Casting Your Net and the Beauty of Fish

fishing fleet In The Undiscovered Country of Presence Management, I set up the concepts your company will need to consider before stepping into online presence. In this post, let’s cover first steps, actions, and how to keep the presence network alive and tended.

The Beautiful Feeling of Concierge Service

Let’s start with @AFinnie (or Ann Finnie to her fans). Ann is part of communications for HP, you know, the computer company. I met her at Gnomedex last year (one of my favorite conferences of the year). She was so personable and such a great brand ambassador for her products.

Just now, I asked Ann a question via Twitter. Truly, I could have googled it. (Have you seen Let Me Google That For You?) But I asked Ann. I wanted to know about the DV2 laptop, after @PatrickMoorhead from AMD mentioned that it was a sweet laptop.

Ann got me information, answered a few questions, and made me feel well-tended. So, what was that? Customer service? Sales? PR? Kind of all of them, right? It was concierge service, truth be told. Ann made me feel special, answered my questions, and left me with a positive experience. Concierge service. Think about that.

If your prospects (I’m considering a windows laptop, so I’m a prospect to HP) and existing customers feel well-treated with simple information requests, how do you think that warms them up for the rest of the experience?

Setting Out Into Dark Waters

But maybe this isn’t a good example, because I know Ann. I also know folks at Dell, Apple, and pretty much any other tech manufacturer I might want to know. What if you’re someone looking to build presence in social media, but are handling more “cold calling” opportunities, such as someone listening for opportunity? If you were going out to fish, you’d use some maps, some range finders, and other tools to determine where the fish are biting.

Listening helps. I covered this yesterday. Listening tools help you find them. But I could write every day about listening and it wouldn’t be enough. So, let’s say you’ve decided your people might be on Twitter. For instance, I was looking into something for a company who cares about the health of your lawn. I typed in the simplest term into Twitter Search and got these results for the search “lawn.” Not a bad start.

Should you jump in and start selling your stuff? HELL no. I cover that here when I explain Conn Fishburn’s phrase, “bring wine to the picnic.” Let’s ease into first steps.

Tending Nets

The sexiest kind of online presence is a relationship that feels like it’s there for me when I need it. I like that @JetBlue and @WholeFoods are here for the long term, and not just to promote a campaign. Further, companies like Whole Foods keep a blog. So does Ferg Devins at Molson.

John Andrews from WalMart isn’t on Twitter to sell me something. He’s there to show that WalMart has a face. I connected with John a lot during the Arkansas Ice Storm, which was another chance to see WalMart in its role as first responder to disasters.

Explaining this to the mother ship is tricky. It’s important that companies understand that these channels must be tended and not just used as sales pipelines, should they choose to have a Twitter or Facebook or blog or even just a commenting presence. Time spent talking with @AaronStrout about the Red Sox and barbecue isn’t time wasted because he’s not pushing Powered down my throat.

It’s the number one premise of my upcoming book with Julien Smith: Be there before the sale.

Fish or Cut Bait

Where’s the value in this? There are some ways of thinking about the return on investment with regards to this. You can look at things like “reducing acquisition cost” and “reduce cost per caller” for call centers. You can find metrics like “improved organic search” for blogging, and “higher percentage of warm leads handed off” for a sales cycle. It depends how you want to work it all out. (Don’t you hate “it depends” answers?)

How long should you engage in a presence effort? Here’s a tricky one to consider: if it’s successful, the answer is, “for as long as there’s something coming back from the conversations.” If the project isn’t successful at all, how do you exit gracefully? What if you build a Facebook group and no one comes or participates? Do you just leave it there like yet another cyber ghost town? I say no. But how do you extract gracefully?

You don’t. You send a quick “So long and thanks for all the fish” message to people who are part of that community, mention that you’re still available online in X,Y,Z places, and you move on. Board up the doors and windows. Get the property off the web, if you can. If not, 301 redirect (ask your web team) the pages, and call it a day. Think of it as a party foul, where you just politely get things back on the rails. There are other efforts to be had. Don’t see it as failure as much as an adjustment of strategy (wow, did that ever sound political!).

The Best Fish

The most beautiful “fish” in the world are those that thrive and sustain your village while you let them maintain their own ecosystem. In this case, I mean that your efforts in presence building and community management should be sustainable. Don’t over-fish. Don’t underfish and starve your village (company). Realize that this expedition is a privilege and that you have to come back with something or the boats won’t be able to pay for themselves.

How do you do this? Look more for gentle opportunities than forceful levers. Look for conversion points that bring your business objectives forward, and move those opportunities ahead while leaving the rest of the fish to thrive in your system. Oh, and don’t forget to feed the fish. If you’re responsible for their environment, give them “food” every day, in the form of helpful information, useful materials, or whatever is the most feasible fish food.

Parting Notes Before Sailing Home

You know the old saying, “Give a man a fish, and then he has smelly hands. Teach a man to fish, and he has good reason to learn how to lie.” (Or something like that.) I’m a big fan in teaching people how to fish. I don’t think this kind of work belongs in an external organization, at least not in the long term.

This means, if you’re thinking that this chore belongs in your agency, I say no. That’s like being invited to chat with Britney Spears, and finding out you’re talking with her assistant. Oh wait, that’s how Britney does it.

Presence chores belong at home. Should you have guidance? Yes. Should you get some hand-holding when dipping into the social media waters? I say yes again. Is this something that should be on-boarded back to your inhouse communicators (and by that, I mean the people your customers/audience want to hear from)? Yes. As soon as possible (measured in months, like 2 or 3 at most).

Is presence a required element of social media for all businesses? No. Not at all. Nothing is a required element for any business without consideration and alignment with your strategies. If your company is selling roofing, it might take forever to find people on Twitter and Facebook. It’d be a lot cheaper to buy ads in newspapers and buy better spots in the Yellow Pages. Like all things, there’s a strategy to it.

In all things, your mileage may vary. I may have left something out. Let me know what else I can help with. And thanks for your attention. This was a long post.

Photo credit tony the misfit

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