Since the emergence of social media and online communities in business, there has been a debate surrounding member contributions being the most important metric. By that, I mean success is often tied to the frequency and number of posts, comments, or rating by a member.
Within any community, including ours for environmental professionals, there are many member types. Some that are very active are referred to as “super users” and there are members who just read but who do not participate who are often referred to as “lurkers” to social media professionals. The reality is no matter how good the content of any community is the vast majority of people that visit a community, are the lurkers.
Next month, I have been invited to participate at the SXSW Conference, the premier Digital and Interactive event in Austin, TX, to talk share insights from commonground and from my past. I will defend the honor of lurkers on a panel titled Lurkers, Your Most Important Community Members. Some of the panelists and social media experts do not feel that members categorized as lurkers add value. I completely disagree.
The word lurker is harsh. If you are in a group setting, there are always a few people that are more outgoing than others. If you are in a learning setting, a small number of students typically ask the instructor the majority of the questions. If you are in a large meeting, usually one or two people do most of the talking. If you are working as a team on a project, one person generally presents the findings. Do we call those people who don't talk lurkers? Why should we expect the dynamics of an online community or social network to be any different?
The vast majority of the members on commonground don’t participate nearly as often as we would like. That is why we strive to improve user experience, add entertaining and relevant contests, and deliver value to members every day. When we asked members, 75% indicated they visit commonground at least once every couple of weeks, and many of them visiting daily/weekly to keep an eye on what is happening. The 21,000+ posts and comments have come from a smaller percentage of overall membership, and even though that percentage is well ahead of industry averages, it is still less than 10% of the overall membership. Why? In addition to the fact we are busy, our personalities are different. Some of us are outgoing, some of us are not at all, and some of us are once we become comfortable with the environment. In other words, we gain trust. Many members come up to me in person and say they love the community, and one day they hope to be comfortable enough to post. To me, that is perfectly fine and comes with time.
I could provide countless reasons why community members who have been members for years create value for the community at large. However, I would prefer to showcase one example. Commonground has been around since 4/08. Just last week, a member who had never posted anything since joining in 2008 posted a question. Six members who had collectively been members for an average of a year and a half, all jumped into the conversation to help the member out and it kicked off a great discussion that is still going strong. In fact, it is tracking to have more participation than any other post on commonground.
As members of any b2b community continue to get more and more comfortable with social media, I suspect many members who have been sitting on the sidelines are going to jump into the mix. Their insights, contributions, and participation will help other members out. And, if a member decides to never contribute online, there are plenty of other ways they will drive value such as refer their peers at work to join, forward content to help someone in their office, go to a meeting to discuss environmental standards and regulations with a better understanding of the issues, etc... Plus, they push community administrators to make sure that every single day, they keep focused on delivering valuable content to increase the likelihood for engagement and participation.
What naysayers need to do is stop being so metrics driven on member contributions and map things back to overall goals and objectives of your initiative. If a company is exceeding its goals and delivering something your members tell you they feel is very valuable, then you are on the right track.
What do you think? If you were on this panel, what would your position be? Are the so called “lurkers” not valuable, or do you agree with me, that they can be some of your most important community members?
For those of you who regularly participate on social networking sites, and those of you who have just started, you probably have noticed a number of different types of member personalities and patterns. In the social networking circles, you can search and find various explanations of the many types of participants as they really don't vary all that much across social communities and also real life.
The three types of members of social networks that we run into regularly include
The members that often can have the most positive impact are the trouble makers - believe it or not. Why? Well it is simple.
When I talk about these types with members, employees, and partners, the question often comes up - "then, how do we know if an answer or content is correct or credible?" I would encourage you to take the following into consideration when you are determining if there is any question about the credibility of the member and their contributions:
In the end, you should always use your best judgment when deciding about the credibility of a post. Most credible social networks provide access to information about the contributor, so it is easy to check the above recommendations, but always use your best judgment like you would with anything else.
Should any of you feel that there are folks who do not meet the standards of the community and violate the rules of engagement and terms of service, I would always encourage that you let the community administrator for the community and other community members know.
Have you ever been in a store, worked with an employee who is fantastic, and you just want to run over and tell his/her supervisor? Have you ever had a billing issue and you felt that the person you called or emailed for help worked extraordinarily hard on your behalf to resolve the issue? Have you ever had a customer experience that was so bad you have decided to never shop somewhere again because the company didn't seem to care?
In my previous life, I was an executive at a company that ran a community for senior level customer care executives called CCSF. At one time, we had about 170 premium members who were Directors, VP’s and C-Suite executives for many of the top brands and businesses in the world. I always found the networking, conversations, and discussions to be fascinating. Often times, the interactions had similar themes like how to measure customer satisfaction, first call or contact resolution, customer retention and loyalty, how to make the call center a sales center vs. a cost center, complaint resolution, and giving the customer a voice.
These topics were just the tip of the iceberg. What was always amazing to me was how committed some companies were to their customers success and how challenged other companies were. Here is some information you might find interesting or staggering from a George Washington University study titled the Cost of a Dissatisfied Customer:
With today's tools, both great and bad customer experiences can be game changing for businesses who are proactive. Last Week, I spoke at the MarketingProfs Conference in Boston and had the pleasure of listening to keynote by Mitch Joel, author of Six Pixels of Separation. His points were fascinating and they tied in perfectly with his message which was that for years, business professionals have taken for granted real interactions between real people and social media opens up a world of opportunities that is extremely powerful. There are way more customers who have had positive experiences than negative ones. And, people want companies they like to do well. And, much like they are willing to help companies to improve by providing feedback, they are also willing to provide public praise if you provide them with the tools and let them share the fact they are a fan of your company.
As Mitch said, “customer reviews are a gift to businesses and marketers”. That is why it makes sense for environmental and commercial real estate professionals, to engage in a social media directory like the commonground provider directory. 81% of online holiday shoppers this past year used customer reviews. The business to business marketplace should take notice and realize that consumption of reviews will be core to how businesses buy in the future. People run businesses and people read and contribute reviews.
If you are not taking advantage of being social, then it is time you should consider the many benefits of being an early adopter and making your company more transparent, social, and effective. Start thinking about how you can enable your current customers to be central to your future success and funnel new, qualified customers your way...
Here is the story. About three months ago, I took on an expanded role on top of my current duties leading the growth of commonground . As a result, my team and I have been working diligently to do research, get demos, and evaluate potential solution providers to help us meet our business objectives. We have had many phone calls, web demos, face to face meetings, and email interactions. That is one of the reasons why I have been challenged to find time to contribute content to my The Uncommon Denominator blog.
One morning, I lined up two sales meetings back to back with solution providers we contacted. I will not include their names as that is not my point. We provided both with an agenda outlining what we would like to cover. Both confirmed. One never showed up. The other never sent the webex and dial in – just a meeting time. We sat in our conference room waiting……..and waiting……but both calls never happened. Just this week, we had another vendor discovery interview and we waited 16 minutes for the call to start.
Now, no company or individual is perfect. Things happen. We all make mistakes. We are all busy. We are trying our best to balance priorities. I missed scheduling meetings many times in my career. However, as someone who has coached, mentored, and run sales teams for many moons, it just shocks me how often the basic fundamentals have been well, missed, and by some pretty senior folks.
I usually blog about social media topics and trends, but this time I would like to offer 10 sales 101 tips that can be used across every industry, whether you are a member of commonground, owner of a small business, work for a larger enterprise, or are in software sales:
1) Be human - Make words and phrases like “Hello or Hi”, “Thank you for your time”, “Please”, and “look forward” part of your in person and online vocabulary.
2) Be on time - If you are running late or can't make it, let the prospect know in advance (things do come up – your consideration or lack thereof tells a lot about you).
3) Set an agenda– Be clear and concise for all meetings – f2f, online, and phone. Then, each subsequent meeting , begin the call by restating the goals of the call, to validate that they have not changed – because 50% of the time they will change.
4) Listen with your ears, eyes, and fingers - There is nothing more important than your customers. Don’t keep checking emails, Blackberry, or iPhone unless you absolutely have to. If you need to do so, let the prospect know in advance. By asking, you are being considerate. When you don’t, you send a really bad message about who you think is more important. If you are taking notes on your mobile device or laptop, announce it in advance.
5) Always think of your body language – EVEN IF YOU ARE ON THE PHONE – sit up straight and be enthusiastic. Put a mirror up so that you can see yourself if you have never done it.
6) Ask questions – Gain clarity as to what your client is trying to accomplish. Don’t believe all the hype that you should not ask yes or no questions. If a yes/no question leads to better follow up questions, than use them to your advantage.
7) Don’t interrupt your prospect or feel the need to talk – What could possibly be better than your prospect talking and providing you with information to meet his/her needs? Guide the call or meeting, don’t take it over.
8) Ask for help – If you don’t know what the prospect is talking about, ask them to explain it to you. What is worse, assuming you know and be wrong down the road, or showing the customer that you care enough about their needs to make sure you are 100% clear?
9) Put the prospect first – Be clear in your approach, concise in your delivery, and cognizant of your environment. How much time do you have today? When are you available until? What would you like to accomplish? Have met your objectives during the time we have spent together today?
10) Be likeable – We all want to do business with people and companies we like. Being likeable is easy if you follow the above 9 simple basics. If you waste your prospects times, come unprepared, or don’t feel every minute of a prospects time is precious, you might as well wear a tee shirt that says “Unlikeable” across the front of it to your meeting.
Markets are extremely competitive. Generating new business and maintaining great relationships is not easy. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by missing the basics. A first impression can either 1) make a lasting impression or 2) be the last impression….
This past weekend I tried my best to enjoy myself, but something happened that knocked me completely off my game. It was something that for many people, would be a welcome change or no big deal, but not for me. It derailed me. It left me hung out to dry, killed my efficiency and effectiveness, and caused me to wake up a couple of times in panic mode.
What was the issue? My Apple iphone, which is use to run my life, stopped working. After 18 months and an average of 3,500 minutes per month in phone calls alone, never mind data, the phone and battery waved the white flag and surrendered that it was tired, overused, and cooked. At one point, I was driving along and almost threw it out the window of my truck to rid myself of the question marks and move on. However, that would be bad for the environment, so I did not.
Seriously, ask yourself when the last time was that you went to get a coffee and did not bring your cell phone or pda? How did you feel the last time you unexpectedly left your cell phone/pda at home or at the office for the day or maybe even lost it? Now imagine, that you had the phone, and that something simple like getting phone calls, did not work. It is just different. The good news was that I could do 80% of what I needed to do and still leverage all the mobile applications and social networking sites I use daily enabling me to keep in touch with those who are in my network.
Prior to 15 years ago, I did not have any type of mobile device, so it was no big deal. But since I owned my first pager, some level of real time access to my peers, friends, and family has been to a certain degree become the norm – even with a pager. You remember how it worked – you would get a page, run to a pay phone (not sure if those still even exist anywhere other than hotels, bus terminals, and airports), scramble for change, make the call, hang up and thought I was pretty efficient. Now, many of us don’t use our home phones unless absolutely necessary – we run our lives through our cell phones and pda’s and rely on mobile technology for efficiency. Feels like a trip down memory lane now as I spend a minimum of 10 hours a week using my Bluetooth phone system in my truck as I travel to and from work and to meetings on conference calls. And, the only reason I have my home phone is as a backup plan for when the technology I use daily breaks. Yes, technology breaks – but seriously, what doesn't?
Having lived in the emerging technologies marketplaces for many years, I no longer discount any trend that exists. At the early stages, the optimists tend to jump in with both feet while the skeptics tend to wait it out until they can quantify the actual ROI of their use. Whether it is sales force automation software, mobile and wireless technology, collaboration tools -you name it – there were more naysayers than believers as those markets evolved. Mobile, coupled with social media, will be here for a long time. If you are not leveraging the mobile applications available, I strongly encourage you to make them an important part of our future strategy as they have become one of the main ways with which we communicate.
I am eager to get back to 120% productivity and experiment with the new mobile technologies Apple is introducing with its iphone 4g including video conferencing. 10 years ago, we were all talked about how that could save a company in travel expenses and time on the road. Another one time “imagine that” trend that is now a reality for business.
Many professionals, ranging from environmental consultants to HR professionals, C-Suite executives at F1000 companies to small retail store owners, often ask me about Facebook once they hear what I do for a living. The conversation usually starts with this statement - "I can see how people use it personally to keep in touch with family and friends. It is always good to catch up with someone I haven’t seen in a while. However, I just don't see how it can impact my business. Can it really?”
Last summer, in my blog post Wonder Why Business are Flocking to Facebook, I shared some trends that were pretty impressive. And, a little over a year later the trends and Facebook stats continue to be more and more impressive.
Now, even though you may say well, we use Google to search and find stuff and we don’t spend that time on the site, the sheer volume of how many of us uses Google daily and how dependent we are on search is insane. To think that Facebook passed Google in total time on their site means something different in my opinion – it means if you were slow to the game of developing a Facebook strategy and have remained on the sidelines waiting to see if this is just a trend, you need to stop procrastinating. Businesses need to go to the people even if they are not 100% sold on the concept. You don't have to be sold when the people, the buyers, are on Facebook.
We have invested more on LinkedIn and Twitter than on Facebook over the past year and still have seen:
Now, these numbers are not nearly as strong as how many visits are driven by LinkedIn – which is nearly four times as much, but nonetheless, they are pretty impressive given the effort or lack thereof, we have made. Now, what happens when we have thousands of Facebook fans and we have a well thought out Facebook strategy? We often wonder…but the potential becomes clearer each and every day as does our focus on this as key component in commonground’s future success.
Not all that long ago, most of us could not imagine buying stuff over the web. In 2009, 63% of the people in the US made an online purchase according to Internet Retailer.
“In the struggle for survival, the fittest win out at the expense of their rivals because they succeed in adapting themselves best to their environment.” Charles Darwin
Business evolves. Has yours?
I was recently asked if I would be willing to speak at my old college Alma Mater, Bentley University, by a gentleman I got to know via Twitter who I found out is Bruce Weinberg, the Chair of the Bentley University Marketing Department. The presentation was not about commercial real estate or environmental business best practices; it was about Social Media, Web 3.0, and building a personal brand. Even though my schedule was and is completely overloaded, I decided to make time for this opportunity for a number of reasons, but one in particular that I am a big believer in - reverse mentoring. I have included a link to an article titled Moving Forward with Reverse Mentoring that does a good job explaining how many companies and universities are using it. To me, it is an extremely important as a business professional to keep up with and ahead of new trends.
When I walked in, the assignments were being passed out and they included setting up a LinkedIn profile as well as setting up a Twitter account to name a few. As you might imagine, all of the students were using Facebook. In fact, that was the way that just about everyone communicated with friends, fellow students, and family. And for the majority of them, it is their method of communication - not email. They were told their personal brand on the web was not a requirement to land their dream job, but it would be extremely helpful and could be the difference when going up against another candidate given the importance of social influence and networking in today's business world where everyone lives on the web. The group was very engaged and excited to learn about how companies were effectively using social media and the web to move their business forward.
As I reflected after visiting the class, one thing became very clear. Whereas we, as hiring agents, managers, and business owners can learn about the new talent we are considering as employees by using the web, they have access to pre-screen us in ways that we never had to deal with when we were their age. We had to put together a resume with some references and went out on interviews. In hindsight, we probably had it easy.
However, students now have access to information - things that I think you would agree would have been of value if you ever had a job you regretted taking or didn't like the boss. I know, that has probably never happened, right? Any new hire can now look us up, check out our web profiles, social networks and affiliations, experiences, and interests prior to taking a job working for us. They can also check our company's online reputation. Have you thought about that as part of your hiring processes?
And, since students have lived in social networks for years by the time they graduate, I think it is a pretty safe assumption that they will be turned off working with peers, employers, and boss who do not participate or believe in them. If we have no social presence and are perceived as old school, it will dramatically impact our ability to attract the next generation of talent, whether you are an environmental professional, lender, attorney - profession does not matter.
We will serve as valuable mentors in the development of a young professional entering the workforce. And, they will in turn, help mentor us. Good business is a win-win.
Business and hiring has evolved to the web in many ways. Have you?
This past Sunday morning, I had to get up at 5:00 AM and drive in the snow to a seminar. It was not your everyday business seminar which I attend frequently. It was a USA Hockey Certification and Coaching Seminar. As you might imagine, not many of us were thrilled to be there on a Sunday or frankly any other day.
About six hours later, when I left, I felt like I really got a lot out of it and that I could do a better job helping and guiding the kids. In addition, I was pleasantly surprised about the business value that I got out of the session as I had the opportunity to think about the things we generally do not consider unless we have some dedicated time to focus.
There were 7 points made about coaching beginners that I believe business professionals in commercial real estate, can use to help ourselves, our employees, and our companies. Here they are:
1) You might be the first business person a new hire has ever worked with - remember that you have an important job to do. You just might be the leader that shapes their understanding of how business works (and they will be working way longer than they will be playing a sport).
2) When you stop learning new things-you stop leading
3) There are 8 principles of effective communication - always keep them in mind
4) Don't focus on coaching by telling them "what not to do to correct it, instead focus on "what you would like them to do" to get the right results. If you focus on the negative, then that is what the employee will think about (not screwing up) instead of the desired end result (finishing a project on time).
5) Avoid lengthy, complicated instructions - 3 things maximum at one time (for those of you who know me, you know this one is near and dear to me)
6) What you see is what you coached. Look in the mirror if you don't like the results
7) Fundamental abilities are the natural result of repetition.
There are academic viewpoints that state that to truly become an expert in something; it requires 10,000 hours which in many cases translates to 3 hrs a day for nearly 10 years.
There are a lot of experts out there who have involved in CRE, Phase I's, and environmental due diligence that meet this criteria or come real close. If you are in a leadership position, I would just like to pass along the reminder I just received. Make sure that you share your knowledge and wisdom to ensure the next generation of professionals continues to move the market forward.
I suspect you might be pleasantly surprised at what you will learn from them, how appreciative they are for your time, and what you get out of it both personally and professionally.
This past weekend, I had the opportunity to experience South by Southwest, known to the social media crowd and those like me who use Twitter religously as #SXSW, in Austin Texas. The one word that comes to mind to describe it is "wow". The new technologies and ways to connect, communicate, and market our companies with customers available now and in the not too distant future are mind numbing. And, the venture capital being put behind these new technologies confirms that investors believe in them.
A group of us with about 40+ years of social media and online community experience presented on a panel about Lurkers on Social Media sites. As a follow up to my last post titled Social Media Lurkers: Are They The Most Important Community Members, which has received a number of comments, I thought I would share one of the key data points.
We determined throughout a group exercise that all of us, without exception, either lurk in communities or have at one point. Why is this important? Over the years, the vast majority of people I know, from environmental consultants to stay-at-home parents to college students, tell me that they are not comfortable with posting. However, they now are on social media sites regularly and feel like they don't add any value. That could not be further from the truth. Have you ever shared something you found valuable with your networks, perhaps over coffee, or maybe recommended a product you read about, or perhaps shared some insight on how to handle a problem? Then, you have added value to your communities.
In the last month, not a day goes by when a commonground member who was skeptical at first admits they are receiving tremendous value from many social media sites. The majority still prefer to read vs participate, but two years ago we were thrilled to have 2-3 comments in a day. Today, we have 35-50/day regularly. For our most scenic photo contest:
To our first time posters, thank you. For those of you who have never posted and think about whether you should, it is time to stop overanalyzing it. Everyone I know does the same thing to a certain extent and 100% of the people in Texas, arguably the group who use social media collectively more than any group out there, are all lurkers too - without exception!
Moving forward, let's think of ourselves as "learners" consuming information in the ways that work for us. When the time or topic is right, we just might jump into the conversation, check in on Foursquare, or sign up for Twitter account.
For now, know that you are in good company so join the conversation when or if the time is right. For those of you who recently have, we look forward to learning from you.
Social Media Clubhouse – What I learned lurking around the sxswlurkers hashtag
Urban Life Digital Magazine – Learning at SXSW
Corporate Executive Board – Are you neglecting your most important community members
Have you ever decided just for kicks to search for yourself on Google to see what the results look like? Try it.
When I type in Mark Wallace - commonground, I see my blog on commonground, my Linkedin Profile, Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking sites right at the top of the search results. Try a few people you know too. I looked up a few other members of commonground too - Mike Kulka, Alan Agadoni, and Larry Schnapf. After you try this, what is the first thing you notice that we all have in common?
Perhaps you see that since each of us are members and bloggers on commonground, we benefit from great marketing exposure via Google. Perhaps you quickly notice we are all members of LinkedIn. Perhaps you see how all of our professional qualifications are easily found because each of us chooses to make that information public. Perhaps it is all of the above.
From conversations with many environmental professional members of commonground, I realize many of you are trying to digest the value of social media outside of just being a member of commonground. One very easy to see way is your personal profile when someone searches for you. There are 14 Billion web searches done each month according to Comscore. Your future customers, partners, and potential employers are very likely going to search for you to find out what your credentials are. Therefore, it is important that when someone searches for you, they find the right you.
If you do not have a LinkedIn membership because you are skeptical, I encourage you to join the 43 million professionals who are members and who generally benefit from having their public LinkedIn profile come up in the top 5 results when someone searches for them.
To maximize your results and LinkedIn effectiveness after you have signed up, I thought I would share some LinkedIn Tips from a recent article on CBS moneywatch.com by Elaine Pofeldt titled Facebook, Twitter, and More: The New rules of Social Networking. In particular, there is a section that addresses how to shape your personal brand on LinkedIn. Here is a summary of her key points.
1) Seek out recommendations from past bosses, key clients, colleagues, and direct reports to create a 360 degree picture of your strengths
2) Instead of a generic job title at the top of your profile, use a short description of valuable credentials you can quantify
3) Fill out the interests section with pursuits, such as charitable projects, that reinforce your value to potential employers and clients
4) For consistency and branding, use a good head shot of yourself as your photo and try to keep the photo consistent with photos on other social networks
5) Opt for a free vanity address for your profile that uses your full name, such as linkedin.com/in/jandoe (this is not always possible, and if it is not, use one that makes sense given how you are represented on other social networking sites).
Again, see the above referenced article for more. It might sound pretty basic, and is, but the benefits are many.
I would also recommend you take your vanity address and drop in your autosignature. Why? It makes it easier for other folks to see your credentials, help you build your connections, and it is valuable in the event your email is forwarded to someone new.
Good luck and congratulations on letting your credentials tell the story you want to tell when someone searches for you.