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Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Tish Grier on Bridging New & Old: Social Media Series

Tish GrierThis week's guest for Flooring The Consumer's social media series: Bridging New & Old is Tish Grier.

Tish Grier blends passion for journalism, community and social media. Combine that with extensive experience in retail, a thorough understanding of the tools of social media, firsthand and intense exposure to online communities, and a keen eye for observing the world around her, and you not only have someone adept at Bridging New & Old, but also one who thinks constantly about innovation. Think citizen and hyperlocal journalism, and crowdsourcing type innovation and how to improve communications and communities.

Tish is the author of The Constant Observer, about better living through technology and popular culture. She is also a social media strategist - with a deep understanding of how best to analyze data relating to weblog/site traffic and participation rates - and community manager for Placeblogger.com, a site for "citizen journalists" or others passionate about place and what makes their place unique.

Tish is the first blogger I met at the June 2006 event Corante Marketing Innovation Event that took place at Columbia Business School. I sat next to her, and, as we spoke and I learned more about her, I discovered that she and I had both attended Smith College and that she was the author of the Spring 2006 Smith Alumni Quarterly article titled "Reach Out and Blog Someone" that I had been carrying around for several months.

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

Tish: Well, first let me address the how: the first time I ever saw anything that looked like social media was back in the early 90s. I had friends who were working for Hewlett Packard at the time, and were on these email lists. One was for something called NE Raves. This was how a whole bunch of geeky young people used the Internet to gather together and form communities. This is what 'social media’ is about—gathering together, making things happen. And this was 1992! Truly social media’s infancy. (BTW, I knew some folks who, around ’93 were testing something called ‘node to node communication.’ One of these was the guy who developed Apache. This was a prototype instant message system.)

I got my first real computer, and my first taste of the Internet, and the next phase of social media when I attended Smith College on the Ada Comstock Program. Full scholarship. Pretty amazing for a working-class girl from NJ. This was 1998 and we were required to have computers for our personal use. We also had unlimited Internet access in our dorm rooms. So, lots of people got into the whole chat room thing, and ICQ was huge. I ended up on the New York Times Film Forums—a discussion board.

My college days were really dark for me—trying to make the best of my scholarship, plus going thru a divorce. One would have been enough, but to go through both was horrific. I had a very difficult time making friends on campus, and retreated nightly into the Forums. This is where I learned the power of communities of affinity, as well as learned the ways and mores of online communities. As I participated, I also watched and learned a whole lot about people’s behavior online. When I decided to do an honors thesis—on 20th c. biblical epics—the late night crowd on the Forums were a great help and support to me.

This was probably the “toddler stage” of what we now call social media. People were using chats (AOL, ICQ, etc.) and they were posting wildly on bulletin boards and forums. We were making friends online, then transcending the boundaries of online and bringing those friends into our real-world space. Marketers, too, were trying to find a way into this space. I remember hearing about Disney and (I believe) Campbell’s soup trying to infiltrate chat rooms, and many of us saying that they just wouldn’t be able to do it because they didn’t know how to talk to people.

Hmmmm…..the more things change, the more they stay the same :)

In 2004, I got to blogging. When I got to blogging, my head just exploded! The potential for it was amazing! I’d first seen LiveJournal back in ’98, but when I saw the updated Blogger, with its WYSIWYG features, and how easy it was to figure out the template HTML, I went berserk. In the summer of 2005, I quit the multiple jobs I was working (long story on that one, I won’t get into it—suffice to say that a liberal arts degree does indeed well prepare you for a job in retail ;-) ) and decided to pursue “professional blogging” before there was even such a thing!

In the fall of ’05 at the Corante Symposium on Social Architecture, I first heard Stowe Boyd use the term “social media.” Then a light-bulb went off in my head. That’s it! All these chat rooms, and forums, and message boards, and blogs—it’s all something called “social media!”

I knew right then and there that social media was where I wanted to be. I wanted a career in social media—not in marketing or in journalism or anything like that. I didn’t know what exactly I was going to do in social media. There weren’t any social media jobs per se back in 2005.

I got my first social media job writing for Corante in January of 2006. They were one of the first online outlets that were paying a decent wage for online editorial work. I will always be grateful to Francois Gossieaux for giving me that first break (and several others :)).

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

Tish: It can be an amazingly creative thing, and can be used by so many companies to bring back old-fashioned direct customer relations (both sales and service) while bringing them into 21st century technology. I recently landed my first independent social media client, and one of the main goals is to bring a company that’s stuck in the early days of the web into the new web—into a place where you can’t just slap up a website, walk away, and expect it to generate money for you. The women that I’m working with who handle customer orders/customer service are really excited about using new tools to connect with customers. These are things they’ve used in their own lives, but had no idea exactly how they could be used for their company. That’s what I’m showing them.

The thing I’ve never stopped doing, and have done from the beginning, is what friends have dubbed “amateur anthropology”—that’s when I sit back, watch behaviors, and figure out what it is that people are doing online, who’s saying who, who’s kvetching about civility and the devil of anonymity and the terrors of a culture that doesn’t have gatekeepers. It’s both hysterical and horrific. Kind of like being on a roller coaster.

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

Tish: There are two things: I like least the folks who think they know it and don’t—the massive numbers of charlatans flooding into the field. You know the kind: the ones who’ve been blogging and tweeting and facebooking for six months or so and then open up shop as social media consultants. Some of these folks think social media consulting is offering to maintain people’s LinkedIn and Facebook profiles . Why would you want to write and maintain someone’s LinkedIn profile for them?? To me, that’s taking advantage of people’s ignorance and laziness, and not social media consulting. And you’re not helping your client to truly understand social media.

The other is the people who believe their local teenagers or kids can do the job of social media experts. Two reasons for a s/m consultant to hear that: clients trying to get rates down and lack of knowledge about social media. I recently explained to a client about weeding thru the hype so that I can help them use the right tools. There’s a boatload of hype, and part of knowing how to advise a client properly is knowing who to trust and who needs some time to develop.

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

Tish: For me, I’m far more vigilant about product reviews than I used to be. Ever since PayPerPost, and how I saw the way so many people weren’t bothering to disclose that they’d been paid to write glowing reviews of things, I am less inclined to consider the recommendations of someone I don’t know. And by “don’t know” I mean in the sense of not knowing them one to one, in person. If it’s someone I only know from online, I would have to know them really, really well before I’d take their recommendation. But I’m certainly going to take with a huge grain of salt the reviews that I read on many of the blogs I see.

I’m also going to take with another huge grain any time I see totally glowing reviews for a service or restaurant online. With the growing number of defamation cases going on, IMO people might start shying away from leaving negative reviews or comments for fear of getting sued. Hence, we will be right back where we started—there will be no transparency, businesses will get what they want (to stay in business even if they suck) and social media will be broadcast media once again.

On the plus side—I’m a big fangirl of certain shows and movies, so when a show/movie gives me something cool, I’m going to become more excited about it, and talk more about it. And for some companies, if they can tie some sort of participator or cool thing to their product, I might be more inclined to give them some good WOM. Two examples:

AMC’s “Mad Men Yourself” avatar creator: My friends and I—all marketing and web designers and journalists—are super into Mad Men. I found out about it from a journalist friend of mine in Detroit. Then I spread it all around my friends in Western Mass. We’ve all had so much fun with it, and it got us really psyched for Mad Men’s season premiere. It was a great piece of marketing that spurred on a whole bunch of WOM in social media circles. Too cool! I’m still using my avatar on Facebook and Twitter because I don’t have a good recent pic to put up there.

The other is one I stumbled on today. Was discussing strong coffee, and remembered Café Bustelo (a ground coffee used for espresso—been around for years.) Pre-Internet, my friends and I used to call it Café Bust-a-Move (as in it gives you so much energy you’d want to break out and bust a move) On the shelf, Café Bustelo’s packaging hasn’t changed much, so I had no idea if the company even had a website. Sure enough! They do: http://cafebustelo.com/.

From there, I clicked on the Culture tab, which took me to an ad for a new CD by Mario Grigorov titled “Paris to Cuba.” To hear some music for free, I clicked again and got to their Java Cabana site. I like the music so much, I’m actually thinking of buying the CD. Will this then get me to buy some of their coffee? Maybe. What it did do is get me to talk about Grigorov’s music, which then led me to disclose where and how I found it, which then sent friends over to the Café Bustelo site and Java Cabana. Who knows where it went from there—but I know I just exposed a whole bunch of new people to a new coffee and new music. Nothing’s more fun than that! (well, maybe making Mad Men avatars….)

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?

Tish: Many of the ideas below come from “lessons learned” from social media experiments, from experiences I’ve heard about after my lectures on social media at Marlboro College, and from my experience with my current client.

1. Forget most of what you know about old media and its ideas about conveying the message. Only remember the basic ethics of old media—about disclosure, about libel—as they will help you do social media with integrity.

2. Listen first, talk later. In other words, find out what people are saying about your products by observing a variety of forms of social media related to your product. Find out what people like, what they are saying about your product/service. This will give you a good barometer for how to approach people. (the Internet is, after all, full of people.)

3. When a company decides to do social media, put together a team. Not just your marketing person, not just one customer service rep. One person in your organization isn’t going to know enough nor have enough energy nor hours in the day to be able to effectively do all the social media. Spread around the effort. This will also help when you’re looking for new directions to take your social media. That’s what I’ve found is working great for a client of mine, and it’s lessening the “learning curve” for the whole office.

4. One of the lessons I learned from WOM guru Andy Sernovitz is to give people something to stimulate WOM. This works in social media too. Whether it’s music, or a sample of your products, give people something to remember you by. This will create customer loyalty as well as give them a reason to follow your social media presence.

5. Involve your customers! Crowdsource them for product ideas, to help figure out a new campaign, to add pics to a catalogue or brochure. There are so many ways to crowdsource and the information can tell you so much about not only who uses your products, but who you might be missing. Both are important. Right now, one client is running a crowdsourcing campaign on Facebook for new pictures for their catalogue. So far, it’s going well. People are submitting wonderful pictures using their products. Putting customers pics in the catalogue will not just be cost effective for this small company, but is also going to create a lot of good will and good buzz in a rather competitive beauty product field.

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?

Tish: Listen don’t pontificate. Don’t manage the conversation inasmuch as stimulate it and participate in it. If customers need help (which is usually what’s behind complaints) help them. And if you can’t help them, go back to your drawing board and figure it out. Just because you’ve got something that sells good already, you can improve your market share by communicating better with all your customers, not just the loyal ones. Learn when to differentiate between someone who really hates your product, and someone who may be providing constructive criticism veiled as a kvetch. Read carefully before responding!

Thank you, Tish!

Comments? Questions? Feedback?

What do you think of these concepts?
+ That social media can be used by so many companies to bring back old-fashioned direct customer relations.
+ The need to do social media with integrity.
+ Finding out what people are saying about your products by observing a variety of forms of social media related to your product.
+ Involving your customers.

I love that Tish recommends spreading around the social media effort within your organization.

For additional insights from other participants in the Social Media Series: Bridging New & Old, please visit The Entire Bridging New & Old series, which includes a link to the e-book based on the first 26 interviews in the series.

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