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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Anna Farmery On Bridging New & Old: Social Media Series

Anna FarmeryThis week's guest for Flooring The Consumer's Social Media Series: Bridging New & Old is Anna Farmery.

Anna Farmery embodies engagement. But not just any kind of engagement. Anna's form of engagement inspires; it's beautifully and elegantly simple and to the point, practical beyond belief and oh-so-very-wise. Spend time on her blog, The Engaging Brand, and you'll know what I mean. You'll find yourself motivated not just by what you read there, but also by what you hear in her weekly Engaging Brand podcast.

Anna contributed "Nobody Puts Baby in a Corner" to The Age of Conversation 2 - Why Don't They Get It? - the book that 237 authors from around the world collaborated on to benefit Variety, the children's charity [please consider buying the book]. This snippet from her chapter highlights how valuable she considers listening and engaging: "The next time you hear the baby cry, remember the power of the voice, remember as a leader or a parent the way to succeed is to value that cry and dedicate your life to nurturing that relationship."

I first 'met' Anna in August 2007 when she invited me to take part in a podcast to address Creating a Consumer Experience. Shortly thereafter in April 2008 I got to meet her in person when she visited NYC to participate in BlogHer Business '08 and Blogger Social '08 with Podcast Sister Heather Gorringe...

Her intense focus on connecting, inspiring and motivating -- powered by social media -- make her comments about Bridging New & Old particularly insightful.

C.B.: Anna, how and why did you get involved in social media? And not just with The Engaging Brand, but also Buzz Networker, The Podcast sisters and Widows Quest?

Anna: I so wish I could say it was through a focused strategy but it was by accident. When I started my company I put all my savings not in the company as people may suspect, but in a 5 year investment - why? Because I wanted to create that sense of danger, risk, desire that entrepreneurs have when they first start their companies. That meant I only had £500 which didn't stretch very far...so I had to look at new ways of generating interest in the company. I hadn't a clue how podcasts or blogs worked but spent every hour of every day working it all out....and the rest is history as they say. For small businesses social media is a wonderful way of connecting and growing your business. Investment is still needed but it is a passion and time based investment rather than a monetary one.

At first the passion for blogs and podcasts was as a consumer. I loved learning, connecting and expanding my view of the world. Then I realised that if that is how I felt why not try it for yourself, Anna. I actually started on blogger with a blog called MabelandHarry which I haven't kept going. This was me finding my voice. I wanted to learn to write as Anna rather than write for the web. I think it is important to find your voice.

I then realised how social media gave me the ability to speak directly with people rather than being quoted or having to somehow buy media space. What is more powerful than speaking into the ears of potential consumers? Podcasts are highly personal, highly intimate and I believed in the power of the voice.

The Engaging Brand was not meant to be part of my company, it was my way of keeping my late Dad's legacy alive. He had lived his life trying to help others achieve success, he was a greater giver and the blog was my way of sharing the lessons I have learned during my 20+ in corporate life. The other blogs are really because of my passions. Widows Quest and Buzz Networker I write for B5 Media. Widows was about reaching out to people and helping them through changes in their lives and Buzz because I find that people want to know more about social media, the trends, the successes and failures.

The Podcast Sisters was my idea to reach out to other small business owners who want to join the social media revolution but find it all too geeky. I record with Krishna De and Heather Gorringe not to "geeks" but people who want to understand all the terminology and more importantly how we use it to grow their businesses. Again as my way of giving back to the business world.

C.B.: Anna, what about Facebook. I remember you being the first person who made me reconsider Facebook as a serious platform. How do you use it and has that changed much?

Anna: Facebook is a hugely important platform and I use it for networking. I don't use it for my business per se as I find my work is too personal. It is about their issues which they don't necessarily want to share with the world. However, I work a lot with people who have products and services that benefit from a community and sharing. Facebook is a great place to share ideas and I see it as a part of your customer service strategy. How cool is it to give the consumers a chance to be part of the brand and help others connect with your brand

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

Anna: As you know I love people, I love learning and social media really suits my personality. I just love, passionately love, conversations and learning about people. Social media allows me to have conversations under the guise that I am working! As a business owner, social media doesn't just allow you to connect with consumers but also helps you develop your thinking. My connections on social media are mentors, friends, coaches, motivators....and you realize the more you give, the more you grow and the more your business grows.

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

Anna: I think it is easy to become overwhelmed by it all, I think it is easy to lose focus and I also think it is easy to become insular. That last statement seems counter intuitive but the old "echo chamber" can become real if you don't constantly keep searching for fresh ideas, fresh perspectives and fresh connections.

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

Anna: Totally. I mean I have been a Director in FMCG companies all my life and social media has revolutionized the way I think....actually being truthful not necessarily the way I think but it gives me the ability to do what I always wanted to do - which is connect with the consumer directly. 80% of my business this year has come via an initial contact through social media. I find through social media I become a friend rather than a supplier which makes business easier in the long run. Friends trust friends. Social media allows you to be you in a natural way, rather than how someone else wants to portray you.

The Engaging BrandC.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?

a) For me it is not a choice between old and new. It is about what do you stand for, who do you want to connect with and therefore which are the best tools for delivering against those aims.

b) I liken social media to building a town. Twitter are the conversations which happen in the street, blogs are your community newspapers, podcasts are your radio stations, flickr your art gallery, coffee shops are your social networking sites, etc. You cannot force community in a town, you can only build places which encourage community.

c) Think not about what you want to say but what problems are creating the search. Be the consumer, think like the consumer, and talk like the consumer. Then create content which answers the problems rather than selling your products.

d) Always remember the saying...Be you as everyone else is taken.

e) I always say at the end of each podcast "People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did but people will never forget how you made them feel." This is a quote from Dr Maya Angelou and I think that should be the mantra of all business people.

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.

Anna: Remind yourself each day that your brand is your promise. Be clear about what you promise is and spend each second delivering that promise consistently every day of your life.

Thank you, Anna!

Comments? Questions? Feedback?

How have you used social media to better connect with your customers? Have you found it as powerful as Anna has?

I love Anna's characterization of social media as building a town. The image is powerful and captures the interrelationships and levels of conversation. What do you think?

What about 'creating content that answers problems'? Doesn't that seem much better than simply trying to sell products?

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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