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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Jeanne Byington on Bridging New & Old - Social Media Series

This week's guest for Flooring The Consumer's Social Media Series: Bridging New & Old is Jeanne M. Byington.

Jeanne Byington, an accomplished public relations and marketing consultant, is principal of NYC-based JM Byington & Associates, Inc.. She's also passionate about excellent customer service, a topic she addresses in her blog, The Importance of Earnest Service. Look for Jeanne on Twitter as JMByington.

I met Jeanne through David Reich of My 2 Cents who thought we would have plenty to talk about given our common home furnishings background. He was right! But, there's more as you will discover when you read what she has to say about Bridging New & Old.

C.B.: Jeanne, how and why did you get involved in social media?

Jeanne: I’m involved in social media to communicate--for the same reason at one time I learned to use a computer, BlackBerry, e-mail as well as a few phrases of Turkish when I lived in that country for two years. I feel claustrophobic when I can’t. Guess that’s why I’m in communications.

I started with a blog and coordinating web site. I did for my business precisely what I advise clients to do: increased its visibility. This is no time to shut down communications initiatives. Invest time and money to promote your business, its products and services, in spite of less than spectacular economic outlooks and income projections. Might as well close shop if you don’t let others know what your company is doing.

Today’s information comes faster and faster in tinier and tinier bytes. Pelted by it night and day, people’s attention spans/memories shrink. Participating in social media keeps your conversation in play and your business in focus in potential and actual customers’ lines of vision in cost-effective ways.

I use my blog as an evolving case history, an effective way to illustrate many ways to dice and slice a single concept. The blog gives dimension to my web site.

People have promoted and publicized products and services in a range of lights for eons using traditional PR methods from press releases and speeches to PowerPoint slide shows, newsletters and bulletins.

The same core PR technique applies to a blog or to tweets: They can’t be too commercial or self-serving.

The blog led me to explore LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook to promote my business, bring traffic to the web site and blog.

Web sites in combination with blogs are today’s business cards. Twitter allows a company to speak directly to its clients. It doesn’t require passing through gatekeepers.

C.B.: What do you like most about social media?


+ I’ve met great people through my blog, some are strangers and all take precious time to share their expertise with me in guest posts and comments. I’m surprised at how simple it is to publish and illustrate posts [though it can be complicated to comment on some people’s blogs. I wonder why they make it tricky as there are simple, effective ways to control what’s posted].

+ I’m always thrilled when I find someone on LinkedIn whom I couldn’t otherwise locate or when a former contact finds me. And the groups, such as public relations and communications professionals on LinkedIn, hold promise.

+ From my Tweetdeck, I get news-as-it-happens from the New York Times and am often first with what may be an important development for a client or colleague.

+ Google Alerts act as a free clipping service and monitor.

+ iPods are amazing and promise marketing opportunities we can hardly fathom. Turn pages of a downloaded book with your finger in a far more realistic simulation than changing pages on a Kindle. Speaking of realistic, I watched beer fill the screen as if in a glass and was waiting for it to leak on my hand.

+ I’m fascinated by YouTube and its potential marketing applications. Social media tools link to some great video segments.

C.B.: What do you like least about social media?


+ It’s a time-gobbler. Like wild hair, it needs to be tamed. I don’t want to receive tweets on my BlackBerry, so apart from direct messages, I don’t. I resent the hours it takes to identify people I should follow on Twitter for my business, though I wouldn’t mind spending that time on behalf of a client.

+ Some of the tools have multiple personalities, with applications for business, pleasure, the trade and consumers all at once. I’m so used to targeting messages. This was a recent tweet: “WOW, upstart bit.ly is now bigger than tinyURL: http://bit.ly/18Dghk - maybe its bc bit.ly is 6 char. & tinyURL is 7.” I know what it means, but do I care?

+ I’m awestruck by how self-centered some people are to think I’d be interested to know that they attended a meeting or trade show or film or were planning a vacation, returned from the beach, landed in Chicago and the like. I’m not their Mom. Is this spam-like sharing on LinkedIn, Twitter and elsewhere a lack of judgment? People should more carefully target who gets what information. It’s no different than sending out information to the press. News of a new flooring collection doesn’t go to a fashion accessories editor. If someone’s attended a trade show and they have something important to tell me about it, then write me, not all of their 328 contacts.

+ In addition, there are too many social communities. Who can participate in them all? I don’t like having to reject someone by refusing their invitations to join so I write a polite e-mail as to why I can’t. It’s like belonging to too many associations: Impossible to take advantage of the many updates and opportunities that seem to grow geometrically.

+ Finally, I have a big problem with trust these days. I am reluctant to use Facebook or LinkedIn to initiate and reply to messages. You want to reach me? Send me an e-mail or call. [I’ll get used to it. Some considered risky the first ATM machines.]

Meanwhile, don’t you ask a person you’d like to do business with whether they’d prefer to communicate by phone or e-mail?

C.B.: How has social media changed how you interact with the marketplace as a consumer or customer?

Jeanne: While the Internet has totally changed the way my family interacts with the marketplace—buying and selling stock; buying airline and train tickets; finding the nearest branch of a store; specking out the styles a store carries; buying books on Amazon.com; using for other things the space formerly taken up by printed directories and so forth, I can’t say that social media has changed how I interact with the marketplace as a consumer or customer.

Feeling insecure about being so out of it, I asked a 23 year old friend who works for a website—her second job in that industry. She thought of one instance—she admired a friend’s photos on Facebook and hired the photographer to take her wedding pictures.

I continue to get a tremendous amount of information from traditional media. From The New York Times I read that only 40 percent of Twitter users in February returned to the site in March and about Stephen Wolfram and his search tool, WolframAlpha. [On the other hand, my husband reads 98 percent of his news on the web.] I also hear about travel bargains on the radio.
C.B.: What 5 suggestions do you have for companies to implement so they can more effectively bridge old media with new media and connect with end users?

1) From medical to marketing, ours is a country of specialists. You don’t have to explore the world of social media yourself if it holds no interest or you have no time. Just as you’d hire a video expert to produce and place a satellite media tour [SMT] or graphic designers to create fabulous merchandisers, web sites and logos, there are experts, such as Christine Whittemore, [Thank you, Jeanne!] who can hold your business by the hand and guide you to select new media options.

2) Speaking of video experts, you don’t want your YouTube videos to look like loving hands at home. Best use a professional. A company that conducts excellent SMTs would be the place to start. Staff has a nose for news and marketing as well as the video expertise to advise and provide a topnotch product. Paul Gourvitz, Gourvitz Communications in New York is A++.

3) Hire professional writers for your new media marketing materials otherwise you’ll lose readers as quickly as a click of a mouse. Ideally, the writers should be succinct and clear and sensitive to marketing and public relations issues. Faux pas travel fast.

4) When the Internet became popular as a marketing tool, many businesses largely dropped everything else and spent the majority of their marketing budget on their web site. Trouble with that was that nobody knew that they had a web site. Consumers weren’t Internet-savvy and didn’t Google. A company still needed to promote its site in traditional ways—through newspapers, radio, TV, trade and consumer magazine publicity and advertising.

No different today. You need to orchestrate your options to remind people that you are there and tap more than one note. Zagats does a good job. They have a 30th anniversary contest going on that you can participate in daily, but who remembers? They help remind with e-mails along with traditional and more innovative bells and whistles that direct you to their web site. Some restaurants, hoping you’ll give them a good review, provide handouts to the site. I passed a bagel shop on Third Avenue in NYC with a handmade sign on its front door, asking you to vote for them for “best bagel” on zagat.com. [They actually do have the best bagels.]

Like the early web days, some customers aren’t up-to-the-minute on technology. They still read, see and hear newspapers, TV and radio respectively. Don’t forget them. And now that we don’t get that much anymore, mail stands out.

5) Minding the basics is critical because consumers know how to spread news of their discontent through social media and the Internet as efficiently as a company can boast of its benefits. It’s easier to erase words etched in stone than to eliminate negative news from Google and other search functions.

Social media is exciting, energizing, efficient and relatively inexpensive, but toll-free number operators still need to be informed to provide accurate information, sales staffs must be knowledgeable and courteous, products have to work and customer service teams must be patient and compassionate problem-solvers or you’re wasting your time focusing only on social media to show how hip your company is.

C.B.: Any other thoughts to share about the effectiveness of social media in forging stronger relations with customers and how best to do so.

Toss out your calculators and cost per million stats. You’re communicating with clients and customers in a different way and traditional measurements—that some dispute, especially in PR, in any case--don’t apply. For example, tweets are conversations, not midget advertisements or endorsements. You can also use the technology to hear what’s being said about your brand while remaining silent with your brand’s ear to the ground. And as you’ve always done, understand the benefits and limitations of each option you decide to pursue so you know what to expect.

Thank you, Jeanne!

Comments? Questions? Reactions?

I love that Jeanne approaches social media tools with her clients specifically in mind.

She brings up an interesting point with respect to Twitter: how to target information effectively given one's audience. As Twitter transitions from a narrow-cast medium to a broadcast one [I am stunned by the number of folks with 20K+ Twitter followers deciding to follow me lately. What gives? How can anyone make meaning from the tweets of so many?], Twitter will need to evolve and offer users more effective means of truly receiving and sharing relevant content. I'm curious, though. What kinds of effective work arounds have you developed?

For that matter, how do you deal with the onslaught of communities and groups to join?

What about Jeanne's suggestions for more effectively bridging old media with new media? How might you implement some of those ideas?

For additional insights from participants in the Social Media Series: Bridging New & Old, please visit The Entire Bridging New & Old Series.

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