Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Who determines the culture and voice of your blog?

These days, companies and individuals include blogs as part of their marketing arsenal and social media outreach to promote their product or service and/or to build buzz about a corporate, non-profit, or personal brand. While some blogs have several writers or bloggers, others feature only one. So who determines the culture and voice of a blog?

If you are promoting a product or service in the B2B (business-to-business) arena, you probably use industry-specific lingo that your target audience understands and often uses. But if you are promoting something in the B2C (business-to-consumer) arena, you probably use informal language, brief sentences, and one-topic paragraphs in order to capture and keep readers’ interest.

Your blogger or bloggers most often determine the voice of your blog, so would a company president be the main writer? Or would the marketing or public relations departments take responsibility for writing the posts? Or would the IT or HR departments chime in with ideas?

Once your company or non-profit determines who will write the posts, here are some things to keep in mind for successful blogging:
  • Create a schedule that includes topics and timing for posting (daily vs. weekly).
  • Monitor word count so that you avoid discrepancies between a 250-word post and a 2,000-word post.
  • Choose graphics that align with the subject matter of each post.
  • Ask readers for opinions.
  • Proofread the posts several times before you publish.

In the words of Brian Clark, CEO of Copyblogger Media and founder of Copyblogger.com, “Don’t focus on having a great blog. Focus on producing a blog that’s great for your readers.”

Monday, August 8, 2011

Who do you represent: your company or your individual brand?

When we go to work everyday, we don certain attire to achieve a certain look as we become representatives of our company. Some companies have actual uniforms: McDonald’s, service departments within car dealerships, the US Post Office, and many, many more. Professional service firms, such as, accounting firms, law firms, and even banks, have an “unwritten” uniform that features a suit and tie for men and dresses or suits for women. However, do we represent our employer or our own unique brand?

Consider Zappos and the culture that Tony Hsieh has created: all employees strive to create an exceptional experience for customers. Zappos employees will even go above and beyond for potential customers even if the company doesn’t sell a desired product. Consider Southwest Airlines: while it is known as a low cost, no frills airline, the company’s employees understand that they are in “the customer service business and just happen to provide airline transportation,” and most customers encounter a positive experience in their interactions with Southwest.

Southwest Airlines President Emeritus Colleen Barrett explained, “Employees feel like owners because they are owners…How can you expect people to have passion and excitement for what they do if they’re not owners? We give employees the opportunity to criticize and question us. Southwest doesn't often need to conduct surveys or hire consultants to determine what we are doing wrong or well. The employees tell us face-to-face year-round. We're transparent and we're all-inclusive in telling employees what’s happening. Another thing that’s unique about Southwest is its sense of humor. We use words that corporate America doesn’t. Our stock exchange symbol is LUV. We give employees a lot of freedom. We don’t want them to be cookie-cutter copies of each other. When most people go to work, they take off their personal demeanor. Then they go home and act like themselves again. We hire people for their individuality, and we want to share that with the passengers. We test for a sense of humor. We want them to laugh. We watch their interactions with others outside of the formal interview. You can train anyone to move a bag from one place to another. A team mentality is what we're looking for.”

It’s clear that Southwest and Zappos employees represent their brands while on the clock – and it’s easy to see why. But while many of us are representations of our companies and extensions of our brands during business hours, what happens at the close of business? At that point, you represent yourself – your unique strengths, expertise, education, and experience. Your unique brand must be maintained so that you can give 110% each and every day.

Remember, it is due to your having your unique brand that you were hired in the first place, so here are five tips to nurture your individual brand:

[1] Write a mission statement and action plan to clarify your professional goals and list your key strengths

[2] Keep your digital footprint current – create a detailed profile on LinkedIn and update it regularly with project highlights, create a blog, participate in conversations on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+

[3] Attend continuing education courses in your specialty area, either from experts within your business or elsewhere

[4] Request to participate in cross-departmental meetings at your business in order to gain a more comprehensive understanding of how all departments work together – and as a result, volunteer for new projects outside of your comfort zone

[5] Share your expertise with others by speaking to chambers of commerce, panel discussions, local businesses, friends’ companies, etc. – and also join professional organizations

In the words of Tom Peters, “Big companies understand the importance of brands. Today, in the Age of the Individual, you have to be your own brand. [You have] to be the CEO of Me Inc. You’re every bit as much a brand as Nike, Coke, Pepsi, or the Body Shop. To start thinking like your own favorite brand manager, ask yourself the same question the brand managers at Nike, Coke, Pepsi, or the Body Shop ask themselves: What is it that my product or service does that makes it different? Give yourself the traditional 15-words-or-less contest challenge. Take the time to write down your answer. And then take the time to read it. Several times. Start by identifying the qualities or characteristics that make you distinctive from your competitors – or your colleagues. What have you done lately – this week – to make yourself stand out?”

To read more, check out Tom Peters’ article, “The Brand Called You,” in Fast Company (http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/10/brandyou.html). While the article was written in 1997, it is just as current as if it were written today.

So remember, while you represent your company during business hours, you ALWAYS represent your individual brand!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

140 Characters CAN Impact Your Business!

Those of us who spend a great amount of our day tangled in the social web sometimes forget what makes each site unique. So it’s a good idea to revisit the attributes of each site on a regular basis to remind ourselves how each can provide the best value for our time and business. Mark W. Schaefer does a great job of reminding us how Twitter can make an impact in 140 characters in his book, The Tao of Twitter. While it may have been written as an introduction to Twitter, it is a good read for those who have been in the Twitterverse for awhile – because we can see our own experiences in Mark’s stories.

Twitter, a micro-blogging site whereby users comment in 140 characters or less, has been in the news since it launched in 2006, but it really made its presence known in the mainstream media when the site experienced significant outages during August 2009 – and NBC news anchor Brian Williams discussed the outage on his Nightly News television broadcast.

As Mark writes, “There is a Tao to Twitter, a majestic random synergy that holds the potential to impact your life daily…if you know what you’re doing. [But] most people don’t know what they’re doing. They don’t grasp the Tao: a way or path or principle.”

Mark shares a myriad of memorable examples that prove how, without a doubt, Twitter can help your business to:

[1] Attract new audiences and potential customers, partners, and suppliers

[2] Follow news on your industry, market, competitors, and customers

[3] Stay on top of the latest research, opinions, insights, and competitive intelligence

[4] Strengthen new and existing customer relationships

[5] Open up low-cost marketing opportunities

Here are Mark’s questions and suggestions to make Twitter part of your marketing strategy and a competitive advantage for your business:

[1] Who are my target customers?

[2] Do they fall into distinct segments with different needs or interests?

[3] What are their goals as they relate to my business?

[4] What kind of information are my customers generally interested in?

[5] Who on Twitter regularly tweets this kind of information? Competitors? No one?

[6] What Twitter resources can be valuable to this (or each) customer segment?

[7] Use Twitter’s search function to perform real-time searches about your industry

[8] Offer helpful links and headlines that drive traffic to your main website

[9] Improve customer service by participating in conversations about your product/service

[10] Offer special deals, contests, and promotions on Twitter

[11] Showcase testimonial tweets as “favorites”

[12] Participate in or sponsor a chat or tweet-up based on your industry or niche

[13] Reinforce your brand with consistency (tagline, description, Twitter background, “voice” of your tweets, etc.)

As for the amount of time you should spend on Twitter, there is no easy answer. Only you can determine what works for your business. For newbies, try to spend 20 minutes a day – read, share, and learn from others. For those who have been part of the Twitterverse for a long time, Mark proposes that we take the Twitter 20-minute challenge – I had to laugh with his statement that “it’s easy to go down the rabbit hole” and read link after link. How many times have we all lost track of time?

Since Twitter’s “gold” can be described as “content,” Mark eloquently explains, “Content is the currency of the social web and sharing that content is the catalyst to new relationships and business benefits.” Twitter users fall into these categories: lead generator, customer satisfier, product development engine, problem-solver, lead for joint brainstorming session, storyteller, teacher – and you can probably think of many more.

For those who require visual explanations, Mark offers this description, “Think of the social web as a dinner party. If somebody only talks about themselves, their business and how great they are, you’re going to get away fast! But if a person shows genuine interest in you, and offers help without regard for their own personal benefit, you will like that person and connect with them.”

In a 2009 Time magazine essay, technology author Steven Johnson described the basic mechanics of Twitter, “As a social network, Twitter revolves around the principle of followers. When you choose to follow another Twitter user, that user’s tweets appear on your main Twitter page. If you follow 20 people, you’ll see a mix of tweets scrolling down the page: interesting new links, music recommendations, even musings on the future of education.”

When Johnson attended an event, he noticed that attendees in the same room were tweeting, but within 30 minutes, members of the Twitterverse who were not in attendance had joined the stream. “Injecting Twitter into that conversation fundamentally changed the rules of engagement. It added a second layer of discussion and brought a wider audience into what would have been a private exchange. And it gave the event an afterlife on the web. Yes, it was built entirely out of 140-character messages, but the sum total of those tweets added up to something truly substantive, like a suspension bridge made of pebbles.”

Over the last two-plus years, I have watched the pebbles of the Twitter suspension bridge and benefitted from Twitter: I have received invitations to write guest blog posts and to appear on radio shows. I have set up prospective business meetings that resulted in new business and also made new friends and business connections from all around the world – people I would never have had the opportunity to meet without Twitter – and all this resulting from 140 character messages. And, I admit, also by enduring the fail whale every now and then.

More about the book: http://www.thetaooftwitter.com

Follow Mark on Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/markwschaefer

Monday, August 1, 2011

Do you know how to stand out from the crowd?

Please welcome Walethia Aquil to my Blog. Walethia Aquil, coach, author, speaker, and entrepreneur, is the founder of Grace and Charm, a consulting company that features 30 unique training programs to improve organizational and personal behavior, business and social graces, and effective team building. Grace and Charm’s mission is to help “entrepreneurs move from invisible to impeccable,” and the company provides executives, entrepreneurs, public figures, and individuals with the skills, training, and resources to ensure that their image does not distract from their productiveness. Walethia worked at General Motors prior to starting her own company, is an inspiration to countless non-profits, and also hosts the “Success with Grace and Charm” radio show on BlogTalkRadio every Tuesday at 2pm EST.

Question: What is the history behind your company?

WALETHIA AQUIL: When I was growing up, my family did not have a lot of resources, and I was terribly shy and insecure as a child and as a young adult. Late in life, I realized that my shyness and insecurities were hampering my professional and social development. In my youth, after my first school dance, I walked into a restaurant and sat down at a table with silverware and china, and I knew I was out of my element. I made a decision then and there that I would never feel embarrassed again. If I struggled with social skills and self-esteem, I knew others did as well. Today, because the market is overcrowded and highly competitive, no one will tell you why you didn’t get a promotion, why you were unable to close a deal, or why you’re not invited to social events. This is how Grace and Charm started, as a result of my own experiences.

Question: What does your tagline mean to you: “Become More Charming, Persuasive and Memorable?”

WALETHIA AQUIL: In today’s competitive market, it is very important to stand out. Your image, your etiquette, your communication and interpersonal skills play a major role in the amount of money you earn, who comprises your circle of influence, the quality of your relationships, and the opportunities that are open to you. Also, your ability to get along with others is just as important as having technical and professional skills because 85% of success in business and social relationships is based on your “people skills.” So, having a polished image is vital to your success. A potential customer or client will, within seconds, determine if you are trustworthy. So, when you look polished and professional from head to toe, your credibility is undeniable and trust in you increases.

Question: What are the results of developing one's social skills?

WALETHIA AQUIL: Developing your social skills will increase your earning potential by opening doors of opportunity, enhancing your relationships, attracting better and higher paying customers or clients, increasing your self-esteem, and positioning you to attain power and influence. It is more important than ever before to build relationships, and the quickest and most effective way is to create what I call, “Relationship Currency.” To explain it simply, relationship currency is a resource – giving to others. Relationship currency can catapult your business or career to the next level because others will see you as approachable. The result will yield a more extensive network. The development of one’s social skills will change a person’s mindset from “what’s in it for me” to “how can I serve others and add value.”

Question: Some men may disagree with your business model, so how do you convince men (as well as some women) about the value of what you teach?

WALETHIA AQUIL: This is a very good question. Success in any industry relies on relationships, whether with co-workers, clients, suppliers, or investors. When you’re well-mannered and courteous in dealing with others, you create engaging, productive, and long-term business relationships. As such, it is important to learn not just the technical side of a business, but how to conduct oneself in the company of others. It has been my experience that the men and women who seek my services understand the benefits of having superior social skills and a polished image.

Question: What is the best way to overcome anxiety created by giving presentations?

WALETHIA AQUIL: Well, I always have butterflies when I’m preparing to speak. But as Mark Twain said, “There are two types of speakers: those that are nervous and those that are liars.” So, my secrets would have to be preparation, preparation, and more preparation. Acknowledge fear because it is normal. Dress comfortably – but I suggest dressing a level above the audience because you are the authority, the star, the speaker. Arrive early so that you can become familiar with the environment and any technical equipment that will be part of the presentation. Know your audience: who are they, what is their knowledge of your topic, how many will be in attendance, etc. If it is appropriate, greet members of the audience and introduce yourself as they enter the room. During your presentation, make eye contact with your new friends – this will ease the butterflies. Most importantly, smile and have fun.

Question: What is the best preparation for a networking event, and how do you recommend someone should “work the room?”

WALETHIA AQUIL: The best advice I can offer is to move outside your comfort zone. The best network and the most effective network is one that is diverse. Here are three tips that will help a person gain control of a room and command the attention of others:

[1] Smile and make eye contact – successful and confident people make direct eye contact, and a smile breaks down barriers.

[2] Have an attitude of gratefulness – when you are grateful, you radiate positive energy, and people are drawn to those who are positive.

[3] Abide by the three-second rule – acknowledge someone you don’t know, and within three seconds walk over and introduce yourself.

Become a Fan on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/graceandcharm

Read more on the Blog: http://graceandcharmblog.com/blog

Listen to Walethia on BlogTalkRadio: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/graceandcharm