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Are You Being Manipulated?

mind control

Social media has changed drastically in the past 5 or 6 years. Small tightly knit communities have grown to ubiquitous parts of our daily life. The exploration of online human interaction and its ramifications has created an immense conversational platform widely used for marketing and commercial purpose, with a huge group of participants whose contributions seem to be aimed at creating of specious influence and false celebrity.

The attraction of social spaces centered around the engagement of individuals for their mutual growth and benefit. And those of us who were active in the early days of this evolution in communication spent hours in conversation about social contracts, social objects, and social capital.  They were, simply put, the terms under which we engaged, the things we had in common which became the focus of conversation, and the acquisition and depletion of online goodwill. The center of much of the online activity for business centered around the concept of ” doing well by doing good” – contributing to the communities you participate in without expectation of a quid pro quo , anticipating that doing the right thing and being generous would be its own reward. It was a wonderful place to be an active participant, but as the landscape changed, many people seem to have lost their  way.

As the second and third wave of participants arrived, they seemed to confuse visibility with influence and pontification with authority.As people engage online with the intent of building a name or a brand,they seek the highest visibility, and the greatest acclamation. As Ryan Holiday says in his book “Trust Me I’m Lying:Confessions of a Media Manipulator” , “Media was once about protecting a name; on the web it is about building one”. We must be careful of what name we build.

In a recent conversation with a friend of mine, Leslie Ebersole, about a Facebook group we both are active in, she said “ If I share something with a person for their private use I don’t expect them to project it as their own work, that will in fact influence other people…. I honestly am dismayed by so much of what I see in social media. For example re-tweeting someone’s post feels almost like cheating unless you have interesting or useful commentary on it”

Leslie’s thoughts are spot on, and reflect the manner in which thoughtful confident  people interact. People that create, or effectively curate, don’t need to plagiarize in order to appear smart – they are smart. But in a world of smoke and shadows , where Klout scores are confused with actual influence, and every comment  made in a Facebook group is received as if it was an authoritative statement, we are in danger of following people that have no business leading.

I’ve been involved in a couple of conversation recently about Klout for example, and what influence means. To me, people who can create change in the physical world have influence. Not the circular sycophancy whose online engagement is “You’re Great, No You’re great, OK, We’re all great”, but people whose actions actually cause the change in behavior of large numbers of people. People who can make a call or a request and see something happen. That to me, is influence.

Authority to me? That comes from knowledge combined with experience, not from the number of times you tweet or the amount of time you spend interacting on a Facebook group. If you’re a real estate professional that listed 140 properties last year, I am more than willing to listen to what you did and how you did it. But if you aren’t exceptional in your actual performance or even just real world activities, your online visibility doesn’t impress me in the least.

To build social influence, social capital must be acquired. It has been years since Tara Hunt wrote her book “The Whuffie Factor: Using the Power of Social Networks to Build Your Business”  but the concepts of social cap[ital that she discusses is as valid today as it was then. Tara pointed out that acquiring good will online was a valuable way to integrate yourself into the community and that then, when you needed the good will of the community, they would in turn provide you with what you needed because of your good actions to that point. But when you do things that cause you to lose social capital - like appropriating the thoughts or work of others and portraying them as your own or betraying a confidence by using in public information gained in private, you lose credibility and your actions will begin to be met with negative reactions , causing you to lose social capital.

Holland says “..it is a world of many hustlers, and you are the mark. The con is to build a brand off the backs of others. Your attention and your credulity are what’s stolen.” And that is the danger of taking too much of the conversation at face value. Be thoughtful and know not only what is said, but who is saying it, and the basis they have for making their claim or statement.

Great personal brands are based on being real , being authentic, and being consistent, and giving value to the communities you belong to. They are built of ambition or plagiarism, or publishing popular cliches or memes. People want to be connected to people they can value. Think that’s not true? Back to Leslie again who said (in a private note to me that she has given permission for use here) , “I love the interaction and development of ideas that can happen with social media. I love sharing and doing whatever I can if I can help someone. But I am back to the idea of the importance of reciprocity and mutual effort when one is part of a community.”

So the good guys still exist, but you , the participant need to be willing to peek behind the curtain and differentiate between those that look like they know and do stuff , and those that actually know stuff and do stuff. I have faith you can do that, I just hope you will.

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How Not to Suck Online

Now that social marketing has become mainstream, everyone is doing it, but not many are doing it well. Sadly it is far easier to use social media than it is to use it effectively. When social media was new and exciting, most of the users exploring the space were like a pioneer community. Dependent on each other for insights and understanding, each pioneer sharing their impressions of the new territory they uncovered,and discussing as a group, including the implications for their community and the people yet to follow. As the number of users has grown,the number of people using social media to advance their personal or business agendas has grown as well.

Online engagement, social networking, and inbound marketing are three legs of the seat we have when we move our marketing program into the social space.  Ignore anyone of them and you have a very precarious perch, though many occupy that unstable position because they allowed form to triumph over substance . Here are three types of people that don’t seem to “get it”.

overshareThe Over-sharer

Some people seems to spend all of their time filling the interwebs with the minutia of their lives. Not  just the good meal, or fun vacation, or difficult day at work, but every random thought and opinion that goes through their head. Nothing is too mundane for them to share, or too personal. If they have a fight with their husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, family or all of the above, we’re going to hear about it in glorious living color. Things that they would not say at a small public gathering now become the center of their published actions. Their political and religious views are shared not just once or twice, or in appropriate conversations, but frequently, randomly, and loudly – especially during elections, where they engage no one and change no one’s minds.

A business woman shouting into a old style megaphoneThe Cheerleader

This person is benign, and for the most part are positive influences but their social engagement is like cotton candy, sweet, pretty, seemingly large and important, but without real substance when you get involved. They are characterized by being too sweet, too nice, and too positive. There is no one who values positive people more than I, or who recognizes the importance of positive support for our friends and communities when they are in strife or facing tough times. I know on a personal level how valuable emotional support from your online community can be when you are struck by an emotional challenge. But that having been said, online engagement is more than cheer leading or using superlatives. It’s being an integral part of the community on a deeper emotional level. It starts with recognition and interaction, but interaction by itself doesn’t necessarily generate engagement. That challenge needs to be met by becoming someone that is valued because of what you have give to the community.

Sleazy salesman pointingThe Promoter

This person is easy to see in others, but seems to be harder for people to recognize when they’re the ones originating the thread. Perhaps that’s a result of being raised in an outbound marketing world, or hearing the phrase inbound marketing without understanding what that actually means. But these are the people that pimp their services, get started in conversations about the value package for their product or services, or ask you to connect on LinkedIn because they have so much to share with you to improve your business.

 

 

Making it work is really pretty simple – be genuine, be honest, be consistent,  and remember the three social concepts that are the undercurrent of almost every interaction online – social contracts, social objects, and social capital.

iStock_000005658260XSmall copySocial contracts are not a community’s terms of service, but the contract between the members of any community  An often unwritten or un-verbalized agreement between the members of a community determining what constitutes behavior that is laudatory, acceptable or unacceptable.   The overtly commercial phrase or shameless self-promotion are just two of the clearest violations of the contract, but each special group has their own, more refined agreements which become obvious when you observe the group for a bit and see what actions on the part of its members generate praise or criticism, or even worse, no reaction at all. If you’ve ever “unfriended” someone because their actions bothered you, you’ve seen the social contract in action.

Social objects are things that people have in common – the shared experiences or passions that help us identify with individuals  or a group. Something that we have experienced in common, a high school or college we attended, a love of food or wine, a shared interest in a sport or a sorts team – the list goes on and on. Social objects are the glue that holds together a group of strangers on Google+ or Facebook, where our shared experience and shared emotions bring us together. Social objects are the things we search for when we first meet people to find common ground, and even in the online world they are the first way we connect.

Social capital is the collective value of all of your actions online.  Generous actions build social capital and self-interested actions deplete it. It is the core of the statement “doing well by doing good” in its application to the online experience. Your build social capital by being supportive or the actions of others, celebrating the success f others, and contributing to the welfare of your online community among other things.  But the crucial part is that all of this positive interaction is genuine and sincere, and is, unlike the cheerleader, a portion of who you are rather than the sum of who you are.

Being thoughtful about your engagement will make you a valued and trusted member of the online community – and that, in turn, will allow you to realize all of the benefits, personal and professional , that people seek from social media.  In the words of author Ruth Reichl  “Pull up a chair. Take a taste. Come join us. Life is so endlessly delicious.”

 

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Hucksters, Hype and Honesty

“The Large Print Giveth” by Tom Fishburne

Everyone wants (or needs) to be a marketer in today’s world and they all seek different roads to success. Not all of those roads are effective, and many of them can be downright counter-productive. Being a member of a social network, or using the term social media doesn’t mean you’re using social media effectively,and you can as easily be a social media abuser as you can be a social media user.

Hucksters are, by definition abusers of the social space.  They are all over you waving their products and disrupting the online conversations of every community they participate in. Whether they didn’t read Seth Godin’s Permission Marketing , or they didn’t get the memo that marketing is conversation from the Clue Train Manifesto, these broadcasters are the online equivalent of the loud speaking movie goer or the person who spends the entire evening at a party talking to you about why you need to buy their product.  This annoying tribe is huge, comprised of people who see social spaces as a blank billboard for there personal use, and not a place where communities grow and prosper. The real estate agent who pimps their listings or open houses, the tech company that promotes their product or sales pitches thinly disguised as webinars , are seem by the overall communities online as old fashioned pitchmen or snake-oil peddlers, and have to interrupt huge segments of online communities in order to get a small number of people to respond.  Its been 119 years since  E. St. Elmo Lewis defined this process by his AIDA model, and yet for some people, this is how marketing works.

Hype is almost as annoying – people that make amazing claims and proclaim everything with excessive excitement based on nothing but their desire to be the center of online attention. Its not an uncommon type of promotion, and in fact Gartner even developed a graphic showing how it impacts the introduction of new tech products with their famous Hype Cycle that showed products moving from a “peak of inflated expectations” to a “trough of disillusionment” before reaching enlightenment and then productivity.  I’m a fan of genuine excitement, but you just can’t be excited about everything. Its the social media equivalent of typing with the Caps Lock on. when you spend all of your time SHOUTING, and everything you shout about is AMAZING, you lose the ability to emphasize anything. And after a while people just stop listening or paying attention to you. Add to that the disillusionment and disappointment that follows most hype, and it becomes an even worse choice for your online marketing.

The sweet place in social media – the place you want and need to be is where you earn the right to speak to people about your business because you have earned the ability to do so through an open honest dialogue that has created a relationship with them. To quote a line from Godin’s blog  ”Permission marketing is the privilege (not the right) of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who actually want to get them.” People want to like you. They want to be connected with you – not your product, not your service, not even your company, but because they like you. The social objects that connect you to others are the places where you can build connections in a community online that wants to hear what you want to share, and in that place, you become the advocate for your service or product that the hypsters and huckster think they are. You become the real deal, not just the appearance of the real deal. It takes a little longer, but the positive impact lasts as long as you maintain your open dialogue.

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Making Facebook More Relevant

Facebook groups have become the place for community conversations on Facebook. Unlike Pages, where businesses or brands or small professionals promote their brands, products and services, people actually go to groups to speak to each other about the things they care about.

When people speak more about things they care about the conversations get really interesting and the conversational thread can get very long and involved. As a result, sometimes it’s way too much work to find the point or piece of information that had been shared when you need it.

Chris Smith and Jimmy Macklin have been instrumental in starting some of these conversation magnets in the real estate space, and the problem of the “lost pearls” became evident really quickly in a Facebook group entitled “What Should I spend My Money On?” The group, which has grown to 4200 members, has wonderful conversations by the users of hardware, software, products and services about their specific experiences good and bad. Being a neutral arena, the comments and conversations both pro and con garner a tremendous amount of interest, but with the ever increasing numbers of statements and comments it soon became difficult to find the information about that particular product or service you wanted information about. Only a short while after the group was created, members were looking for conversations from a day or two earlier, and bemoaning the difficulty in finding the information they needed.

And thus was born Curaytor. This social search engine allows you to search Facebook groups by topic, company, person or information source . In addition to the What should I spend my money On? group, the team added the “Raise the Bar” group and ”Tech Support Group for Real Estate Agents” and the conversations generated by roughly  their 6900 members, and an iPad and Evernote group as well. According to Chris Smith, “We can add any Group that is open and plan to quickly”.

Curaytor.com

Now real estate professionals and consumers have a place where they can go to find that interesting position, comment, product or service by topic, company, source or user, with a very simple and easy to use interface. People can , with one click pick topics that are trending, popular, new, or recommended by “staff”  who I assume are Jimmy and Chris who have been trusted sources of recommendations for quite a while now. even popular “curaytors” make their appearance when you search, hand picked by Jimmy as good sources of information in these groups. Their search is a custom search that looks at Tags, posts, and comments, using algorithms to determine the what newcomments and the number of interactions to determine what’s trending,

I’ve played with the site, and it is easy to navigate, simple to get absorbed in as you go from conversation to conversation. Social search has been a topic of interest for a while now, but Curaytor is an intriguing application and will, judging from the buzz about it already, could become a valuable resource for its users.

 

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Is Customer Service Just a Buzzword?

People use Buzzwords all the time. It makes them seem informed and is an easy, almost lazy way to communicate.  We hear others using them and we adopt them to be trendy and fashionable. They get used in conversation and writing in multiple venues until they become tiresome or are replaced with other, newer terms.  However their very use influences the way we think and react.

As the online space matures every conversation is about brand, transparency, customer service, evangelism, and other words that used to have far more meaning than they do when we overuse them. We are not only overusing them, we are valuing the statement over the action.

Nicholas Carr , of the Neiman Journalism Lab, amplified that thought  in his post, “The End of Disruption” where he wrote.

For a long time now, “disruption” has been the go-to buzzword in commentary about journalism. Pundits and consultants love to say “disruption” because the word tends to attract money and attention. But the word is starting to ring hollow. Throwing it around today seems more like a way to avoid hard thinking than to engage in it. Maybe 2013 will be the year when we finally stop talking about “disruption.” I hope so, because then we can start giving as much consideration to what endures as to what changes.

In a world so thoroughly inundated with the written word, we cannot forget to value substance over form. It is too easy to echo popular sentiment and think that by making statements or using catch phrases and buzzwords, we are taking action instead of just talking about action. To paraphrase Carr, we seem to use the words to avoid hard work, rather than engaging in it.

I recently read heartfelt statements about customer service from a company I’m doing business with. I believe they were sincere in their use of the term, but as a customer, my experience has been that they spend more time talking about customer service than delivering customer service. I don’t mean to take them to task, and that’s why I won’t mention their name, but I find that their action, or lack of action is not uncommon.

Having acquired a customer, many businesses prioritize the service they provide by the size of the customer’s bill. But nowhere is the customer told that “the more you spend , the better your experience will be”. Nor does their company vision share a sliding scale of customer service.

In other cases, customers are  treated poorly because they are already  committed to some course of action by their relationship with the vendor. I had a friend, who , while going through a stressful divorce, hired an attorney to represent her. During the initial interviews the attorney seemed bright and aggressive and promised a swift resolution for the client. After just a little while, their relationship hanged. Calls weren’t returned, emails ignored, the case seemed to be stuck in a never ending swamp of detail and minutiae. The client felt betrayed and exposed and without a choice because she felt that her journey towards her goal was advanced to a point where changing service providers would force her to start her stressful journey once again.  When she was finally pushed to change attorneys, the new attorneys promised far less, but delivered far more, far more rapidly. Were she asked to make a referral  today, which attorney do you think would get the business?

For your businesses to actually improve, you have to

  1. Focus on your core product or service. If it isn’t high quality, you diminish your value proposition.
  2. Talk less and do more. Saying your customers are important is not as valuable as actually acting as if your customers are important. It is far easier to “talk the talk” than it is to “walk the walk”. But your clients will gauge you by what you do , not what you say
  3. Value all of your customers, not just the more profitable ones.  Or, if that’s your business model, than be open and above board about it and embrace it. If your business actions are not consistent with your business model, you not only harm your customers you harm yourself.

If your customer service is just a buzzword,  no amount of Facebook postings or social monitoring will help you build trust and expand your business.  The job you do may end, but your customers and clients carry their experience with them into a far larger world, speaking about that experience again and again. In a connected world, you never know where your connections will take you, or when their endorsement or approbation will earn or cost you that next possibly larger client. Talking less and doing more? Might be a little harder, but it will be infinitely more rewarding.

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