many big names in the worlds of food, pharmacy, home improvement, automotive, consumer products, and public television understood the impact of a few carefully chosen words in social media.

So, does your business think in 140 characters, or more like 110 or 120? Does your business respond to comments by others? Do you invite comments about your products or services by customers and prospective customers? How quickly do you respond to tweets? Do you thank members of the Twitterverse who engage with you? And what about tweeps who mention your brand on Follow Friday – how do you show your gratitude? And let’s not forget the use of hashtags – how often do you use them?

Here were my favorite tweets from last year’s Super Bowl:

Power out? No problem. [Photo: You can still dunk in the dark.]

Hey dome operators at the Big Game, there are a few Lowe’s nearby if you need some generators.

This might be a good time to think about alternative programing. #SuperBowlBlackOut

As you integrate Twitter into your overall marketing strategy, don’t ever forget why these tweets had impact and how they addressed the circumstances of the moment. Also consider how aligned these tweets’ messaging was to the brands’ overall messaging.

How should you spend your time on Twitter? Plan your time strategically:

[1] Develop a Twitter plan – include goals for engagement, a calendar for content, and a schedule for time commitments.

[2] Craft your brand’s and/or company’s official voice – depending on industry, this may be formal, informal, or conversational.

[3] Decide who will tweet on behalf of your company and use initials (if many people tweet) so that followers will know who is tweeting (the initials should clearly correspond to full names in the “About Section”).

[4] Engage your audience or followers – ask questions, offer coupons, use polls, etc. – and respond to each person individually if possible.

[5] Decide how you will handle customer complaints – and be consistent.

Above all, be true to your brand. Don’t tweet content that you wouldn’t include in your annual report or share on your company’s blog or website. Remember, your Twitter account may be part of the social media landscape, but it’s just as much a reflection of your brand as any other piece of the marketing pie.

But because Twitter exists in real time, your reach can be, and is, immediate – which sets this tool apart from all of your other marketing efforts. Use this difference to your advantage – and don’t ever forget Oreo’s tweet.

Do you have a favorite tweet to share?