Lately I’ve been both thinking a lot about community. There’s an awful lot of buzz out there on what the most important aspect of community truly is. Some believe it’s the sheer number of followers, likes, friends, etc. Many push out copy and content that is irrelevant to the community they are serving, just for the sake of regurgitating something to the masses; upping their tweet count and Facebook posts, and hoping to increase their search rankings. Although the thought of having the “most” is intriguing, I am not so sure that it’s the best way to go about things.
Let’s take a step back here, and think about an example I’m sure we can all relate to. High school; where popularity was king. Many of us spent four years fighting to have the most friends, feel included, and to make sure people knew who we were. Quantity over quality was the teenage mindset. Looking back in time, it all seems a bit foolish. After all, how many of us now are still friends with everyone that we went to high school with? The friends we focused so much time and energy to impress and accumulate aren’t relevant anymore, or in some cases are now all just Facebook connections we rarely if ever talk to. The fact is the few people who really matter are still in your life. It’s that group of a select few (the quality relationships).that stood the test of time and you are proud to still have connections with.
The same can be said for how we look at the communities sprouting up all over the internet through various social platforms. Why is it the same? It’s because at the core of it all we are still dealing with people. That has not changed. Although, the way we communicate with each other is continuously evolving. Ten, even five years ago who would have thought we could be friends with and communicate with a brand like we do now via social networks. Relationships with both friends and brands alike are not immune to falling apart if the quality isn’t there. The number of likes, followers, and friends doesn’t matter so much; or rather it’s not the only thing that matters. What does matter is the richness of the relationship that you have with each of them.
People are attracted to the idea of a social network, group, community, because they bring people together. But with all relationships (both with individuals and brands) it’s the quality of the relationships that we have that keep us coming back for more. The communities that will be successful long term will be those focused on providing a sense of richness, value, and purpose for their members. Those communities/ brands that are wondering why business results are stagnant, customer complaints are high or people have just lost interest are still just focused on the quantity of it all.
*Photo Credit http://bostinnovation.com
Just as I do every year, I wait until the last minute to do my holiday shopping. Each year I vow to buy everything online, yet for some reason it never seems to work out. Tonight I found myself all over town trying to make gift selections for those dearest to me. As I fought the crowds I kept myself entertained reading the colorful tweets prior to tonights contraversal football game featuring the typical Brett Favre shenanigans, that seem to be never ending (retire already). Blazing a trail through the newly fallen snow, I also was certain to check-in via foursquare as I visited various retailers hoping to unlock a great special or a new badge. Mission accomplished, as I unlocked “the bookworm” badge upon my check-in at Barnes & Noble tonight!
New badge earned and in a better mood now, I carried on with the shopping bonanza and ventured across town to a favorite retailer of mine, REI. Getting out of my car and walking to the door I check-in, nothing to unlock here but at least I know i’ll enjoy the time I spend while in this store. My ten plus years in the outdoor industry has spoiled me when it comes to high end sporting goods. I enter the front door and then I see it. A very large sign encouraging customers to “check-in” on facebook places with their smart phones. For every check-in REI was going to donate $50 to the Ice Age Trail for maintenance.
I sat there thinking to myself, now in the mobile phone industry and a social media junkie, wow this is awesome! I was so geeked that REI was using location based social media to not only bring more visibility to their business, but also to create a deeper connection with their customers! These donations for simply visiting and checking in truly go a long way in building those all important connections to the communities in which retailers do business. I proudly checked in, and am looking forward to my next hike on the Ice Age Trail, knowing that REI helped to maintain it using social media as a catalyst.
Albeit tiny in scope, this is a great example of the power of social media in action and at its best. You know darn well I tweeted about this right away with the hopes to draw even more people into REI. It also shows a simple way location based social media applications can be used to drive increased brand awareness, connect with your target customers, increase sales, and lead to brand evangelists.
Tonight was a pretty outstanding evening for me from a social media perspective. New badge unlocked and $50 donated to a local trail, all by simply checking-in. My passion for customer service and the social media space causes me to stop think about how retailers are doing business and connecting with their customers quite often; tonight was a good night to reflect on that.
For those of you wondering, I still didn’t finish my holiday shopping. Four days left.
From a blogging perspective I’ve been pretty quiet lately. The past couple of months has been the final push in training our teams and preparing to “Wake Up” the wireless industry with The Belief Project from U.S. Cellular®. Although time consuming as a leader responsible for training associates for launch, the preparation was worth it as our company sought to change the way wireless companies do business. I am extremely proud of my team for their additional commitment to learning and creating an enhanced customer experience. Additional pride is felt in knowing I work for a company that is focused on creating an environment that gains and retains customers with forward thinking programs, and rewards for loyalty. In today’s corporate world there are not too many people that get as excited about the company they work for as U.S. Cellular® associates do.
Anyways, “shop talk” aside, back to the reason for this post today. Today I had the day off but for the most part I felt under the weather today, the start of a cold I presume. Unfortunate, as I would have loved to enjoy the beautiful day outside on a hike or even doing yard work; there is lots to do in the way of yard prep for winter. Instead I spent the day indoors juggling a fussy baby (we’re sick at the same time) and trying to put together a presentation on leveraging Twitter for business. I was recently asked to discuss how I have built a large repeat customer base and utilized Twitter to provide a heightened degree of customer service for the WCTC DECA Organization. I was honored to have been asked, and will be speaking this Wednesday morning.
After giving some thought as to what my discussion will entail, I have decided to pull from a several resources. For starters I am going to draw from a presentation I gave to my BNI chapter which covers an overview of what Social Media is and how it can be a low cost and highly effective tool for business. I will also be pulling from a blog post I wrote regarding Three Themes for Success in Social Media. In addition to those items I am going to pull from the successes I have found in building a customer base and creating a high level of customer service via Twitter.
I am looking forward to the opportunity to share what I found has worked in building my personal brand, and creating loyal customers. There is significant potential in leveraging Social Media to create an impression on people as well as build your business. Hopefully sharing my journey on how I’ve developed new and repeat business through Twitter will allow others to find their niche as well.
Imagine with me for a moment…
After a series of storms, which made road travel nearly impossible, you choose to stay the night at a relative’s house to ensure your family’s safety. The next day you’re excited to return to your residence which was just made officially a home as you welcomed a new baby to the world just months earlier. Life is good for your young family, and the future is looking pretty bright. Morning now, the rain has passed and you start your journey home; only to realize as you drive through your neighborhood that something’s not right. Piles of wet carpet, garbage, and damaged furniture line the street leading up to your home.
Thoughts of happiness turn to quickly fear and uncertainty as it is clear the neighborhood was flooded during last nights storm. You pull into your drive way, sick, realizing you had no basement, and are reluctant to open the door to your family home for fear of facing reality. Eventually you muster the courage to enter your abode, yet what you find is surreal. The flood waters clearly breached the dwelling and reached depths of 2-3 ft throughout. Your home, now severely damaged and unlivable is completely destroyed.
The dream is gone.
Not knowing where to start, you make several calls to your insurance company, at least they can help. Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse your agent delivers a below the belt punch and tells you the damage to your home is not covered. You don’t have flood insurance, says your agent, thanks for playing, we wish you well in your future endeavors. Flood insurance? Why would you ever consider flood coverage? As you live no where close to a lake or river. Maybe there is hope? What about FEMA? Wrong! The damage was not substantial enough to qualify (at least for right now). What would your young newly formed family do now? There is no way possible you could afford to rebuild your home without taking out significant loans, and becoming overrun by debt. Luck, if there is such a thing has run out.
Unfortunately the above story was a sad reality for the Cigelske’s, a Milwaukee area family, during the #BrewCityFlood in July 2010. Not knowing what to do or which way to turn, Tim Cigelske shared his story in a touching blog post via Twitter, which prompted many on the tightly woven online community to ask how they could help. Tim (@teecycletim) is no stranger to social media heading up online communications for Marquette University, and founder of Teecycle.org where his company sells reclaimed t-shirts and donates a portion of the proceeds to help save urban rivers and trails in Milwaukee. Naturally he wanted to share his experience with his connections online. What was about to ensue over the next month went beyond his family’s wildest dreams, and brought an online community closer together in an effort to help rebuild the Cigelske family home and help #saveteecycle.
The link to Tim’s initial blog post quickly spread throughout Wisconsin and beyond via Twitter, where several people, strangers really, were quick to ask how they could help. A group in Indiana even sent the Cigelske’s an ample supply of baby supplies to help alleviate at least once necessity at the top of the young family’s mind. Soon after the story was circulated two members of the Milwaukee area Twitter community truly came to the forefront in an effort to help this family get back on their feet. Enter complete strangers, Sue Spaight (@suespaight) and Katie Klein-Murphy (@bootyp) and the birth of www.saveteecycle.org.
Together these two women realized a need to step up, and took immediate action to make things right for this family. At first Sue and Katie started a website explaining the Cigelske’s story along with a link to accept donations to aide in the rebuilding of their home. The website generated significant traffic and received an outpouring of support, including donations both personal and corporate. What happened next took me by surprise, as it’s not to often you see complete strangers make it their mission to help each other. The website served as a catalyst for greatness, creating even more interest in helping to get the Cigelske family back home.
With more awareness came an increase in people “tweeting” about the cause. This in turn inspired several businesses and individuals to partner with Sue, Katie, and www.saveteecycle.org to rebuild the Cigelske’s home. In a generous donation the Cigelske family received all new windows for their home, from Renewal by Andersen. Another one of the key players in rehabilitating the Cigelske home was William Ryan Homes represented by Craig Vermeulen (@WilliamRyanRE). As an avid member of the local Twitter community Craig knew he needed to do what he could to help this family in need.
Craig leveraged his connection to William Ryan Homes, and was able to donate all of the labor, and purchase supplies at contractor prices, in an effort to rebuild the Cigelske’s home. Craig and his team of contractors worked on this project before and after hours for several weeks, rehabilitating the destroyed home to it’s original glory. When I asked Craig why he worked so hard to help the Cigelske’s his answer spoke to his remarkable character. “I helped because I could…it was the right thing to do. If my family was in a similar position, I know someone would do the same for us.”
Additional steps were taken by Sue and Katie in an effort to make things whole again for the Cigelske’s. They planned a benefit on September 18, 2010 for the family to raise additional funds to ensure the costs to rebuild the home were covered. With hard work these amazing women secured some solid partnerships ensuring the benefit would be a success. Sprecher Brewery graciously offered to donate the venue, creating a perfect atmosphere for the benefit. Delicious food was donated for the event by COA (@GetCOA) in Milwaukee, who also donated a portion of their restaurant sales to the #saveteecycle fund. COA specializes in authentic Mexican cuisine, so needless to say this stuff was tasty, and was a big hit among guests at the event. Sue and Katie also secured an extensive array of silent auction, and raffle items from various individuals and businesses throughout the community. A final tally of supporters for the #Saveteecycle event puts attendance north of 200 people. I truly feel passionately that because of Sue Spaight’s and Katie Klein-Murphy’s unselfishness and stewardship, a deserving family was saved from tragedy. Their courage to stand up, take charge, and make things happen for the Cigelske’s (at the time total strangers), is an inspiration and a triumph for Milwaukee’s social media scene.
The #SaveTeecycle benefit accomplished several things looking back now. First and foremost, the Cigelske’s can now move home! Craig Vermeulen and his team at William Ryan Homes, finished the rehabilitation and were able to turn the keys over to a family that hasn’t been home in months. The big reveal was viewed at the benefit live, via video from Dan Wilde (@dwilde), to the surprise of all in attendance (watch the reveal here) (Fantastic work with the video Dan). With the generosity of the community through various ways of donating, all of the costs of the rehab were covered. Additional funds collected will go to help neighboring families that also suffered loss due to the <a hr
I am sure we can both agree that Social Media as we know it is not going away anytime soon. Sure it will evolve, take on a new flavor, social networking sites will come and go, but Social Media as we know it has become a fundamental way our culture chooses to share and gather information about the world around them. Think about it. Have you ever asked your social networks for advice on a product and or service before you yourself made the purchase? I know I have and would be willing to wager that many of you have done the same before making said purchase. The fact of the matter is that we have built trust with many of those in our social networks, we value their opinions, and we rely on them for advice at times. Why wouldn’t we tap into that as a resource?
As an avid user of several Social Media channels (Twitter being a current favorite – yet they all have their place), I have had ample opportunity to meet and engage many people, willing to help me become more successful in this arena. With their help, coaching, and foresight over the last year, I feel more confident in my approach to Social Media. Let me be the first to tell you I have gotten some constructive feedback in the past when I was starting out, but learned from it, tweaked my approach, and improved. Due to the assistance others have given me I am not only using these mediums to build stronger personal relationships, but also leveraging the power of relationships to improve business results within my work life.
During this time I have picked up on, what I believe to be a three key re-occurring themes, which those successful in the Social Media arena have embraced and are doing very well. The observed themes have helped me to enhance my ability to build online relationships with people (many of which have turned into face to face interactions), build trust, build loyalty, and help others in the process. Also noted was a clear distinction between those that “get it” and those that just don’t have a clue. If you find yourself having to think about which category you fall into, I have bad news – It’s probably the latter.
Now for the good news, there is hope, but it takes an open mind and a willingness to learn from others around you that have in fact found success developing relationships through the Social Media vehicle. In an arena such as Social Media, that is changing every day, no one is an expert – it’s simply not possible. There is certainly room for people to claim to be knowledgeable and have a great sense of direction on how to leverage Social Media, but to dub oneself as an expert in an arena that changes almost every day, that’s a little far fetched. Egos need to be checked at the door to truly get ahead in Social Media.
As mentioned above I wanted to highlight the three themes found over the past year as I have worked to move effectively leverage Social Media in my life. First and foremost you need to be willing to listen. People are using Social Media as a sounding board, a place to socialize, get information, and yes even a place to vent. Watch the feeds, monitor what people are saying, especially about your brand, and acknowledge concerns. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to reach back out to people when they have a concern or problem with something you said, posted, or experienced with a product or service you offered. The fact that you took the time to respond to those concerns shows you were listening. Thank customers and potential customers for discussing your brand, offer creative solutions to problems, and work to take escalated issues offline for resolution. These actions go a long way in showing Social Media users that you are in fact listening to them.
Second you need to engage with people. This can be done in a manner of ways such as asking questions, creating polls, and posting valuable content related to your professional field or areas of interest. Another way to engage online is to involve your self in the conversation with others. Add value, insight, and a new perspective with your comments or responses. Over time people will embrace the contributions you have to offer. Lastly one of the most important ways to engage online is to help others. This can be done by reposting their content to your networks helping spread the word about their cause and/or moving the information onto a larger circle of people.
Recently there was an amazing example of this happening in Milwaukee, WI. A local White Fish Bay resident recently lost the majority of their home by way of having their entire neighborhood flooded about six weeks ago in a large rainstorm. After the rain passed the family was advised that insurance would not cover any of the damage to the home. One of the members of the family, Tim Cigelski (@teecycletim), was already giving so much to the online community in addition to running an amazing business and website www.teecycle.org, that is helping to reuse our resources in a more responsible way.
A Two wonderful members of the Twitter community Sue Spaight (@SueSpaight) & Katie Klein-Murphy (@Bootyp) decided to step up and give back creating a movement to help Tim and his family rebuild the damaged home. The movement that was started was #SaveTeecycle (as a searchable hash tag on Twitter) or online at www.saveteecycle.org. This movement quickly went viral receiving support from Twitter users everywhere re posting the message that this family needed help. The movement even began to gain support from many local businesses that were able to donate money, supplies, and offer their assistance to get the family’s home rebuilt. Just last night it was highlighted on the Channel 4 news for the entire viewing area to see. In the end the movement is on pace to generate enough awareness and funds to not only help rebuild the Cigelski family home, but also some of the neighboring homes as well.
The third theme I have observed of those successful in leveraging Social Media is the ability to create positive awareness for your brand (from both a personal and corporate brand position). This is first done by adding value to the online landscape. Monitor your verbiage, be tactful, and professional. The online communities are already full of nonsense talk and clutter. Rise above the rest and stand out above the noise. By being unique and creative online you will draw others to you and your brand increasing your overall awareness in the marketplace. It’s also ok to share what you or your business is doing within the community to give back to others. To me this shows you have goals to make the world a better place and don’t just have a what’s in it for me attitude. I firmly believe it is these things that will get others to talk about you to their networks, share your information, and get more people to want to connect with you or your brand.
In the end after considering these three themes uncovered in being open to learn from those successful in the Social Media arena, consider this: the online environment is constantly changing. Even if you start to master these steps, new trends will come about and you’ll need to be willing to adapt and change to them. Never stop wanting to learn more, try new ways of connecting and engaging people, and let your personality shine through in your communications. After all we are dealing with people here – we need to recognize that as the same rules that work in our face to face world of communication apply equally if not more online.