Facebook screws up on the international business etiquette

“Right now you may only reach 16% of your fans each week.  Reach Generator guarantees that you reach 75% of your fans…”   This is Facebook’s grand plan to show us they know how to make money?  Instead of “connecting people” or “helping us share with the people we love”…  Facebook is openly admitting to allowing advertisers the right to dominate our timelines!

The idea is of course nothing new.   It’s just advertising.   Google has been taking money to tweak search results, make items disappear from autocompletion and promote certain results for years.   But they don’t tell everyone about it!   Not even pretty high ranking Google executives know the whole picture regarding what you can make disappear from Google if you have enough money.   Only people and companies with…well, enough money, know that sort of thing.

It could be some twisted campaign to show that Facebook is opening up regarding privacy.   But no.   This is just inexperience of global corporate rules.     Worse still they are testing out a similar thing for consumers as the “highlight you want to be sure your friends see”.  If I am going to pay 2 New Zealand dollars for that luxury, I might as well make my own website Mark!   People already distrust Facebook big time (not so much Google).

This is not the way to beat Google.  Take a page out of Apple’s book instead.   You don’t like Android?   Go out and buy 2-3 mapping companies and produce a spectacular rival to Google Maps for starters.   Buy a company and throw in a free Siri for people to start relying on that instead of Google search.   Give us freebies so that we use your service.

But maintain appearances please!

Hello, pleased to meet you. Facebook can ruin your business.

While most of the media tries to convince business people that they should all run to use social media asap, I beg to differ.   The step is simply too big, especially for market leaders.   You make a business page for your company, brand or product?   I will use it against you!   What you have effectively done is made a media channel with all your customers for anyone to use!

Sure you could lock down the wall, but then “that’s not very social media”.   You can monitor the wall 24/7/365 but  if you take an offensive post down you might get a consumer backlash for “censorship” and “that’s not very social media”.   Despite being an early proponent of social media in business I think you really need to define your targets and then look even more carefully at potential risks.   I am not the only person being hired to ruin companies and brands through social media.

It sort of gives a different ring to the term “viral”.   You know that kitch email chain letter you received?   Well, chances are it started from someone out to hit a competitor’s market share.   It is just much easier to knock off 5% of sales from a competitor than to get a 5% increase yourself.

So yes, you need to watch what is happening in social media.   As traditional media crumbles, these are exciting times for anybody in the business of communication.   And yes, you might find that many new tools are really cost effective.   But they have far reaching implications to your organization’s structure and inner workings.   Which don’t always make business sense.   I have tried to change companies through their communication and it doesn’t work easily, especially when top management doesn’t change first in a very public way.   It is like trying to change a company through it’s IT infrastructure.

As we all talk about leaving hierarchical structures behind and how media is becoming decentralised, it is useful to remind ourselves that most companies are still very hierarchical and centralised.   And for good reason.

Several articles on this topic are available on my Greek blog – and the Branding Intelligence blog (also here).

P.S. Some people have arrived at this post through extremely narrowly targeted Facebook ads; don’t worry, you are the only one that saw that provocative material  and as soon as I see you have clicked through I will take it down… ; )

Social media: turning useful employees into mindless gossip peddlers?

That does it.   Another major Greek corporation inviting all employess to a briefing on social media.   Not “legal issues concerning what you can and can’t write online about the company”.    Not “ten useful things you need to know about how best to integrate social media in your life.”   But “how and why you should spend more time doing marketing for the company doing social media instead of your normal job.”

No two ways around it.   We used to split people within a company to those that faced the customers and those that didn’t.   There are good reasons for this.   Not everyone is good at communication.   Corporate communication is more complicated than private chat.   You need to take into account many more factors and weight them with much more care.   Yet time and time again in the past year I see companies wanting to “enable” all their employees to speak on behalf of the company.   Marketing departments are shrinking and the extra work is going to …everyone!

So Mr Joe from engineering is sitting in a seminar about social media.  His personal facebook page and all 120 friends used to seeing his favourites on youtube, views on politics and photos from his holidays now get a …company press release?  “Hey everybody, my company has a new facebook page, please press ‘like’ immediately!”   This may sound stupid but how far away is it from what is actually happening?

I sometimes have difficulty switching from one project to another.   Especially in the early stages of a job when I have to immerse myself in their world completely in order to discover that best path which they haven’t seen yet.   Like an actor’s studio method I have to become one with the marketing people, management and the customer.   But this is my job and I have developed ways to deal with it.   Your employees haven’t.

If your company has vision, strategy and everything else they keep going on about in these fashionable social media seminars then it wouldn’t need to train everyone in how to use them.    If we all understand the company’s vision, it permeates what we are and what we do.   It will wash through to what employees communicate about on facebook or twitter like it does when they chat to neighboors around the barbeque.   You don’t need to do something special.   Asking them to take on communication tasks carries the most serious risk of them losing focus of what you really hired them to do.   Your entire team can fall apart.   Publicly, on social media!

How GrecoGerman family businesses will rule the world

It is fashionable (and easy) to target family run businesses as the source of a country’s problems.  Whether it is the Economist’s view of a region or the complaints of a middle manager who “just couldn’t get a promotion in there”.   I have studied family businesses as clients, as numbers and statistics.   I have lived and breathed one for most of my life.   And after enough years away from it now I can finally see the upside more clearly.

The term “family business” is completely useless.   The realization came crashing down on me as I got more comfortable with “Hidden Champions” (Simon Kucher) .    Even the Economist will take note.   After admiring the mid sized companies that are driving Germany’s worldwide export leadership, it takes some getting used to.    66% of these dynamic world leaders are family run.   Sure that is down 10% from what it was ten years ago.  Which is my point.  Not even a German family remains unchanged.

Not all families are the same.   So family businesses will also be pretty different. Kucher identifies factors unique to these winners like the drive to be No1, heavy investment in R&D, hard competition with neighbors and closeness to customers.   The fact that more people in these companies talk to customers has important implications for the use of social media too.   Nepotism may be rife in the Mediterranean but is not a given.

Pdf summary of the presentation on Hidden Champions is here –  FamilyBusinessPotentialInGreece.   Read it and then try to picture a German family business like those described in it next to a Greek one…maybe after enough Germans have bought land and moved to sunny Greece a new type of GrecoGermanic mid sized company will conquer the world!

Hitch hiking in corporate social media

It is a form of constipation when it comes to writing anything in public.  And I am not talking about multimillion corporations worried about lawsuits or their careers if their names appear under a press release or a blog post.  Even (or especially) small companies suffer from the lack of bravado.  And the result is catastrophic.  No communication is bad communication.  In a world inundated with incoming signals, you get drowned out.

So how to energize the situation?   Here are techniques I have tried with varying degrees of success.   Never start with the top boss, he or she is usually the problem.   They are aware that there is a problem but when it really comes down to it, they can’t write to save their lives.   The same person that is fascinating and full of jokes, stories and details when he gets to know you, clamps up when he sits to a keyboard or pen and paper.  Fixed (boring) phrases, editing and re-editing until there is no life left in the text.  So if not the boss, who?  There is usually a sales director, marketing person or techie with a talent.   They may be afraid from past failures but they basically have the urge to communicate.  Use them!

The only thing you need top level consent on really is the main message.  Reassure them that no matter what gets written by someone in the company in any social media situation we will be following these basic assumptions about the company, the brand and the product messaging.  Help them focus on the big picture which is their job anyway, rather than examining the details of every blog post or LinkedIn update.

Where is the material?  Usually right in front of everyone! Any company that has been in business for some time, has amassed loads of material from conferences, sales meetings, trade shows, research…it is just sitting in a pile or a hard disk somewhere.   It is magical that first time I get the customer to see through these glasses as it hits him just what a goldmine he is sitting on.   Match the information to the audience and we have the energy to get this plane flying!

Here is a fine point though:  social media is NOT about making a new car in order to get somewhere.  It is more like hitching a lift every day.  Uncertain and dynamic.  What are your customers using already?  Facebook?  Twitter?  Linkedin?  You go to them in a way they will appreciate.  And make damn sure the content is useful.  No point in doing it anyhow else.  “Useful” can also mean “pleasant” or “motivating” or “feel good”.   It doesn’t have to change their lives but it has to fit in pleasantly.  If this is B2B communication it means “helps me get results”.  Me the customer.

The hitch hiking analogy is probably the best one to keep. You get in the car of someone you have never met.  You try and think of a topic of conversation they might find interesting.   You get off when they tell you to or you feel you have overstayed your welcome.   You offer useful tips and politely try and find out more about them.   That way you might get a lift tomorrow too!

Hitching a lift also offers itself as a metaphor to keep in mind that there are many other ways that people get information without you.  You want your information to be picked up?  Put it where they expect to find your information, where they are likely to be positively inclined towards its presence. Don’t stand in the middle of an uphill and expect cars to stop! What influences people to stop?  Time of day, your clothing, your smile…they all make a difference.  If you don’t care about all of these ‘details’, you’re not going to get a lift.

(More on ‘real’ hitch hiking advice – one of my favourite means of transport – with twenty practical pieces of advice here.)

Brand building and social media

I took the time to get to know a superb team of brand builders today, www.yalosquality.com has a sample of their work through sadly not a lot of the more recent stuff.  They know what they are good at and they really focus on those details of a brand that matter, especially in packaging.  It got me thinking about all the social media so called brand building.

In essence you need to know three things to start with: who do you want to get into your net?(work) What gets onto your customers radars?  (Rather pointless these days to talk about media ‘consumption’.)  And where does the rest of your team fit into this effort?  (Your employees or anyone else you feel is on your side.)

It seems self evident to say you need a target but with social media this is not an easy task.  It isn’t a box sitting on a shelf, limited in many respects in its effects.  It bridges PR, community, investors and any other partnership in ways so complex it is infuriating to try and explain many times.   In normal brand building, people like the fantastically able people at Yalos make sure that everything is perfect.  The best possible take on all aspects of the brand.  In social media we are battling to achieve a degree of transparency which is almost in opposition with classic testimonials or case studies.  We are looking for a convincing ‘person’ of a brand.

And this ‘person’ cannot be driven by a single entity.  It has to be the live sum total of customers’ living with the brand.  But as clear as they are conversing with a friend.   Except they aren’t sitting down to share a coffee and a long chat.  They are saying ‘hi’ as they pass each other in the supermarket, ‘how are you’ as they pick up their kids from school and ‘we should get together some time’ as they sit next to each other for five minutes at basketball practice.   That’s life today, even with ‘normal’ regular real people friends!

Let me be clear about one thing: for most companies I wouldn’t dream of putting up anything on a social network that can be demolished.  I recently witnessed the online bashing of www.getitnow.gr , what seemed a much promising eshop type venture in Greece with serious levels of investment.  Their facebook page had all the right ingredients but once the complaints started, it seems impossible to put a lid on the hell it let loose!  You can’t delete a comment you don’t like, everyone will know instantly.    Server problems?  Delays?  Confusion?  Even if they were perfect from the start they would have been in for it.  When behemoths like P&G are struggling to make sense of it all you know we have a challenge.

And I have the solution.  Stay tuned!