Last night I completed a twelve hour round trip to Manchester after speaking at a conference, and finished my journey at Guildford station around 8.30pm.
I popped into M&S (Marks & Spencer) Food at the station, and along with about ten other people, tried to quickly grab something to eat for dinner. As we queued to pay, I noticed that there were only two people on duty, despite there being six check-out points. The two members of staff were positioned next to each other at adjacent positions.
Furthest away from me there was a polite, friendly, courteous and helpful young lady serving a customer, and next to her was a tall and confident young man who was inviting only customers who were paying with a card to come forward because he had no change. People called out to enquire what the minimum payment was that he could take on a card, but out of everyone queuing up, nobody was paying with plastic. So he just stood there.
So we all had to wait for the young lady – who seemed to have plenty of cash in the drawer of her till. Now, I know what you’re thinking… because I was thinking the same.
When it was my turn, my items came to a total of £10.11. I handed over a twenty pound note, apologised that I had nothing smaller and asked if she was able to spare the change. “Yes thank you” she assured me with a smile.
“Could your colleague possibly borrow some change so that these other customers can be served?” I enquired.
“Oh, we’re not allowed to do that. There are lots of rules.”
“It sounds like simple common-sense to me” I added helpfully.
“We’re not allowed that either” came her reply with a friendly wink.
I smiled back, thanked her and went on my way as she added a cheery “Have a nice evening Sir.”
In the great scheme of things, this isn't a particularly remarkable story, but a simple demonstration of how some businesses put rules before common-sense solutions to help customers. But what is remarkable and exciting, is that in this day and age, through Social Media and blogging we can share folly like this with other people and hopefully prompt a change in a company’s approach to customer service.
I work with both large and small businesses to help them to increase sales through LinkedIn and other Social Media. Some industries really struggle with Social Media, and are literally terrified of what might happen when they start using it to truly engage with today’s Internet-savvy consumers. Some industries have other reasons to be cautious because they also have to consider regulation and compliance.
The common denominator amongst these businesses is that for the most part, they see Social Media as a broadcast tool – to communicate messages, to sell, to promote and to articulate marketing messages. What they often ignore or forget is the massive potential to be gained by using Social Media to listen to customers rather than to talk at them. But often they don’t listen – or won’t as the case may be.
Quite recently, a global corporate client (who wasn't in a regulated industry) told me that whilst they are keen to use Social Media, they consider communications from customers who are using Social Media to be less important or significant than those who communicate with them through traditional communication tools such as the telephone, letters and email. In fact, “we deliberately ignore customers who contact us via Twitter”.
I wanted to be clear on this and checked:
“So you choose to ignore customers who want to engage with you through Twitter, but you respond if they contact you through more traditional means?”
“Yes” was the answer.
Their reasoning turned out to be that they felt Twitter to be a trivial and less serious form of communication. Perhaps I’m biased, but something tells me that this just isn't tenable in this day and age. Am I wrong?
But what these companies are conveniently forgetting is that their customers on Twitter and elsewhere are far more concerned about customer service than the means by which they communicate, and are using Social Media to talk about them, their brand, their products and their service out loud and it would seem behind their backs. And yes, they use Social Media to talk about brands and companies when they do things well too.
So not only are these companies failing to engage with customers at a human level, but they are missing out on hearing feedback, ideas, and valuable pearls of wisdom that might make their business or customer proposition even better. In short, whether people use Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn, Google+ or something else, Social Media is merely software. Behind every communication to a company or brand or organisation – however that communication may be articulated, is a real person – a customer or potential customer who just wants better service. Nothing more.
I tell you this story of an otherwise uninteresting trip to M&S Food, because I can. You may have experienced something similar and I’d be interested in hearing about it. But the question has to be, does M&S and other big brands want to hear about it, so that they can do something about it, or is Social Media just an irritant that they wish would go away?
Social Media works both ways. Yes, there are fantastic and exciting tools to broadcast information to customers, but the price to pay for having powerful broadcast tools is that customers will also use them to tell you their feelings about your product or service. And they can shout a lot louder than you can online.
If brands say they are serious about using Social Media to talk to customers, then they also have to be serious about using it to listen to customers too.
By Philip Calvert
A question on Google+ recently asked how to create a Group on LinkedIn which achieves active engagement. I replied, but have taken the opportunity to expand on it here with some further ideas. It is not exhaustive but here are some key points to creating and running a thriving community/group on the LinkedIn site.
I've created many groups on LinkedIn, one of which has almost 15,000 members with around 100 new people joining it every week. LinkedIn Groups are one of my top three sources of new clients and speaking engagements and here are a few of the ways that I maintain engagement with it. Make your plan
To get straight to the point - the way I look at is to imagine that you have to address a room full of people every morning - they could be classmates, employees, colleagues, your bosses, seminar attendees, prospects, customers - any group of people that you might want to engage with. Ask yourself what you would do or say to them to get their attention every day. And I mean every day.
Tips, ideas, resources, feedback, comment, observation, news, links, a little gossip, motivation, controversy, critique - and then more of the same.
Make your group indispensable to them; make it somewhere they will want to visit every day because it adds value to their work or lives. Pick a target/niche group and feed them these tasty morsels on a daily basis. After a while, they will start to bring their own tips, ideas, resources etc. which they will share within the group.Visibility
Wherever possible, make it an Open group on LinkedIn – that way people can see the content – and most importantly whenever there is some activity in the group it goes onto the main LinkedIn home page stream – thus making it even more visible. The more activity in the group, the more visible it becomes. You’ll often find that people who are not members will ‘Like’, comment or share a post – so attracting new members. Communicate
There's also a great tool which allows you to email everyone in the group. But use that tool sparingly
; we use it once every month/two months as a vehicle to ask people to comment on a particular thread/topic. The results can be outstanding - often resulting in many hundreds of comments on a given thread.
From time to time, we arrange offline meetings for group members - networking meetings, seminars etc. This really brings the group to life and people can connect face-to-face. Another way to engage with members is to set up a webcast on another platform on a topic of relevance and then promote it to the group. If the webcast is subsequently available on demand, you will often receive comments and emails long after it was broadcast. Put a link to it in the Manager’s Choice area of your group.
Another valuable feature often missed by group owners is the auto responder tool. LinkedIn give you the opportunity to send template emails to people when they request to join, when you accept them to the group or when you decline their membership (membership can be automatic, but you do have the option to moderate each membership request). Your auto responder email is a great opportunity to do human things like thank them for their interest and to politely direct them to the group rules. And yes, you could include a subtle promotional message in the email too.
I also run a group for financial advisers, and in one of the auto responder emails is an invitation to visit our main website, and I regularly see people joining our main website just seconds after they have joined the LinkedIn group. Content
On a side note - expect to get spammers who turn up only to promote their own wares. In all our groups we carefully set the moderation settings so that the topic of the group stays on track. Use the Rules section of groups to tell people how the group will be run. Stick to your rules and don't be afraid to tell people why you have rules when they get in touch with you to question a deletion that you might have made.
You will also find that some people post material, but it is in the form of nothing more than a link to their own blog or website. Whilst on the surface they are adding value to the group, in fact they are often simply trying to get people to go to their
website/blog rather than your group. It’s up to you to decide if you want to include or exclude links to external blogs – but if you want people to engage in your group, then you need to be sparing about how many external links you allow to be posted. Focus and effort
If you want a thriving group where everyone benefits (including you), be clear about the focus of the group and stick to it. Constantly keep a mind-set of 'adding value'. 'Feed the fish in your pond' on a regular basis and you will be rewarded.
Be under no illusion that once set up, your group will run itself. It won’t unless you are happy for the content to be dictated by spammers. It can often take a lot of hard work to keep adding great content, moderating and keeping it relevant to your membership – but treat your group as an asset of your business and you will find that it brings you, and your members immense value over time.
And because it’s an asset of your business, you should treat it and promote it as such. Tell people about your group and how they will benefit by joining it. Promote it on your website, on your business cards, in presentations that you give, on other social networking profiles that you have and whenever you interact with clients, business introducers and other interested parties.
And don’t forget to regularly check the statistics section of your group, where you can see a wealth of data relating to activity and users. Also check out your own website stats to see how many people are coming through to it from your LinkedIn group. Very often you will be pleasantly surprised.Community is everything
The core point of your group is to build Community around you, your service and your brand. The more value you add to your Community, the more responsive they become to any sales messages that you want to put out. Whatever anyone tells you, you can
promote and sell products and services direct to your group membership – providing you already have a great reputation for regularly and consistently adding value to your group.
One idea that works well, is to create a Tips Booklet or eBook that is exclusive to the members of your group, and where the subject of your eBook will obviously be relevant to the topic of the group. Post a thread in your group about it (with a link to a page on your own website where they can purchase it), and add the thread to the Manager's Choice section where it is permanently visible to members. Over time you will see a steady trickle of sales and income.
The more value you add to your group, the more valuable it will be to you. Use your group as a listening post – listen carefully to what people talk about in your group, take note of their concerns, observe their comments on the various topics and look out for bright ideas that they might come up with that you could take forward for yours and their benefit.Create ripples
Occasionally throw pebbles into your pond. Create ripples by occasionally (and I mean occasionally) posting something slightly controversial. This often attracts a lot of comments and engagement – but use this technique sparingly. And once in a while you can throw a brick in the water – something that really gets everyone talking! But again, this is more advanced stuff - use it extremely carefully or you will end up with a group where all you see is ranting and raving where nobody benefits at all.Expertise matters
You will also find that running a successful group creates the perception that you are an authority on a given subject. Indeed, you do need to have a certain amount of expertise on that subject in order to be able to post regular material in the group. But that authority is part of the attraction for people of joining your group, and over time being perceived as an (if not the
) expert will pay dividends.
I hope this has been of help. When you have a group where people regularly visit and engage, you will be amazed at how much business can come of it and how many doors unexpectedly open for you. Here are a few topics which are proven to get engagement during the early phase of running a group. Feel free to use them in your own LinkedIn group:
- Ask people to list out their Twitter ID. People can’t resist that one!
- Ask people to post a link to their Facebook business page. Again, they will happily do that.
- What’s your all-time favourite motivational quotation?
- What are the best books available on [theme of your group]?
- What one barrier is holding you back from achieving your goals in [theme of your group]?
- Summary of the news over the previous week in your industry
- What’s the best thing that has happened to you this week?
By Philip Calvert
It never ceases to amaze me when I come across someone in business who doesn’t have any form of Internet presence.
I remember Ecademy co-founder Thomas Power telling me almost ten years ago “if you’re not on Google, you don’t exist”
. At the time, some people felt that was a slight exaggeration, but we all knew exactly what he meant.
In an era when in business most of us Google someone before meeting them for the first time, clearly it is important to be as visible as possible online, and it goes without saying that there are more than enough tools to help us to grow and build not only an impressive online presence but also to build a notable online reputation. (In fact, I tend to use LinkedIn more than Google when I'm looking to find people).
So twice in a couple of weeks I have felt physically disappointed not to have been able to find two people online – on one occasion when I was in a position to help them find a job and the other when I wanted to hire someone to do some computer repairs.
The former was, in her own words “a top financial planner for my company in Australia and in Singapore when we moved there”
. She added “I was also one of the company’s top performers in London when I was based at Canary Wharf”
I had no reason to doubt her, and given that she had recently been made redundant from her role with a major bank, I was in a position to introduce her to a number of financial planning firms who were looking for talented financial planners such as her.
Having taken her business card, I went straight onto LinkedIn to learn a little more about her. To my frustration, whilst I was able to find her profile, it showed only her name and her former company. No detail, no specialties, no skills, no testimonials and no contact details. In an age when you expect
to be able to find even the most basic career information about people – let alone photos and an insight into their interests outside work, I actually felt irritated.
True, not everyone is fully engaged with the Internet or Social Media. Indeed, none of it is compulsory. But surely everyone in business – whether employed or unemployed should by now have an appreciation that there is always someone ‘out there’ who is looking for a person like you; and if you don’t have even the most standard of online profiles, the assumption is that you don’t exist.
Having recently upgraded my PC to Windows 8, after an initial hatred of the platform I grew to quite like it. Then, after one week of using it, my PC decided not to start. It ran all the usual diagnostic and repair processes, tried to find a restore point etc., but all to no avail. And it still won’t start - somewhat ironic for Microsoft.
So I searched online for a local computer repair service and was ready to give two firms a call – only for my wife to suggest that I get in touch with someone else – the father of one of my daughter’s school friends. Apparently he was a computer repair wizard and this sort of thing was right up his street. And anyway, it would be nice to give the business to someone with whom we were already vaguely acquainted.
Having searched for his name and various permutations on ‘PC repair’ keywords around where he lives, he too is completely invisible online - nothing on Google, nothing on Bing and nothing on LinkedIn. And no we don’t have his phone number or email address, and no I don’t want to wait until Monday to try and meet him in the school playground. The Internet is now my telephone directory and if you’re not in it, you don’t exist and you don’t get my business.
My background is in financial services, where I run a social networking site for financial advisers
. According to one set of figures, around 20% of financial adviser firms still don’t have a website. People from other industries find this unbelievable, and frankly I do too.
True, some people are far too
visible online! But better that we can see that they are live and kicking, engaging with other people online and in many cases adding value to everyone else’s online experience.
Being invisible online today is in my view no longer an option. Come out – show yourself!
Some of us might just want to help you, or heaven forbid - even purchase something from you!Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Such is my social whirl that I've been to two parties in the last two weeks. Neither were formal dinner parties; the group of forty-something invitees spent both evenings lounging around the kitchens of our hosts, beers and wines in hand and engaging in social chit chat around kids, sport and... Social Media.
So whilst we were socialising face-to-face, we were also talking about socialising online. Pictures were duly taken on iPhones, posted to Facebook and hangovers were Liked and shared the following day.
Pretty well everyone in those kitchens was on Facebook, but many admitted being a little bored with endless pictures of cute kittens, puppies (my own puppy included), baby rabbits and inspirational quotations. And we’re just weeks away now from endless photos of Christmas trees...
No, it seems the forty-something employee or business owner is looking for somewhere a little more ‘substantial’ to do their online socialising, and it turns out that LinkedIn is ticking the right boxes for many of them.
Out of all the party goers, only one was actually looking for a new job, so why would LinkedIn increasingly be their online party venue of choice? After all, whilst LinkedIn has evolved into a powerful real-time networking platform, there is still much about Facebook that is highly appealing.
To start with, by the time we get into our forties, many are making good progress in their career or are building their own businesses. Either way, they now see LinkedIn as their default search engine when looking for information about people they are about to meet at work or potential partners, suppliers or clients in their business. And yes, if they are looking for a job, they can use LinkedIn for that too.
And every day we’re spending more time on LinkedIn. Even in my own niche of Social Media Sales within regulated industries where many people are still figuring out the benefits of ‘Social’, we can quite clearly see them spending more and more time on the site.
'People buy people' has always been the sales mantra, and most of us now 'get' that an attractive, compelling, intriguing online profile is essential in today's Internet world. Indeed, many of us are discovering new things about the professional lives our fellow party guests - and we love it. Yes, we’re still intrigued by their holiday snaps on Facebook, but we’re increasingly intrigued by their professional activities, their business skills, where they came from and what makes them tick.
I already know that my friend Brian adores his tennis (he tells us about it ad nauseum on Facebook), but what I only recently discovered is that he's an ace copywriter and has a background in graphic design.
Serena posts pictures of her chickens almost every week, and love her as we do, I might soon be tempted to go round there and stock up my freezer. But again, a quick voyeuristic glance at her LinkedIn profile tells me plenty that I didn't know. Guess what, she used to be a forensic accountant until she gave it up to start a family.
And what about Mike who adores his gadgets and his golf and his gardening? Turns out that in a former life he used to be a fighter pilot and is still qualified to fly light aircraft. He has some inspirational stories to tell.
I've known Brian, Serena and Mike for several years, but I didn't know anything of their work/business skills. I've never needed to; they have always been just mates I meet at parties or in the school playground; they’ve certainly never been part of my business circle.
So armed with this information, what can I do with it?
Quite apart from giving me a more rounded knowledge of my friends, I can now use it in my networking and can potentially connect them with people who might need their skills. But most importantly it shows them in a new light – one which adds flesh to the bones of the relationship we have on Facebook.
And right on cue comes a new feature on LinkedIn called ‘Skills Endorsements’, where at the click of a mouse we can say how much we acknowledge and appreciate our contacts’ skills (even if we haven’t actually experienced them); a kind of professional version of the Facebook ‘Like’. The very excellent Chris Voss describes it as ‘the gamification of LinkedIn’, and it wouldn't surprise me if we soon see more features which make LinkedIn more fun and engaging. After all, games were one of the key drivers of Facebook...
I for one am enjoying seeing more of a human touch appearing on LinkedIn profiles, where we get to see more of the people behind the masks. However well optimised your profile is and however high up the search results you appear, you still need to stand out from the crowd to win the business, make the new connection or get the job.
Appearing high in the search results is soon not going to be enough; to be attractive and compelling to future employers, potential business partners and new clients, we’ll need to learn how to be significantly more engaging online. Our profiles will need to be infinitely more than a resume with a few endorsements of our skills; and employers, business partners and customers will want to see much more of the person behind the skills.
Whilst LinkedIn is yet to have the mass appeal of Facebook, with a little care, thought and imagination we can make it a real asset in our online lives – and still have fun too.
By Philip Calvert
LinkedIn Skills Endorsements
The launch of skills endorsements is one of the most simple, but exciting developments that LinkedIn has announced in recent times, and continues to cement their position as the foremost business focused social networking site. It also gives profile pages some long overdue interactivity.
Until now, LinkedIn profiles have been little more than a shop window for an individual’s expertise, with testimonials being the only way that contacts can publicly acknowledge that expertise. Often though, testimonials on a profile page can be long and well, rather tedious, with many people simply scrolling past them unread – somewhat defeating the object of having them on your profile in the first place.
LinkedIn needed something a little shorter and with more focus which could acknowledge specific skills of an individual – but without resorting to the simple Facebook-style ‘Like’ button. And skill endorsements seem to do just the job.
Here are a few tips on how to make the most of the new feature as a valuable personal branding tool. Look closely at your skills list
Firstly, on your own LinkedIn profile page, revisit your skills list and remove any that might just be ‘padding’. Whilst it’s nice to potentially receive endorsements for a wide range of skills, few of us want to be seen as a ‘Jack of all trades’.
Expertise in specific niches will become increasingly valuable, so don’t include skills which are only there to fuel your ego. And if you are using LinkedIn to look for a job, you can bet your bottom dollar that potential employers and recruiters will ask you to account for the skills listed on your profile, so edit your skills list ruthlessly.
As and when you receive endorsements for skills, LinkedIn automatically lists them on your profile with those receiving the most endorsements from the top down, so it is better that you are seen to have many endorsements for a few skills rather than watering down the ‘votes’ across multiple skills. In short, the list with its endorsements needs to very clearly show that you are an expert in specific areas.
When someone visits your profile, at the top of the page LinkedIn displays a limited selection of skills from your list for people to endorse. The selection displayed is random, so without looking at your full list of skills, some people may ‘accidentally’ choose to endorse you for skills which are near the bottom of your list and miss the skills for which you would prefer to have endorsements. So again, it’s important that the skills you list really are the ones which you want to be known for most of all. Set your expertise level
A little-known feature of the Skills section on your LinkedIn profile is that you can set your proficiency level for each skill from Beginner to Expert with Intermediate and Advanced as other options. You can also show how many years you have had that skill. Simply visit your Skills section, click on the skill concerned and set proficiency and time accordingly. Do it now, it might make all the difference to whether you win a new contract or new job. Endorsing other people and being endorsed raises your profile
The news skills endorsements will also help to promote you and the person endorsing you. This is because when someone highlights a skill you have, it appears in their activity timeline and on your own – thus your contacts and their contacts potentially get to see the endorsement, so increasing the likelihood of a visit to your profile.
So take some time to visit some of your top contacts’ profile pages and endorse their skills. This is not only something that they will appreciate, but will make you more visible on LinkedIn. Interact with skills updates on the LinkedIn home page
When someone adds skills to their profile page, it appears on the LinkedIn home page timeline. Not only could you endorse those skills, you can also ‘Like’ or Comment on that addition on the home page timeline – again making you more visible and also making the other person feel good.
On the LinkedIn home page, from time to time you will see that people have been endorsed for their skills; again you could ‘Like’ the endorsement publicly. Give to get
Like all good networkers, give before you take, so use the skills endorsement feature to show other people that you acknowledge their skills. We all like to be acknowledged, and you will find that some people reciprocate after you have endorsed one or more of their skills. Be polite and acknowledge endorsements
And finally a small but important point. When someone endorses your skills, take a moment to thank them with a brief note – either through the LinkedIn message system or by email. Alternatively a public way to thank someone for an endorsement is to click the ‘Like’ button under the endorsement when it shows up in your Activity box on your profile page. They will appreciate your thanks and may well spark a conversation which could lead somewhere useful.
LinkedIn have done a great job with the news skills endorsements feature. Use it to both acknowledge your contacts’ skills and also to raise your own profile on the site.
For even more proven tips on how to attract new customers and to leverage LinkedIn, take a look at our special 300 Tips
One of, if not the central benefits and tenets of using Social Media, is the human, conversational aspect of it, which allows people to feel that you are being engaged with, rather than being advertised at.
‘People buy people’ and all that, and great use of Social Media helps to replicate the human experience. Getting a human face into your Social Media efforts is, not surprisingly a key part of humanising your brand online – something that most marketers agree is essential for companies who are looking to engage with and add value to their customers.
So it was with some disappointment when I turned on the sports news on television this morning, to be greeted by a clutch of Premier League football managers explaining to the media how they saw this weekend’s games panning out. They sounded like they were preparing for a funeral.
True, most Premiership football managers usually tend to address the media in a tone that suggests they are about to lose their job, and this may well impact their demeanour, but come on guys – cheer up! Let’s see some energy, spirit and fight and let’s kick into touch the incessant dour expressions.
If that’s your idea of a human face, then frankly it doesn’t have much appeal to me, or I’m sure many other people. I don’t know about you, but the people and brands who use Social Media to try and engage with me, need to be friendly, approachable, upbeat and helpful; you know, kind of normal.
And when I stop to think about the companies and brands whose updates I most enjoy on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, they all, without exception have a human face – and an attractive, sociable, responsive one at that.
Does your brand have an open, pleasant, gracious and friendly human face online? Do you listen, answer questions and help people out – or does your brand's face look miserable and depressing to the core?
I know which I prefer.
Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net