Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Marketing Highlights from 2014

With 2014 history, it’s time for my “Top 10” marketing highlights list. What campaigns were great? Which were duds? What stood out as marketing innovation, and what will go down in history that can rival Apple’s 1984 TV ad? What do YOU remember from the 2014 marketing reel?

With a quick nod to David Letterman for the format, here’s my list:

Number 10:
Budweiser's Super Bowl ad with a puppy and a Clydesdale horse tugged at the heartstrings as only a Budweiser ad can.

Number 9:
While the Sochi Olympics took place in February, the biggest story was that Bob Costas, the legendary broadcaster for the event, suffered from an eye infection.

Number 8:
In typical Apple fashion, the release of the next iteration of the iPhone (the iPhone 6 and 6s), was unveiled to long lines and much anticipation.

Number 7:
Manhattanhenge took over New York City. Twice during the summer of 2014, the Manhattan sunset illuminated both the north and south sides of every cross street. For two days, half the sun sat above and below the horizon, thus creating a sort of Stonehenge effect.

Number 6:
Instagram stood out as the social media platform for the most fun and the most engagement. Sorry to Facebook and Twitter.

Number 5:
Pizza Hut redesigned its logo: the roof was history, and in its place was a red and white pizza.

Number 4:
Lego launched its Science Line "Research Institute Set" for girls, the first female offering to feature women in a professional setting rather than partying. The set consisted of a female paleontologist, female astronomer, and female chemist - although it was a limited edition and sold out within days.

Number 3:
SeaWorld continued its damage control due to the 2013 film, "Blackfish," about how it captured and treats Killer Whales.

Number 2:
Data breaches became too common, as evidenced by breaches announced by Target, Staples, AT&T, Albertson's, The Home Depot, and Apple's iCloud.

And Number 1 on the 2014 Marketing Highlights List:
As a result of a security hack and possible threats to viewers' safety, Sony Pictures pulled the distribution of its film "The Interview" from major movie theater chains. While the company eventually released the film through small and independent theaters and via online outlets, the issue of free speech became a bigger issue than the hack. People who had not planned to view the film added it to their "must-view" list to support free speech.

What would you add to this list? Here’s to 2015 and another year of marketing highlights. Happy New Year!

Image Credit: Krishna Arts via

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Continuity of Leadership

Today, too few businesses plan for change - especially what will happen when the person at the top, the CEO or President, moves on or retires. So, the businesses that do plan provide the inspiration for many others. A nonprofit that believes in planning is the Special Olympics of Southern California (SOSC).

In a book produced by the SOSC entitled, "The Continuity of Leadership," President/CEO Bill Shumard provides his insights about leadership and why all organizations must have a continuity plan. The reason is simple: when leaders change, cultures change, and as a result, organizations change. This much change is definitely not in the best interest of any organization.

The secret for Shumard's success can be found in his mantra: "Everyone is a leader." This type of leadership belief builds a culture of project ownership, teamwork, and people development. At the end of the day, team members want to work together, which results in high quality work and positive morale. Employees go above and beyond, not because they are thinking about their paychecks, but because they all believe in the cause.

Enjoy these other inspirational leadership quotes from the book:

"Communicate as a person, not a boss - have a conversation." - Anne Sweeney, Disney/ABC Television

"Leaders and leadership teams working together will run a business more effectively than a hierarchical, command structure." - Marvin Bower, McKinsey & Co.

"It doesn't matter if you have a perfect product, production plan and marketing pitch; you'll still need the right people to lead and implement those plans." - Bill Gates, Microsoft

Image Credit: Stuart Miles via

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A Reminder for All E-Commerce Sites During the Holiday Shopping Season

With the online holiday shopping season upon us, here's an important reminder for all E-Commerce sites.

While online surfing recently, I wanted to make a purchase for a family member and was using a site I had not previously used. I entered the product details and conducted a search, found the desired item, and then continued to maneuver around the site to enter my name, address, and credit card details.

As I was just about to click “place order,” something surprising happened. The entire site went down and a message popped up on my screen, “This site has gone down for maintenance. Try again later.”

I understand that unexpected situations happen, so I was happy (truth be told, happy is not the correct description) to give the benefit of the doubt to this site’s company. But if regularly-scheduled maintenance had been planned, don’t you think there should have been a message on the homepage indicating the times that the site would be down and inoperable? If such a message had been visible on the homepage or, even better, along the top of all pages, I would have been in a position to either chose to enter my data with lightning speed or chose to return the next day.

I shook my head once the site went down, because I wasn’t sure if my data had, in fact, been entered and the order had been processed. So, the next morning, I called the company – and after going through a series of numerous prompts, I spoke with a live person and provided the order number on my print out (I had printed out the web page where I was when the site went down the previous evening).

The lady could not locate the order number, and she went on to explain that due to the fact that the site had gone down the previous evening, my order had not been completed. I asked her if the site was back up, and she said yes. I waited a few seconds before saying anything, because I was curious what she might do to leave me with a positive impression of her company. When it was obvious that she was ready to end the call, I told her that I would visit the site to complete my transaction.

What do you think she said in response? I expected her to say something along the lines of “We’re sorry that the site went down during your transaction. This happens rarely, but we appreciate you business and if there’s anything I can do to facilitate your transaction, please let me know.” Or what about this, “Can I take your order over the phone to make your day go smoother?” But she said NOTHING. In fact, she disconnected the call.

It’s a shame that the customer service rep I spoke with had never been trained by Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, whose classic advice can lead to memorable, positive, and repeat customer experiences: “We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every aspect of the customer experience better.”

If your business depends on successful online transactions this holiday season, don't ever lose sight of the importance of creating positive customer experiences.

Image Credit: Renjith Krishnan via

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Service Is the New Marketing – Thanks to Social Media

In the words of Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, “We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.”

Two recent experiences couldn’t have been more different, and as a result, I started to think how the two establishments valued service and repeat business. In today
s era of nearly instant communication and thanks to social media and the myriad of sites available to anyone with a smartphone or tablet, a recap of a good or bad experience can appear anywhere from a small blog to thousands of YouTube views to the national TV news.

I visited a local restaurant for lunch. While the restaurant I visited was in Los Angeles, there are other locations, so it’s not a one-off like the Cheers bar we all know and love from the TV show where you walk in the door, and “everyone knows your name.” However, at this restaurant, I have a favorite waiter who knows what I like and actually brings my favorite items without menus. Alas, on this particular visit, my favorite waiter wasn’t working. Since I have positive experiences at this restaurant 99% of the time, imagine my horror at this rare experience.

After entering the restaurant and waiting 10 minutes for the hostess, I was seated at a patio table. Then, after waiting another 10 minutes to be acknowledged by a server, I placed my order. After the order was taken, I saw the waiter walk out of the restaurant’s back door never to return. Yes, you read that correctly: I never saw him again. Some other waiters tried to provide decent service, but without “owning” my table, they were unsure about order details and did not check back to ask if anything was needed after the kitchen team delivered the food.

Contrast this poor excuse for service with another recent experience. I visited a large hotel (a member of the Westin hotel chain) for a family celebration in Southern California. From the moment I checked in to the moment I checked out, I was treated like a VIP. My name was used when the front desk personnel spoke to me, and my name was used when I dined at the hotel’s restaurant. It was clear that this hotel staff understood that people have choices when it comes to choosing a hotel. The staff at this hotel wanted its guests to remember their version of excellent customer service – and return in the future.

Think how quickly I could have posted my dissatisfaction with the restaurant. I could have posted a comment on Twitter or Foursquare, uploaded a photo of the waiter’s disappearance out the restaurant’s back door on Facebook or Pinterest, shared a short video on YouTube, or posted a negative review on Yelp. By contrast, I could have posted positive comments or photos or both about my hotel experience just as quickly.

With social media becoming such an integral part of a company’s overall marketing strategy these days, service is really the only way for companies to stand out from their competitors. While negative reviews tend to remain online longer, it is critical for customers, clients, stakeholders, and guests to share their positive experiences and feedback too.

So, at the conclusion of your business dealings and interactions, do you request that your customers talk about their positive experiences online? Do you follow up with them to repeat the ask? And how do you thank them? This should all be part of your social media strategy.

Happy Customer Experience Day! #CXDay

Image Courtesy: Boians Cho Joo Young via

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Tips for Bold and Gutsy Leadership

I would like to introduce John Baldoni to my blog. I met John through my social media activities on Twitter, and over the last five years, I've gained immeasurable insight from him thanks to his Twitter comments, blog posts, videos, and books. John is an internationally-recognized leadership educator, executive coach, and speaker. He has written more than a dozen books, including MOXIE: The Secret to Bold and Gutsy Leadership, Lead with Purpose, Lead Your Boss, and The Leader’s Pocket Guide. In 2014, Trust Across America named him to its list of top 100 most trustworthy business experts, and also in 2014, Global Gurus ranked John #11 on its list of global leadership experts. John has authored more than 500 leadership columns for a variety of online publications including Forbes, Harvard Business Review and Bloomberg Businessweek.

I am honored to share some of John's latest insights here on my blog.

QUESTION: Your leadership inspiration is timeless, but what's your latest secret to bold and gutsy leadership? Please explain MOXIE.
JOHN BALDONI: MOXIE focuses on the guts, gumption, and determination that individuals and leaders apply to achieve their goals. Moxie itself is a combination of fire and determination. As I describe in my book, MOXIE serves as an acronym for:

MINDFULNESS – to be aware of yourself and your situation

OPPORTUNITY – to turn challenges into possibilities for growth

X-FACTOR – to use your character and its attributes to succeed

INNOVATION – to look for possibilities where others see obstacles

ENGAGEMENT – to work with others to achieve positive outcomes

In a nutshell, MOXIE is what every leader needs to succeed.

QUESTION: How do you define the differences between leadership and management?
JOHN BALDONI: Managers keep the trains running on time. Leaders direct the trains to where they should go. That is why managers must administrate; they run operations and keep an organization’s functions running smoothly. Leaders provide the guidance that provides direction. Truth be told, managers must lead and leaders must manage.

QUESTION: If an employee doesn't have a good relationship with his/her boss, how can he/she "lead the boss" or lead up?
JOHN BALDONI: You cannot manage up nor lead up if you don’t have a strong relationship with your boss. You can build a relationship by framing what you want to achieve in ways that reflect positively on the boss. Learn what your boss wants to accomplish and help him/her deliver on it.

QUESTION: How does a leader build an effective team?
JOHN BALDONI: Understand the wants and aspirations of individuals and then you will understand what they can achieve as a team. Set forth direction for the team and link that direction to what you know appeals to individuals and the team.

QUESTION: How can a CEO/President define or set the direction for his/her company's culture?
JOHN BALDONI: You need to focus people on the purpose of their organization. With purpose, you can get people on board. Without it, the organization flounders. It’s up to the leader to link purpose to individual action and team outcomes.

Learn more on John’s website, the site for his new book, and follow John for regular leadership advice on Twitter @JohnBaldoni.

Image Credit: digitalart via

Monday, August 25, 2014

How Does Customer Experience Impact Branding?

I would like to introduce David Jacques to my blog. I met David through my social media activities, specifically through Twitter and Google Plus circles because we share a like mind about the importance of customer experience marketing. David (a Canadian and former New Yorker) is Founder and Principal Consultant of Customer input Ltd., based in Hong Kong, and a pioneer in the field of Customer Experience Management. Recently, David and I discussed the impact of quality customer experiences on branding, and highlights of our discussion follow. 

QUESTION: How do you define customer experience?
DAVID JACQUES: There are a few good definitions of customer experience out there that practitioners tend to agree with. For me there are two key points: First, from the customer’s point of view, and second, through any and all active or passive interaction with an organization. I specify from the customer’s point of view because customers will only consider what is relevant to them. And the higher emotional involvement or outcome, the more important any single interaction experience will have on the future relationship. I think the term can be used for a single interaction but it's also the sum of all. And the breadth of interactions that are part of the customer experience goes beyond the customer lifecycle. I call it the customer experience lifecycle, which starts long before and continues long after the traditional definition of customer lifecycle.

Customer experience now means different things to different people. What is important is defining how it is managed and that’s where you see if a company understands it. To manage customer experience, companies must have a holistic view across and between all channels, touch-points and departments. It's not sufficient to look at a single channel in isolation because customers move from one channel to another, and this transition must be seamless. And that’s why customer experience management requires cross-departmental collaboration.

Some companies will talk about customer experience with a focus on a single channel or even a single interaction. They may spend a lot on experience improvement projects for interactions that have little impact on the overall and long-term customer experience, like opening an account (since this is done only once). Companies must not lose sight of the forest for the trees. And the proverbial forest is customer value.

On a side note, I wrote the first definition of customer experience on Wikipedia based on an article I wrote almost 10 years ago. It was eventually removed under the pretext that it was not a recognized term (and that I was breaching my own copyright), and later another similar definition came through customer experience management. Today both definitions exist and I do think there is a difference between customer experience (CX) and customer experience management (CEM). One is the result from the customer’s point of view, and the other is the framework from the company’s point of view.

QUESTION: Where does customer experience fit in a business strategy?
DAVID JACQUES: I think it is well recognized now that customer experience is directly tied to a company's bottom line. Most executives will say that it is core to their strategy but don’t really know where it fits. Customer experience management must be front and center in the business strategy.

Discussions about the customer experience must be at the executive table and the processes to measure and improve it must be embedded throughout the organization. It's not something done on a project basis; it is an ongoing effort and part of everything a company does. Although I have been an external consultant for most of my career, I know very well that to be sustainable, customer experience must be something managed internally in organizations. Companies have matured in terms of customer experience and are starting to understand this, which is why I am now more interested in finding the right fit for a client-side role as opposed to consulting; to take ownership of a company’s customer experience and have more impact.

QUESTION: How has social media changed customer service?
DAVID JACQUES: Social media has changed customer service forever; it has brought a company’s responsiveness to the public front and center, exposed for all to see. Customers take their questions or complaints to social channels. How a company responds will be seen by dozens or thousands of people and will affect the likeliness to buy from that company.  It has obviously created a huge challenge to companies who are not responsive. But it has also created great opportunities.

Social customer service is the new marketing. I recently did some research which shows that a company’s image of post-sales service responsiveness has a dispositional effect on customers’ sentiment toward interactions with a company, more than any other factor. In other words, customers who perceive a company as being reluctant to provide post-sales service are more likely to be dissatisfied through any interaction regardless of the actual quality of the experience. On the other hand, a reputation of caring post-sales service results in customers being predisposed to be satisfied – and more forgiving in the case of a breakdown. Given this, we can understand the importance of social media customer service since it exposes a company’s customer service attitude.

QUESTION: Please provide three examples of brands that understand customer experience marketing and why.
DAVID JACQUES: Difficult question, because I don’t see many brands providing an excellent customer experience all around. Of course classic examples everyone uses like Amazon come to mind. The customer is really at the core of the organization, and that’s made very clear by the CEO. I used to take Apple often as an example but not longer. I still think their products are great when I don’t have to take them to repair. They have done many things well but recent experiences as a customer suggests the apple has fallen far from the tree in this post-Steve Jobs era. I wouldn’t use Starbucks as an example. While it has a great customer-centered culture, its aggressive expansion at the expense of smaller local coffee shops doesn't create community goodwill. That has affected my customer experience with them. The Starbucks machine has lost steam (pun intended). I still admire these companies for different reasons, but not necessarily for their overall customer experience.

My thanks to David for his insights. Connect with David on Twitter and on LinkedIn.

Image Credit: Stuart Miles via

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Remember SAPCOTE When Adding Social Media to Your Marketing Mix

Many people talk about the value that social media adds to a brand’s marketing outreach. But if you’re a small company or have limited personnel who already wear multiple hats, how do you find the time to participate in social media, let alone succeed in social media? Here’s the answer: Remember SAPCOTE. I have created an easy way to remember the basics and am not referring to the small town about two hours north of London, England, with the same name. SAPCOTE stands for strategy, audience, platforms, content, timing, and evaluation.

Before thinking about all the nuances of social media, consider these questions first:

  • Do you have a strategy?
  • What are your goals for social media participation?
  • Do you have a written social media plan that aligns with your overall marketing plan?
  • Who will execute your social media outreach?


As you think about current customers and prospective customers, consider these questions:

  • Who is listening and who will listen?
  • Who is responding and who will respond?
  • Who is engaging and who will engage?


While there are hundreds of social media sites, depending on your company size, audience, and time allotment, consider spending time on the platforms that form the tip of the social media iceberg:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • YouTube
  • Instagram
  • Pinterest
  • Google+
  • Foursquare
  • Flipboard
  • Blogs


Don’t get overwhelmed by the prospect of developing content. What are your company’s areas of expertise? Who are the experts within your company? What advice can you provide to your regular stakeholders? What advice can you provide to new stakeholders? Here are some ideas to consider as you craft your content:

  • Determine news for your current audience.
  • Create content to attract new audiences.
  • Determine your brand’s voice.
  • Find a balance between sharing your own information and listening to others.
  • Reply to people’s comments.
  • Invite people to comment and share.


If you ask 10 people about the best times to post on social media platforms, you will get 20 answers. Depending on your industry and when your audiences may spend the bulk of their time in social media, your timing may need to be adjusted. But here are some suggestions as you get started.

  • Post several times a day to Twitter.
  • Post daily to Facebook.
  • Post daily to Instagram.
  • Post daily to LinkedIn.
  • Post daily to Google+.
  • Post once a week to your blog.
  • Other sites TBD based on your core audiences.


As you create content, you will develop a routine, and the days will move by quickly. So, every six months, evaluate your social media outreach.

  • Do you remember your objectives?
  • What does social ROI add to your overall marketing mix metrics?
  • What do you want to measure?
  • Who comments on your content?
  • Who shares your content?
  • Have you expanded into other social sites?

Keep in mind that in the social media Olympics, comments are considered to be Gold, shares are considered to be Silver, and likes are considered to be Bronze.

Lastly, don’t forget one key point as you spend time adding social media to your overall marketing mix: you don’t own the social platforms. So make sure to drive all traffic from those social sites to your main website, where you own and control all the content.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

A Presidential-Size Opportunity Presented by Social Media

As a result of social media, we communicate in a different way than just 10 short years ago. We view fans and followers with heightened attention. We conceptualize ideas in terms of images and photos in a way we never did before, and BYW, we speak in capital letters rather than complete sentences.

While many individuals have developed a personal digital footprint, businesses – small, medium, and large – have also developed a presence on their preferred social platforms, some based on a specific industry. But where are all the Presidents of mid-sized businesses? If your company leader is AWOL from social media, isn’t it time for your brand to benefit from his or her participation?

Have you heard of Richard Branson, Mark Cuban, and Elon Musk? They’re the leaders and key storytellers of Virgin Atlantic airlines, the Dallas Mavericks basketball team, and the Tesla electric vehicle. But in addition to their countless accomplishments, they are also active in social media. All three are prominent on Twitter, which means that if they have product news, event news, or even a simple response to John Q. Public, it’s available for the world to read – in real time.

“Leaders who don’t understand social media are placing their company at risk of not capitalizing on business opportunities, as well as exposing it to unnecessary risk,” says Walter Adamson, a social media strategist of Kinship Enterprise in Australia.

And isn’t your President/CEO the number one brand ambassador among all of your employees? He or she could use the social platform of choice – whether Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, or LinkedIn – and provide industry tips, interviews of employees, interviews of industry experts, commentary about industry news, and the list goes on and on. Depending on the platform chosen, the posts could be short or long.

Employees would notice that the top brand ambassador has a social presence and that he or she wants to engage with both internal and external stakeholders. This would result in more social activity by employees, customers, and others. Media might even become interested in your brand, and that could yield media coverage.

So the question for all Presidents/CEOs is this: Do you have 10 minutes a day? Pick a social platform – probably Twitter and Facebook would be the best places to start. Then ask yourself, what you would say if you encountered Bill Gates in an elevator for two minutes? How would you describe your competitive advantage? What news would you share about your business? What advice would you seek? Now share some of that conversation on your preferred social platform – but be brief. See how easy that was? And here’s the secret: repeat tomorrow, the next day, and the next. 

You’ll be surprised by the rise in fans and followers, your brand awareness, and maybe, even in your sales.


To read more, check out:
Weber Shandwick Study on the Social CEO:

“Is Your C-Suite Social?” by @JackieFunk

“Five Reasons the C-Suite Can’t Ignore Social Media” by @Damian_Corbet

“Top 50 Social Chief Executive Officers on Twitter” by @ValaAfshar

Image Credit: Stuart Miles 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.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Do You Create Brand Experiences?

Brands stand out among the competition for a variety of reasons. Your customer service may be exceptional.  You may offer discounts or buy-one-get-one-free offers. Or you may have partnerships with other trendy brands. But in today's social economy, one way to generate interest in your brand is to create a “brand experience.” According to Marty Neumeier, a brand experience is "all the interactions people have with a product, service, or organization; the raw material of a brand."

I’d like to introduce Chris Beninati to my blog. Chris is the founder of Social Demand, an experiential marketing agency in Southampton, New York. Social Demand creates unique experiences for lifestyle brands through campaign development, brand strategy, and special events. Chris and I met through Twitter and after several conversations in 140 characters or less, we decided we had much more to say. Connect with Chris on Twitter @cbeninati and learn more about his company at Highlights of our conversation follow below.

QUESTION: How do you define a brand experience?
CHRIS BENINATI: My team and I ask ourselves this question on a daily basis because it's at the heart of why we do what we do. No matter what you sell, you must realize that your company is now a lifestyle brand: a brand has a consistent style and voice across multiple social channels, expressed to millions of consumers. If you aren't looking around and asking, "How does our brand fit into our target audience’s lifestyle?," then you're losing.

QUESTION: What makes a successful brand experience? Please provide three examples.
CHRIS BENINATI: The best brand experiences are when the brand allows the audience to take the reins and, for example, connect with each other at an event. Too many brands try to plug themselves and give too many up-front calls-to-action. The most successful campaigns come from putting the audience first -- find out what they enjoy and provide that joy to them. When people realize that a brand made an amazing experience happen, they'll be more likely to engage in positive word-of-mouth and further support the brand.

Three examples I like are from brands who gave back to their consumers and incorporated the lifestyle of their target audiences within their campaigns.

[1] The app Uber used Ice Cream trucks to promote its brand and service. It gave consumers a call-to-action to download the app and request “Ice Cream.” If they were lucky, a truck soon arrived with free ice cream. This was great because it showed people how to use the service in a fun (and delicious) way. (Check out the details:

[2] I loved the Canadian Airline West Jet “Christmas Miracle” campaign. The airline asked travelers traveling to Toronto what they wanted from Santa. When they arrived in Toronto, all of the requested gifts were at the airport when they landed. Big time emotional connection and social advocacy with a video that went viral overnight. No one who has seen the video will ever forget it. (Here’s the link:

[3] I also loved Heineken’s “Departure Roulette En Route” campaign offering travelers to take a risk and travel to a new country or city unplanned. This showcased a sense of adventure and living with an open mind. (Here’s the link:

QUESTION: Why should mid-sized businesses be especially aware of the brand experience in today’s social era?
CHRIS BENINATI: Today, many mid-sized businesses are winning over gigantic corporations because they essentially "never turn off." Due to real time social connectivity, brands are exposed more than ever. This is a good thing for companies with the ability to be available 24/7 – or with fewer layers of management for decision-making. They are also aware of industry trends or shifts and are able to adapt or change directions quicker.

QUESTION: With all the buzz surrounding social ROI, what metrics are important to you in the social space and why?
CHRIS BENINATI: Social ROI is important, but everyone’s metrics may be different based on their objectives. For me, content engagement is big because we want people not only to be exposed to what we're doing but also to join the conversation. Although it's becoming less of a key metric as our social knowledge grows, I think follower count is important - always aim to grow an audience that is interested in what your brand brings to the table.

QUESTION: What do you think will be the central focus of our social media marketing discussions a year from now?
CHRIS BENINATI: Next year, I believe we'll be talking about new technology to measure the quality of our engagement on social channels. I also think focus will grow on how user-generated marketing can fit into brand and product development, at the first step instead of the last.

Will you now allocate marketing time and dollars toward creating brand experiences? Please chime in.

Image Credit: Stuart Miles 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.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Who Does Your Brand Talk to in Social Media?

Recently, I was guilty of what many of us are doing more and more these days: I was watching television with my smartphone close at hand. Was I watching a specific TV show or was I reading what people were saying about the show on Twitter? The answer is probably not too surprising, and as a result, advertisers that used to spend their dollars solely on TV are now including Twitter in their ad campaigns.

My recent experience started as simply visiting a Twitter account due to a search for a TV ad. But as I read some of the recent tweets, I read a question and replied.

I responded to the question and then focused my attention elsewhere. But lo and behold, there was someone managing the brand’s Twitter account in real time. A tweet appeared with a personal message to me. I smiled and responded…and another tweet appeared.

But it was the theme of the message that stuck with me, and continues to resonate. I was not a customer, but the team behind this brand and this Twitter account believed that a conversation with me was important and worth their time.

In today’s era of instant communication, business decisions can be made in a split second and sometimes not even for valid reasons. This is why it’s even more critical to interact with prospective customers at every possible opportunity, venue, and forum.

In the words of Shep Hyken, customer service expert and New York Times best-selling author (@Hyken on Twitter), “Many companies use social media as a way to respond to publicly-voiced customer complaints. But the best companies also use social media as a way to deliver value and engage in conversations. It’s about being a part of – and contributing to – a community.”

So, who does your business talk to in social media? Which networks do you use most often? Do you spend the same amount of time and effort to create positive brand experiences for people who don’t yet pay for your products or services? Do you train your customer service and sales teams how to interact with prospects when sales may not close? Do you have surveys to monitor why customers don’t renew or become repeat customers, and what do you do with the data obtained by those surveys?

In addition, in today's social era (also known as the era of instant communication), social networks (including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, etc) offer a real-time alternative to surveys because they are able to capture the pulse of your intended audience and peripheral or unintended audiences.

How you move forward with this data is up to your company, but if you fall on the mid-size spectrum, you can definitely modify your future product or service announcements, event news, and company direction if you listen to, and engage with, customers and prospects in the social space.

Use all of these questions to learn how to re-energize your business. And in the process, don’t forget to treat prospective customers as if they were VIP customers – because one day, they might be, and you want them to know why they should be enthusiastic advocates for your brand!

Where do you think I will go the next time I’m shopping for insurance?


To read more about how the marketing function is evolving, read “Marketing Can No Longer Rely on the Funnel” by Mark Bonchek and Cara France via Harvard Business Review:

Image Credits: Courtesy of Twitter 

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.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Why Brand Advocacy Is Closely Tied to Employee Engagement

Employee engagement is an objective of most businesses, but sadly, many lack the leadership capabilities and/or the human resources staff to implement strategies that result in long-term employee engagement. Recently, Mark Herbert and I discussed the importance of employee engagement and its impact on brand advocacy. Mark and I met back in 2011 as a result of our social media activities, and I was immediately impressed by Mark's insights gained by more than 30 years of experience as an HR executive, author, and management consultant in a variety of organizational settings ranging from entrepreneurial to Fortune 100. Currently, Mark is Principal for New Paradigms, a management consulting firm in Arizona that helps companies embrace change to engage their employees.

A company’s size shouldn't really affect how employee engagement is viewed, but the reality is, it does. For one-person operations, family businesses, and small businesses, employees wear multiple hats to keep the operation running. For large and multi-national businesses, there are policies and procedures to follow, legal and compliance regulations to adhere to, shareholder requirements to adhere to, and as a result, employee engagement is not the tip of the priority iceberg. But for mid-size businesses, the alignment of employee engagement and brand advocacy can make a significant impact on business success.

I credit Mark for one of my favorite leadership quotes that plays a large part in developing employee engagement: “Leadership is a gift, not a position. It doesn’t require you to be the smartest person in the room…It requires you to block and tackle for others.” Highlights from our discussion follow below. 

QUESTION: How do you define employee engagement?
MARK HERBERT: This is an excellent question as I think much of the debate around employee engagement stems from the fact we don’t have a common definition. In my opinion and approach, engagement is about alignment and commitment. An organization has a clearly articulated set of values and goals, and its talent management strategies (ranging from recruitment and selection to compensation and training) reinforce those values and goals.

QUESTION: What are some characteristics that identify businesses that don't understand employee engagement?
MARK HERBERT: When I see organizations that delegate responsibility for engagement to their human resources department or who rely exclusively on an annual or semi-annual survey to define or measure engagement, they don’t get it.
* When I hear organizations refer to their employees as “human capital,” they don’t get it.
* When I see HR professionals indicate that the most important role they play in their organization is compliance with State and Federal regulations, they don’t get it.
* When I see organizations that don’t invest in training and development and who define engagement through tenure rather than performance, they don’t get it.

QUESTION: What are some characteristics that identify businesses that completely understand the value of employee engagement?
MARK HERBERT: When I see organizations that talk about how they hire for aptitude and attitude and train for skill, they get it.
* When I hear C-level execs talk about the importance of their culture and how recruitment, selection, and development reinforce alignment with that philosophy, they get it.
* When I hear C-level execs express personal ownership and commitment to an engagement culture, they get it.
* When you hear from Virgin, Starbucks, or Zappos talking about employee engagement, it isn’t their personnel department reps being quoted in the media.

QUESTION: Which businesses have implemented effective employment engagement strategies? Please provide examples of how these businesses accomplished this.
MARK HERBERT: Google spent a lot of time and energy investigating the characteristics that are represented in their best managers and embedded them in their leadership training and assessment. Zappos and Amazon also maintain a strict adherence to their cultures. Both offer financial landing packages to employees who don’t feel like they can, or want to, continue to be engaged with the corporate goals and values. These organizations have an employment brand that is deeply woven into the fabric of their business, and a commitment to the brand isn’t optional for anyone employed there.

QUESTION: How do a corporate culture and the onboarding process intersect with employee engagement?
MARK HERBERT: They don’t intersect, they are totally intertwined.
Check out this survey of 20,000 employees in which they described the 7 stages of disengagement:
* Number 7 - they didn’t trust senior leadership
* Number 6 - they felt they didn’t have appropriate work/life balance
* Number 5 - they felt devalued and unrecognized
* Number 4 - they didn’t see a clear career path
* Number 3 - they didn’t receive meaningful feedback and coaching
* Number 2 - they didn’t feel like they were a good fit with the job or organization
* Number 1 - they didn’t feel the job met their understanding or expectations of what they signed on for
Look specifically at numbers 1 and 2. This is a huge fail and a huge opportunity. Employees are essentially internal customers/stakeholders. C-level execs/leadership teams have to deliver on the brand promise to them just as they deliver on the brand promise to external customers.

QUESTION: How can a leader inspire his/her employees to become brand ambassadors?
MARK HERBERT: If you properly develop and consistently execute on an employment brand that begins with hiring, and selection is reinforced by your other talent management systems, you will build your brand rather than trying to bolt it on. It is a process and a journey that you never "arrive" at – it must be continuously reinforced and refined. When you hire and manage whole people, they come to work every day aligned with your brand. This can be translated to mean that they are invested in the outcome of what your business does and what it stands for. In short, employees become brand advocates or brand ambassadors.

QUESTION: What is the number one impact of engaged employees?
MARK HERBERT: There are several:
* It could be the 20% per capita productivity advantage
* The 147% earnings per share advantage that highly engaged organizations enjoy
* The retention advantage (engaged employees are 60% more likely to remain) when voluntary turnover is up 45%, and cost per hire is up 15% year to year
* The idea that in 2012, Gallup indicated that the level of employee engagement might be the most accurate predictor of long-term organizational performance and sustainability available to both internal management and investors
* The US economy could recoup and redeploy the $550 billion annually that the Department of Labor estimates we lose to disengagement

How much time and effort does your business allocate in creating engaged employees and turning them into brand ambassadors? Please chime in.

Check out my review of Mark's book, Managing Whole People, on my blog:

Read more on Mark's Blog: 

Connect on Twitter:

Check out my "Employee Engagement" Board on Pinterest:

Image Credit: stockimages 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.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

What’s the Impact of Social Media on Brand Identity?

There’s no doubt that social media has become a useful tool for marketing promotions, building buzz around both old and new brands, and initiating online discussions and engagement. CEOs and corporate Presidents can be found on Twitter sharing both corporate and personal news, and as a result, we have come to know more about their leadership styles. But while all this positive activity has occurred due to social media, there has also been a negative impact on the category of marketing known as brand identity.

Here are five ways that social media has made an impact on brand identity:

What are some of the most well-known logos in the world? Did you think of Coca-Cola, Nike, BMW, Disney, or Apple? While these logos have become part of our psyche, they also easily fit into squares. While many social media platforms have given us platforms to share our commentary, they have also provided us with squares to feature our corporate logos. This may not seem like a big deal, but if your corporate logo has a long name or an odd shape, it doesn’t fit into a square. The result may not be good for your marketing, or brand identity, because you will have to modify your logo to fit the social platform, and in the process, do the unthinkable – change your logo.

What are some of the most well-known taglines in the word? There’s Apple’s “Think Different.” And BMW’s “The Ultimate Driving Machine.” And Nike’s “Just Do It.” And American Express’ “Don’t Leave Home Without It.” There has always been a directive of “the shorter, the better,” when marketing types get inside a room assigned with the task of creating clever and memorable taglines, but with the advent of social media, how easy is it to include a tagline to profile sections? The bottom line is that profile squares, or boxes that feature a logo, simply cannot accommodate a tagline. What does this mean for businesses that require the inclusion of their tagline to tell their story?

What if your business is celebrating a momentous occasion? What if you’ve added a ribbon or circle of words to your logo such as: “Celebrating 50 Years” or “Get Ready for 2015 – Our 100th Anniversary” or “Celebrating 100 Years”? Certainly these words will change your logo, but they also become a big part of your brand storytelling. The truth is, they need to be included.

Have you modified your website so that all design elements have been stripped from your mobile version? Does any significant design remain to reflect the messaging that all your collateral and other marketing tools reflect? How do you tell your brand story in the mobile environment? Don’t forget that your brand story is still critical despite the growth of smartphones and tablets.

Before social media appeared on the scene, marketing tools were the “be-all, end-all.” This meant that direct mail, brochures, annual reports, fact sheets, and press kits easily told a company’s or non-profit’s story. But in today’s social media era, there are countless social platforms (a list including Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google Plus, Pinterest, and Instagram is just the tip of the social iceberg), and as a result, consistency is even more critical for brand identity. Customers and prospects are brand-savvy, so if there are inconsistent voices, inconsistent facts, and/or inconsistent presentations across the social milieu, you run the risk of losing not just one customer for life. But due to the strength of word-of-mouth marketing in the social space, you run the risk of losing countless customers for life. So make sure your priority is brand consistency.

Has your brand identity been impacted by social media? Please chime in and share your story.

Image Credit: artur84 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.

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.