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Byadmin

Social Media Management for Professionals (4 of 4)

The final Q & A covering aspects of social media management for professionals

social-media-marketing-for-professional-services

Q1.      What do you do if staff have a personal twitter account, the content of which is at odds with the business or could bring it into disrepute?

A1. As covered in the previous Q&A your social media policy should cover such eventualities. If the account and its content is in clear conflict with your business you can request that it is deleted or amended to suit the firm. If they refuse check your social media policy – it should offer the firm the option of dismissing staff who breach the rules however allow time for the matter to be resolved before taking hasty action. Very often staff are not aware of the commercial sensitivities and competitive issues involved in running a business. If the reason for concern is raised in a reasonable manner and time granted for any suitable action to be taken you should resolve most matters quickly and easily.

Where the firm has acted reasonably, there is a clear conflict and yet the staff member has refused to co-operate you would be entitled to take appropriate action.

You will require an up to date social media policy and evidence that staff have been made aware of the rules and consequences of any breach. If in doubt consult an appropriately experienced employment lawyer before taken direct action.

2.      Is there a role for video within social media platforms and how can we make the most of it if there is?

A. Video is an excellent medium for promoting your business but in my experience too few are using it to best effect. We have moved on from the simple written word and hyperlinks to an increasing use of images as a form of visual branding. Video moves the message on a stage further where both the impact of moving images and sound can exponentially increase the reach of your message.

There is therefore a growing role for video as an effective mechanism to promote your company and social media platforms can significantly increase the audience reach of such content. The video may be beautifully produced, excellently articulated and worded to aim at your key customers but simply uploading to your website will not deliver the audience it deserves.

Examples of video best practice;

  • Prepare a clear plan or script, setting the scene, target audience, players, location, content and expected duration. This should also consider the platforms to which the video should be linked. Is it to be uploaded to YouTube, Vimeo or be a “live” broadcast on Periscope or Facebook?
  • Avoid talking heads – the subject talking directly to the camera but clearly reading a script. Seek engagement by using an interview scenario and vary the shots. It’s worth investing in a professional broadcaster to pose as interviewer or provide training for those most likely to be front of camera. Nothing worse than one of your senior and most accomplished practitioners looking shifty on camera due to nerves and poor preparation.
  • There are tools that can create video from presentation slides to create a webinar. If you must use this technique keep the video to a time frame between 5 and 10 minutes max. If you have more content than 10 minutes can handle consider breaking the project into a series of videos rather than one or two lengthy broadcasts. Also seek out a voice-over that is bright and impactful not dull and sleep inducing.
  • Don’t oversell the video. Viewers like to discover new content and be the one’s to share and inform their own networks. It is precisely this section of your audience that can turn a “nice project” into a “winning performance” gaining significant traction through online engagement and recognition. Be informative as to the content of the video but don’t get carried away in a narrative. If a viewer thinks they’ve discovered a gem of informative and entertainingly presented content they will only too quickly share. If they have been presented with an overtly self congratulatory introduction they will sit back and expect to be “wowed!”

Overall I would recommend experimenting with video but be careful not to damage the firm’s brand with an overly amateurish production. Smartphones are actually powerful enough to create good video footage but investing in sound enhancement equipment and editing software will be money well spent.

3.      Is there a role for paid-for promotions on platforms like LinkedIn?

Experiment, see how they work measure results and decide on future investment. I’ve used several and the best so far has been Facebook.  Facebook works for me because it provides access to a significant depth of demographic data which helps tailor campaigns. If you’re looking more to a B2B over a B2C campaign I would suggest LinkedIn but again tread very carefully before committing £££. I’ve had mixed results with LinkedIn and the jury is still most definitely out on whether it can deliver over time for a variety of prodct/ service offerings. Most LinkedIn users are acutely aware and wary of in platform advertising and promotions.

My advice is to treat any advertising expenditure on LinkedIn or other social platforms like that of TV, Radio or Press. You want a return on your investment you’re not simply investing in the channel hoping it might work.

On the upside I have found LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter to be very supportive when issues have arisen. Now is a good time to experiment with this area of advertising as, (a) Not many are using the medium to advertise (b) The platforms are very keen for their ad propositions to work and ergo, happy to help and respond if it goes poorly.

4.     What can firms learn from social media analytics?

Typically it’s the last thing considered but it is so important in deciding the demand for future investment and resource. Twitters own in app package is actually very good, Hootsuite can produce tailored reports LinkedIn is useful when looking at the tracking of post activity and e-mail apps such as MailChimp and Campaign Monitor also help. There’s the daddy of drilling into data,Google analytics but I’m not going to lie, it can be difficult to identify the specific data set that you need,

My advice, unless you have an analysis ninja to hand is to keep it simple and focus on the key metrics of engagement, brand profile, reviews, comments and ultimately client acquisition. Nothing simpler than asking a new client what brought them to you, where they heard of you and had they been aware of your social media accounts, if so which ones. Old fashioned? Yes Effective? Most definitely.

This concludes the four part Q&A social media management for professionals. If you have any questions not covered by this series of articles feel free to connect and ask me directly or comment below.

Byadmin

Absolutely Blab-ulous! – Why the Business World is Tuning in to Blab

A new kid on the block of live video streaming apps has an appropriate name,Blab.  It’s similar but sufficiently different to others such as Persicope and Meerkat that I thought it worth investigating.

Blab


The biggest difference with Blab is that it actively encourages others to join in and share the limelight, a bit like Google hangouts but without the overly fussy set up and management.  Four individuals can share screen time with typically one of the four being the host whilst any number of viewers can join in to watch the live event.  The US users are quick to point the similarity in look to the classic TV show “The Brady Bunch” and its opening credits.

The success and take up of Periscope and Meerkat has been possible due to advances in mobile video streaming capability with better wifi and 4G access.  Blab however has more of a “studio” feel.  There are a greater number of professional and good amateur presenters using desktop access and higher quality cameras and microphones compared to the many Periscope users who are just streaming video by way of a variation on a tweet or Facebook post.

It is still early days for Blab, in fact it’s still in “Beta” mode but you can already see how this platform could revolutionise webinars.  The site offers an opportunity for active participation from up to 4 panel members who could each be located on a different continent or just as easily be in the same room.blab logo

Viewers can log in to pre-publicised broadcasts at the allotted time and enable e-mail alerts to remind them when to watch.  The video can also be saved and sent as a link via e-mail or placed on your website to be watched at a time to suit the viewer.

The interaction with twitter is far better via a desktop but if you are on the move and have a healthy connection it provides an excellent method of catching your favourite experts, podcaster or topic of interest.  You can also broadcast your own Blab on the move but if you check out the better received content on the platform it tends to be generated from the desktop pc or laptop.  The reason for this is the scope of information you can gather and use via the screen, helping with visitor interaction as they message you during a broadcast.  Sounds a little manic and it can be but that’s all part of the charm of Blab.

Unsurprisingly the vast majority of users and participants are based in the US but the word is spreading and my guess is it won’t be long before brands and business advisors across the globe start to see the advantage of the format.  There’s certainly no reason why you shouldn’t investigate the possibility of hosting your own “show” where you may participate with colleagues, peers or invited guests.

The screenshot of the Blab featured in the main picture used for this blog involves social media experts Heather Heuman (Sweet Tea Social) and Stephanie Nissen.  They delivered a very informative session with guests taking their hot seat shown as the “call in” space to ask questions, it works very well indeed.

I would recommend having a look at Blab, click on a few shows, if feeling brave take part in a chat or if feeling even braver take a seat if there’s one spare.

Remember that you will need a webcam, yourself in view, good sound quality and hopefully a good background.

Smarter Blabbers introduce their Brands via signs or pictures placed behind them but in good sight, so those tuning in can be reminded who they’re watching.

I can see companies using Blab for internal training or conference calls with the private approved users only feature stopping others joining in.  As a tool for a wider audience it can deliver key messages, seminars, promotions and consultations.

Go take a look at  https://blab.im/ and let me know what you think, see if you agree that it could have genuine appeal for your business.

Byadmin

Is Marketing Dead?

Headlines of a similar nature have been peppering business news feeds for a couple of years now.  It’s a dramatic supposition. A management function that has breathed its last, passed on, is no more, has ceased to be, expired and gone to meet its maker, stiff and bereft of life, it rests in peace.  Apologies I slipped into a Monty Python moment there.  Just holding with that “Dead Parrot” thought, it does at times feel as though traditional marketing methods and traditional practitioners have been nailed to their perch to give an impression of life where actually none exists.

Marketing Dead

What do I mean when I suggest Marketing may have “shuffled off its mortal coil”? 

Of course as a discipline it’s somewhat absurd to think that it no longer exists or matters but in my view and that of many marketers its traditional construct is no longer relevant in today’s world.

Lecturers and consultants have been surviving on a diet of “P’s” for a very long time to provide a Platform and Purpose to their approach to marketing.  In its day Product, Price, Place and Promotion were a big hit and can still be seen as the core thrust for setting a marketing strategy.  The trouble with a diet of “P’s” is that it can cause wind, and there’s lots of it around.  The classic 4 P’s are just not going to work.

Why?

In today’s socially enabled World building a marketing strategy almost exclusively on a “Push” approach of promoting your product or service, is not going to cut it.

Today when customers wish to engage with a supplier to purchase goods or services they have a variety of sources to choose from before they make a decision:-

Personal social networks, peers and opinion formers or as Malcolm Gladwell refers to them, connectors or mavens in his book Tipping Point.  These are the new, trusted salesforce that businesses need to engage with as their reach and influence can prove invaluable to building brand profile and loyalty. These individuals are actively responding to questions raised within LinkedIn Groups, Facebook forums, Twitter or a picture of the proposed purchase on Snapchat, Pinterest or Instagram seeking feedback from followers.

Search – yes of course internet search remains a key element of the process. Customers will “Google” a term appropriate to their need but typically, for more complex or high value items they will in the first instance consult with their own networks.

Consumers are becoming increasingly tired of TV advertising hence the introduction of “red button” Shazam and interactive ads that seek to offer a greater experience and hopefully generate a community conversation that increases brand profile.

Case Example – Socially Grown Brands

The emergence of Aldi and Lidl as major supermarkets in the UK is largely down to good old “word of mouth”.  Whilst the ads are clever, they are but a supporting act to the real promotional drivers who are converted shoppers demonstrating their prowess in managing the family budget.  The previous snobbery surrounding a visit to a budget supermarket has been superseded by a need to save in recessionary times, an issue that still faces very many households.  Once the stigma is removed newbie shoppers who were prepared to “try it out” became evangelical in their praise for the shop that cut their weekly spend without a loss of quality.

Aldi have neatly tapped into this growing number of customers by introducing social media campaigns encouraging them to share their stories such as #AldiChallenge.  Lidl launched a TV campaign in 2014 that also played on the kudos of knowing something your neighbour doesn’t with #LidlSurprises .

Whatever spend these two supermarkets put into their advertising it is clear that the biggest single factor in their success has been the conversations between friends, families and trusted members of social networks.

The Envero Brand Trust Index 2014 – extract from www.envero.co.uk

 

Envero’s 2014 Brand Trust Index surveyed over 30,000 consumers covering over 2,500 brands in 20+ countries.

 

The Index measures people’s willingness to positively recommend brands (advocate) but also to recommend against them (detract), and the underlying drivers of this recommendation behaviour.

 

Richard Evans, Envero managing partner says:  “Aldi has seen by far the biggest increase in net recommendation, which measures advocates minus detractors, of any brand in the survey since 2010, when it didn’t even make the top 100. Now it’s number 21 and if it continues to increase its advocates at this rate it will soon be in the UK top 10 ahead of any other UK supermarket.”

 

The Future

Whatever we call it and let’s face it marketers love to give things a name, we won’t entirely lose the “Marketing” moniker but we should certainly look at what is being done in its name.

Traditional thinking is dead and any marketer who is not fully conversant with social technologies and considering community engagement strategies might want to think about an alternative career.  The World has changed and it’s not going back, we are living in an exciting and scary time of global connectivity.  You can equally grow or destroy a brand in hours with the right or wrong communication.  This is why it’s important to understand the new media channels and essentially those who use them.

New marketing is a conversation, connection and an interest in communities linked virtually via distinct networks.  CEO’s and business owners should be challenging their marketing departments to show how they are proposing to take the company forward in light of these seismic changes.

As far as I know there isn’t a definitive guide to navigate these new waters – most likely this is due to the pace of change, which has been such it would be out of date by the time it was published.  At such times, like the Wild West, snake oil salesman proliferate with their cure all solutions.  Be it SEO, Social or straightforward customer acquisition there are no simple answers.   When looking to grow your business you should back your instincts and look to trusted resources to achieve the objectives.  Look for recommendations, testimonials, talk to others who have similar issues and don’t make hasty decisions.

Traditional thinking is now akin to driving whilst only ever looking in the rear view mirror.  This “brave new World” is throwing up quite a few twists and turns requiring innovative, entrepreneurial thinking and eyes that are firmly on the road ahead.

Suggested To Do List :-

  1. Challenge the status quo – review current activities, plans their impact/return
  2. Review resources/in-house and outsourced
  3. Conduct thorough evaluation of proposed resources/seek out trusted recommendations
  4. Create a plan to deliver social engagement in target areas
  5. Factor in a mechanism to continually update the plan based upon emerging technologies/ trends
  6. Set realistic parameters for success ie increase profit, Klout score, brand awareness, network size and relevance
  7. Share the plan internally
  8. Measure results regularly and hold resources to account

 

Byadmin

Marketing – Is it really all about the 3 C’s – Content, Content, Content?

Pick up a copy of a business magazine, webinar, SEO whitepaper, workshop agenda or open one of those hundreds of marketing tip e-mails [not all such e-mails are the same of course 🙂 ] and the chances are you’ll not go far before the word “content” is mentioned.

Content Marketing Plan

Content Marketing Plan

If you want your website to be a successful shop window for your company you need it to be well furnished with content, lots of it, all shapes and sizes, colours, creations and categories……or do you?

Call me an old cynic…but when I start to sense a trend forming and a bandwagon being jumped on I have a natural inclination to run in the opposite direction.   Sure SEO is important but what if you produce masses of poor content?  All that will prove is that you’ve created a big website full of “stuff” that nobody is going to read let alone share.  Surely the idea with this facet of marketing is to produce quality, focused material that appeals to those who you have identified as your target audience.   Badly written and presented content will have the adverse effect.  I would argue that even if you did rank higher as a result of your prolific production once anyone clicked on it they would be more inclined to bounce straight out again.  This would only create a negative impression.

Ok back to basics, what is “content”? Does anyone really know or is it just another “buzzword” that sounds good but has little thought behind it.

 

Content varies from the obvious written word, blog, news update, article to more visual and increasingly popular sources such as infographics, webinars and other video based productions such as YouTube, Vimeo, Vine, Snapchat, Instagram, Meerkat and Periscope.

Just for starters WordPress report that there are 42.6 million blog posts per month. Now imagine how that number is going to escalate with the buzzword of the year “content” driving marketing activities.  Add to the written word the growing trend of video posts and you’ve a very busy and somewhat cluttered space in which you’re trying to make a name for yourself.

Typical Examples

A)     You can just see the common scenario developing where a young marketing manager, having read all the latest guides, asks the MD to produce a blog for the company.  The MD is very busy but she knows this buzz of blogging and “thought leadership” is the thing she really should be doing…so she writes one.  It’s not great but it is her first effort.  The marketer doesn’t feel that they can correct the boss so is left with no option but to post it.  No one comments on it, it’s only read by staff internally who universally agree the MD should stick to running the business.

B)      Or what about a situation where no one in the business has the time to write an article or blog so they look around for help.  Now for the purpose of balance I must advise that yes, there are excellent copywriters, journalists, wordsmiths who have both the intelligence and skill to produce high quality “home grown looking” material that is both informative and easy to digest.  Unfortunately given the “content” Goldrush we have no shortage of prospectors panning for nuggets but finding fool’s gold, those who look the real deal, talk a good game but simply don’t understand enough about the business and the best way to communicate with their target audience.  In this example the business spends a large chunk of their annual marketing budget on an agency who simply fails to connect with the client and produces low grade results albeit in large quantities.  The company sacks the agency when the MD asks a few pertinent questions at a board meeting such as “Do they own a dictionary” “Have they met our production team” “Why are the web visits up but the engagement down?” The result, the agency blames the client and the resultant lack of business demonstrates the importance of having a well thought through strategy that involves communications that connect with the target audience.

So what should you be doing?

  1. Know your audience and understand what they want, how they consume information and if indeed an MD blog is the way to grow your business profile.
  2. Google does seek fresh and relevant content so it is an idea to have your website populated with dynamic regularly updated and appropriate material.
  3. Don’t overlook the use of video or slides as content alternatives but ensure they are well scripted, planned and executed and not “handmade”.
  4. Don’t follow the competition, find your own voice and methods of communicating that speak of your business, its culture and strong sales points.
  5. Whilst it’s important it’s not all about digital.  Consider the offline use of content such as print, face to face and traditional broadcast mediums.
  6. If you can make use of the writing talent within your business.  It doesn’t need to be perfect but be prepared to offer constructive criticism to ensure that the finished article is as professional as possible.
  7. Provide training – consider bringing in a professional writer/ journalist to deliver a session on writing for a specific audience.
  8. Don’t make it a one hit wonder. Take responsibility for driving the content creation within the business.
  9. If you do outsource vet the suppliers with terrific care. I would strongly counsel against allowing an agency to run social media sites for your company however more complex written material may need external expertise to deliver. Seek out those who are prepared to understand your business and offer true bespoke material rather than a factory production line.
  10. Last but by all means not least, be clear as to your objectives and strategy. Ask the question IS CONTENT CREATION THE CORRECT SOLUTION FOR MY BUSINESS? If so what will work and where are you best employed to deliver optimum returns. If not don’t be badgered by the bandwagon promoters, trust your instincts.

If you would like to discuss any of the issues raised in this blog please contact David Laud via twitter @davidlaud or call 08456 446624

Byadmin

Putting Theory Into Practice – Can Social Media Generate Business?

Consultants, coaches, business advisers and circuit speakers can frequently fall into a trap when handing out advice as they touch on subjects that they’ve lost touch with.  In the current cauldron of technological innovation and digital dependence that’s not all too surprising because they rarely have time to stop and revisit their thinking or more importantly put their theory into practice.

Ballet Icon on Computer KeyboardJust because advice sounds plausible, logical and possible doesn’t make it a cast iron sure bet to work.   My view is that we must accept we can’t possibly stay at the sharp end, understanding latest trends, tips, wrinkles and methodologies, without being self-aware and putting those golden nuggets of advice to the test to establish their true value.  Instead of sticking with ideas that are possibly past their “sell by date” or untested put yourself in the position of a client.  Rather than act as an adviser seek to prove those ideas, strategies and actions by applying them to a real situation.

 

How to generate new business is one of the most regular questions posed by clients and for obvious reasons.  Winning new customers is essential to growth and sustainability and over time owners, directors and managers can become complacent, lose focus and need a guiding hand to put the company back onto a positive footing.

 

Luckily for me I’ve recently had an ideal opportunity, which was literally very close to home, to test the theory of business generation in a very contemporary field of marketing, social media.

 

My wife decided last year that it was time, following years of looking after the family, to take up the challenge of running her own ballet school.   Being the true professional that she is, my wife ensured that she was fully up to date with syllabi and best practice according to the Royal Academy of Dance.  Whilst I had every confidence in my wife’s capability as a teacher I could see as a potential hurdle with her previous steadfast view that she did not “do social media”.  No personal Facebook page, no twitter and certainly nothing as exotic as Instagram or Pinterest.

 

Here was an excellent opportunity for me to not only help my wife achieve her ambition of running a successful school but to also put those many theories to win business through digital channels to the test.

 

It’s often said that it can be a dangerous, potentially painful process working with your other half but in our experience it proved pretty much straightforward.  I know nothing at all about dance let alone ballet and she knew very little of social media and marketing matters.

 

My first concern was to have a website and to ensure that it was given the right treatment to appear in search terms, to also provide the essential link to sites such as Netmums and Yell.com but also as its essential when creating social media accounts.  The website also needed to be fully responsive, smartphone and tablet friendly.

 

The key target audience for the ballet school is mothers of children aged from two and a half to teenage so my first piece of advice was to establish a solid Facebook page.  Starting from scratch it was also going to be important to get matters moving quickly and create a steady flow of enquiries.  As with many businesses the primary customer activity when looking for this service/ activity was to go online.  A google search for “ballet school” on google would automatically bring up schools that were registered and verified with the search site.  To do this the school needed to have a Google account and for the best chance of high profile recognition an active Google+ account.

 

It was essential that the school became verified and that the map engine within Google had Mrs L’s business linked to the address.  That way the school would show up listed with other verified schools and the closer to the target location the higher the ranking.  Simple but so many businesses miss his very important step.

 

After Google+ and Facebook we created twitter, Instagram and Pinterest sites to add breadth and visual impact to the school’s brand.

 

I suggested that my wife needed to create a regular dialogue with our local community and that was through a localised, gender and age specific “like” campaign for Facebook and a daily news feed of curated stories relating to the art form on twitter simply called “Ballet News”.  The latter news update has been a huge success.  Why such a success?  Mrs L’s attention to detail and regular posts have created an expectation of consistency, entertainment and information which her community greatly appreciate.   In response to my prompt on the importance of engagement on Facebook Mrs L launched a regular ballet related picture post and specifically once a week “Tutu Tuesday” featuring a new outfit each week.  I take only a very small piece of credit, the genius of the creative idea and execution was entirely down to the proprietor…not me.  That signified a watershed moment, the owner of the business owned their media and understood it enough to capitalise on its power.

 

And what of the results of this test of social media guidance and marital relationship?

 

Well no divorce…quite the contrary.  A thriving business that since launch in April has grown to over 40 regular students and 3 to 4 new enquiries each week 90% either via the website, fed by twitter and Instagram accounts or directly from the Facebook page.

 

Of course it helps that my wife is a talented teacher and has great rapport with students and parents alike but for me it proved the power of social media.  Mrs L has commented that she doesn’t know how she could possibly have managed without Facebook or her website.  Interestingly we experimented with more traditional marketing – the results were mixed.  The local paper proved the most expensive investment and produced nothing whilst a magazine targeting primary schools more than covers its costs.  By far and away the most successful medium for promoting the school is Facebook and the website, searched for on Google.

 

All of the above and the ongoing success of the school proves that there are advantages in having a strong, well-articulated digital presence aligned to a good product.

 

Key Social Media Steps for a Start Up

  • Research your market and grasp the key actions taken when purchasing/ researching your product/ service.
  • In line with the above data create a website and keep the content fresh and optimised for search engines.
  • Create social media accounts that are relevant to your target market
  • Build a network for each account reflecting that audience, eg other associated interests
  • Build content that is fresh, interesting and relevant to your network
  • Don’t bombard your audience with sales messages and endless promotions, share useful posts and engage
  • Respond – download the social media apps and e-mail accounts to your smartphone and be prepared to react as and when enquiries arrive
  • Don’t panic – it won’t happen overnight, it’s definitely a marathon and not a sprint
  • If you’re stuck seek advice but be sure to not to simply outsource your activity – that will not work for you in the long term
  • Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself but watch out for cross platform links and potential duplication, best to keep things simple to start with.
  • Try new platforms but test the results, if it’s not working ask why – keep up with developments
  • If operating multiple social media accounts consider using tools such as Hootsuite to manage your time and posts and measure results.

 

I’m not ready to don the tights and show you my arabesque but I’m very happy to help you grow your organisation be it in education, retail, manufacturing or the service sector if fact any business that thrives on generating new customers.

Drop me a line via the contact form below.

David Laud @davidlaud

 

Byadmin

9 Tips to Help Manage Your Biggest Assets

It’s surprising how many times we can make assumptions of others in the workplace and often underestimate the workload and stresses those in senior roles deal with. As a junior and middle manager I too fell into the trap of thinking the “boss” was not always engaged with the important stuff and didn’t understand what it was like at the coalface. Of course the chances were that not only was the boss aware of the issues they too were under enormous pressure and keeping many plates spinning on may poles, your universe of interest being just one.

 

It's getting harder to keep things from falling down - Multi Channel Marketing Challenge

“The life of a typical business owner is becoming ever more stressful –  keeping many plates spinning on many poles”

The need is as great now as it’s ever been for business owners, directors and senior managers to understand how they can best inspire, motivate and manage the human resources around them.
The “boss” today has to look at markets that are increasingly competitive. There are very real pressures on expenditure and real need to maximise returns whilst customers are expecting “more for less” and the opportunities for growth harder to define and find.

Having recently worked with a number of clients with similar issues I thought it timely to look at some ideas to help better manage the essential asset of most businesses, their people.

 

Time Management
How many times do you find your blood pressure rising when a member of staff saunters in at 9.15 a.m.? The fact is, strict times for starting and finishing a job may apply to specific jobs that require production schedules or the presence of those offering direct customer engagement. For many others, especially those in technical or creative roles, a 9 to 5 doesn’t really apply. What we should look at is not the hours spent sat at a desk but what was produced in the time they were at work. You could have the most punctual person in the world working for you but that doesn’t automatically make them better than someone who might arrive a little later. To overcome stresses and possible squabbles amongst staff offer a flexible working schedule and consider working from home as a genuine option. Remember to measure and manage what’s produced in that flexi time.

 
Match roles and tasks to those best suited
Square pegs and round holes, yes it’s a very real problem for many businesses. Here’s a “for instance” – Derek’s worked in sales administration for years but is actually far better suited to working in IT and training others on how to get the most out of the software used in the company. How do you work this out? Talk to staff, make an appraisal a proper appraisal and assess real strengths and weaknesses and personal aspirations and likes. Quite often a secret interest or passion can become incredibly useful to a business. It helps to know what those special interests and skills are and to keep an ongoing dialogue with staff as things rarely remain static.

 

Bright stars should work on the biggest opportunities
The high flyers in a business need sufficient air space to demonstrate their skills and offer the greatest return for your organisation. Too often talent is held back or restricted through traditional hierarchical structures and/or short sighted managers. The outcome? The talent leaves for a job where they can truly realise their ambitions. If you want to keep the best and get the most from them allow a little latitude, remove the shackles and allow them to take responsibility for their own projects. Building experience in such a way is invaluable and often rewarded by increased loyalty and performance.
Set stretching but achievable goals

No one should suggest that we avoid measuring performance, quite the contrary but at the same time we shouldn’t become overzealous with our expectation and demands. Realistic, stretching but manageable objectives shared and understood by the team will provide the motivation to reach for the target. Too tough and it quickly becomes a disincentive to try and too soft and staff may believe they’re on easy street and get distracted with other non-essential matters.

 

Put your trust in the team and let them know you trust them
Without a fundamental level of trust between business owners and staff, conflict, stress and aggravation often follows. People like to know that they are valued. Demonstrating trust through allowing self-control of their tasks, time management, resources required and engagement with goal setting can prove immensely motivational.

 

When things go wrong don’t seek out someone to hang it on

Things will and often do go wrong. The way in which you handle the failures marks out the culture of the business. By way of comparison our own true character is often shown in adversity. It’s all too easy to find and single out the cause if it’s an individual, they may well admit to their part in the process. Remember Alan Sugar is playing a role in a TV show on the Apprentice and it bears very little relevance to the day to day running of a company. Be positive in the analysis and just ensure that the team understands where things went wrong to avoid the same mistakes happening again. In the same regard don’t desperately hang on to a failing project, be brave, assess the prospects and if the expected outcome looks unlikely to materialise, provide a positive review and close it down. It’s pretty de-motivating working on a project that just isn’t delivering, better to re-focus efforts on more positive opportunities.

 
You’re the boss but you don’t have to have all the answers
All too often I meet with business owners who shoulder an enormous level of responsibility and in their minds the expectations of the workforce. Often they themselves apply the added pressure assuming staff are looking to the owners for the answers to every strategic and operational issue. This again reflects the culture of an organisation and if a “control freak” management style permeates the business, employees will sit back and expect that controller to manage them and make any major or even minor decision. That weight of expectation can be lifted by getting staff to think for themselves, make their own decisions and participate in planning.
• Give staff credit for successes
Don’t forget we all like to receive positive feedback and know we’re good at our jobs. Recognition and rewards are a very important factor in building and maintaining positive team spirit and momentum.

 
Managing Change
In my experience the vast majority of employees can cope with and manage changes in their working patterns very well. A lack of communication however can seriously jeopardise the chances of capitalising on a change in business direction or move to new markets/ products. The more you involve staff at the earliest juncture and keep them updated the better the chances of success. Change can be worrying for some, so avoid big surprises by communicating as outlined above and cut off any negative rumours or grapevine that left unchecked may undermine your best efforts.

It’s true to say that managing people is one of the toughest aspects of running a business. Get it right and it not only has the prospect of providing a turbo boost to hit targets but also make the owners lives far less lonely and stressful.

David Laud – follow me on twitter @davidlaud

Byadmin

Excellent Customer Service – Have You Got it Covered?

Having just returned from a trip to California I’m inspired to write about customer service.  Not that we encountered the very best at every turn, yes it was mostly very good but my TripAdvisor reviews did include the odd horror.

cafe los feliz

Cafe Los Feliz – Good Food Great Service

Yes, even the great land of “awesomeness” and “super excitement” didn’t get it right all the time.  Anyone who’s visited the USA will know that the policy of tipping can be delivered in a variety of ways depending on who, where and sometimes when you’re visiting.  What you quickly realise is that “service” is very often included and if not added automatically you’re strongly encouraged by guideline % figures.

But if you don’t feel the service matches the promise it can get very interesting, almost as if the business refuses to accept they could get anything wrong.

On the downside we found attitudes were at times curt and clippy in certain establishments. The approach to customers tired and cynical.  Service in a couple of restaurants started well but quickly fell away as other patrons arrived and their well of goodwill and friendliness quickly dried up as visible stress levels increased.  One hotel in particular responded so poorly to my observations of their hotel on Trip Advisor that it will only serve to generate poor review number two.  If a customer is not happy don’t poke them with a sharp stick.  I was rather astonished at the arrogant dismissive response.  If you’re running a business you need to take all feedback on board and respond in a balanced sensible way, even if you do think their experience somewhat far away from reality.  The fact is it was their reality and their shoes you need to stand in.

On the upside we encountered many excellent examples of good service.  The Café Los Feliz lived up to their Instagram presentation with the delivery of an outstanding breakfast.  The Arch Rock restaurant in Santa Barbara who’s superb food was only matched by the excellent chat we had with the waiter and the Italian Seafood restaurant in San Francisco – Cioppinos so good we went back for more on another day.  Their promise of finding a table for us in 20 minutes evaporated to 5 when the maitre d came to us whilst we were ordering drinks at their bar to say she’d loved the way we’d been so happy and polite and offered to jump us forward to the next available table.

So the US are not, in my view, the custodians of all that is “excellent” in customer service.  Of course they’re still very good in so many areas but to my surprise there are a number who are clearly not as good as they should be.  Not a perfect piece of research, we were on holiday after all and not handing out questionnaires or interrogating staff and fellow customers.  Our perception however is real and nevertheless valid.  Perhaps the recession has had its impact and service levels have as a result been adversely affected as profits became harder to find.

We did all love our Californian excursion a truly memorable experience but it’s clear you don’t have to travel so far to see excellence in customer service.  This weekend we took our dog to the nearby beach at Saltburn.  We stopped off for a cuppa and a bite to eat at a small café near the beach and noticed the many purple blankets at each table.  The owners had considered the experience of their clientele, the UK climate and possibility of children and adults who’d taken a recent dip shivering as others decide to have a pit stop before heading home.

The blankets were a small but very important touch, showing that the Café understood its customers and cared enough to keep them comfortable whilst sipping tea and eating scones or ice cream. When it comes to customer service Camfields Espresso Bar in Saltburn have got it well and truly covered.

Camfields in Saltburn - They've Got it Covered

Camfields in Saltburn – They’ve Got it Covered

It’s the little touches that can make such a big difference and that’s true of any business.  The result you want is a happy customer and for them to spread the word like warm butter on those Yorkshire scones.

Byadmin

New “Face” lift for Twitter

The dust is starting to settle after the initial rather mixed response to the Face “book” lift applied to twitter accounts.

You get a rather gentle prod by the platform to decide if you really do want to give it a go but I suspect like many the temptation to see what the fuss is about mixed with the nagging fear of being left behind drives users toward the new look layout.

Big Tweets for All

Big Tweets for All

Personally I don’t mind it, I think it’s a natural evolution but it’s also strikingly similar to many other sites and for a great number of twitter fans it’s a step too far.

But what exactly is all the fuss about?

  •  Larger profile photos – Your profile snap is now 400 pixels by 400 pixels it’s the same square ratio as before but you might want to check that the upsizing hasn’t distorted the original image. It could be the ideal opportunity to upload a new profile pic
  • New dimensions for the header image – Like Facebook the main image dominates the screen and fits across the browser.  The image size required is 1500 pixels by 500 pixels.  If you really like your current header image you’ll need to ensure it hasn’t become blurred by the change in dimensions.  Note that alternative screen sizes will cause the image and its layout to appear differently.
  • Top tweets –  Tweets that you’ve generated that created the most interest and engagement will appear larger than other posts. A good way for anyone visiting your twitter stream to see what others find interesting in your updates.
  • Pinning tweets –  Now you can pin a tweet of your choice to the top of your profile page. This is useful if you want to extend the life of an important message given the average lifecycle of a tweet is but 30 seconds.
  • Filtering views –  There’s a useful choice now for you to be able to see tweets of others in isolation or to see the tweet and replies to review a conversation.
  • General layout – The look of twitter on PC and laptop certainly can be likened to that of Facebook, Google+ and Pinterest with far greater emphasis on photo and video linked tweets on top of the increase in profile and header image prominence.

 

Time to Update the Profile Pic?

Time to Update the Profile Pic?

Is it progress?

  • Yes – if you see visual content as king and the future of meaningful social media engagement.
  • No – if you were happy with the platform as it was and enjoyed the simple yet effective construct of the site.

My personal view is that it adds certain useful features, in particular the pinning of tweets to the top of your profile page.  One problem I see with the changes is the proliferation of smartphone and smaller tablets and their use over PC and laptop.  You can now take photos and post so easily from these devices that they are quickly taking the place of the traditional methods used for online interaction.  As it stands the new changes have not migrated fully to mobile device formats but no doubt it’s just a matter of time before they do.

Byadmin

Putting the “Social” Back into Social Media Marketing

Have you noticed it’s getting harder to generate meaningful responses and take part in active “real time” conversations on social media platforms?  I have and I know many others who experience the same issue which is why I think we need to put the “Social” back into social media marketing.   In my view one of the root causes of this trend away from network engagement is the application of tools to assist in posting multiple messages and scheduling content broadcasts.

Putting the "Social" Back

Putting the “Social” Back

For this I have a confession, I’m guilty as charged.  I occasionally schedule posts using a very well-known and popular application and yes I get a sense of relief and satisfaction knowing that I’ve organised myself and my business.  It’s planning ahead and that’s good isn’t it?

In the strictest sense of business management yes, it’s good to be organised, but what have I actually done by scheduling tweets and G+ updates and sharing blog content at times when I’ll be very busy with other matters?

I’ll tell you what I’ve done…I’ve removed myself from the core principle of social media…engagement.  Of course I have alerts set up on tablet and phone so if one of the automated tweets receives a favourite, re-tweet or mention in any way I will have an immediate notification.  Despite the efforts to acknowledge and have an interaction with followers it’s still only a reactive response to my own content and not a supportive comment or conversation based upon my networks very current posts.

I do still take time to post personal messages and support others on-line but if I’m being brutally honest I’m not doing enough.

Too many social media users have lost focus on the “social” and become more obsessed with simply broadcasting.  Marketing teams are schooled in how best to push the message through these new channels and only a few companies are really engaging with customers and their networks.  The best examples of making social media work in large organisations is having teams readily accessing channels to pick up on comment, complaint and feedback.  That’s listen mode ahead of broadcast mode.

As a marketer I do see social media platforms as communication channels but they are not the same as TV and radio they are uniquely designed for personal engagement.  Creating campaigns to deliver sales messages over and over again interspersed with the occasional useful content is not going to impress many in your network.

Social media has evolved and for many it still performs and delivers but it’s worth taking a step back and giving your current strategy a little “Spring clean”.

I for one will be turning down the auto tweets and returning to the fundamental foundation of the medium.  Listening first, learning about others and encouraging positive engagement.  The best advice I can give is to place yourself in the position of one of your network members and try see how you appear in their timeline.  If you come across as one of those annoying spam phone calls that’s pre-recorded and doesn’t allow you to respond it’s time to re-think your approach.

One shining light in the social media tunnel is the introduction of interest, profession, sector or location based groups who meet on-line at specific times and share a hash-tag # to help bring everyone into view.  Here people can and do actively engage in the moment and enjoy the virtual networking experience that can prove so very useful and motivational.

Above all you get far greater rewards from real-time engagement it just takes a little more investment in time and effort.  No one is expecting you to “camp out” on twitter or permanently “latch on” on to LinkedIn.  Set yourself a sensible time schedule, assess when others are also on-line and start listening.  Find out which groups that interest you are already “hanging out” at specific times.

I’m looking forward to putting the emphasis back to where it belongs on social media sites and having some fun while I’m doing it.  If you have a story to share please feel free to post a comment, I’d love to hear from you.

David Laud

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Byadmin

Is the Marketing Plan a Dead Doc?

I sense that the traditional marketing planning process has taken something of a back seat in recent years.  I don’t have definitive proof just anecdotal comment from fellow marketers and business owners but I suspect there’s a trend developing.

Putting a Plan Together

Putting a Plan Together

The main reasons for our failure to plan appear to be time, or rather the lack of it.  When I’ve pressed on the subject many get defensive and point to a myriad of additional excuses such as;

  • Lack of resource to help with the process
  • Nothing wrong with the plan we have just need to update it
  • Too many day to day distractions
  • Other areas of the business are a priority

Plus the rather worrying comment I overheard recently “It won’t make any difference if we plan or not, it’s just a piece of paper and no one ever looks at it”

You might be surprised to hear that I have enormous sympathy for those making these comments.  I agree that you need the resources, time and a clear focus as to what the planning process is going to deliver for you.

In addition to the above statements I also get the impression that the increased emphasis on social media activity has created a challenge for many marketers, to “keep up”, innovate and manage the relatively new medium.  This creates a dilemma for the marketing manager/director or business owner.  As soon as you set out what you intend to do in your carefully prepared plan some new development, platform or nuance emerges that overrides the plan and requires either a re-write or more likely just enough reason to ignore the original plan.

Given the pace of change and pressures the obvious question would be, is the traditional marketing plan redundant, defunct and a “dead doc”?

My answer is yes and no.  Yes the traditional method of planning out a year’s worth of activity, by product, service or person by location with expected outcomes, in fine detail with budgeted expenditure and suppliers, has a diminished value.  It can still be worth undertaking as a broad guide to budget and activity and shape thinking but not as a firm “set in stone” plan.

If plans are going to have any real influence and ongoing relevance on the direction and success of the business they need to be dynamic and almost entirely built around a full and detailed understanding of the customer.  That’s nothing new…I can hear you cry and I would agree.  Many marketers already create their own flexible planning processes incorporating new technologies that are adaptive to customer behavioural changes.  The opportunity is in migrating businesses to this approach so that the thought of planning remains key and is not considered a waste of time.

How do you do this?  Well there are no easy “off the shelf” answers.  I know there are hundreds of marketing plan templates, just “Google” the words and you’re spoilt for choice.  The problem is that they are generic or too specific and invariably don’t relate to YOUR business.

 

The best advice is to follow a simple process…and for me it involves breaking down the overall plan into manageable projects.  Here’s how……

 

  1. Talk to the business owners about the process and intention to set out a new plan
  2. Avoid making assumptions – obtain current intelligence across the business (examples)
    1. Financial performance
    2. Customer data (including satisfaction surveys)
    3. Website Google analytics
    4. Social media stats
    5. Advertising performance
    6. Competitor analysis
    7. Market research
    8. Factor in any political, economic, legal influences
    9. Skills audit of marketing staff – identify training need

 

  1. Review overall company objectives and assess relevance and need to update
  2. Map out financial targets by product/ service/ office/ individuals
  3. Create marketing project plans for specific segments of the business and include
    1. The objectives
    2. Owners of the project
    3. Team members and roles
    4. Suppliers i.e. web designer, SEO agency, printers
    5. Platforms i.e. press, social media channel, radio station
    6. Timeline of activity including regular review points
    7. Costs
    8. Results and analysis (this should be factored in as an ongoing aspect of the project)
    9. Overarching schedule of the projects providing simple helicopter view of the marketing team’s actions to ensure that it is planned, not overly ambitious and achievable within the timescales suggested.

Today’s marketing professional needs to be an accomplished project manager, not necessarily an expert in any one particular field but capable of co-ordinating resources with the help of a straightforward plan.

Creating a method for the business owners to view and engage with the project plans as they develop would also help maintain “buy-in” and might be possible through a form of shared software platform or intranet.  This can also be used by the project team to monitor their progress and avoid “lag” by identifying issues such as a specific element that has failed to deliver.

As you might have gathered I’m a huge fan of project planning and management.  It’s obviously not a new concept but it lends itself perfectly to a dynamic fast paced environment which most of us find ourselves in.  Not so much re-inventing a wheel but adapting it to move faster, have greater grip and flexibility.

If this is a topic you have experience of or would like to contribute toward please feel free to comment or tweet me @davidlaud

David Laud

Byadmin

Think You’re a Thought Leader? Test that belief with 12 tips to thought leadership

“Thought Leadership” now there’s a two word phrase that has emerged through the social channels in the past couple of years. As with any trendy term the bandwagon soon becomes full and chased by those who think they know the answers but often started after the opportunity well before they’d studied the direction in which they should be travelling.

Thought Leader

Thought Leader

Personally I’m not a fan of such glib phrases mostly because of their all too often over use in the hands of those who think using it will magically propel them into the top echelons of that particular sphere.

Before my cynicism takes hold I would like to make a few positive observations about the concept of thought leadership and how it can be a powerful force for good, in the appropriate hands at the right time and with considered execution.

Let’s start by reflecting on what makes a thought leader. It’s not necessarily a business owner nor entrepreneur but someone who has a depth of knowledge and clearly articulated view on a specific topic. The best thought leaders have a passion for their chosen subject of interest and that enthusiasm carries through in the variety of channels they chose to convey their message.

What it’s not – it’s not a sales platform to funnel in a pitch for a particular product, service or concept that offers immediate financial return for the communicator. That is out and out selling and will be spotted from some distance by your audience of network members.

What it should be – open, honest and thought provoking communication that adds to the knowledge and understanding of your target audience. Of course there will be an unspoken understanding within your network that behind this altruistic sharing of intelligent analysis and opinion lies a commercial objective.

How do you capitalise by giving your best ideas away for free? – No one is suggesting that all of your best thinking needs to be shared openly however it’s a very cluttered and noisy world and the challenge is in how you may find a voice for yourself, colleagues and your business by positioning them as leaders in a particular field. The danger of holding back on a particular subject may leave a door open for a competitor to establish their viewpoint and be perceived as the new “go to” source of information.

Do you need to be an expert in all areas? – Of course you’re setting yourself up for a fall if you’re a self-proclaimed “Guru” and for me that’s the biggest turn off. The phrase is “Empty vessels make the most sound” and unfortunately there are no shortage of those. What can be refreshingly appealing to an audience is an industry commentator who admits that they don’t know it all. That openness and honesty builds trust with a network and an affinity that you won’t see from those who are clearly making it up as they go along.

How can this apply to my business? Whichever area you work in – legal, IT, manufacturing, organic farming, charity, education or public sector there are individuals who will be looking for answers, original thinking and leadership. Social networking platforms enable everyone with an internet connection and a suitable device to link to millions of data sources each day. Creating a space for you or your organisation by positioning it as a lead in the chosen specialist area will add value to the brand and over time ideally lead to an increase in the volume and quality of enquiries.

Is it all about the broadcast? What you say is of course very important but what you do is equally telling. If you receive a re-tweet or a G+ or comment it should always be offered the courtesy of a response. If you see someone else posting very good content, useful links or other material supportive of your sector don’t resist the opportunity to praise the contributor, even if it may be a competitor – it’s about positioning and taking a “big picture” view rather than scrapping things out in the trenches.

What should the message be? True thought leadership is sharp in focus and unique in its perspective. Not borrowed or paraphrased from others. It should follow a consistent line. If customer service in retail is your particular line of interest the messages conveyed need to retain a common theme leaving the audience in no doubt of your view and suggested course of action. That message should deliver insight and information that leaves the reader or viewer feeling that they have gained from the experience. Investing time in absorbing data online is very popular but won’t pay off for you if the content falls short or leaves the reader frustrated.

Who should you be directing your message to? This might sound obvious but it’s surprising how many, who are active on social networking sites, persist with an obsession with the numbers. How many you have in a network will play a minor role in your success especially if the network is largely made up of competitors, friends or random individuals who will add no value to your business. The audience needs to gain real value from the knowledge imparted and for an opportunity to impress and create impact an in depth understanding is essential. A detailed awareness of your network, their jobs, problems, aspirations and interests will help shape the message and provide a tailored communication that has far greater prospect of engagement.

Developing as a thought leader. Sitting back and expecting inspiration to flow will work in the short term, if you’re lucky, but not in the longer term. As with any other industry expert you can’t afford to sit still and ignore the developments that are happening all around you. Actively seek out available information from those who are influential and recognised sources, subscribe to trade press e-mail alerts, twitter accounts, join sector specific associations, work groups on LinkedIn, attend conferences and build a continually growing bank of information. From this source you can articulate your view and place your own organisation at the centre of that conversation.

What makes a good thought leader? Malcolm Gladwell uses the term Maven in his excellent book Tipping Point (recommended reading) and the (i)Wiki definition really puts it very well.
(i) A maven (also mavin) is a trusted expert in a particular field, who seeks to pass knowledge on to others. The word maven comes from Hebrew, via Yiddish and means one who understands, based on an accumulation of knowledge.
Those whom I would site as leading Mavens or thought leaders of note include, technology futurist and social media strategist Guy Kawasaki @GuyKawasaki, Virgin entrepreneur Richard Branson @RichardBranson, and leading business strategists Rosabeth Kanter @RosabethKanter and Stephen Covey.

How do I start? A suggestion would be to think long and hard about the message you wish to convey, how your business wants to be positioned and who within the organisation could be sufficiently qualified to take the role of a thought leader. You may need to face the reality that you don’t have that particular skill but look to recruit for it. As you’ll fully appreciate it’s not a given that everyone can be a thought leader but if you have a passion for your business, access to strong communication skills and a connected network you can begin to build a presence and see where that journey takes you. Above all have a plan and be consistent.

Each industry or sector will have its own leading lights but that doesn’t preclude you from learning from their approach and finding your own voice and space to communicate.

If you would like further help with the development of a “thought leader” strategy in your organisation or have your own particular view we would be delighted to hear from you.

David Laud – Managing Partner i2i Business Solutions LLP
follow me on twitter @davidlaud

Byadmin

Life’s Journey – Don’t Find Yourself Asleep at the Wheel

Are you happy with your role? Content with the position you find yourself in at this point in time? Do you encounter many frustrations in your day to day work and find it difficult to manage them?

Picking Piece of Mind

Picking Piece of Mind

If the answer to the above is yes, yes, no in that order then congratulations but if not or you know someone who isn’t quite so satisfied with their life you might want to consider this short blog on looking at life afresh.
For many of us work is more than a means to an end, it’s a passion and something we take very seriously but all too few of us take the time to review where we are and focus on what we truly want to achieve.

Too many of us find ourselves trapped in careers or situations that limit the scope of achieving our potential. Overlooked for promotion or unable to grow the business; frustration builds until a day arrives when it may be too late to change and the opportunity has passed you by.

But that’s far too depressing and of course it’s never really too late. What’s important is seizing the moment, identifying that you have far more to give and working through the possibilities that could lead to a rejuvenated approach to work and life as a whole.

As part of the human condition we can at times find ourselves drifting through life. Be it our own personal relationships or career, a common failing is that we settle, let things remain unchanged because change represents a challenge and a challenge can make you uncomfortable.

Rather than being caught asleep at the wheel of your life it might be time to turn up the music, open a window and see what is really happening around you.

Make time for reflection and re-assess your priorities. The past 5+ years of recession and painfully slow recovery has led many to take a bunker mentality. Keep the head down and think “hopefully when I look up I’ll still have a job and/or a business”. The risk is that whilst you’re taking this “safe” option life is moving on a pace and others are seeking out opportunities around you.

So what can be done to bring things into sharp focus? Ask yourself these questions and be as honest as you can in answering them.
• Who are the positive influences in your life and why?
• Who are the negative influencers and why?
• What is most important to you, what could you not live without?
• Who do you admire and why?
• What do you like to do? (For work and leisure)
• What don’t you like doing?
• What would you like to achieve from your life? What does success look like for you?
• What is preventing you from achieving this goal?
• What steps could you take in the next 6 months to work towards the goal?

Being surrounded by negativity can be a very draining experience and in time can turn you into a negative force yourself. Identifying positive influences and spending time in their company can be a big step in helping boost your own morale. Finding a suitable mentor to support you in the quest to find the path to your goals can also be hugely rewarding. If you are in danger of waving at life as it passes by, decide to do something and decide to do it this week. You owe it to yourself and those around you to be the best possible version of whoever you are and the positive influence you can bring to bear on others can be infectious.

Good solid support and advice in the shape of an experienced and qualified mentor can be just the sat nav you need to put you back on course.

If any of the above resonates with you and you’d like further information to help move matters forward drop me a line david.laud@i2isolutions.co.uk

Byadmin

When 1 + 1 = 0 or The Trouble With Mergers

crisis cufflinks

The state of our economy can create a number of responses from the corporate world. An increase in the number of companies in administration, change of strategic direction, the board retains a fixed course with no change or they actively look to merge with or acquire a suitable partner.

On the topic of merger this can, if managed well, with clear vision and talent be a very positive step. Unfortunately the catalogue of merger histories is well stocked with its fair share of failures.

The original spark that created the merged business is typically founded in solid logic and should have all the ingredients for a successful outcome. Unfortunately the complexity and challenge of putting organisations together can dilute and lose the benefit of economies of scale and combined resources.

Critical to the success is a clearly articulated strategy delivered consistently by an effective leadership team. The focus at all times MUST be on the customer, lose sight of that key fact and matters can start to unravel fast.

Not many employees relish change and mergers present plenty of new challenges and potential threats to personal job security. Keeping the talent engaged is important as is the need to motivate the business to achieve the new goals.

There are many positives to be borne from mergers but before being charmed by a suitable partner it’s worth looking at theirs and other track records. We can and should certainly learn from the mistakes of others.

Interestingly in the world of telecoms there are 2 examples of where we appear to be seeing history repeating itself.

At the end of 2004 US telecom company Sprint announced its merger with Nextel. They were at the time the 3rd and 5th largest mobile phone operators in the US. The potential of such a merger was obvious and had the likes of AT&T and Verizon looking closely at the deal.
Sprint’s acquisition of Nextel ultimately was a financial disaster. In 2008 the company wrote down $30 billion of the $36 billion sum it had paid for Nextel in 2005, wiping out 80% of the value of Nextel at the time it had been acquired. The write down reflected the depreciation in Nextel’s goodwill since the date of acquisition.

CEO Gary D. Forsee was removed in 2007 marking a remarkable and rapid fall from grace. He had in 2004 been lauded as a “best manager” by Business Week only to become regarded as one of the worst CEO’s by Fortune magazine in 2009.

Why did this happen?

Despite much talk to the media of new technologies CEO Gary D. Forsee focussed on the financial savings to be gained out of the merger of the two corporations. He was heavily criticised for initiating programmes of micro management and cutting out costs from the business. The emphasis shifted from churn of customers to profit enhancements through cost savings. Claims of monitoring call centre staff toilet breaks only served to highlight the maniacal zeal Forsee had for getting every possible cent worth from his staff.

Complaints increased, 1,000 customers contracts were terminated by Sprint Nextel as they sought to rid themselves of persistent complainers. But many more followed putting the company at the top of the churn list as customers rushed to join the competition. There were also technical network issues which didn’t assist but overall the lack of investment in bringing customers over to the merged firm and inability to respond to the worrying customer indicators led to disastrous figures.

In the third qtr of 2007 Sprint lost a staggering 337,000 customers.

EE Olaf Swantee

Fast forward to 2010 and the UK. Orange and T-Mobile announce their merger. A new brand of Everything Everywhere is announced and last year shortened to EE in an attempt to bond the networks together.

It’s a little early to state categorically that this merger mirrors the Sprint Nextel debacle but the signs are not good. Being a once satisfied customer of Orange I have seen a dramatic drop in customer service, lack of knowledge from front line staff and farcical cost management of rebranding high street neighbouring Orange and T Mobile shops to EE.

Efforts to communicate with CEO Olaf Swantee have not been successful – his army of executive office helpers must be very busy handling his inbox traffic too as they take a while to respond.

The @EE twitter feed is full of angry customers who can’t get a signal, or get help in an EE shop, have other technical issues and unable to get a response from the customer service helpdesk. The EE Facebook page is also loaded with frustrated customer comment. It’s worth a browse – raises the question of the logic of having such a facility when it provides such s public shop window of customer dissatisfaction.

Is the CEO of EE presiding over the same drive to save costs, cutting service and technical resource but using the smokescreen of new technologies such as 4G to cover the cracks? All I know is that at the sharp end as a customer things are far from healthy for the UK’s largest operator.

Dutch CEO Olaf Swantee doesn’t take any prisoners in the corporate world. On his first day he fired six of his most senior managers. He then informed a further 120 vice presidents and directors that their jobs were at risk. Not long after a tour of call centres he announced a further 1200 to be put under risk of losing thrir jobs. He’s quoted as saying; “I don’t have an objective to make myself popular,” He’s not wrong there, it’s not a popularity contest but it is an interesting way to generate goodwill and motivation.

EE’s problem is that it’s not as profitable as its competitors, O2 and Vodafone, and Olaf has stated that he intends to close the gap by 2014.

Of course the trouble is you still need revenue, that’s customers and satisfied ones at that. EE need to balance a high level of technical and personal service with a drive to reduce cost. Concentrating exclusively and aggresively on cost will potentially see Mr Swantee joining that Fortune league – do you think he can “Forsee” that?

On the upside mergers can and do deliver, but best look at an equation that gives 1+1 = 3+ not 0.

If you’re considering growth through merger we’d be happy to discuss.

David Laud

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How Many Social Media “Experts” Does It Take To Turn On A Lightbulb?

We’re all under pressure for one reason or another. This ever developing technology has not delivered its promise of greater leisure time and standards of living; well not for most of us anyway. Instead we’re expected to task like a multi armed, dextrous ninja; responding to e-mails, calls, texts, skype and of course schedule in good old fashioned face to face interaction.

No surprise then that I’m often met with a more than cynical sneer when its suggested that a business owner take some of that valuable time and engage in or make more resource available to develop their social media presence.

I get it. I truly do understand that the thought of “tweeting” baffles and bewilders, facebook’s not for everyone and Linkedin, whilst appearing more suited to the business professional; is not easy to see how you benefit.

Too many evangelical so called social media “experts” have fallen in love with the various platforms and the ego trip of growing followers, connections and responses and forgotten that for most they’re not seen as essential in the battle to grow their company. There’s an awareness of the staggering demographic statistics but not how they can be used to benefit a business.

Many of my clients are very sharp individuals who’ve typically built successful businesses by meeting the needs of a targeted customer base. They’ve kept a step ahead of the competition, invested in their company and know their business inside out.

They also have no fear in challenging the call to join the social media bandwagon. They didn’t succeed by following a flock but they’re curious enough to ask the direct questions everyone should pose to a new medium.

How does it work? What are the benefits? What are the costs? Who needs to be involved? Where are the opportunities? And my favourite which covers all the aforementioned, Why should we do it?

If practical answers to these key questions are not forthcoming it’s unlikely the business owners will engage, and who would blame them?

Each business is unique and no one solution can possibly “fit all” which is why my advice is qualified by researching the specific sector, understanding the issues and the behaviours of customer groups and industry influencers.

We’ve now experienced over ten years of social media activity, it continues to move very rapidly yet within this timeframe you can find a multitude of examples where companies have positivley engaged with their customers. These examples are quantifiable, real and very often prove to be the “lightbulb moment” for MD’s VP’s CEO’s Directors and Partners especially if it’s a business operating in the same sector if not a direct competitor.

From Insurance and Aflac running an XFactor styled voice talent competition to Airlines and KLM’s “meet and seat” facebook campaign.

Of course it’s not just big businesses that can afford to make the most of social media and most towns, sectors and networks have their own shining examples of “best practice”.

We strongly believe in encouraging ownership and participation “in house” to develop the understanding, not outsourcing social media activity to third parties.

As professional marketers our objective should be to build confidence for our clients and employers through practical planning, suitable resourcing and measurement; all prepared as a specific project helping to make best use of everyone’s time. Social media’s a serious business development tool but we should make sure we factor in time for some fun too.

If you’d like more information or arrange an initial consultation please drop me a line david.laud@i2isolutions.co.uk

David Laud – i2i Business Solutions LLP

David Laud
Partner
i2i Business Solutions LLP