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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Natalie MacNeil On Bridging New & Old - Social Media Series

Natalie MacNeilThis week's guest for Flooring The Consumer's Social Media Series: Bridging New & Old is Natalie MacNeil.

Natalie MacNeil lives, breathes, writes and exudes encouragement for entrepreneurs. By day, she is a media producer and freelance consultant living in Ontario, Canada. At other times, she inspires and supports women entrepreneurs -in particular- via her blog She Takes On The World. Be sure to also check out her Garage Entrepreneurs blog which documents her team's entrepreneurial journey and provides advice and insight into a variety of entrepreneurial and small business topics.

Natalie and I connected via Personal Branding Magazine Issue 8 Re: Female Power Brands in which we were both featured. I was struck by her passion for entrepreneurship, her practicality in business, her skill at meshing traditional approaches [e.g., she started out running a lemonade stand] with new ones and her interest in women business owners.

Since running that first lemonade stand, Natalie hasn't wasted a moment. She has been been recognized as one of Canada’s top young leaders, run a successful customer service auditing business [yes, we also connect re: the customer experience], been Ambassador to Canada and traveled, as a result, to over 50 countries to date.

Pretty neat.

Here is a link to Natalie MacNeil's personal website which includes her Twitter contact info.

C.B.: Natalie, how/why did you get involved in social media?

Natalie: Being involved in social media is absolutely essential today -especially for business owners. I really believe not getting involved in social media will hurt your bottom line. I first got involved with social media when I started a personal blog which eventually evolved to become the business and entrepreneurship blog it is today, She Takes On The World. As more and more social media tools were introduced I wanted to try those too. Suddenly I was using 30 different social media platforms and seeing results. My personal network grew and my business grew and that made me want to really develop a strategy for using social media. I use it frequently now because I realize how powerful it is and the impact it has on business-customer relations. It is fascinating to see it transform media, marketing, and customer service.

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

Natalie: My favorite thing about social media is the sharing of knowledge. Everyday, millions of people from around the world are sharing knowledge with each other and that is powerful. Look at the role twitter played following the election in Iran. The impact of social media is incredible. It gives people a voice who otherwise may not be heard.

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

Natalie: The absence of a regulatory body or someone to check facts and make sure the information people give is credible can be a problem. There is a game I remember playing in elementary school. Everyone would sit in a circle and the teacher would whisper a sentence into someone's ear and that person would pass it on until it got passed around the entire circle. The last person to hear the message would say it out loud and often times the message would be completely different by the time it got all the way around the circle. Social media sometimes works in the same way. As people pass on information, the story continually changes and the line between what is fact and fiction gets blurred.

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) Build relationships with your customers without trying to sell them anything. Focus on personal connections and building trust among your customers. People know when you are using social media for the sole purpose of selling and will avoid interacting with you.

2) Be creative. Don't just use social media how everyone else is using it. A great example is a bakery in London that informs its twitter followers when fresh bread and baked goods are coming out of the oven. The whole process is automated and the company has received a lot of international attention and media coverage.

3) Monitor what people are saying about your brand online and engage in conversations with the people talking about your brand. If they have something positive to say, let them know you appreciate them sharing their positive experience and feedback. If they say something negative, follow up with an apology and ask for suggestions. I blogged about a terrible experience I had with Home Depot. They did one thing right by emailing me an apology. What Home Depot failed to do was follow up on how they can improve and make me happy as a customer again.

4) Build a community around your brand. I think Walmart has done this effectively. People can review products and Walmart uses its community to interact with customers and make improvements. Building a community for your brand can be a very powerful tool for marketing and is the ultimate way to connect with customers.

5) Appoint brand ambassadors. Hire influential people online to engage in conversations about your brand and get feedback. Make your brand ambassadors feel like they are worth gold to your company -because they are.

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?

Natalie: I have a few important points for using social media effectively:

- Be mindful of what you say and how you say it.

- Focus on providing value to the conversations you engage in through social media.

- Think of your time spent using social media as an investment and plan a strategy for how you can get a return on the investment of your time.

You never know who is watching you or your brand. I have been offered jobs, business, and wonderful opportunities all by leveraging social media and you can, too!

Thank you, Natalie!

I love Natalie's suggestion to be creative. What are the most creative uses of social media that you've come across?

What do you think of her characterization of time spent using social media as an investment? How do you get a return on that time as well as on your traditional activities?

How effective are you at developing relationships without selling anything?

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

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