Category: Business and Marketing

Navigating the Social Media Playground

Social Media is an ever-changing, overwhelming sea of possibilities. For most people, the biggest challenge is figuring out where to get started with social media.

We all have heard the familiar and sound advice to start by listening. Listen to your customers, listen to the community, listen, listen, listen.

Everyone says to listen! Listen to what?

The reality is that there is so much information or noise being generated every second that you could spend an entire career listening and never do anything else.

The trick is to not just listen but to participate, as well as be able to adapt the voice of authority.

Think back to being a kid on a playground, or go visit a busy playground and observe for a while. What you will notice first is that it is a noisy place. There are little girls having secret conversations in one corner, groups of boys raiding each other on the equipment, and a group of boys and girls building castles at yet another section of the playground. Each of them is living in their own world and are tuned into their own activities, but the call of an authoritative voice raises their attention and will cause all activities to change directions.


How does this relate to developing your own social media listening program? The social media world is very similar to a child’s playground (in oh so many ways!)

When a child arrives at the playground they will first glance around to see what is going on and who they know. I relate this to casting a wide net to gather a high-level insight into conversations that are happening related to:

  • Your Brand
  • Your Competitors
  • Your Services
  • Problems you Solve

Once we understand the landscape and ecosystem of all the activities going on, we will begin to focus in on what we know best and where we feel most comfortable. On the playground, this would be equivalent to saying hi to our friends and checking in on what they are doing. In the social media world, it is very much the same thing. We will check in on our customers, prospects, and people who know us that we should get to know.

As we play we begin to learn the rules of the playground. Who is in charge of which activities and which children are committed to those activities as well as which children are just exploring various areas. In social media, we call the leaders of certain circles influencers. Social media influencers,  like the children leading various playground activities, were never appointed as leaders and they have no real authority, but they have a personality that entices others to follow along. As we play with them we strengthen existing relationship bonds as well as make new friends.

In business, this would be equivalent to understanding the context of each conversation, the sentiment within each community and the connections among different social ties. Look for who is the center of influence within your market.

The child who wants to lead his own little tribe will be successful only if he or she has tapped into areas of play that children are most drawn to and storylines that they want to act out. Similar to the business person who needs to create messages that resonate with their customer’s needs and desires and to attract an audience who are willing and able to respond to various calls to action.

Once you are not only part of the community, your community also becomes part of the ecosystem and you will be tapped into new opportunities as well as potential threats to your playground enterprise. You will be able to respond to these opportunities and threats to the best of your ability.

However, there is always the inevitable call from the voice of authority that changes the game. On the playground it is the voice of the parent saying it is time for your best friend to leave, thus shaking up the connections within your group. Online it is the voice of a social networking site enticing your community members away from your chosen channels with the promise of better tools, friendly user interfaces, or more efficient ways to track the enormous amount of information we are all keeping track of. The child must be prepared to rebuild or move on, as does any business investing in social media.

However, to keep up with it all, you have to continuously be listening.

Interactive Content Enables Visitors to Experience Your City Like a Local

Destinations all around the world invest millions of dollars in attracting visitors each year. You see commercials with celebrities inviting you to California, or families enjoying the 5783999789_9d06e5d7df_zbeaches of Florida while most of the country is waiting for the next winter storm. Attracting conventions and visitors to your city means more economic growth, not just in tax revenue, but in increased revenue for local businesses including hotels, restaurants, attractions, and so forth. 

Over the years, as more people spend the majority of their time with digital media and travel planners have begun to conduct all of their research online, destination marketers have moved their marketing messages to optimized websites, blogs, and social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. But is simply moving your content from one media platform to another the best approach? Of course not.

When new platforms are introduced, marketers need to be quick to seize new opportunities. Consider when radio, once the major media platform, was usurped by televisions in people’s homes. Did communicators simply switch their message from one platform to the next without looking at the new opportunities that they could explore in the new medium? No.

Now that people are carrying around the entire interactive world wide web in their pocket, marketers need to rethink not just how they will communicate but what they can communicate and how their communication can impact the experience of their audience. Based on Google’s recent algorithm updates, we also know that the more useful and timely your content, the more your content will show up in search results.

Studies show the 92% of consumers trust recommendations from people they know and 70% trust opinions posts online. Therefore, the best way to market your destination is through word of mouth. The best word of mouth comes from people who have had an amazing experience. The best way to help your visitors have an amazing experience is to empower them to feel at home in your home – to be able to experience your city like a local. Here are 4 ways to refocus your content from marketing to attract visitors to empowering your visitors.

Local Guides

I can guarantee that you have people in your city who are quite knowledgeable about the best places to visit and they love to share their in-depth knowledge with friends and strangers alike. In The Tipping Point, journalist Malcolm Gladwell referred to such people as “Mavens.”

What makes leveraging the content of such Mavens so powerful in your marketing mix is that your audience will recognize the passion they have when sharing information and the authenticity of their advice. Their words are based on beliefs and experiences as opposed to a marketing message that is trying to sell something.

Many of these Mavens have already leveraged digital media sites to share their stories and have already built a significant audience. By working with your local Mavens not only do you get to share great their stories with your audience but you also get to tap into their audience.

Insider Insights

What is common knowledge to locals is often completely foreign to visitors? On my first visit to NYC, I did not understand that “No Standing” signs were no parking signs and I spend my first night in the city getting my car out of the impound. This is not a good experience. I am a local in Atlanta and fortunately know when to ignore my GPS when it tries to get me to turn down a one-way street, an unfortunate GPS glitch that will get locals in some serious trouble. On a recent visit to New Orleans my son spent 5X surge rate on an Uber because he did not know how to catch a taxi or navigate through the transit system.

By creating an arsenal of insider insight guides that can be linked to within relevant content on your site, share within a library, and promote on social networks, you can empower your visitors to become “mini citizens” of your city for a few days or weeks. 

Breaking News

Visitors need to know breaking news happening in the city that is specifically related to their experience. The local news that is covering who was murdered and what store was robbed is not where your visitors need to be tuning in. Instead, they need a news outlet that tells them the weather information and what some alternate plans that they can make if the weather has interrupted their day. They need to know what shows are playing or games that are going on where they can still get tickets. They need to know what streets or highways to avoid during certain hours and alternative ways to get around the city.

When you switch your marketing from just trying to showcase all that your city has to offer to providing insights on how to experience your city, not only does your marketing become more useful, but it will develop into a rich story about the many characters that make your city great.

Need help getting started empowering your visitors with these tips? Contact me.

Does a strict brand voice have a place in online conversations?

What does social media mean to you? That is an important question to ask every stakeholder involved prior to launching a social media initiative. This question not only needs to be asked, it needs to be discussed in-depth, debated, and documented.

There are people who believe that social media is an extension of marketing communications, others who believe it can generate sales, some who see it as a way to provide exceptional customer service and those who see it as a necessity for reputation management.

I, personally, am in the “all of the above” camp. Social Media enables conversations with and about brands. These conversations can be started by the brand, but only if the brand becomes part of a community. Ultimately the conversations will be driven by the community based on what community members are looking for. This could be product information, customer service, exclusive information, or up-to-date news.

Many emerging and/or larger brands have worked hard to build their brand image, an image that connects with the target audience profile. Style Guides have been created that dictate images that should be used to represent the brand as well as the words and sentence structures that are used when discussing the brand. This works well for marketing and advertising campaigns where there are copywriters and designers that create controlled images and experiences. But how does a style guide work within online conversations?

The answer is it provides your social media manager with insights of what to listen for and what conversations are most relevant to get involved with. But it cannot dictate what to say if the brand is seeking an authentic and timely voice.

I am seeing a lot of brands trying to force their controlled brand experiences within social media channels and the results are mixed. It seems if the brand is already established and has a significant amount of loyal fans, then people will comment, like, and share the creative copy-written messages. Below is an example of such a great copy-written tweet from Coca-Cola:

drip-934949_640“When you open a coke, 12,607 bubbles are born. Happy birthday bubbles!”

But is that a community-driven conversation starter? No. Is it an effective brand builder, especially as it is re-tweeted by the millions of followers of Coca-Cola? Absolutely!

This effort works for Coca-Cola, which has decades of expert brand building efforts behind them. Coca-Cola did not have to start the online conversation, they had to join it. By the time social media even hit Coca-Cola’s radar there were already thousands of conversations happening about them each day.

But can emerging brands or even large brands who do not have thousands of mentions within online conversations happening each day create a community with only an authorized brand voice, or will they need to empower selected ambassadors to use their real and diverse voices?

Does a strict brand voice have a place in online conversations? I say yes; 40% of the time when social media is used to distribute news or create unique and creative brand impressions, a strict brand voice should be adhered to. For the 60% of the efforts needed to create an online community, such as providing exceptional customer service, offering solutions, requesting fans to share their stories or celebrating the successes and stories of their fans, brand guidelines should be followed only to the extent of how the brand is represented whereas not to prevent brand ambassadors from speaking personally as a means to connect with people as people.

I have witnessed many brands trying too hard to control their message and use only approved copy-written words within social media channels. Typically the community growth and engagement remains stagnant, the return on engagement is very low and the value of social media gets lost in translation.

Why Your Social Media Strategy Is Not Working

You are on all the right social channels. You are posting content consistently. But you are just not getting much value from your social media efforts. Here might be a few reasons why.

You Are Looking for More Responses

Is that really so bad? Should you be looking at that metric?9011116378_32e56983e3_c

I know, I know. This goes against everything you have ever read about social media as a conversation. We write about the value of conversation all the time. But think about it, all statistics show that more than 90% of your audience consumes content and less than 10% will contribute. This is like having a conversation with someone who listens but simply refuses to respond…not much of a conversation, huh? But the content is what is keeping them around, they are learning and thinking and will respond in their own way. Keep working on getting responses, but there are many other valuable stats to look at too.

You’re  Not Getting to the Right People

About a decade ago when I started consulting on social media that #1 concern was reputation management. “What will they say about us?” Most organizations have come to realize that Pandora’s box has been opened and people have the ability to say anything they want to say. That makes for a very noisy web. The response I have seen is that more and more organizations are responding by simply adding to the noise. FAIL

The key to an effective social media program is to get the right message to the right people at the right time through the right channel. This is nothing new in the world of communications. What is new is that people have many channels to choose from. Not long ago the choices were print, a few channels on TV and a few channels on radio. Now the choices are unlimited from blogs to text to social networking sites to video sharing sites. Our job is to make sure that our audience can get the message the way they want through the channel they choose to get it from. This is what we refer to as optimizing your communications for social media.

 Social Media is Another Thing You Have To Do

If you are stressed about how much time social media takes, you are doing it ALL wrong. The speed you are able to get personalized articles delivered as opposed to searching through pages and pages of “old media” is truly astounding. You can schedule several posts, repurpose content for different channels and be alerted when your attention is needed.  You should be using technology to save time. Not as an add-on while you keep doing things the old ways.

An effective social media program is about personalized channels and strategic data flow of relevant content. This creates value. Add in the ability for your audience to post their questions, insights, and reviews, what you get is conversation and community. The impact is enhanced business intelligence, more effective R&D, more successful marketing programs and increased customer satisfaction. If these are not the results your social media program is delivering, it is not working!

The Difference Between Social Media Marketing and Online Communities

As more and more brands embrace social media as an extension to marketing, advertising, pr or customer service efforts, the line between social media marketing and the essence of online communities continues to blur. However, it is important that these efforts not get mixed up otherwise the purpose and benefits of each effort will get diluted and the tactics and measures of success will become a confusing mess.

Social Media Marketing can be measured by the number of impressions, the reach of the conversation, as well as the number of transactions. Social Media Marketing can have very specific and measurable goals such as increased share of voice, improve brand reputation and/or awareness, or direct sales.

photodune-3447460-community-xsOnline communities are much more nebulous. Communities, in general, are a very ancient creation. Communities of people gathered together for interdependent reasons. Therefore, a community is about the experience of belonging.

There are many benefits for a brand to develop a community, including the ability to scale. If you bring together people with passion and expertise then every person in the community gains tremendously for the small efforts of many. Think of Wikipedia.

Oftentimes efforts to building online communities involve bringing together more people with questions than answers. This makes sense when you are trying to find people with a need that you can fill. That is called selling. People do not become part of a community as a means to be sold to.

If we think of communities like we think of our neighborhoods, then what we are seeking are people with common interests, people we like to invite to our house, people with expertise such as…I don’t know…plumbing. Most importantly we are looking for people we trust.

So how do we build online communities? We set out to bring together people with a passion and expertise to share, we give them tools that help them get to know each other and we highlight ideas and insights of the members.

Building an online community takes a lot of work. Hospitality must be top of mind. Think of hospitality as the welcoming of strangers and offering “gifts” with no expectation in return thus creating an environment of trust and safety.

As your community grows it is tempting to think it centers around you or your brand. It doesn’t. It is important that community members always know that they are appreciated and are often reminded why they are there – what is the benefit to them.

So, should your social media efforts focus on marketing, advertising, pr, customer service or community building? That depends on your goals and resources, however, do not confuse community building with marketing or you may find that you create a road map that does not lead you to your goals.

Defining Online Community

I have noticed the word community is being tossed around inappropriately lately. It seems many people are trying to make online community analogous to social media. Perhaps the holiday season is a good time to explain the difference.

You know how you walk down the street in your neighborhood? Hopefully, you live in a neighborhood where you see your neighbors on the front porch or in the front yard. If not, think of a show, like Sesame Street, where people run into their neighbors every time they walk out of their door. That may feel like a community, but it’s not. It is a group of people in similar proximity who have the ability to socialize. That is social media in the real world.

Social media is a set of technical tools that enable people to express themselves, “house” their personalities, and socialize with each other.

photodune-348156-friends-xsNow, raise your hand if you were invited to a holiday party, game night, or to help a friend move over the weekend. If you raised your hand then you were invited to be part of a community; People who get together to enjoy each other’s company, share ideas and help each other out. Online this is most similar to communities that have existed for years, inhabited by the members who share information, ideas, and solutions to problems.

Today there are many other wonderful online communities of people who share information about their hobbies, interests, and struggles. Within these communities, each person knows and supports each other and more often than not there is no real defined leader or sponsor within the group.

Most of the time online communities such as these are spontaneous, people who are searching for connections find each other, but it is possible for a brand to “orchestrate” such a place. To do so a brand might want to think of themselves as an HOA where they meet and listen to the community members, set the rules for the community, and find ways to connect and support each member within the community. This definitely takes time and commitment, beyond just creating content that is generated and pushed through social tools such as Facebook and Twitter.

To reiterate, social media is for people you say hi to as you pass them by, a community is for staying connected to and supporting the people you care about. So the next time someone refers to their online community ask them questions about what they know about the people they supposedly care about.

What Business Communicators Can Learn From Rock & Roll

Not long ago I was watching History of Rock & Roll. As I watched the progression from Chuck Berry to 80’s Hair bands, I noticed a few common themes about the rise and fall of artists. I realized that these themes are lessons that business communicators can learn from.

The Message Has to Resonate

Musicians and songwriters might write songs about their lives, stories, and experiences, but the songs that become hits are the ones that their FANS can relate to. The songs that seem to be written about their lives, stories, and experiences. The songs that are about the common human conditions are often timeless.

The same is true for business communications. Your message needs to resonate deeply with your audience. They need to hear what you are about and say…” wow! you know me so well.”

Relationships Matter

The paparazzi exist because people want to know about the lives of the people behind the music. Although we are attracted to the music that speaks to our heart we also want to know the heart of the artists behind the music.

The same is true for business communications. We have so many reasons not to trust businesses lately, that they only way to gain our trust is by letting us know who you are.

You Can’t Fake It


Shall I say more? Well if you have no idea who the two guys above are, you can look it up here.

It seems, that yes…more needs to be said. Once Rock & Roll became popular, an industry was born. From that industry, many fakes have been born. They rise and fall fast. The same is true when you try to outsource your communications as opposed to create a process to be real to your fans, the attention you attract will rise and fall fast. You cannot fake it and make it.

What I learned by watching The History of Rock & Roll is that the best way to be a Rock Star Business is to sincerely have the right stuff to be a Rock Star and to be real and accessible enough to let your fans rock with you.

The Essence of Social Networks

“Let us speak, though we show all our faults and weaknesses – for it is a sign of strength to be weak, to know it, and out with it…” -Herman Melville

Put simply, Social Networks are about how individuals communicate and interact with each other in their quest to reach a certain goal.

Well, it seems simple until you look up the definition of communication. There seems to 1942FD49BFbe an unlimited amount of studies and types of communication as well as communication barriers.

Yet people have a great longing to be heard and to connect with other people who understand them and share similar interests. Perhaps that is why there seems to be an unlimited amount of social network sites popping up and being populated at an unprecedented speed.

But have your consumers and clients gathered on these sites just so that they can become an easy target for advertising?

A little over a decade ago, I started to observe that people are tired of being sold to, but everyone is longing for a connection.

What I was discovering and have since discovered is that the Internet has evolved in such a way that we are able to find and connect with people of like minds and like interest. Through simple searches and peer to peer connections, people are discovering vast amounts of information, entertainment, and inspiration that is relevant to them. They are developing trusting relationships with people from all over the world and communicating ideas, sharing secrets, and getting advice.

Those of us in marketing (myself included) exclaimed, “wow! focus groups, behavior targeting, improved metrics, and word of mouth marketing on steroids.” But these sites were not originally created to segment us into groups of target audiences. These sites are intended to be a community.

As stated in The Cluetrain Manifesto, “The Internet became a place where people could talk to other people without constraint.”

For the most part, those participating in online social networks welcome the targeted ads. It helps to pay for the space they are playing in and they can discover new services and products of which they talk about and share ideas and stories about.

The question is, are the advertisers and brands listening? There is a great conversation going on, and it may be relevant to you. You can join in if you follow the rules of authenticity and sincere interest.

The marketplace has never really been B2B or B2C, it has always been about p2p, people to people and the relationships and trust they develop. The Internet is bringing us back to that reality.

Can we have real relationships with the people we meet online?

This question comes up in almost half the presentations I give.  It is a great question and one that I would like to explore a bit.

People are so busy.

Between work and life and all the demands to be in so many different places both on and offline that it is a struggle to capture a person’s attention enough to show them the benefits of paying attention or socializing with you and your organization. There is a perception that it is noisier online, and that the social web is not as personal, therefore, more difficult to build quality relationships.

I have found that the opposite is true. The demands of our offline world limit us to the people that are in our geographic proximity (work, school, spiritual centers, and so forth). We can not seek out a person who has similar taste as us in music, or a closet writer, or game enthusiast by typing in search terms at a local event. We spend our time bouncing from person to person making small talk about work, the weather, sports, and what our kids are up to.

People are spending more and more time socializing online because there you can pause, read a journal someone has chosen to share, explore and learn from each other, discover other people within the group, all before introducing yourself.

How does this affect our personal interactions with each other? Well just look at a blogger’s enthusiastic expression when they tell you they got to meet their friend that they have known online for some time, notice the trend of all the conferences popping up just so these new found friends can meet each other in person. They already know each other and they already know that the time and money invested in attending an offline event will be well worth it.

Sensei Project worked with the Atlanta Convention Visitors Bureau organizing an event (SITSum) for social media influencers who write about travel, food, family, and entertainment. The event was organized to empower peer-to-peer learning. The event was a success in a variety of ways, but what made it special is people who knew each other online met in person and the people who traveled from various parts of the world to meet new friends get to stay in touch long after the event was over.


My take is that online communities are helping us to slow down a bit to get to know each other again. It is not a substitute for personal contact, it is enhancing the need and desire for such contact.


Want to learn more about the Social Influencer Travel Summit? Download the report.

How To Handle Online Complaints

If you run a business you can expect people will express their opinions your products and services. More and more they are expressing those opinions online and we know that people who have a complaint are more likely to share that opinion than a person who has a compliment.

This can be stressful, but there are opportunities that can be found in online complaints. In my Hotel Executive article, I outline how to handle complaints and get the most from such feedback.

The article is also published on LinkedIn.