The assignment this week was to recreate a presentation for my client, Patuxent Habitat for Humanity. I chose to showcase the value of the Women Build program and to illustrate the benefits of the program for women volunteers.
There is an old African proverb that says it takes a village to raise a child. The idea behind this proverb is that child upbringing is a collaborative, communal effort. The responsibility rests not only upon the immediate family, but also upon extended family, friends, and even neighbors. This approach to child rearing emphasizes core values of family relationships, sharing, hospitality, and most importantly, concern for others.
One can draw a comparison to the messages in Michael Brito’s book Smart Business, Social Business. Brito maintains the idea that for a business to be successful in social media, the culture of the company has to be one that reflects transparency and collaboration. Long gone are the days of a company spokesperson projecting one-way messages. Brito argues that a better strategy is to involve the company as a whole, where every employee, in every department, from sales and marketing to customer service are empowered to engage on social media channels on behalf of the brand.
That’s great in theory, but how does a company change the way it does business to be transparent and collaborative? Brito suggests that this cultural shift needs to start from the top to remove traditional silos that stifle innovation, collaboration, and communication on social media platforms. Companies must also effectively communicate internally to have effective external conversations. The entire company must have a thorough understanding of the mission, goals, strategy, and tactics to communicate clearly and avoid confusion. Ultimately this will lead to a stronger company that more effectively meets the needs of the social consumer.
Furthermore, Brito asserts that humans relate to humans, as such it’s important to build personal relationships through social conversations with real employees involving two-way dialog. Edelman, a leading public relations firm, suggests that empowering employees to be ambassadors of the brand and engaging customers through social media will lead to improved credibility and trust. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, an annual global trust and credibility survey, consumers trust employees and peers more than technical experts, corporate representatives, or government officials. As a result, more trust is placed on social media channels than corporate communications, news articles, or advertisements.
Like any conversation, dialog through social media requires active listening. This is a crucial step that provides insight into what the community, advocates, influencers, consumers, and even advisories are saying. Brito outlines several social listening and social relationship management software that companies can utilize to monitor and manage conversations on blogs, forums, Twitter, and Facebook.
Examples of Listening and Relationship Management Software:
- Radian 6
- Meltwater Buzz
- Syncapse Platform
- Social Mention
- Twitter Sentiment
- Google Alerts
Conversations also require responsive, relevant dialog. The same holds true in the social media space. Companies need to follow through with a plan of action and strategy to respond, collaborate, interact, and engage to address what is learned through this listening process. Utilizing social relationship management applications, like the ones mentioned above, enables communicators to share relevant information from across the corporation. Relevant content adds value to the conversation, builds trust, and increases reach for brands. What is relevant content? It is any content that delivers valuable information, free of sales propaganda, with the end goal of being trusted and believable.
The idea of letting employees loose to engage on social media may scare many corporations. To maximize the effectiveness of social media engagement, and to protect both employees and the company from potential public embarrassment, brands must develop social media policies and guidance. This guidance shouldn’t be a scare tactic but rather a tool to communicate the business code of conduct and the rules of engagement. To gain measured success all outbound conversations must communicate the same message.
So how does a brand know if their efforts to listen, manage, and engage are working? It’s critical that they establish measurement practices that align with their business objectives. These objectives will likely fall somewhere in the purchase funnel, which includes awareness, consideration or preference, purchase, and advocacy. If the brand’s objective is to simply raise awareness, then they would measure reach. In this case, they may choose to track Facebook messages, retweets, or comments on corporate blogs. If the brand is concerned about preference, it may track engagement, such as Facebook fan growth, Twitter follower growth, or time spent on a web site. There are a variety of ways to measure the effectiveness of the social media plan, brands need to choose a strategy that makes sense for them and is maintainable.
Brito’s guidance can inform my client’s strategy to empower employees throughout the organization to advocate on behalf of the company. Like many non-profit organizations, Patuxent Habitat for Humanity is stretched thin when it comes to manpower. However, creating a collaborative environment where the entire organization all communicate relevant information on social media platforms will build credibility, improve reach, and increase organic search results.
Additionally, utilizing listening software such as Radien 6, RowFeeder, or Export.ly, my client will be able to conduct a conversation audit to better understand conversations happening around the organization, and where these conversations are taking place. Through active listening they will be able to monitor share of voice and sentiment as well as respond accordingly. This audit will also help to identify advocates who can influence their micro communities to support my client. Lastly, my client will be able to understand conversations that are happening around competitors such as Christmas in April, Good Will, and The Salvation Army.
Brito’s book does an excellent job in demonstrating the variety of tools available to conduct a social strategy. In one such example, Britto provides clear guidance and case studies for establishing training and governance models. This will inform my client’s strategy by establishing standards for employees to use while engaging on social platforms on behalf of the organization.
Image source – Edelman and Microsoft
Habitat for Humanity Partners with the Home Depot Foundation to Provide Safe Homes for Wounded Veterans
Habitat for Humanity International and the Home Depot Foundation launched Repair Corps, an initiative to renovate, repair, and rebuild the homes of wounded U.S. military veterans. In April 2011, the Home Depot Foundation pledged a $30 million initiative to address these housing needs. Habitat for Humanity affiliates around the country facilitate the home repair projects through volunteer labor and donations.
One such affiliate, the Patuxent Habitat for Humanity received a $100,000 Repair Corps grant from The Home Depot Foundation. A portion of this grant is slated to help a local marine who was injured in Afghanistan. On June 18, 2011 Lance Cpl. Celeb Getscher was walking along a tree line on patrol when he stepped on an improvised explosive device (IED). As a result, Getsher is now a triple amputee. With the help of volunteers, the Patuxent Habitat for Humanity will remodel the Getscher’s home to include an addition with handicap accessible facilities. The organization aims to complete 10 projects to help the community’s military veterans.
More than 46,000 U.S. service members have been injured serving our country during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Often times these injuries were disabling, involving traumatic amputations, brain injuries, and other long-term health problems. As a result, these wounded veterans face a lifetime of consequences. Habitat for Humanity is committed to providing safe places for wounded veterans to return home. Through the Repair Corps project this partnership aims to repair the homes of nearly one hundred U.S. military veterans.
The Repair Corps projects involve interior and exterior renovation to alleviate critical life and safety problems, as well as building code violations. Projects vary from structural repairs to installing wheelchair ramps and remodeling homes for accessibility.
Help support Patuxent Habitat for Humanity by making a monetary donation, volunteering your time, and spreading the word about this worthy cause. Call today to see how you can make a difference in the lives of these veterans.
For more information about donating, volunteering or applying for a home, visit www.patuxenthabitat.org or call 301-863-6227 / 410-326-9050.
In his book The Long Tail, Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief of Wired Magazine, sheds light on how the Internet is changing purchasing habits. Anderson’s Long Tail theory utilizes the demand curve to illustrate the shift from a one-size-fits-all mass market to one of countless niches now available online. The vertical axis of the demand curve represents sales and the horizontal axis represents products. Popular products, or hits, are shown in the head of the demand curve, whereas more obscure products reside in the long tail of the curve. Hits make up the bulk of products offered by traditional brick and mortar stores, but it’s the niche products within the long tail that extends choice and availability.
Anderson argues that brick and mortar stores have to discriminate what they inventory due to costly distribution, shelf space, and a concern for supply and demand. However, when these constraints are removed, as is the case with online retailers such as iTunes and Amazon, suddenly the niche products become more profitable for retailers. Because Long Tail retailers can stock a large diverse inventory, they enjoy higher profit margins and offer consumers more choice than traditional brick and mortar shops.
Anderson suggests that if you give people what they want with abundant choice and make it easy to find, demand will go into the long tail of the curve, where niche products reside. He illustrates this point throughout the book using real world examples. In one example, Anderson highlights the variation of music choices that are now available online. Music enthusiasts were once at the mercy of the limitations of conventional music stores. Now music is stored in huge digital libraries providing online shoppers a seemingly limitless selection. This sudden abundance provides new challenges for the customers as they attempt to find their way through an overwhelming array of choices. It also provides new opportunities for sellers and service providers to create new tools to help the consumer find the perfect product.
In a recent study, MBOOTH found that purchasing decisions are determined by the type of product, high or low involvement, and the type of consumer, high or low sharer. High involvement products are classified as expensive and ones that require a long-term investment. Low involvement products are distinguished as being less expensive and subject to impulse purchasing. Anderson’s examples all described low involvement, commodity products such as music, entertainment, and books. I would argue that vastness of choice can have a negative impact, especially for high involvement products. Too much choice may leave the consumer waiting for the next best deal. This could result in indecisive consumers and abandoned shopping carts.
Anderson offers advice on placement of products and stretching out the demand curve but he falls short on the conversation part of the interaction. The build-it-and they-will-come mentality doesn’t work. As demonstrated in Engage!, Brian Solis argues that brands must listen to the conversations that are taking place in the social space. Not only must they listen but they also must respond to relevant conversation with appropriate tone. Anderson provides success stories of companies that were at the forefront of digital retail boom. I believe it will be difficult for new companies to enter this space without offering something unique and actively interacting about it.
My client is the Patuxent Habitat for Humanity. Their mission is to provide affordable housing for those in need. To do this, they depend upon donations of both material and labor. Anderson’s Long Tail theory can inform my client’s strategy to not only target large donors such as corporations and philanthropists, but to also target smaller donors and volunteers that fall within the long tail. Those volunteers may include students, community members, and faith based organizations. To reach this diverse group, my client should actively engage where relevant conversations are taking place and provide content that is insightful, has a consistent voice, and builds a foundation for people to follow, admire, and trust. For example, my client may feature guest bloggers from DIY or Lowes to share home improvement tips. They may also consider featuring success stories about projects within the community. My client should also engage on other blogs and social sites to tell their story in a compelling way that reflects their brand.
The Patuxent Habit for Humanity also turns a profit by monetizing household donations through its storefront, Restore. Often times these donations produce niche goods that may have been otherwise written off by others. My client could gain insight from online retailers by providing a means to view and purchase these products online.
In his book Engage, Brian Solis drives home the point that conversations through social media are changing the way brands and businesses communicate with customers. Now, morethan ever, consumers have the power to influence the decisions of their peers and can easily affect perceptions of brands.
Solis outlines for us a plethora of social media tools to use for integrated marketing. Each of these tools has itsown unique specialty and application.
- Blogs – a hub for demonstrating expertise, listening, and responding
- Podcasts – a tool to reach individuals who prefer audio
- Wikis – facilitate collaboration and allow visitors to update content from any browser
- Social Calendars/Events – See what events friends are attending
- Livecasts – live video on demand
- microblogs – allows for aggregation and conversation threading with real-time, searchable conversations.
- Photo/Multimedia Sharing/ Video Broadcast- allows interaction around photos, music, and video
- Dashboards – aggregates social information into one page
- Social Networks – connects influencers, peers, friends, and family
Understanding the benefits and application of these specific tools is important but before starting a social media program, brands must have an engagement plan that includes objectives, procedures, and social branding. This plan should also consider the personality of the brand and identify how online profiles will appear. When creating content, the author’s personality must also reflect that of the brand’s. Todd Wasserman of Mashable places this point as the first tip for maintaining brand consistency across social media. According to Solis, The first step in creating an online branded personality is to develop a Brand Reflection Cycle Chart. This chart will include brand attributes such as core values, pillars, promise, aspirations, brand characteristics, opportunities, culture, and personality. The core values make up the center of the chart and must remain consistent with every engagement. Establishing a brand’s voice is crucial as it reflects these core values, for example when representing the U.S. Navy, the personality may reflect one of a patriot or hero but wouldn’t reflect humor. In contrast, a less serious brand such as Doritos has more flexibility to weave in humorous elements. Along with producing content that is insightful or entertaining, consistent voice builds a foundation for people to follow, admire, and trust.
Attention to details such as voice, tone, and shared content is important also for personal social media interaction. The things we share help to shape the definition of who we are. Building personal brands and managing personal reputation on line is important as it can portray our personality and values to friends, family, and potential employers. The posts, statuses, photos, videos that are broadcast on social networks can establish how people perceive us.
Companies and brands must also take care to manage their online reputations. To do this, they should develop polices, guidelines, and rules of engagement for employees who create content for any kind of social media that represents the brand. The guidance may include instructions like: ensure a brand-enhancing tone or voice, add value, be respectful, and be transparent. According to Layla Revis of Mashable, corporations should adhere to the following 6 steps to avoid an online reputation crisis:
- Don’t Pretend a Crisis Is Not Happening
- Don’t Refuse to Backtrack
- Become Influential and Change Perceptions
- Don’t Make an Empty Gesture
- Develop Channels of Communication
- Establish a Crisis Communications Response Team
Taking care to engage by following an engagement plan and following set guidelines is important, yet it’s not enough. Brands and companies must also actively listen to conversations about them that are taking place across the web. The Conversation Prism is a reference tool to help businesses gain insight into the various networks where relevant conversations are taking place.
This tool organizes and categorizes how people use the various social media networks and offers a framework, which can be utilized to build a conversation index. The conversation index is a tool to assess the state of the brand. Building a conversation index involves first listening, followed by documentation, presentation, and observation.
Engage provides some valuable insight — for example Solis provides clear guidance on how to create a conversation index and illustrates the importance of going through this time consuming process. However, this section almost feels like an after thought at the end of the Conversation Prism chapter. The Conversation Prism seems to be an infographic that illustrates the relationship between networks and the brand. It highlights the richness of social tools that are being utilized today. For me, the real value was found in the conversation index. Solis could have gone deeper in his explanation of how to listen to build the index. He provided a detailed list of listening tools but could have provided the reader with a strategy for listening. In other words, which listening tools or set of tools make sense for which organization? What makes sense for a non-profit operating on a limited budget and which ones more readily benefit the Fortune 500? I guess we’ll just have to start listening to find out.