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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Social Media Series: Ann Handley on Bridging New & Old

Ann Handley with MarketingProfs
originally uploaded by David Alston.
This week's guest for the Social Media Series: Bridging New & Old is the amazing Ann Handley.

Ann lives and breathes new marketing. You may know her from MarketingProfs where she is Chief Content Officer - and chief instigator, editor, nurturer, community builder and conversationalist - skills she developed as co-founder of ClickZ.

As much as Ann is immersed in new media tools, what I enjoy most about her is that she gives new meaning to storytelling. Yes, she writes for MarketingProfs, and MarketingProfs Daily Fix. But, you'll also find her on The Huffington Post, This Mommy Gig and her recently launched blog, Annarchy [which will soon celebrate its first blog anniversary], where she will grip you unexpectedly with each post.

I couldn't think of a better person than Ann Handley to follow Mack Collier!

CB: Ann, how/why did you get involved in social media?

Ann: Well, when I was a child I invented blogging when I launched into many conversations with 9 different pen pals, all at once. So once the technology caught up, I guess you could say the social media found me, not the other way around.

Of course, I’m kidding: I say I invented blogging because the whole idea of keeping my own take on things private has always been boring to me. I was never the girl who kept a diary under my mattress, because it seemed pointless to write for only myself. I mean, I know what I think, and I didn’t feel a need to record it. For whom?

Instead, I craved interaction and feedback. Feedback – and now, comments and “friends” and social connections and readers – help me evolve my own thinking and understanding, which is why I readily embraced blogging a few years ago with the launch of the MarketingProfs group blog, the Daily Fix and then, later, my own personal blog, Annarchy. For me, writing and communicating is not a solitary activity. I can’t shut myself in a room and write my heart out and feel satisfied. I need to share. I need to listen. I need the interaction.

So blogging literally feels like something I invented when I was a little girl alone in my room, writing to my community of pen pals.

CB: What do you like most about social media?

Ann: I love the way things are amplified and intensified. Relationships forged there are fun and insightful and (sometimes) surprisingly intense. And real. There’s a wonderful camaraderie and depth of community among its participants. I think that’s because it’s hard to be inauthentic in social media. You can’t really hide who you are.

What’s more: in social media, everyone has a voice, because everyone suddenly has a platform. Which means that everyone matters. Everyone is potentially an influencer. Everyone is a “Who” on the “Who’s Who” list.

Like most of us, I embraced social media as an individual. But it doesn’t take long before you start to see the business possibilities inherent there, too.

From a brand’s perspective, I like the way that companies like Zappos and Comcast who have readily embraced the social media space have set a new standard for the way brands interact with their customers, in terms of the customer responsiveness and service. If a customer complains about Comcast service on Twitter, for example, he or she will hear from Frank Eliason (@comcastcares) or one of his colleagues. Social media platforms amplify what companies do… or don’t do. It’s hard for them to hide who they are, too.

CB: What do you like least about social media?

Ann: Paradoxically, I sometimes dislike the way things are amplified and intensified.

In the recent case of the Motrin Moms situation, for example, its silly advertisement earned them a run through the hot oven for disrespecting their community. Was it deserved? Maybe. But my guess it that Motrin’s initial takeaway is that the Twitter community – which loudly walloped them – is filled with hot heads and critics. This kind of thing has happened many times over, in other places, on other platforms.

Brands will misstep, but I much prefer social media to use its powers for good, rather than evil. To teach, rather than criticize. To focus on the potential.

I wish for a little perspective: It’s not an easy thing for companies in these very early stages. Social media is a risky minefield. Doing it wrong can bring on a punking, and staying on the sidelines could leave a company vulnerable, as Forrester’s Jeremiah Owyang has said.

CB: 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. Understand that social media isn’t magic, smoke, or mirrors. For marketers, it’s part of a larger mindset shift toward listening and interacting with your customers, and not just pushing out advertising and collateral.

2. Research what all the fuss is about. MarketingProfs has lots of great content on Social Media from a marketer’s perspective, as does its blog, the MarketingProfs Daily Fix. Most recently, Jason Baer, Amber Naslund, Beth Harte have all been looking at the fundamental steps, as does Mack Collier, consistently.

3. Read other smart folks in this space. Almost all of the marketers who blog for the MarketingProfs Daily Fix – including the four I named above -- write their own blogs. Explore them, and you’re bound to find a few voices that resonate with you and your needs.

4. Listen. See what bloggers and Twitter and other social media users are saying about you or your products or others in your space. To start, use blogsearch.google.com and search.twitter.com to monitor the conversation. If you want more, Andy Beals suggests eight free monitoring tools here.

5. Wade in. Start using social media tools as an individual. Get a Facebook account, a Twitter account, a LinkedIn profile. Read and comment on blogs that interest you. Pretty soon you’ll start to see the business possibilities inherent. I know I did.

CB: Any other thoughts to share about the effectiveness of social media in forging stronger relations with customers?

Ann: Social media is just one tool in a larger New Marketing toolbox, which is about shifting your approach to the way you connect with customers. Marketers for companies of all shapes and sizes should be like Walmart greeters, asking themselves about their customers, "How can we help?" I don't mean that pejoratively or literally: Rather, I mean that companies should be positioning themselves as a trusted resource.

To that end, they should be creating content that helps their customers do their jobs better, that educates them. In a larger sense, the marketer’s job these days is understanding what your customer needs to know, and then delivering it in an interesting and compelling way. I think that shift lies at the heart of forging stronger bonds with customers.

Paradoxically, the more it’s about them, the more it’s about you. You know? ; )

Thank you, Ann!

Comments? Reactions? What do you think about the notion of companies needing to position themselves as trustred resources? And creating content that helps customers? What about social media being only one tool in the larger New Marketing Toolbox?

What other thoughts do Ann's responses trigger in terms of bridging old & new media?

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Anonymous said...

Good stuff here. I especially like the advice about starting personally, then allowing the business potential to emerge. Get used to the tools, approaches, and culture. Then see how things evolve (which is one of the best parts of this emerging space!)

Amber said...

Social media isn't magic?? Damn.

I kid. This is great, practical stuff, Ann, as usual. And CB, good on you for asking great, straightforward questions. I'm always encouraged when I see a levelheaded perspective about all this stuff we're doing. :)

Best to you both!

CB Whittemore said...

Steve, I really like how Ann described that approach. This emerging space is all about being hands on and internalizing 'what does it mean for me and my business'. Thanks for your comment.

CB Whittemore said...

Amber, I consider us all 'practical marketers.' We're trying to figure all of this stuff out and how to make it meaningful and useful in forging stronger relationships.

Thanks very much for adding your perspective.

Anonymous said...

Great interview. Appreciate the content/value!

CB Whittemore said...

Hypnosis, thank you! I appreciate the feedback as this is a topic that is near/dear to my heart.

Anonymous said...

CB -- thanks so much for the opportunity here. I appreciate it very much!

CB Whittemore said...

Ann, it's an honor to be associated with the person who invented blogging! Thanks for sharing your wisdom.

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Reminder: Please, no self-promotional or SPAM comments. Don't bother if you're simply trying to build inauthentic link juice. Finally, don't be anonymous: it's too hard to have a conversation. Thanks, CB

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