Saturday, December 17, 2011

Drive Revenue with Storytelling

Business-to-business marketers are redefining the idea that “content is king.” Yes, content is still critical. But today, successful brands are finding that the most powerful content tells a story. All our lives we have learned from stories. As children, stories were read to us. As adolescents, we read stories to learn and imagine. As adults, we experience stories in a variety of media to escape and relax, be entertained, enhance our knowledge and better ourselves. Marketers know that good stories can help build loyalty, solidify culture and solve problems, but the degree of success comes down to execution: telling the right stories, in the right way, in the right context.


TELLING A GOOD STORY
 
The same elements that go into that novel you cannot put down or the favorite movies you want to watch over and over again are also what make up an effective business or brand story. A good story is authentic and creative. It makes an emotional and personal connection with its audience. It inspires interaction. Consequently, good storytelling in business communications takes a different tone than the traditional “sell.” It takes the audience on a journey with the brand.


STORYTELLING, REVENUE & DRAMA: WHY IT WORKS
 
Most companies are already using storytelling in the form of testimonials and public relations outreach. Refocusing those stories to generate revenue is often simply a matter of repurposing and crafting existing content. Storytelling works because it allows companies to dramatize their message, creating an experience that resonates with target audiences, much like in a play or a movie. It puts audiences at ease and engages them with the human side of a brand, creating an emotional connection. It leads the audience to a desired action, whether that’s altering behavior, changing lives, or spending money. In short, good storytelling is effective because of what it is not – a dry data dump or intrusive “sell.” Rather, it allows audiences to become immersed in the story and, ultimately, the brand.


DRIVE THE AUDIENCE TO ACTION
 
The objective of any marketing communications message is to drive the audience to some sort of behavior change or action. The key to changing behavior is fourfold:

• Clarify your message. What do you want the consumer or audience to do? Are the message and the resulting targeted action crystal clear?

• Confirm why action is important. Why does your audience need to act? What benefit does it provide?

• Explain how you want the consumer to take this action. What steps does your audience need to take to complete this action?

• Confirm how the audience will know when they are acting out the changed behavior correctly and what is in it for them. What will be the audience’s reward?

Crafting a message to include these fundamental elements, both creatively and subtly, is the key to ensuring that the audience does not feel sold, but instead is lead down a storyline path that arrives at the destination, or desired action. Using a dramatic curve will help translate an effective marketing message into a business story that resonates with its audience.


START CRAFTING YOUR STORY AT THE END
 
Traditional stories include a beginning, middle and end. Compelling business stories are also constructed linearly. But, unlike purely entertaining or informative stories, these stories add one more element to the structure – a call to action. This is what is unique to storytelling in business. Business communications also follow what is called a “dramatic curve,” a four-act structure which leads to resolution and ultimately to a call to action.

Crafting your brand story begins by considering how you want it to end. What is the desired outcome? How do you want your audience to feel about you? What do you want them to do? What are the specific next steps that you want them to take (act, interact or change)? And how are you going to measure the results?

Successful business-to-business stories develop a path that will get your audience to take action. To create an effective story, marketers offer this advice:

LISTEN: To be a good storyteller, you need to be a good listener. Know your audience, their attitudes, beliefs and concerns.

BE PERSONAL: Create messages and build stories that respond to the specific needs of your target audience.

INSPIRE INTERACTION: Encourage your audience to engage with your brand.

CONTINUE TO LISTEN: While your story is being told, watch for reactions and encourage audience feedback.

THINK AHEAD: Set the stage for future “chapters” of your story.


FINDING THE RIGHT MEDIUM
 
Stories are more than just words. Audiences want to see, feel and touch the brand. But what’s the best vehicle to achieve this for your brand?

CINEMA EVENTS
Advantages: Audiences are already conditioned to pay attention, unmatched sight and sound experience, scalability and reach across the nation
Challenges: Lack of traditional conference amenities, no breakout session facilities

TELEVISION
Advantages: Audiences are already conditioned to pay attention, proven impact on decisions
Challenges: Crowded space, high expectations for quality and speed, expensive, DVR gives audiences more selection on what to watch and what to tune out

WEBINARS
Advantages: Easy access to information, encourages interaction
Challenges: Multiple distractions, lack of personal engagement

IN-PERSON CONFERENCES
Advantages: Encourages interaction
Challenges: Time-consuming, expensive, does not scale

ONLINE CONVERSATIONS
Advantages: Content/messages can be tailored to the user’s needs, creating a more relevant conversation
Challenges: “Everyone” is there and it is crowded, easy to lose someone in just one click, low commitment


THE RIGHT MOMENT. THE RIGHT PLACE. THE RIGHT STRATEGIC VISION.
 
Corporate communications are not isolated from the rest of one’s personal experience, and neither are business stories. When considering the right vehicle to tell your story, these factors should be evaluated:

• How your audience will view the story – alone or in a group setting
• Time of day – morning, afternoon or evening
• Environmental factors – location and distractions
• Social factors – economical and political conditions, holidays
• Food and drink – meal or snack
• Broader societal setting – elections, economy, etc.


YOUR BRAND IS YOUR BEST STORY
 
No matter what the industry, product or service, there are stories in every company or organization that can be told to help get the message out and acted upon within your budget. Like the National Guard and Kleenex, there are stories that can be told according to your vision – simple and cost effective, or extraordinary and elaborate. Storytelling can help generate revenue.


FUTURE CHAPTERS
 
As your brand evolves, business objectives shift, and new initiatives are planned, you have new opportunities to engage audiences with future chapters of your brand’s story – a time to present new stories with new calls to action. Increasingly, people are accustomed to receiving information in short bursts. They demand more value with less time invested, and storytelling is no exception. Stories need to be efficient and get to the point in today’s information-overloaded world. Some trends to watch include:

• More short story options versus sharing the whole message all with one story
• More user-generated stories and resulting management challenges
• New ways to engage audiences used to multitasking


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Create Your Web Strategy

Appeal to Your Market and Your Stakeholders
 
From experience, I firmly believes the best starting point for determining a website strategy is to understand both the market that an organization operates within and the needs of its key stakeholders. Most organisations operating today are highly complex and political, making the identification and prioritisation of stakeholders a difficult task. There are three key broad stakeholder groups which need to be factored into web strategy planning:

The Board/Shareholders/Business Executives
They understand the vision of the organisation and delivering their needs will clearly support the business but it is essential to have their buy-in and backing.

External Website Users
Understanding the website users is critical and pretty much open-ended. Consider external user needs by refining what type of relationship that they would like to have with the organisation and rationalise this to what is a realistic roadmap of communication dialogue and functionality. Market research is vital as is listening to the needs of the third group.

Internal Website Users
These are Business Units such as HR, Finance, Facilities Management, Research, Branding, Marketing, Sales etc. and for a website strategy to operate effectively, strategists need to understand the needs of each of these groups of users and the potential business impact if their needs are not met.

Take Control of Your Project
 
Faced with this plethora of issues to consider, many company directors reach for the phone to an IT consultant. However consultancy can be a two-edged sword. Whilst it can ease the web strategy pain and speed up the scoping, evaluation and procurement process, organisations run the risk of being diverted from meeting the needs of their three key stakeholders.

When your web strategy becomes a reality you want to be sure that your web deployment embraces good design principles which are to make the site beautiful, functional and useful (for all three key stakeholder groups). Remove any part of these considerations you will have a tactical nightmare on your hands.

It is our belief that much of this thinking can and should be done in-house in discussion with senior staff that are most familiar with the issues that are holding back the firm and therefore the business requirements of any new web-based systems. Once all this thinking and planning has been done selection of the technology itself begins and consultants within integration or IT services firms have a major role to play in recommending appropriate technology solutions, sourcing and integrating them.

Work Smarter, Not Harder
 
Web strategies are often best fulfilled through the use of a Web Content Management System (CMS). There are many views surrounding what makes a good CMS. I, personally, think that end-user simplicity and functionality, coupled with the use of standards-based technologies which scale, extend and integrate effectively with other enterprise-wide solutions, is the key to delivering effective web strategies.

Sadly the syndrome of ‘you never got fired for hiring IBM’ has overshadowed the Web Content Management market with vendors offering hugely complicated toolsets that deliver immense power without much consideration for the needs of the non-technical business user. Enterprise Content Management (ECM) vendors have thrived on this syndrome in recent years despite the fact that many of their core systems are built on old technology platforms and use out-of-date proprietary systems.

Organisations should identify Web and Enterprise Content Management Systems vendors during the evaluation process that offer real Return on Investment (ROI) and transparency for the total cost. Selecting a CMS vendor that has a matured standards-based with open source architectures will ensure that your vendor relationship is a partnership rather than a shackle.

Avoid Common Pitfalls
 
In summary, I believe there are some key requirements to look out for when selecting CMS:

• Ensure that the technology is built on standards-based architecture
• Keep the system as simple as possible to stimulate rapid adoption
• Make sure you are getting near immediate value from any new system
• Ideally look for depth from the vendor through adding new software components when needed by the company
• Get business efficiencies through building workflow in so that it is possible to understand where glitches in adoption are
• Push adoption as hard and as fast as you can largely through selection of an easy-to-use system and ensuring future users get trained on it well before going live
• Keep business requirements in mind at all times

The Price of Failure
 
The vast majority of ECM system implementations are failing for some of the reasons outlined above and summarised below:

• The early stage scoping of these projects is far too often not being steered by the people inside the organisation that really know what the new web presence(s) needs to achieve and what business deficiency it needs to solve
• There appear to be no hard and fast rules for implementation
• Too many ECM systems have been foisted upon users without good communication and training
• Too many enterprise systems are using old technology ‘under the bonnet’ making integration with enterprise systems very difficult and time consuming and expensive


Saturday, October 8, 2011

How can you turn to Digital Publishing during the Global Downturn?

A report released by the UK’s Association of Online Publishers found what many people already suspected - namely that online newspapers, magazines and catalogues are easier to access, faster for locating desired content and more convenient than their print equivalent. But it’s not just the technical and functional advantages of online publishing that make digital publications so compelling. In a severe global downturn, the pressure to reduce costs and retain margins is huge.

E-publishing offers a solution to recessionary woes with industry specialists estimating that they can cut publishing costs by up to 82%! How are these cost savings achieved? Putting a publication online eliminates paper, ink, postage and transport as well as distribution extras. Online publishing also allows for total cost stabilization which is an important consideration in today’s economic environment.

By contrast in offline publishing, raw pulp inflation (up 24% in two years), coated magazine paper inflation (8% in 2008), ink prices rises (up to 40% inflation) and increased transport costs have all contributed to a very unstable publishing environment. E-publishing therefore offers a considerable number of advantages to the extent that numerous publishing houses and brand owners are either going completely digital or testing it for practical application or at least investigating. The big question, and the prime focus for this blog post, is how do you get started? After all, any Google search will list dozens of e-publishing providers and with no prior knowledge it is difficulty to gauge which ones are worth short-listing as a possible solution.

Here I provide a checklist that contains the six most important questions you must ask any e-publishing services provider. I have listed them here along with an explanation as to why each question is so crucial:

Question 1: Is the digital publication easy to read and load?
This is a vital question to ask and it is imperative that you try the software out as if you were an ordinary consumer. This involves testing out the functionality of the software and deciding whether the interface is user-friendly. It also involves loading the magazine and seeing whether the whole process from loading, viewing and closing the publication is smooth and seamless… and quick.

In short, when using an e-publishing provider, is the online publication as easy and enjoyable to read as the offline equivalent? Is the online magazine easy to browse, turn the pages, zoom in, zoom out and download content? When the Association of Online Publishers in the UK researched these questions, they found that half their respondents ‘rated the print version as more satisfying than the website from a point of user-satisfaction’.

This is because many e-publishing solutions are simply not good enough to replicate the look, feel and ease of an offline publication – the software takes too long to download, the navigation is tricky, functionality poor and the overall sense of enjoyment is drastically reduced. If you don’t find an e-publishing solution easy to use and enjoyable, neither will other users.

Leading e-publishing providers offer potential customers a free trial so that users can put a publication online and see for themselves how easy to use and functional the solution actually is. If any e-publishing supplier does not offer a free trial then simply avoid it – it could be a costly mistake. Indeed, the most cost-effective solution in the short term is often not the most cost-effective in the long term and low start-up fees can be misleading. Remember that poor technical performance will cost time and money to repair on an ongoing basis – adding to your costs at a time when you are actively seeking to save money.

Free trials also allow you to test an e-publishing solution to its limit and examine each aspect of the solution before purchasing. This is important because many solutions fall short in one or two key areas – for example, 1.5% of internet users can only read HTML (and not Flash) and therefore it is important to see whether these users can still use the e-publishing software. It is vital that no readers get left behind!

Question 2: Has the e-publishing solution been industry tested by thousands of customers and end-users?
Many supposedly good e-publishing solutions, particularly those from new developers and non-specialist software providers, fall short because the software will not work under strenuous circumstances. As an example, imagine your company sends an online catalogue to 100,000 customers. While the e-publishing software might work for small volumes of users at one time, what happens when thousands log on to view the publication at the same time? In many cases the software crashes. Therefore it is imperative that you find an e-publishing solution that has been vigorously tested across a variety of different load situations and which has withstood the rigours of time.

Remember also that newly established e-publishing companies might have a seemingly “workable” solution, but is the company, its support, development and customer service mature enough for you to be confident in making the investment? If not, you might be saddled with an e-publishing solution that has absolutely no back-up or support. During a recession, an e-publishing solution that has a track record of longevity, service and support and is backed by a company with a stable financial infrastructure is key.

Question 3: Can you customize the e-publishing solution?
Most e-publishing solutions are standard off-the shelf packages that publishers have to adapt to rather than the other way around. Leading e-publishing solutions, however, will allow a publisher to customize their online publication in numerous ways giving each publication a completely unique look and feel. By allowing publishers the ability to easily customize the interface, look and feel of any type of publication, brand owners can put their own stamp and identity on each online publication, further enhancing their brand image in the market place.

When choosing an e-publishing solution remember that one size does not fit all. Also, bear in mind that an e-publishing solution that is fully customizable offers cost-savings because there is no need for expensive software revisions further down the line.

Question 4: How good is the provider’s reputation and customer references?
If an e-publishing solution can demonstrate a prominent list of international clients, then it is safe to assume that the e-publishing vendor is well established, reputable and delivers an outstanding e-publishing solution that is easy to use and can handle the largest volume of users at one time. A blue-chip client list is essential if you are looking at any e-publishing solution. Remember also, that large companies have strict procurement protocols and regulations. A blue-chip client list therefore tells you that an e-publishing solution offers a strong combination of cost-effectiveness and technical performance. Without a blue-chip client list, doubts must remain as to whether an e-publishing solution or the company itself, is really as good as it claims to be.

Question 5: Does the solution provider have local and global knowledge of your industry?
The demands of e-publishing mean that you need a strong and close relationship with your e-publishing supplier. No country, company or publication is the same and each e-publishing project demands knowledge of not only e-publishing but also local market preferences and protocols, such as internet bandwidth capabilities.

If the e-publishing supplier has a local presence then they will know the unique market conditions within your territory and be able to give you informed and specialist advice tailored to your own particular needs. Remember also that a local presence saves money – no expensive international mobile calls or time wasted waiting on hold for your question or problem to be resolved. If the e-publishing supplier also has an international presence they will be able to view each e-publishing project from an international perspective, allowing them to give far superior advice because it encompasses a far wider range of e-publishing experiences.

Question 6: Does the solution provider have adequate support capabilities?
For every second that your e-publishing solution does not work properly – from slow uploads and software glitches to outright system failures – your audience and your brand will be negatively affected, not to mention your bottom line. Having an e-publishing supplier with only a limited international presence is therefore of little use if you cannot contact them instantly with time-sensitive questions.

This means you need phone based support, answered within seconds, rather than email-only support which can take 24 hours or more to receive a response from. In short, global phone support is critical to the success of any e-publishing venture. It means that the e-publishing provider places high importance on customer service and customer satisfaction, rather than simply providing just a basic software tool. Good customer support provides cost-savings across multiple levels and allows your publication to deliver at all times.


Friday, September 23, 2011

DIY Online Marketing Strategy in 7 Steps


Many people approached me lately seeking my advice on finding the right mix for a comprehensive, yet easy-to-implement, online marketing strategy for their startup websites. This blog post presents, based on my own experience, a successful formula to launch an online marketing campaign which will ignite your website performance. The formula is consisted of 7 steps as follow:

1- On-Page Optimization
- Ensure that your pages are indexable
- Ensure that Google knows about your site
- Ensure that crawlers can crawl your site and robots and index the site
- Brainstorm the keywords that your clients would most likely Google
- Develop a one-line mantra and short 30 second elevator pitch
- Ensure the meta tags on site reflect the keywords, mantra and pitch

2- Site Submission
Submit your website’s URL to the following directories and websites:
1. Business.com
2. Best of the Web
3. DMOZ
4. Yahoo!
6. MSN
It is advisable to search for more directories and submit your website’s URL to them.

3- Pay-Per-Click Campaign
- Establish Google Adwords account
- Define monthly budget
- Define keywords and target locations
- Define marketing copy and the ‘call to action’
- Test various marketing copy alternatives
- Optimize campaign for efficiency, performance, ranking
- Integrate Google AdWords account with Google Analytics account for traceability
- Monitor and adjust campaign based on performance expectations

4- Social Networking Initiatives
- Establish accounts on the following social networking sites:
1. LinkedIn
2. Facebook
3. YouTube
4. Twitter
5. Flickr
- Create consistent profile using defined keywords
- Link accounts back to your website to build inbound links

5- 3rd Party Content Management Systems (CMS)
- Establish accounts on the following blog sites:
1. Wordpress
2. Blogger
- Create blogs based on mantra, elevator pitch, product/service offerings and descriptions.
- Provide regular (minimum of one article per week per blog), unique, relevant content, tagged and optimized for lead generation and conversion.
- Include social bookmarking tiles, links to professional social networking profiles, and references to network of resources, friends and primary web site.

6- Social Bookmarking
- Establish accounts on the following blog sites:
1. Technorati
2. Del.icio.us
3. Digg
- Drop social bookmarking tiles on all sites within the network
- Actively visit each page of each website in the network and bookmark

7- Web Analytics
- Ensure that Google Analytics is effective on your website
- Determine your website visitors ‘call to action’
- Set up conversion goals to track web site visitor calls to action
- Ensure connectivity between Google Adwords and Google Analytics
- Produce, monitor, and disseminate analytics weekly/monthly reports

Friday, August 12, 2011

Using Social Media for Social Change

Net-enabled social tools have enabled new models for grassroots activism and community building, and they
have changed how we function in society , how we communicate globally and locally, how we form ties, and how we organize and connect. What is tricky about deploying social media today is not access to the technology, but the knowledge of how to deploy it across multiple platforms. This blog post is meant to take some of the fear and confusion out of the question of whether to use these tools or not.

What do we mean by social media?

When we talk about social media we are describing the web-based tools and services that allow users to create, share, rate and search for content and information without having to log into a portal site or destination. In other words, although in 1998 you might have gone to Yahoo or America Online to post pictures, send emails, chat in real time, today you go to various web services sites to perform various functions which, nowadays, usually involve commenting, rating, communicating or creating and sharing content.

These tools that post pictures and share news are now considered “social” because in addition to the core functions they perform they are created in ways that also integrate users sharing and communicating with one another. Not that this is the opposite of the portal model, where a one-way flow of expert to user was the norm and community was not part of the experience.

In the U.S., the 2008 election of Barack Obama as president reflected unprecedented use of social media in a political campaign. The Obama campaign served as a stunning demonstration of a skilled team’s use of widely available tools. According to a case study by James Burnes and blog posts by Jeremiah Owyang and others, the
Obama campaign participated actively in more than 15 social networks and had 5 million active supporters through these vehicles. On Twitter, “BarackObama” had 112,000 followers. On Facebook Obama had 3.3 million friends, 500 groups, 33 applications. On YouTube, more than 14 million people watched the “Yes I Can” video. The campaign ultimately uploaded 1,800 “official” videos onto YouTube, 15 of the videos were viewed more than 1 million times. MyBarackobama.com, a “self-managed” social network, had over 2 million people create profiles on the site; those people created 35,000 volunteer groups and raised more than $30 million dollars.

Importantly, though, effective use of social media to attract people to programs, organizations, brands and products does not require the large-scale resources that Obama’s team so impressively deployed. The campaign’s sophisticated and proprietary voting database, CRM-focused campaign emails and the Neighbor to Neighbor calling software and scripts developed by Obama’s online campaign consultants at Blue State Digital helped raise an unprecedented $639 million in campaign funds. But the services that were the workhorses of the campaign, i.e. Facebook, LinkedIn, Flickr, YouTube, and Twitter are free to use and widely available.

Lifestreaming

The increasing adaptation of these tools has led to additional services that aggregate them together to provide an experience called lifestreaming. Lifestreaming is the ongoing broadcasting of information and events through a set of digital media, or what you might experience as the ripple effect of being able to watch the evolution of a news story, event, or person’s life through the aggregated media of their blog, their videos they post to the web, their Twitters, photos, and so on.

Interestingly, while lifestreaming started as a way for one person to make their life as seamless and transparent online as possible (think about bloggers who post personal details every day, and photographers who create self-portraits daily on their blogs and Flickr streams), it quickly morphed into what might be called event or promotion or community casting — scenarios where anywhere from dozens to millions of people all used inter-related social media tools around a specific theme, event or issue, creating huge virality and awareness.

We saw this type of community casting early in 2004 when thousands of people across the world reacted to the tragedy of the tsunami in the Indian Ocean and the planet reacted, then saw it again with the London subway bombings in 2005, when the defining photo, sent around the world, was taken not by a professional photojournalist, but by an eyewitness with a mobile phone. When the terrorist attacks happened in Mumbai in November 2008, it was the citizen media, blogs, photos, videos, that showed the world what had happened, and the social media tools, Twitter and YouTube that shared the pain. When events happen, they are shared and communicated across multiple platforms, but people reference and link them together.

Over the past year, there has been an increasing use of social media not only to react to or cover an event, but as a means to create or promote an event. Even more interestingly, social media communications seem to have the effect of creating a virtuous circle where social media organizes data and then feeds information back out to the community, intensifying the experience both online and offline, building awareness, engagement and impact.

Money and Mobilization

When intelligently used, social media is reducing the need for both paid and volunteer staff and reducing overhead and operating costs for organizing. By tapping into the power of a network (and its good will), people can be mobilized, money can be raised, and programs promoted, often with surprising ease and speed.

Would you believe one woman could stand on a stage at a conference and spontaneously raise $2,500 in small donations for Cambodian orphans from a techie audience within one hour using Twitter? Non-profit advisor and consultant Beth Kanter did it at Gnomedex, a tech conference in Seattle. While the sum is small, the speed and the donor pool were new.

Another social media consultant, Laura”Pistachio” Fitton, used Twitter to raise $25,000 in a week, leveraging her contacts and her contact’s networks. Asking each of her Twitter “followers” – all 44,000 of them - to donate $2.00 each, Pistachio get enough response, and enough public re-tweeting, or re-publishing, of her request to raise $25,000 for charitywater.org. Based partially on the success of that, she participated in a worldwide effort, the Twestival, to raise $500,000 for the same cause.

But it is not only about raising money; social media has the power to mobilize people and drive conversation more effectively than many traditional brand marketing campaigns and at a fraction of the hard costs. And these are not isolated incidents. Social media tools are providing the means for fundraisers to operate more efficiently, with less overhead and greater margins, and for organizers and brand managers of commercial and nonprofit endeavors to build awareness, increase traffic and expand engagement with their brands.

How to use them?
 
Having access to these tools does not mean everyone knows how to use them. The gap in the market has moved from having access to having knowledge. While Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, LinkedIn and so on are all free to the user, having the knowledge and skill to meld them together into an organizing strategy and marketing plan requires a fairly specific level of experience that most non-profit program managers, fund-raisers and community organizers and activists do not have.

Further, some of the micro-giving occurring with new, previously unaffiliated donors is based on principles of community participation, giving back and good will that may not align with specific non-profit traditions. Moreover, much of the innovation in this area is coming from purpose-driven marketing, PR and social media experts, not from the non-profits, who can be notoriously slow to adopt new methods. On the other hands, the transparency of the new efforts means everyone who is interested has a chance to analyze, learn, practice and integrate these new skills.


Friday, July 15, 2011

Online Reputation Management: Keeping Your Business Brand In Line

With the rise in popularity of blogs, online social networks, podcasts, and video sharing, anyone and everyone have a voice these days. That voice, however insignificant it may have been a decade ago, now has the power to reach millions with just a few taps at the keyboard and clicks on a mouse.

Opinions about brands, products, services, even entire organizations, can spread like wildfire, causing a wave of negativity, or on the contrary, a flourish of positivity about a brand. Allowing online mentions of your brand to go unmanaged poses many threats to its livelihood. We live in a time when it is easy (and smart) to hop online to research a product or service before purchasing it, and likewise, it is just as easy for an opinion about your brand to be voiced.

If there are negative mentions of your brand in the search results, it means little to the common searcher just how true the statements are; the reader is unlikely to try to prove their legitimacy. Negative mentions that appear as search results on search engines can detract from brand perception and sales, eventually leading to an all around loss of consumer loyalty.

Ultimately, it is your job to stay abreast of every claim surrounding your brand. Online reputation management ensures that your audience receives a true and balanced perception of your business. Below are main 3 steps to any online reputation management system:

Step 1: Plan and Identify

Before embarking on an online reputation management mission, a business must decide who its main influencers are. What websites/blogs/forums mention your brand the most, negatively and positively? These are the most important online audiences to monitor.

Keep in mind audiences that are more engaged have the most influence over your reputation. For example, social media sites that invite reader commentary; or online shopping sites that offer customer reviews. Sites with audiences that are engaged very little in creation of site content, or sites that have very low readerships, are less likely to pose much of a threat to your brand.

Step 2: Monitor Brand Buzz

Monitoring is not just about Googling your brand and scanning the results. There are a handful of online tools that scan the web for mentions of your brand across a spectrum of sites and can also provide measurements of the type of mention (positive, negative, neutral).

No matter what tools you use, your online brand mention monitoring relies most on humans. After all, the audience (influencers) you care about is made up by human activities, voices, compliments and complaints.

Step 3: Connect and Engage

Successful monitoring will help you determine which negative mentions require a response, and likewise, which positive mentions deserve a boost. A report should be compiled of all mentions, the findings analyzed, and proper responses implemented.

Positive responses to negative commentary should be generated in a timely manner to avoid an all-out snowball effect. If you can catch negative mentions sooner rather than later, you run the chance of turning the negative commentary on its back and reversing its harmful impact on your brand.


Friday, June 17, 2011

#BHSocialMedia: Your Social Media Source

You keep hearing about social media and how it is spreading like wildfire locally and regionally. You might have also heard about how social media can help build your brand, promote your product and services, help collect feedback from your customers, increase your website traffic, and generate conversions.

But as a business person with a crazy schedule, saddled with the added stress of rocky economic times and a shrinking marketing budget, you might wonder:

  • Is there any real business value to social media, or is it mostly buzz?
  • And if there is value, how on earth will I have time to learn it and use it effectively?
  • And if it was really simple and it can do all sorts of magnificent things for your business, why aren’t most businesses in Bahrain today leveraging this medium as part of their online marketing strategy?


This where #BHSocialMedia Roundtable Meeting come into place! #BHSocialMedia understand the social media has been around for some time now, but it is only now that businesses are starting to learn that there is a way to leverage this medium. 




#BHSocialMedia is here to promote the social media awareness and help the local business society understand some of the opportunities and challenges associated with social media, whether you are a small business that services a local town or an international one that works on a global scale.

On Wednesday 15th June 2011, #BHSocialMedia had its 1st Roundtable Meeting in Alayam Media Centre. The meeting brought together social media enthusiasts, entrepreneurs, influencers, brands and corporations, marketing, PR and advertising agencies, Web 2.0 aficionados, and technology journalists.

It was also an honour to be to be the main speaker in #BHSocialMedia 1st Roundtable Meeting, and my presentation received an excellent review and feedback from the audience. Find below a link to view it online through SlideShare:



The presentation contains the latest stats and trends in the MENA and GCC regions (as of Q1 of 2011) for Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Nevertheless, I always believe that trend-chasing and random leaps into social media will not enhance any business’s bottom line. Only the strategic social media participation, i.e. the alignment of social media activities with your business objectives and target demographics will do. So, at the end of the presentation I introduced 3 mind stimulating questions to the audience that brought up hot discussions at the meeting.

Now, in light of the current stats and trends, feel free to virtually participate by submitting your answer to the same questions:

  • How to use social media as a Market Research tool?
  • How to use social media as a Virtual Shop/Showroom?
  • How to use social media as a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool?

Friday, February 4, 2011

What are the Steps to a Successful CRM Implementation?

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) has proven its ability to enhance business performance time and time again. However, the path to effective implementation is not always easy — complexities often arise as a result of trying to align an entire company behind the concept.

You can find the success that comes from leveraging customer knowledge to the fullest measure by following these 10 steps:

Calculate the Value
Exactly how will CRM benefit your business? Strive to answer this question in terms of measurable ROI (Return on Investment). Don’t focus too much on how the software will help customers — what will really improve your bottom line is how CRM helps your employees use customer data more effectively.

Work Closely with Key Departments
Good planning is critical to your success. Use members of the call center, sales force and marketing departments as parts of your CRM planning team, because these departments can be affected to the greatest extent by a new solution. Let them tell you the business processes that need improvement. Then hammer out agreeable objectives mapped to new business processes. It’s often a good strategy to place some easy ones on top of the list so you can celebrate some victories early on.

Budget Realistically
Be a bit pessimistic when it comes to the budget to avoid the painful process of increasing cost estimates. CRM customization and integration with existing software present two big expenses. It can cost two to three times the price of software for implementation and ongoing maintenance. Make sure you factor in all of these expenses from the early stages of your CRM deployment.

Organize Customer Data
The underlying customer data is the backbone of a CRM solution. Most companies store duplicate and outdated data in multiple locations. Putting this data in a unified database, scrubbing it and making it available to the entire organization before implementation will make for a smooth rollout. If necessary, get help from vendors who offer data-cleansing software and deeper customer information.

Lead the Project from the Top Down
Experts agree that the no. 1 reason implementations do not work is that senior executives fail to lead. After all, if managers do not work hard to ensure CRM success, why should employees? It is not just about signing paperwork and attending meetings. Executives must adopt CRM as a corporate-level initiative, dedicate significant time and energy, motivate stakeholders and keep everyone on track.

Find a Reliable Vendor and Select Functionality Conservatively
Shop for a financially secure vendor with proven ability to expand the solution as your company grows. Beware of providers that rely heavily on partners for key functionality. When considering industry-specific software, make sure to find out if it really delivers on its promise. Talk to other corporate users in your field, try out the software and choose enough functionality to meet your business needs without sending your IT department on endless quests for the Holy Grail.

Implement Gradually
Change is never easy, especially for employees who may fear the accountability that comes with posting data that can expose their true performance. Start your CRM initiative in a single department that stands to benefit the most in the short term; then follow with a zealous, companywide CRM proponent. When others witness the initial success of that department, bringing them on board will be much easier.

Market CRM to Employees and Deliver Ongoing Training
It may sound obvious, but it’s important to remember that employees have to use the solution in order for it to work. Clearly communicate how it will help them succeed, and start CRM training early on. This way, you will chip away faster at the 18 to 24 months it typically takes employees to adopt new business processes.

Actively Manage the Implementation
Technical difficulties, management turnover, employee resistance and adjustments in company direction will happen. Managers need to stay on their toes and quickly address changes to maintain momentum.

Develop a Culture of Continuous Improvement
CRM solutions should be adjusted to deliver a sharper competitive edge as a company and its business evolve. Be sure to keep employees in the communication loop, and they will help supply the information needed to continuously improve the way the system leverages customer information. Not all companies will achieve CRM success because many fail to take into account the items listed above. Then again, for the ones who do succeed, the rewards are great. Stick to these steps, and you will rig the game in your favor.