Tuesday, July 19, 2011

5 key habits to supercharge your engaging skills

It is a known fact that engaging your customer is critical to the success of your social media efforts.  It's the human side of the equation, regardless of which social media tool(s) you decide to use.  With that in mind, I decided to break down a few simple habits which, when practiced consistently, should increase your level of engagement substantially.

Although the habits listed below are proven to be effective IRL, they can be used just as effectively in your online interactions as well.  The habits are listed in no particular order, they are all powerful, yet simple to apply.  Ready?  Here we go!

  • Be curious - This should automatically be your mindset whenever you're looking to engage someone.  Not only does it put you in an inquisitive frame of mind, it also prepares you for opportunities that may arise during the interaction.  People can sense when you're genuinely curious and interested in what they have to say, even online, which puts them at ease and encourages them to open up.  Just remember your ABC's, "Always Be Curious".  
  • Learn to ask the right questions - The goal here is to interact with your customers, not to interrogate them.  People love to talk about themselves and their experiences, so make sure that your open-ended questions are relevant to your audience.  Great questions get people thinking and help propel the conversation.  Regular tweets, for example, provide a great opportunity to practice this habit and helps to embed your brand in your audiences mind. 
  • Listen - With all the noise from various social media platforms, this is probably the toughest habit on the list.  Getting your customer to interact with you is no easy task to begin with, so when your customer responds, you want to listen.  Learn to develop active listening skills by asking clarifying questions and repeating back what you heard.  This is more important in social media, where misunderstandings can easily arise due to the absence of nonverbal cues.  Also, people can be reluctant to share a problem or issue with you, so listening to what isn't being said is just as critical.  
  • Keep an open mind - It's human nature to judge, be quick to dismiss, or assume.  If you're compelled to give in to human nature, take this as an opportunity to add to your knowledge base by staying open to unexpected ideas.  I have learned that people don't always respond the way that I expect them to, or share the same opinions as I have.  These instances provide a great opportunity for me to enjoy a different point of view.  Oftentimes, it's after being able to suspend judgment that I'm better able to understand the reason for the disparity of opinions.  
  • Be grateful - There are a lot of things that have to be right for a customer to be willing to open up and interact with you.  Honestly, they're not obligated to do so.  The fact that they're willing to take time out of their day and interact with you, giving you feedback, is something that every company should be grateful for.  Always show gratitude in all your interactions.  It doesn't cost anything extra, it adds value to the interaction, and it brings good karma.  What are some creative ways that you show or express gratitude to your customers?   

    Oftentimes, we get caught up in the headlines touting the newest tech gadget, social network, app, etc., that we push aside the human element in it all.  It's good to step back occasionally and remind ourselves that the endgame here is still to interact with people.  These 5 habits have helped me in my own personal journey.  

    What are some of the habits you rely on when engaging your audience? 

      Wednesday, July 13, 2011

      How are you engaging your customers?

      I decided to step out of my usual self and decided to look at social media from the other side, the consumer's point of view.  Not that I'm not a consumer myself, but I wanted to get a more objective view.  I wanted to get a better read on how it feels to be truly engaged by a company.  To be honest, I was drawing a blank.  Other than companies that typically do business online, I couldn't think of one company that is trying to engage me via social media.  Now I'm thinking of restaurants, retail stores, service-oriented companies, those types of businesses.  Local businesses that can benefit by using social media tools to engage local customers.  None.

      Now on the flip side, I get loads of folks trying to engage me who are in the social media industry.  Whether it's an SEM/SEO company, bloggers, marketing companies, that sort of thing.  But then again, this is what they do, so it makes sense.  But none of the other sectors appear to be equally represented.  I do see ads for these other sectors on Google, Facebook, Groupon, and so on, but that's all they are.  They're just ads.  No engagement whatsoever.  Maybe it's still too early for them, too complicated, or too much of an unknown?  I doubt it.  These business must be hiding under a rock to not realize the potential social media has to offer.

      There are instances where certain sectors have a high level of engagement.  The food truck industry is a good example.  There are also a handful of other sectors that have benefited from using social media to engage their client base.  But I notice that these are more the exceptions, for now.

      These are some things that would engage me as a customer:

      • Questions - Light, open-ended, rhetorical.  No polls.  Just to get me thinking and nothing else.
      • Ideas - Little ideas that are relevant to me (and in areas where the company is an expert) and would make my life easier.
      • Invites - Special events, tastings, naming a new dish, etc.  Give me an opportunity to have a little involvement somehow.
      • Feedback - Ask for feedback, but only after all of the above are done.  Reserve this for the very last.
      What engages you might differ from my list above, but the main idea is to engage the customer regularly using little bursts of relevant communication and involvement.  Ironically, it seems as if the goal of engaging customers is temporarily hampered by the proliferation of technology.  I'm looking forward to seeing more local businesses engage their customers via social media.

      It's normal to get enamored with all the bells and whistles of the newest tech gadget or app, but when the dust settles, it's still about building and maintaining customer relations.  Oftentimes that endgame gets lost in all the noise.

      How are you best engaged?

      Thursday, July 7, 2011

      The secret to gaining influence

      I've been thinking for some time now about Klout scores and influence in general.  And just so we're on the same page, a Klout score is a metric of one's overall online influence.  The score can range anywhere between 1-100 and is calculated by using over 35 different variables.  According to Klout, this score then represents the degree to which a person engages their audience and also the size of the impact the message has.  Pretty nifty gadget for seeing how different people rate as far as online influence goes.  

      But then, I was wondering.  Would Klout scores only be valid for online influence, or would it also give us an accurate picture of how influential they are IRL?  In other words, would you be able to roughly assess a persons score in a face to face interaction with them and would that number roughly coincide with their actual Klout score?   We understand that celebrities, athletes, and public figures typically have high scores due to their visibility, but does that make you want to do business with them more than someone with a low score?  Does that make you trust their opinions or recommendations more?  At what point does it begin to become a popularity contest?

      To be fair, I'm going further than just talking about Klout scores.  I'm more interested in what it represents.  I perceive someone influential as having the ability to persuade another towards a certain opinion or behavior.  Therefore, should I be interacting with someone truly influential, I should be compelled to take a course of action or espouse an opinion which I wouldn't consider doing otherwise.  And to do so willingly after a healthy interaction with the influencer.  Think of your best friend inviting you to a movie, even though you really weren't thinking of going in the first place.  Is she an expert on movies?  Is she coercing you?  Does she have a high Klout score?  As your best friend, all those things are immaterial.  You decide to go, largely because the relationship is there.  In this case, she is your influencer.

      After all, you wouldn't make a decision to date someone based on their Klout score, would you?

       Key to becoming an influencer then, is forging relationships.  Often, the focus is on influencing via the various social media tools readily available to anyone with a computer.  A more effective approach would be in utilizing these social media tools to create and foster new relationships and connections, letting the influencing be a natural by-product.  Social networking opens up opportunities for us to connect with those we otherwise wouldn't be able to connect with.  Just like any other relationship, it takes work, especially online.  But if done with care, these new connections will begin to look to you as their influencer.

      I like what companies like Klout are doing, but I think it is one factor out of many when determining influence. The scores help narrow down the field and provide a starting point.  The fact is that social media tools are the way of the future, but they are no substitute for human relationships no matter how sophisticated the metric.

      Let me know your thoughts.