Streams of Influence

Streams of Influence – Reaching the Market via Social Media

How to Win Friends and Influence People, a book by Dale Carnegie outlines key ideas to pull others into your sphere of influence, to persuade them and to win others over to your goals and principles.  The book, published in the 1930’s, brings to mind the methods we use today in the online universe of social media.  Social media marketing is a method using social networks to influence others regarding an organization’s products and services.

Value to business “at the intersection”

Value occurs at the intersection where its employees, clients and potential clients interact with the company’s products and services, providing a stream of feedback and interaction with the business.

Think of the quintessential small town prior to the days of the internet – in the days when Dale Carnegie wrote How to Win Friends and Influence People.  Stores and businesses congregated near street intersections where there was a high traffic flow.  Store owners engaged the potential customer with social and business conversation.  People interacted with the establishment’s wares – seeing the goods, touching the products and evaluating their value.  Often, they would engage in conversation – “How is the weather?”, “Do you have any cap snafflers?”  “Does that quantambler come in red?”, “What size works for my situation?”, “If the product breaks, will you fix it?” The constant stream of feedback, interaction and “chatter” was useful to the business.  Customers saw the goods; employees commented on their value and their use by customers.  No store owner in his right mind would simply place his goods and prices in the store window and then sit in the “back of the store” waiting for the customer to buy.  Instead, they placed themselves at the front of the store, greeting visitors, interacting with the customers and keeping up the “chatter”.

Similarly, in the online world, customers can find a company’s goods and services.  Most businesses have a website.  In its simplest form,  a website is effectively an online brochure. While online brochures are a start, they do not often provide an interactive way for customers to find answers to their questions.  Where most businesses fail: not  providing an interactive way for employees to provide some “chatter” and for customers to chatter back about the company, its goods and services.  Many companies effectively “sit in the back of the store” waiting for a customer to buy.  Their online presence is a simple website that provides no way for clients, potential clients and employees to “chatter” about the company’s products and services.  Companies that fail to provide a place for employees and customers to discuss products and services effectively restrict access to their products and services.

The right place to conduct this kind of “chatter” is through social media tools – blogs, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Digg or company-created online communities.  Social media networks are “the intersection” of a company’s website, its clients, potential clients and employees.  If created and managed well, social media tools are the place where a company can connect with others, win friends and influence people.  Streams of influence flow at places where employees interact with a company’s content and produce meaningful client interaction.

The social media world grows daily – here are a few brief metrics (as of the writing of this article). According to Technorati, there are more than 133 million blogs in existence.  The website claims 400 million users and more than 25 billion pieces of content shared each month on its website.  Twitter’s micro blogging service reports more than 50 million daily updates (tweets) with the number of tweets rapidly growing.  These social media networks are the modern day “intersection” where clients and employees interact with a company, its products and services.

Fear factor

Businesses and charitable organizations often scratch their head with regards to social media tools – in a quandary regarding the online social media world.  What might happen if an employee tweets something that is not in line with company policy, what happens if one of the clients sees that the employee had Coco Puffs for breakfast, or spent time bragging online about their son’s youth athletics accomplishments?  What is the effect of employees sharing online posts that are not screened by the firm for “acceptability”?  What might happen if a customer complains online?Today’s electronic media allows clients to complain online and to affirm a company online. There is no stopping a client from blogging about poor service, tweeting praises regarding a firm’s products or commenting on Facebook regarding a firm’s services.  Progressive businesses step up to the new reality and proactively engage the client in such instances.  These firms think of a customer complaint as a gift – the opportunity to make a change or to influence others.  Businesses train their employees to address these types of situations rather than avoiding them.  Additionally, businesses use social media tools to connect with potential customers.Many employees find it difficult to separate personal lives (what cereal we ate for breakfast, with whom we ate lunch, where we went biking, what we though of the latest movie) from professional lives (how we are serving our clients, our professional project list, what we are learning professionally, the meetings we attend and why).

Some businesses are comfortable with letting their employees chatter about their personal and professional lives.  Those businesses conclude that chattering online makes the employees seem likable, approachable and human.

Other businesses do not feel comfortable with personal chatter.  These businesses tend to want “professional chatter” only.  These businesses are often more comfortable with “dual channels” for employee social media.  The dual channel concept involves employees setting up dual social media tools – one for personal life and one for professional life.  We see this dual channel everywhere – Facebook for friends and our personal/social life and LinkedIn for professional life.  In the Twitter world employees might have two accounts – one for professional updates and one for personal updates.

Ignore or engage?  Sit at the “back of the store” and wait for the customer to buy or “get out front” and engage customers in chatter?  That is a key question for businesses as they consider the social media sphere.  It is clear that businesses cannot avoid social media – the world is increasingly embracing social media.  As a result, each business must think critically of its social media strategy, manage its implementation and monitor its effect.

Accountability is Key

Just as one would hold an employee accountable for talking appropriately with a client, a business should hold an employee accountable for his professional and personal conduct in the online social media world.  Companies that train their employees on how to use social media effectively and hold them accountable to social media best practices gain value from such training.  Effective social media training allows employees to learn about the firm’s expectations for engaging the social media world.  Social media training introduces basic strategies for best representing their firm’s products and services.

While employees can powerfully interact with clients and potential clients via social media, it is important to remember that they own their own social media accounts.  Employees own their own social media accounts on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Digg and on other online communities.  Employees and contractors are responsible for the content on their accounts (and control that content as well).

Some online communities are not particularly useful places in which businesses (or their employees) might participate.  These are communities where users have online identities masked by usernames (cyberdude58 or happygirl684).  Online communities where users don’t have real information about themselves or where online identities are heavily masked don’t build trusted relationships.  They may have limited use for a business due to their lack of accountability.  Businesses and not-for profits are wise to generally avoid these kinds of online communities.

Influence Wisely

Some of the same key principles found in Dale Carnegie’s book How to Win Friends and Influence People apply to the online social media world – the world of blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube.  And good old common sense applies to using social media to influence others. Here are some key principles:

– Set a strategy for customer interaction.

– Choose channels for customer interaction.

– Train employees in appropriate use of selected channels
– Be active in social media channels.
– Manage your online reputation.
– Listen first, sell later.
– Show respect for the other person’s opinions.
– Appeal to noble motives.
– Give to the community and the community will give back to you.
Social media marketing is about engaging clients and potential customers.  The constant stream of social media chatter by a business and its employees influences customers and potential clients.  Businesses successful in using social media best practices influence others and build their brand while increasing their market value.

Critical thinking regarding this article

After reading this article, answer these key questions.Is your business engaging your potential clients and your existing customers (in person, on the phone and online)?

Does the business engage online – not just via a company website, but via true social interaction online?  Are you “sitting at the back of the store” by having a website with company information and product descriptions, but no without social interaction, without “chatter”?  Is your business “winning friends and influencing people” via its online processes?

Can your employees interact with potential customers online?  Do your employees influence others online and in person?  What tools has the business given employees to start a meaningful conversation with potential customers?  Do those tools allow employees to highlight company products and services?  Do these tools and processes highlight meaningful messages?

Is there untapped value in your employees engaging potential customers in chatter? What is the value to the business if that chatter were unlocked?

Does your business have a strategy for engaging customers “at the intersection” –  chattering at the intersection?

Is your business using best practices when interacting with customers – face-to-face, on the phone and online?

Suggested reading

How to Win Friends and Influence People – by Dale Carnegie. Published by Simon & Schuster, 1936.

Socialnomics – by Erik Qualman.  Published by John Wiley & Sons, 2009.

Big Spark Media can unlock the value of social media for your business.  Contact us to begin engaging your potential customers.