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How to use Facebook groups to connect with your audience

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One of Facebook’s greatest strengths is also one of its greatest weaknesses.

On the plus side, it’s for just about everyone and about just about everything. However, that also means it’s not really for anyone, or about anything specific. And as the platform has swelled to nearly 2 billion members, it can be a challenge to focus the audience on a specific topic.

One solution to this problem is something that has been around for years: Facebook groups. Groups provide a place for people to connect around a shared interest or for mutual benefit—and businesses can benefit when they bring those people together. A few examples:

  • Employee and volunteer groups give your internal audience a place to share information and stay connected.
  • Nonprofit groups allow you to share information and build advocacy among donors and other supporters.
  • Colleges can use groups to give students, faculty, staff and alumni a place to discuss specific topics.
  • Manufacturers of products can create and facilitate groups for customers to share ideas and ask questions of the company and other users.

Groups provide several benefits, in that they allow real-world conversations to continue and grow online. They also allow your company to tap into the collective intelligence of your audience, bringing people together in a place where everyone can learn from each other and share information with the group. Groups also have advantages over Facebook business pages, because the conversation can be more focused since groups are less affected by declining organic reach. Finally, groups can be made private, with users having to be accepted into the group — a great solution for businesses that work with minors or who want to protect more sensitive information.

Perhaps the best thing about groups is how easy they are to create:

  • A group “owner” must establish the group. He or she names the group and can add photos, documents (a policy shared with employees, for example, or a user guide shared with customers).
  • The group owner will also need to decide whether it will be public, closed (members must be approved), or secret (which can’t be discovered by search and is only available to those who have a link and who must be approved). This can be changed later if needed.
  • The group owner then can add other group administrators and moderators. While you only need one owner, it’s good practice to have at least two to three people involved to ensure responsiveness. It’s also important to know that there are subtle differences between being an administrator and a moderator, with the former having more access than the latter.
  • Promote it to those you want in the group and, if it’s private or secret, accept their requests to join. It’s good practice to have some content and conversations added to the page first, however, so group members will get a good first impression and be able to interact right away.

The real work, however, is maintenance: continually adding content, responding to questions and ensuring that it remains active. This is what determines your success: since starting groups can be so easy, it’s tempting to jump right in. You’ll want a plan, however, for ensuring that your group remains viable and that the owner, moderators and administrators are working together to keep the audience’s attention.

While groups have a lot of merit, they’re not without their pitfalls. Consider, for instance, that your employees must use their personal Facebook profiles to participate in groups. This may not raise any issues, but there can be challenges associated with intermingling your internal and external audiences. While being in the same group as someone else gives them no special access to your Facebook profile, it does make things that are publicly available (your profile photo, for example) more conspicuous to that audience. If for no other reason, then, you’ll want to have an employee social media use policy in place.

Overall, however, groups are great at helping you reach some of your subset audiences more effectively than through a business page alone. It takes effort to make them work, but they’re a great tool for keeping people connected to each other–and your brand.

Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Reputation: How to make the most of what’s being said about your brand online

 

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“Online reviews” by James Provost on Flickr

 

Looking for an explanation of why social media matters? Look no further than this quote from “The Thank You Economy,” by Gary Vaynerchuk: “Consumers have more direct, daily contact with other consumers than has ever been possible in the history of the planet. More contact means more sharing of information…in short, more word of mouth.”

This quote effectively captures the degree to which social media has given the audience a voice in the conversation that’s equal to – and sometimes even louder than – that of even the biggest brands. This is great for us as consumers, because now — for the first time in human history — we can access a critical mass of our peers from just about anywhere at just about any time, giving us access to better information about products and services. It presents tremendous challenges for businesses, however, since reputation management can take considerable time and attention, and since it can feel like we’re no longer in control (spoiler alert: we’re not).

Some businesses are responding by dismissing the importance of consumer opinion sites or downplaying the impact of negative reviews. This is a huge mistake, however. In a recent study by Fan & Fuel Interactive Digital Marketing Group, 97 percent of consumers said customer reviews factor into their buying decisions. And in the same study, 35 percent of respondents said just one negative review can make them decide not to buy. It does matter, whether or not we like it.

It’s also important to understand that reviews don’t exist in a vacuum. In addition to consumers actively seeking them out on sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp, they’re also happening upon them during Google searches even when they’re not searching for reviews. Google’s local search, also known as the three-pack, includes not just links to a retailer’s website and address, but also a star rating and a link to Google reviews. Furthermore, these reviews have at least somewhat of an impact on search results, with research from a variety of sources indicating that companies with higher rankings, or even just more reviews, are more likely to appear in the top three results.

With this in mind, it’s becoming more critical for those in the B2C space to take an active role in managing their reputation – on Google and elsewhere. Here are a few keys to success:

  • Fix what’s broken. Every business has challenges. If yours are customer facing, it’s more important than ever to fix them. Your flaws will inevitably be amplified on consumer opinion sites, and the more prevalent they are, the more likely this becomes. There’s no substitute for addressing the root cause of those issues.
  • Do the research. A somewhat obvious first step is to look at the major review sites to see what’s being said about you and your competitors. Whether it’s positive or negative, you’ll want to be aware of what’s out there. Forewarned is forearmed, as they say.
  • Ask customers to review you (as long as you expect the results will be favorable). If you are confident that you provide excellent service, more positive reviews may be available to you – if only you request them. One option: send a request to your email list with a link to all the relevant review sites. This is a good strategy even if you already have plenty of good reviews, but it’s absolutely essential if your online reputation is not what you’d like it to be. The best antidote for bad reviews is good reviews.
  • Repurpose good reviews. Once you have an inventory of positive reviews, reach out to some of your most ardent advocates and ask if you can use their comments elsewhere: on your website, in your brochures, enlarged and slapped on the wall of your building – the opportunities are endless. Use every opportunity to get these comments in front of prospects and customers.
  • Capture customer testimonials on video. While you can’t control what someone says in a review, you can create testimonials that show you at your best. Make sure you don’t let them languish on YouTube, however: share them on your website and via social media to give them a better chance of being discovered.
  • Consider using a reputation management dashboard or outsourcing the effort. Like anything else in your business, reputation management takes time and effort. One option is to invest in a tool like BirdEye, which captures reviews from a variety of sites and allows you to see them all in a single dashboard. If you want to save even more time, you can outsource the effort and have someone monitor, respond to, and generate new reviews on your behalf. You may be able to trade a few dollars and get back more time to spend with your customers in the real world – which may, in turn, lead to more positive reviews.

There’s no question that customers are paying more attention to what their peers are saying online. That means it’s an imperative that you do, too. The conversation will happen with or without you, so take an active role. With a little effort, you can substantially mitigate the negative, amplify the positive, and differentiate your business – which ultimately will result in more prospects becoming customers, and more customers becoming true advocates.

Social media as a social good

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Social media is frequently in the news for all the wrong reasons.

Murders are broadcast on Facebook Live. “Challenges” go viral and end up causing serious harm. Children are bullied and exploited. Fights over politics, religion, and things much more mundane erupt. The list goes on. However, it’s important to remember that just like most things in life, social media is neither inherently good nor inherently evil. While it certainly has its pitfalls and problems, it also can be tremendously beneficial. The examples below are some of the best reminders that social media can make us more aware and compassionate while stimulating people to take action in a way that makes the world a little better.

  • Addict Aide and “Louise Delage.” When Addict Aide, a Paris, France-based nonprofit, sought to raise awareness about the dangers of addiction, they turned to a tool uniquely capable of reaching young people: Instagram. Addict Aide developed an Instagram profile for “Louise Delage” – a character created out of thin air, but presented as a real 25-year-old woman. Drawn to “Louise’s” good looks and seemingly lavish lifestyle, the profile attracted thousands of followers. What most of her followers didn’t notice – at least not immediately – was that each of “Louise’s” photos included a drink – a bottle of beer, a cocktail, or a glass of wine. Subtly included and rarely featured prominently, the inclusion of these drinks intended to make a statement: Louise is like many of the young people you know – and addiction is a factor in many of their lives. The campaign, designed to draw attention to the fact that one out of every five deaths of young people is related to addiction, had a real impact on Addict Aide’s mission. After “Louise” was unmasked, Addict Aide saw a five-fold increase in website traffic and the nonprofit received significant media coverage. Altogether, it was a small investment of resources that paid off in a huge increase in awareness and engagement.
  • Ami Musa and UNICEF on Pinterest. For many users, Pinterest acts as a sort of wishlist: everyone from do-it-yourselfers to brides-to-be use the platform to share an inventory of material things they believe would make their lives better. UNICEF took this idea in an unconventional direction to remind Pinterest users of an important lesson. In keeping with its mission of serving children around the world, UNICEF created a Pinterest profile for Ami Musa, a 13-year-old from Sierra Leone, featuring a board called “Really want these.” It included things like clean water, food, an education, and a pair of shoes – much more mundane than what the average Pinterest user would share, but basic needs that are severely lacking in Ami’s world. UNICEF’s message was clear: be grateful for what you have and be generous in supporting those who aren’t – by supporting, of course, organizations like UNICEF.
  • The Pilion Trust’s “F*ck the Poor” campaign. In today’s communication environment, a little shock value can go a long way toward capturing an audience’s attention. Often, this manifests itself in superficial ways, but occasionally it’s used to convey messages of substance. One example is the Pilion Trust’s “F*ck the Poor” campaign. The UK-based charity, which provides resources for the homeless and others in need, wanted to get people talking about poverty – and get people talking they did. Armed with a video camera and a sandwich board bearing the “F*ck the Poor” message, Pilion Trust representatives took to the streets of London. When they recorded the responses they received and compared them to how people responded – or, more accurately, didn’t respond – to a “Help the Poor” message, the takeaway was clear: people do care about poverty, but seemingly only when provoked. Pilion Trust’s efforts encouraged the audience to understand that apathy can harm those less fortunate just as much as outright attacks—and that to combat the issue, they needed to take action in the form of financial support for programs and services for those in need.
  • Social media’s impact on Amber Alerts. When you hear about social media and missing kids, you may first think of the risks – and there’s certainly plenty of cause for concern. What’s less well appreciated, however, are the considerable ways in which social media keeps children safe. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, social media is a contributing factor in the overwhelming majority of resolved Amber Alert cases, as civilians are transformed from mere observers into collaborators in spreading the word. Whereas milk cartons were once a primary means of getting information about missing children in front of those who might be able to help, we now use Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for the same purpose. As social media use has become commonplace, more lives are saved and more children are returned to their families.

There are many other examples, but there’s only one way to ensure social media becomes even more of a net positive in our society: through our individual use of each platform. So, today, consider what you share: does it add more than it detracts from the human condition? Does it make the world a little better, or a little worse? The next time you’re ready to click “submit,” remember the words of John Kennedy: “One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.”

5 emerging technologies that will forever change marketing

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“Zoltar the Fortune Teller” by Josh McGinn on Flickr

There’s no question that our communication environment is changing more rapidly than ever before. Just 25 years ago, most of us had never heard of the internet. Yet today, it’s so integrated in our days that we can’t imagine life without it.

During the next few years, additional shifts will further revolutionize how we communicate with each other, and how businesses communicate with their customers. Here are a few that are just emerging – and that are certain to impact marketing in the near term.

  • Wearable technology. According to recent studies, 12 percent of U.S. adults wear a fitness tracker, such as a Fitbit, or a smartwatch from brands like Apple. In addition, other wearable technology is emerging, such as Snap Inc.’s, Spectacles – sunglasses that allow users to record video at the touch of a button and share it on Snapchat. These technologies are just in their infancy, and the implications are wide ranging. Consider healthcare, for example: what if a wearable could track not just your steps or heart rate, but also your vital signs? New York-based Health Care Originals has already developed an Automated Device for Asthma Monitoring and Management (ADAMM), a patch with a rechargeable battery worn on the upper torso. Its companion app provides real-time data for monitoring asthma, allowing users to anticipate problems and treat symptoms. It’s certain that technologies like ADAMM will change healthcare as we know it, with providers being able to assess patients based on a continuum of data, not just a specific moment in time.
  • Beacons. Beacons are small low-cost hardware devices that transmit messages to mobile devices via Bluetooth. They’re most commonly used in retail, with customers receiving offers and other information upon entering a store. There are possibilities in several other industries, however. Churchill Downs, for example, recently installed more than 1,500 beacons to help guests find their seats and concessions. Even museums are using beacons, moving museum labels – the text that describes a piece of art or the contents of a room – from the wall to visitors’ smartphones. By providing businesses with another way to communicate with customers, beacons have the potential to increase sales without adding staff or other significant overhead.
  • Alternatives to email. As internet use became common, email emerged as the predominant way in which we communicate with each other – especially at work. It’s far from perfect, however – and its prominence is being challenged by alternatives. As far back as 2010, Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg claimed that only 11 percent of teens read email daily and that “Email…is probably going away.” While this may be an overstatement, it’s clear email is facing serious threats – and not only from text messaging and social media, which Sandberg cited as the two main competitors to email. Tools like Slack are also gaining prominence among workgroups looking for a better way to communicate. Given that email is often cited as one of the most effective ways to reach customers, marketers should be thinking about how they’ll adapt if email use declines – which seems likely.
  • The evolution of search. Since the advent of the consumer internet, we’ve searched for information almost exclusively by text. Accordingly, search engine optimization and marketing strategies have focused on keywords, links, and other text-based website elements. Google emerged as the clear favorite, capturing approximately 80 percent of search engine share. A funny thing happened on the way to Google’s world domination, however: the way we search began to change. Instead of typing “pediatrician” into Google, for example, we started going to Facebook and asking our friends, “Can anyone recommend a pediatrician?” The rapid adoption of devices like the Amazon Echo and Google Home is proving an even greater disruption, making it much more common for consumers to search via voice – a more natural, easier option than typing, at least for most people. There’s no question, therefore, that SEO and SEM will continue evolving as we become even more accustomed to asking our friends, Siri, Cortana, and Alexa, for information.
  • Virtual reality. Look at a photo of a television from 1950. Seems pretty antiquated, right? Well, today’s virtual reality systems will look just as outdated to future generations. The truth is, we’re only beginning to understand the possibilities of VR but, because it can replicate the physical world in ways that aren’t possible via text, photos, or two-dimensional video, it will impact nearly every industry. Campus tours in higher education, augmented entertainment experiences, previews of travel destinations – these are just a few examples. As VR moves out of the realm of science fiction, it will forever change the way businesses interact with, and market to, their customers.

Depending on your perspective, these changes may be incredibly exciting or absolutely terrifying. Regardless, these and other changes are inevitable as we continue to understand technology and look for new ways to communicate with one another. All of this is a great reminder that your future success won’t primarily be determined by your access to capital, ability to communicate, or knowledge of coding. It will all come down to your willingness to adapt.

Use social media to find your next great employee

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“Help wanted, you bum!” by Lorenia on Flickr

A few years ago, my company was looking to hire a media assistant. The hiring manager, Jill, wanted a good communicator well versed in Microsoft Excel. Armed with this information, I posted the opportunity on my social media profiles.

A few hours later, I received several responses, including one from my friend Nic, who at the time worked for Trine University. Nic identified a recent Trine grad, Anthony Boyer, who had the skills we were looking for and who would be a perfect match for our company – not incidental given the importance of cultural fit. After we contacted Anthony B. and interviewed him, it was clear Nic was right. Anthony started with us less than two weeks later.

This story exemplifies why social media is such a great recruiting tool. Because candidates are sourced through trusted intermediaries – like Nic in the story above – it often yields a better pool than traditional recruiting methods. The process generally moves much faster, too. And best of all, it can help you lower your costs, as was the case when we hired Anthony B. We never advertised the open media assistant position, nor did we pay a search firm or pay to post it on a job board. Our out-of-pocket cost was zero.

While it won’t likely yield all your future employees, social media should certainly be a central part of your recruiting toolkit. Here are a few ways to get the most from it:

1. Know – and seek to improve – your company’s online reputation. Most of us consult online reviews before purchasing products and services. The same is becoming true for those shopping for their next job. Before deciding whether to send a resume, they visit sites like Glassdoor.com to hear what current and past employees have to say. If the ratings are favorable, they’ll continue the conversation. If the ratings are low, they’ll move on.

At minimum, recruiters need to be aware of what’s being said about their company – but it’s even better if you can improve your online reputation. The first step is seeking to fix the things holding you back, thereby making it more likely your employees will speak favorably of you, online and elsewhere. In addition, it’s important to remember that the best antidote to bad reviews is good reviews. If you are confident you have a good working environment, ask your employees to review you online. Many of them would be willing to say good things if only they were asked. Finally, be sure to capture and share employee testimonials – ideally on video. These assets will work in your favor when they are discoverable online, either reinforcing positive reviews or counteracting negative ones.

2. Be sure you’re using the right platforms in the right way. LinkedIn is the undisputed champion of the social media recruiting world, preferred by 87 percent of recruiters, according to Jobvite’s 2016 “Recruiter Nation” survey. LinkedIn isn’t a magic bullet, however, and it doesn’t work well for all your open positions. Many candidates, especially those for entry-level, “blue-collar,” or retail jobs – just to name a few – may be better sourced on Facebook or other social media sites.

It’s not just about where you post, though; what you post is also critical. In today’s environment, every post should include a photo or graphic. My company, for example, uses simple visuals, overlaying the words “now hiring” on photos of our building and our people, paired with a few words about the open position and a call to action. This is more visually appealing and ensures the post will take up more real estate in the news feed, giving it a much better chance of being seen. An even better option, albeit with a higher degree of difficulty, is to use video whenever possible. Video is much more likely to be shared by your audience, meaning your content will reach candidates well beyond your sphere.

3. Get your employees involved. Since it first emerged, social media has been primarily used to connect us with friends and family. We connect with brands as a byproduct of this, but we’re still most interested in hearing from those we truly care about. If your company is only sharing opportunities via its corporate presence, then, you’re missing out.

To get more out of social media recruiting, ask your employees to share your job opportunities via their personal profiles. Some won’t – and that’s OK – but those who do will reach many quality candidates who wouldn’t see the posting otherwise. You’ll also be much more likely to reach candidates who are a good cultural fit and who have some accountability to those who get them in the door. To make the most of employee advocacy, provide incentives for those who source new hires and celebrate your successes.

As the employment environment gets more competitive, social media recruiting provides another means by which you can connect with candidates — and a true advantage if you do it well. Polish your online reputation, use the right tools, and get your employees involved, and you’ll see a significantly higher return on your investment in your greatest asset: your people.