I used to post blogs all the time talking about social media, but it has been a long time since my last post. When I began blogging on commonground, I was often asked why I was posting about social media in a community for environmental professionals where conversations were about things like phase I assessments, REC's, vapor intrusion, Sanborn maps, etc.. Then, I started to receive calls and meeting requests from many members to talk about the benefits of social media as a business development tool. We have always remained eager to help members. Most of those calls and meetings would end with a comment like “that all sounds really great, but how are we going to leverage that in our business” to which I would reply “it doesn't happen overnight, so …..”
Now, you cannot dispute the fact that social media is part of our lives – like it or not. Look around your office, your local Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks, or your favorite restaurant and you will see the words Facebook or Twitter everywhere. The below excerpt is from a recent Altimeter Group Study on Making the Business Case for Enterprise Social Networks:
“In 2011, we reached a milestone when over half of all US adults regularly used social networking sites. That means the majority of American adults are not only familiar with social networking sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and, Twitter, but also understand the value of being connected with the people in their lives”
Now, fast forward to 2012, it is amazing how much more comfortable the environmental professional community has become with social media. Some environmental consulting and engineering firms have now integrated social media strategies into their marketing plans, many have lifted bans on using Facebook at their offices, and many are now trying to figure out the best ways to leverage it. Why, because 11% of all web traffic is on Facebook. And if people are there, which they clearly are, then businesses must be too.
This week, I received a handful of emails from Sean Dundon, Dianne Crocker, and a few other members about an upcoming Environmental Business Council Seminar on Social Media 101. For those of you who are just learning about it, it might be beneficial to attend if you are interested.
It got me thinking – would it make sense for us to run a free commonground web seminar on how to generate value for your business through the use social media? If yes, what are some of the questions you would like to see us cover?
If we get enough interest and responses to my post, we can pull together a small panel of social media practitioners and experts from our industry to provide you with answers to your questions, case studies, and actionable takeaways to help you grow your business.
In closing, I would like to thank you - our members - for your interest, for trying new things, and for thinking we were only partially nuts to build a b2b community where EP’s could collaborate, help each other, and support our industry.
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
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?
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….
When you are an entrepreneur or business leader, who is responsible for innovating within an organization, there comes a time when you take a significant leap across the chasm.
How do you know when you are there? The signs exist. The data backs it. Now what? It is time to determine your future strategy and how to handle the many new challenges coming your way.
What is my point? Well, I have heard a lot of great news recently about business starting to pick up for a number of environmental consultant members of commonground. There are many more companies hiring now than there has been in a long time. See the Environmental Jobs Board if you are in the market. Are we out of the woods? No, but things just seem to be a bit more positive.
Given that, are we thinking about how to capitalize on the momentum by taking some educated risks and stepping outside our comfort zones? Are we delegating enough, focusing on the things that can have the biggest impact, and focusing on innovation?
For many member companies that have wanted to jump into social networking, perhaps evaluate your corporate and personal presence on the web, or maybe even upgrade your current systems, now might be as good a time as any. It is always easier and more comfortable to stay status quo, but we all need to ask ourselves - are we doing what we need to to position ourselves to maximize our growth potential in 2011?
"In business or in football, it takes a lot of unspectacular preparation to produce spectacular results."
-- Roger Staubach
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?
Some of you may at one time or another wondered if we, the team at commonground, might be keeping track of your activity on the web. I am half serious with this comment as I have received this question on a number of occasions. Let me assure you we don’t, but many other sites do.
Ever wonder why all of a sudden after you searched for some stuff (insert specific product, topic, or service here) on the web you start to see ads popping up for that same stuff? Strange coincidence – nope. Ever happened to you? Do you find yourself clicking through to it?
Last week, I was intrigued by an article called Spying on the Web – Who Is Watching You that I read on WebGuild.org. It talked a about a recent investigation and article by WSJ titled The New Gold Mine: Your Secrets . It addressed web sites and how they are in fact, essentially spying on people – like you and me. I spent some time looking into it last night.
What is interesting to me is that Google, who is criticized frequently, about trying to take over the world, is actually not a big time offender. However, sites like comcast.net, dictionary.com, careerbuilder.com, msn.com, and photobucket.com are. Please note that I did not include links for that reason.
These sites are using what is called a “beacon” to track individuals by capture what you are writing. The tracking system assigns you a number which is used to scan what you are doing. The Information is then sold to advertisers. I encourage you to check out below following graph published in the WSJ that provide some details.
One thing to note – many people make negative comments about social networking sites. The most successful social networking sites are at the bottom of the list. The reason why is successful social media initiatives and networks, such as commonground, are based on trust. And, that is why Google gives them authority in search results.
Advertisers are looking for new ways to reach interested parties via the web and mobile devices. They are paying a premium to do so. Web advertising will continue to get smarter and more intelligent so beware of the sites you visit and use regularly. They just may store and analyze information about you that you don’t want exposed.
So next time you see that ad for the new book you just discussed with someone online, don’t think it was a strange coincidence. It wasn't.
I remember when I was growing up (insert wise crack here), our family always took a summer vacation. Our parents would pack us up in the car, hit the road, and we would drive for what seemed like days. We would get lost, they would pull out maps which would evolve into a disagreement, and inevitably we would stop at the gas station for directions. When we arrived, no matter how we got there, the kids would have that renewed excitement and burst of energy, while our parents would tend to unwind and disconnect from the world. The only way someone could get in touch with them was to call the hotel phone number, which they would leave behind with a few friends or family members, in case of emergency only. Sound about right?
I am now a few days back from a week off which included a few days away. On the way out the door, my wife asked me if I had printed my hotel confirmation, directions, and all relevant information and I said no. She said don’t we need them and I answered nope. After all, it really wasn’t necessary - I manage my life from my iPhone. As I mentioned in my previous post, I always have it either attached to my ear, fingers, or hip.
Everyone told me I should disconnect; after all, I work in social networking which does not have a start and end time each day. Therefore, I left the laptop behind because rumor has it they don't like to be left in cars all day in the 100 degree sun. When I had a free moment, I did it - I read my work and personal emails, spent time on commonground, and used the other technology tools that are simply part of my work and personal life. I consume news stories on commonground all day long, subscribe to blogs, and discussions. Why? It interests me and is what I do, even though it is still part of my job. I wanted to know what was going on with the Gulf Oil Spill as we were planning coverage, and the discussions were picking up. I checked emails three or four times per day out of habit. Luckily, I only made and took a handful of work related calls and did everything possible to not jump into the fray.
What is my point?
Again, I found myself trying to compare the past and present, specifically how things used to be when my parents went on vacation, versus today. While I did, my kids sat in the back of the car watching movie after movie occasionally asking “how long til we get there?” between shows. We used our GPS navigation, cordless wireless head phones, separate sound systems for the front seat and back, and our air conditioned car seats. People who needed to reach me could, I could search the web anytime I needed to (think about how many times you do each week), and I made a couple of purchases from my phone saving me time and getting me things I wanted. We could share what was happening with people who were interested when it was happening versus after we got home.
I kept coming back to whe n I w a s y o u n , i f you wanted to turn on the AC , you rolled the window down and hoped not to sit in traffic. If t h e r e w a s t r a f f i c , you made a fan out of a piece of paper.
What is better? Depends on how you look at it.
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.
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...