Professionals and the new culture of social media networks

May 17th, 2011 · 6:09 am  →  blog social media strategy tools

Last week, I had the pleasure of presenting a keynote talk to a group of financial advisors from Peak Financial in beautiful Victoria, BC.

My presentation focused on the new culture of social media networks and offered some key insights and strategies for advisors wishing to engage in this space. Being a long-term relationship person myself, I focused on how to build trust online (and why you want to) as well as authentic personal branding and the rise of the influence economy.

These concepts apply to virtually any professional – not just financial advisors – whose business is based on their specialized subject matter knowledge, a reputation for being trustworthy and just doing good work.

Always interested in feedback.

Getting your social media footing

April 11th, 2011 · 1:35 pm  →  blog social media strategy tools

After reading Evan Zall’s article Traction on a Slippery Slope, I’d wished I had written it. Zall captures the unique predicament in which regulated financial advisors find themselves regarding their use of social media and he offers some pragmatic advice: engage proactively, but do so with caution.

In this post, I will build on Zall’s advice and offer some clarification from my perspective on how to implement it. To do so, I will borrow his four pillars framework and trust he will recognize that my imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

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Evolve your use of social media tools

February 26th, 2011 · 10:18 am  →  blog social media strategy

Mitch Joel recently opined that he felt Twitter had become a distraction. Many of the responses to his post echoed this sentiment and advocate for “all things in moderation”, yet the conversation as a whole points to a fact about social media that is often overlooked.

Social media use and habits evolve over time. Tools come and go and are upgraded and enhanced. And our awareness of tools and strategies and what works best for each of us is constantly evolving depending on many factors.

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A micro-manifesto on personal branding for practice professionals

February 14th, 2011 · 10:41 am  →  blog marketing social media strategy

Personal branding is one of the most important marketing strategies for practice professionals in an age of social media. Business has always been built on relationships – especially in professional services where your client is buying your knowledge, your reputation, and your commitment. Your personality informs your brand.

The proliferation of social media spaces and tools are changing the business communications landscape and how we market ourselves.  Here are two significant changes:

  • Access to our target markets is more direct and less mediated through established media platforms with every passing day. That is not to say that traditional media platforms are not important, but rather that you should use these channels to build your own direct channels to your clients and prospects.
  • Success in social media is measured in terms of influence – number of followers, reach, size of network, etc. – a concept that has evolved out of the mass media notion of celebrity. Yet, at the same time, social media tools allow you define communities of interest on a smaller scale, thereby lowering the bar for what constitutes celebrity or influence.

In other words, there are more tools available than ever before to build and extend relationships. And those relationships can have a greater impact on your business success than ever before.

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Your business needs YOU to have a personal social media strategy in 2011

January 18th, 2011 · 2:13 pm  →  advertising blog marketing social media strategy

I remember the day I purchased my first Fast Company magazine. The cover story featured a piece by management consultant Tom Peters called: The Brand Called You. That article inspired me to build and sell a web development company and invest in several other businesses.

Almost 15 years later, Tom Peters’ call to action is more relevant than ever before.  Social media tools coupled with wireless mobile technologies are revolutionizing our communications landscape. And it’s changing how we market and advertise our businesses, as well as how we engage, support and retain our customers.

Business has always been about relationships and it is no less so today. What is changing profoundly today is how and where we conduct those relationships.

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Social media for business presentation

December 16th, 2010 · 11:43 am  →  blog social media

I often have a need for a good social media presentation in business settings – a presentation that provides an overview of the topic, communicates clear messages and is well designed.

This presentation hits the jackpot! If you are looking for an overview of what social media might mean to your business, here’s your presentation.

Why the Investment News web site is not friendly

December 16th, 2010 · 11:15 am  →  blog marketing social media strategy

I received an email today from Investment News. They were suggesting some “Best of 2010″ tech articles I might be interested in.

I found one I liked called: 10 signed it might be time for a web upgrade. Stuff like: the copyrights are older than 2008, the site was built with tables or frames (shudder), or the design features chess pieces (or boating imagery) made me laugh. So I tried to share it…and that’s where the trouble began.

1. There was no “share’ functionality. No “Tweet this” link, no AddThis widget, nothing.

2. So I tried to copy the URL to my LinkedIn status update, but the specific page title and excerpt did not appear. Instead there was a generic “Investment News” title and boilerplate marketing-speak about the publication. Nothing about the specific article I wanted to share. It looked like I was promoting Investment News instead of sharing some of their content. Not interested in that.

3. I also didn’t like the 10-screen layout of the story. Instead of an article, they take the stories and make them into 10 screens and you need to click to advance from screen to screen. This is annoying, plus I can barely read the small, non-serif, grey font on the shaded background below the huge picture. Seems like a poor layout decision.

4. So I tried to view the article in traditional “article format”. At this point I was met with a huge barrier: a subscriber screen. Seriously?

I just wanted to share an article from which the publication, but at every turn I was thwarted.

To the folks at Investment News, so far you’ve done nothing to make me think you get the whole social media thing and you clearly need to upgrade your web site. I’m not sure why you think I’d be interested in subscribing when there are so many good publications out there that get it.

If this is your business model, start counting your days – because they’re numbered.

Rules of trust apply whether pressing the flesh or a keyboard

November 17th, 2010 · 12:02 am  →  blog marketing social media strategy

I read Trust Agents (by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith) recently and it continues to exert an important influence on my approach to social media. In particular, I liked the authors’ take on the concept of trust – it rings true with my own feelings on this topic.

The authors borrow and then rearrange the following trust equation which comes from The Trusted Advisor (by Maister, Galford and Green):

T = (C x R x I)/S

where T is Trust which is a function of

C (credibility) multiplied by R (reliability) multiplied by I (intimacy)

divided by S (self-orientation).

Trust is the foundation of good business relationships and most business activities are built on winning and maintaining the trust of your clients and colleagues. This trust leads to repeat business, referrals, flexibility, tolerance and respect. So how do we build it?

First, be credible. Provide quality information and add value. Help people by connecting them. Engage in discussions in a respectful and thoughtful way.

Then, be reliable. Communicate regularly. Be a consistent presence in meaningful fora so people get to know you. Respond when people reach out to contact you.

And don’t be afraid of sharing your personality, what moves you and how you feel. Connect with people by being interested in them. Don’t rant – rave instead. Talk about what you like more than about what you don’t.

Finally, be a giver, not a taker. Don’t be that guy or gal who is only interested in passing out their business cards. Consider recommending your competitors for their strengths – especially if you think it might be a better fit for your prospect/client.

Trust is built on being perceived as “one of us”, being “self-less” and promoting others. First, be part of a community, then sell.

These rules for building trust are universal and apply to any practice professional – whether you are pressing the flesh or the keys on a keyboard.

8 huge reasons why you should rebuild your website with WordPress

November 11th, 2010 · 4:44 pm  →  blog social media tools

Every day, I talk to people who have websites but need something else. They need a blog. They need a way to easily publish and share content. They need tools for engaging their customers and prospects in conversations. The need performance and value. In short, they need WordPress.

WordPress is among the most popular and widely used publishing platforms on the internet. In my opinion, there are very few websites out there that couldn’t be better run on a WordPress platform – and probably for far less cost. Here are a few reasons why I feel this way:

1. It’s free. WordPress is a free, open-source internet publishing platform. If you already have a website with content management functionality, you are probably paying for something that is inferior in many ways to WordPress. To be fair, there are some incredible, enterprise-scale content management systems (CMS) out there, but they are overbuilt for most website needs. Back in the 1990s, I was in web development and built these kind of custom content management systems (CMS) as one-offs for a lot of money. Beware of web developers who have been in business since the 1990s because they probably still think you should pay them for their proprietary CMS. You shouldn’t. You should pay someone to customize and deploy a WordPress-based website for you.

2. It’s a CMS, not only a blog. WordPress is a robust publishing system and is capable of being configured as a traditional website, a blog, an online magazine and any combination of those. The beauty of it is that it incorporates blogging and social media right into the heart of your online presence – rather than bolting it on the side like so many proprietary CMS products sold by website builders. WordPress incorporates basic functionality for assigning users with varying permission levels (administrators, editors, authors, etc.) and what it doesn’t do “out of the box” you can often find a plugin to do for you.

3. It’s intuitive and easy to use. WordPress has been so successful because it’s simple and smart. Simple in that with a bit of training ANYONE can publish online. Smart because the architecture separates design from function, so you can make it look like almost anything you want and there are thousands upon thousands of functional enhancements that are free and easy for non programmers to install.

4. Customized premium designs and free themes. A growing number of designers are focusing on creating professionally designed themes for WordPress that can be customized to suit your business. Some designers sell individual themes while others sell monthly access for unlimited use of their themes and pricing is very affordable. Most premium theme designers offer free premium WordPress themes as a promotional strategy and some of these can be very high quality and too. Some of my favourite theme designers are: Obox, Design Disease, Bizzartic, ThemeForest, Press75, WooThemes, and Elegant Themes.

4. There’s a plugin for everything. Want to make it easy to install Google Analytics code – there’s a free plugin for that. Want to make it easy for readers to share your content on other social media sites – there’s a great plugin for that called AddThis. Want to just add a simple Facebook ‘like’ button to the top or bottom of all your posts, there’s a few dozen plugins for that. There are some mind-blowing WordPress plugins that allow you to do almost anything with the base software and most are freely available and easy to install and configure.  Again, I cannot fathom why you would want to be dependent on a developer for something you can install and configure yourself for free.

5. Almost everything in WordPress can be done by non-programmers. Even if that person is not you, an administrative assistant or an outsourced support person can manage your WordPress site and it’s content through the administrative backend interface, including upgrading and installation of the program itself, plugin installation, design changes – virtually everything. Then, there is a whole other realm of things you can do with WordPress if you have some familiarity with code, but are far from a programmer.

6. Low cost hosting. Since WordPress is free, open source software, many ISPs offer it freely as part of their hosting accounts. Depending on your hosting and traffic requirements, WordPress site hosting can be as little as $50 per year. Yeah – per year. I strongly advise that you look long and hard at any value proposition that has you paying double or triple that amount per month for hosting. I’m not recommending cheap and cheerful hosting for everyone, but I am suggesting that in many situations the price you are paying for hosting bears little relation to the cost of providing that service or it’s quality. In other words, there are still a lot of businesses getting snowed on website hosting.

7. Portability. WordPress makes it easy for you to back-up all your content – that is, static pages, blog postings and comments can all be exported and saved offline for back-up purposes. This also means that your WordPress-based website and all its content can be easily migrated from one vendor to another and YOU are in control of that process – not your vendor.

8. Search engine optimization. SEO is a big topic these days and WordPress is way ahead of that game. Search engines don’t like the coded URLs that CMS websites tend to generate because they cannot index them as easily for human consumption. WordPress makes it easy to create your site with word-based URL strings that search engines love and then there are another 20 WordPress plugins for SEO that you can download for free.

WordPress is available in a free hosting form at WordPress.com. However, the differences between WordPress.com and hosting WordPress yourself on your own domain is not always apparent. In summary, if you host yourself you have much more control and ownership over the content than if you go the free route – and you get that for a modest cost. At the end of the day, this is a cost for which the benefit is enormous.

Join the social media revolution and  rebuild your website using WordPress today!

[Illustrations courtesy of Norebbo Designs.]

Synergy networking

November 3rd, 2010 · 10:49 pm  →  social media strategy

It’s been a busy week. And it’s only Wednesday. I guess that’s what happens when you are open to opportunity and putting yourself out there.

I instinctively approach building a business the way I would build a campfire. First, I scavenge about and collect some small, dry twigs and leaves. Then, I find some slightly larger branches that are also very dry. Then, I find just a few medium-sized pieces, perhaps with some nice dry white birch bark still on them. I arrange all the collected material into a tepee and light it. When it starts to catch, I would add the small branches and listen to the crackle. At a certain point, the little fire is raging and you can throw the medium stuff on it. Then, you go looking for some larger logs.

While meeting with a client this week, I was closing a second project and introduced to what I hope will be a promising third – all within the span of a few hours. And there are still some scheduled meetings to come this week. My little fire is starting to grow.

Tonight, I cleared the decks and attended Edmonton’s premier networking event hosted by the Synergy Network. Maybe 600 people were jammed into a downtown hotel with the sole purpose being to meet and talk to each other. There were no boring speeches, no fundraising pitches, nada. Just pure unadulterated networking. Everywhere you turned, someone was saying hello or introducing you to someone else.

For a guy offering consulting services to practice professionals and small firms looking for effective social media strategies, this crowd had the fuel value of a stand of trees ravaged by pine beetles. Everyone was happy to talk about social media – probably because they are thinking about it daily and trying to figure out how to make it work for their business. Far cry from the days of selling insurance and trying to figure out how to tell people what I did so they didn’t run screaming in the opposite direction.

Social media is rapidly changing so many aspects of sales and retention, marketing and public relations – even basic interpersonal communications – that virtually everyone needs to be thinking about how to get a handle on it. Unless they are retiring in 5 years.

One of the oft-repeated recommendations of the social media gurus is to get out more. Social media types tend to spend too much time in front of their computers or iPhones and not interacting – not socializing – enough with real people in real places. And then there are others – hopefully they will become my clients – who need assistance learning how to make time so they can spend it in front of their computers and iPhones more.

There is a happy medium for everyone and I will help you find yours.