Responding to Consumers on Social Media

It’s vital to respond to posts, tweets, questions, etc., on social media, but there’s a right way to handle responding. It’s important to be present for your customers. You certainly do not want to be a ghost on your social media accounts. Below, we explore the right versus wrong ways to respond.

ivanpw / Foter / CC BY
  1. Wrong: Do not acknowledge a mistake a customer brings to your attention via social media. Right: No matter how small the mistake, always acknowledge a mistake and apologize promptly.
  2. Wrong: Listen but don’t respond. Being a ghost and not responding to customers is not a good reflection on your company/brand. Right: It’s important to respond to both positive and negative posts.
  3. Wrong: Respond to everyone with a generic message so everything is consistent. Right: Craft responses that can be personalized to handle different types of comments.
  4. Wrong: If there’s an issue, don’t ask for personal information such as an email address or phone number when responding. Right: Ask the customer to email you (be sure to provide an email address that will go directly to you and not a generic email response center). This also ensures the conversation will be handled privately and not online.
  5. Wrong: Take your time to respond to followers. Right: Ensure someone at your company responds to posts in a timely manner and directs the posts to the appropriate person if there’s a question or issue.

Social media managers, do you have any additional tips to share? Comment below.

Photo credit: ivanpw / Foter / CC BY

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Managing Your Small Business’ Online Reputation

Congratulations! You've taken your business online. So how do you leverage this into new customers or clients while also protecting your reputation?

Congratulations! You’ve taken your business online. So how do you leverage this into new customers or clients while also protecting your reputation?

Congratulations intrepid entrepreneur! If you’ve taken the plunge and launched your small business into the social media space, you’ve taken a bold step that offers many risks and rewards.

More than 72 percent of U.S. adults who go online use social networking sites, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project. By choosing to put your brand out there, a bevy of potential rewards (i.e., Likes, followers, sharing blog posts, positive reviews and online recommendations) await your brand. With a little effort applied to communication your messages, attention to superior online customer service that reflects your brand and by trying to genuinely connect with your customers, you can turn your social media presence into a noteworthy repository of goodwill for your business that reward you handsomely over time.

The effort is also not without risk.

In the days before social media, one bad customer experience typically translated to the customer telling 10 friends of their displeasure. With the advent of social media, however, your brand runs the risk of being shamed before 100 or 1,000 social media followers. For some power networkers, those numbers are substantially higher.

It’s imperative small businesses understand, on average, about 46 percent of web users turn to social media before making a purchase to decide if the business or product is “trustworthy” or reputable. This means, to paraphrase a legendary phrase from actress Zsa Zsa Gabor, you are what the online community says you are.

On Oct. 18 at Parx Casino in Bensalem, Pa., small business owners that include restaurants, outdoor and adventure destinations, bed & breakfasts and others will gather for Visit Bucks County’s Annual Membership Meeting. Attendees will have an opportunity to attend a morning seminar on establishing and maintaining online presences to help their businesses grow.

As one of the featured speakers, I’ll be sharing insights and tips on how these businesses can protect and defend their online reputations. I’ll offer examples of good, and not so good, online customer service. In addition I’ll provide insider tips for managing these online presences under a variety of circumstances.

Check back on this blog next week for some top line thoughts on the subject as well as insights and anecdotes offered by some of the small businesses I meet with at the VBC Annual Meeting.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/infusionsoft/4820986909/”>Infusionsoft</a&gt; via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;

9 Tips To Make Social Media Work For You At Conventions

There is nothing wrong with an awkward selfie when used to promote a brand or to let the world know you just discovered amazing pepper jelly.

There is nothing wrong with an awkward selfie when used to promote a brand or to let the world know you just discovered amazing pepper jelly.

Last week (Sept. 25-28) more than 1,200 vendors attended Natural Products Expo East to attract the attention of retailers and bloggers while also winning some valued name recognition for their brands.

Surprisingly, only a handful of vendors used social media to truly maximize their advantage.

I’ve attended many conferences and conventions and I follow some simple social media steps for events.  I urge many of the brands I met with at Expo East to review the following tips and plan to incorporate them next September in Baltimore or in March 2014 in Anaheim for Expo West. Because of its profound reach, extensive use in business and dexterity of messaging, these tips focus on using Twitter, but could be adapted for Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, Pinterest and others.

Twitter Screen Shot

1. Tell the World Where You’ll Be

About 45 days before the show, tweet from your company Twitter handle that you will be in attendance. Use the show’s hashtag (usually #ExpoEast or #ExpoWest; other shows will include this info. in registration materials), your booth number and invite people to visit your booth at the show. For example: We’re thrilled to be attending #ExpoWest in Anaheim in March. You can find us at Booth #3100.

2. Make a Social Media Plan for the Show

Conference attendees cling to their smartphones. Task someone to monitor, post and respond to social media during the show in real-time. Either on the floor or back at the home office, participating on social media will help garner attention for you long after the tradeshow floor closes.

3. Give Followers a Behind the Scenes Look

Tweet behind-the-scenes pictures and video of your team preparing for the show, traveling to the show and setting up your booth. People like to get to know the brands they love, and feel included. Be sure to include show hashtags and your booth number.

4. Give Attendees a Reason To Seek You Out

Entice attendees to visit you by offering samples, raffles or exclusive news on upcoming brand news. Make it worth attendees’ time to find your booth in the crowd. And, of course, use the show hashtag and your booth number. For example: If you’re attending #ExpoWest, stop by Booth #3100 for free samples of our new mango and coffee-flavored smoothies.

5. Recruit Attendees to Be Your Ambassadors

People share content in which they are featured. Invite interested attendees to take a photo with you and your booth. Then you can tweet the picture, with the attendee’s Twitter handle and the show’s hashtag with a “Thanks for stopping by” or other conversation-relevant comment. Retailers might not partake, but bloggers and brand enthusiasts will – and they share!

6. Comment on Show Happenings

You’re at the convention. Make sure you are aware of educational and training sessions taking place, who the guest speakers are, and what events attendees are talking about most. Tweet content related to each – with images where possible. For example: Willy Wonka’s talk on the health benefits of sugar at #ExpoWest has fired attendees up. What’s the most interesting seminar you’ve attended today?

7. Respond To Those Who Tweet About/To You

It’s just like a conversation. You wouldn’t ignore someone who said hello to your or complimented you, so don’t do it on social media. If someone tweets at or about you, tweet them back with a tailored thank you (i.e., don’t just say ‘Thanks’).

8. Spelling Counts

Proper spelling is key, especially for people’s names and Twitter handles. It demonstrates professionalism as well as being able to react correctly to real-time events with aplomb.

9. If It Goes Badly, Get It Offline

If someone tweets a complaint or comments negatively about your product, let them know you are sorry they are unhappy, and that you would like to speak with them (by email, cell phone or in person) right away to try to help. Do not engage in a back-and-forth dialogue via social media. Get the conversation off of social media as quickly as possible. For example: We’re sorry you had a bad experience. Email willy@willywonka.com and let us help or stop by booth #3100 & give us a chance to make it right.

There is a lot of good that can come from live social media posts at a conference or convention. Retailers search the related hashtags to see what brands are trending, and what attendees liked and didn’t like. And whether you use social media or not, if you are a vendor at a show like Natural Products Expo, you are being talked about on social media. So make sure you are taking an active role to help shape that conversation.

If you have questions or would like to create a social media plan for Anaheim or Baltimore in 2014, email me at rhughes@kimballpr.com to learn how the team at Kimball Communications can help. Or tweet us at @KimballPR.

Four spring cleaning tasks for writers

You’ve been writing all day, right? Writing press releases. Writing carefully worded emails. Writing white papers and proposals and to-do lists and text messages and secret prayers to the gods of media coverage (and then apology letters to PETA about the Sacrificial Goat Incident).

Amir Kuckovic / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

When you spend most of your waking moments stringing together words and phrases, not every strand will be unique and stunning. Perhaps Thesaurus.com is the only browser tab that never you never close. Maybe you are leaning on weak link-bait phrases, like my headline (hey, you clicked on it).

In other words, your writing has gotten stale, lackluster and rote.

Recently, I noticed this in my writing. I was editing a white paper I had written, and found one phrase repeated over and over at the beginning of sentences: “that means.” It was an unnecessary, lazy and boring transition, but there it was, again and again.

I had the good sense (for once) to understand this as a wake-up call. I took a closer look at the next few pieces I wrote and took steps to refresh my writing. This is what worked for me. Maybe it’ll work for you, too:

  • Pick out the stale bits. When editing, look for areas of your writing that aren’t terribly effective. Like me, have your transitions gotten lazy? Does it seem like your vocabulary has shrunk? Name the problem(s).
  • Refresh your reading. In many ways, you write what you read. What are you reading for work? If you go back every day to the same two blogs, you are limiting potential growth in your vocabulary and writing style. What are you reading at home? The books and magazines we read for fun inform our writing just as much as the “serious” stuff.
  • Go back to basics. Listen, you don’t actually outgrow outlining and organized note-taking. We all just think we do. You might even want to try drafting with pen and paper, just this once. As I see it, writing by hand slows down your writing process and can help you be more thoughtful about word choice and sentence length.
  • Reacquaint yourself with clients. Going back to basics can also mean going back to the beginning with your clients. If your writing about or for them has become imprecise or not particularly compelling, you may want to look back at strategy documents created when you started working with them. Make sure you understand their mission and goals — these are easy to lose sight of.

I’m curious about what other people do to solve this vague and slippery problem. Do you have any good resources, tips or advice? Share them in the comments or on Twitter (tweet @kimballpr or @sammkimball).

Photo credit: Amir Kuckovic / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

10 Steps to Being Presentable: Giving Great Presentations

I’m getting ready to train a client group on delivering effective presentations and thought I’d revisit this sometimes scary topic.

Gary and his trusty cheat sheet. Notice how big the font is? That makes it easier to read at a glance.

Gary and his trusty cheat sheet. Notice how big the font is? That makes it easier to read at a glance.

We’ve all been on the other end, in a room with someone standing rigidly at a podium next to a screen where a PowerPoint is about to bore us to tears. Slide after slide filled with data we can’t read and a monotone speaker who looks at the screen more than the audience. We gain nothing more than we could have gleaned from a report and just can’t wait for it to be over.

So when it’s your turn to give a presentation, how do you make it a good one? Here are a few tips based on more extensive advice (and video training) I’ll be sharing with my client:

  1. Know your audience. This helps in so many ways. Make sure your material is geared toward their needs, not yours. If necessary, find out what they want to know in advance.
  2. Get over your nerves. How? Practice so you know your material. The more you know your stuff, the more at ease you will be. But don’t practice in front of a mirror. That just makes you feel weird.  Videotaping yourself, on the other hand, works. Also, don’t worry about perfection. That’s putting a lot of pressure on yourself. Just try to be engaging and interesting. If so, you’ll be better than most.
  3. Nail the open. But how? Unless you are absolutely certain your joke will work, don’t do it. Instead, ask your audience a question. That engages them and is an easy way to get moving in the right direction. And please, don’t try to memorize your opening. Again, that’s too much pressure to be perfect.
  4. Make sure your technology is fool proof. If not, don’t use it. A funny video from a popular movie or television show can be a great icebreaker. But show it to others first to make sure it works. And if the video, PowerPoint or audio is not tested in the facility where you are speaking, just skip it.
  5. Speaking of PowerPoint, it’s not necessary, too often boring and takes away from what the focus should be – your words. If you have important data to share, send it in advance or use it as a hand out. Just hit the high points in your speech.
  6. Make it interesting. That means you don’t read from a script or use big words or jargon. Instead, use stories, case studies, examples your audience can connect with. And tell your audience why they should care about what you’re saying. That is why they’re there.
  7. Don’t get hung up on verbal tics, like uh and um. Many people do it and you should learn to avoid them. But that’s a daily self-training (I heard one trainer recommend putting “uh” in a circle with a line through it and leave it on your desk. That way, as you are talking all day, you are conscious of it). But when you’re presenting, just let it go and keep talking.
  8. Create a presence. We’re not all gifted speakers who can walk the crowd and feel comfortable. But you should use your hands, use your voice so it’s not monotone and at least move a few steps and shake that icy grip you have on the lectern. Try it, it feels good.
  9. Prepare for problems. You go blank? Keep a one-page cheat sheet in front of you so you can quickly glance and find out where you are. You have technical difficulties? Go in with a back up and just move on. If you don’t dwell on the technical problem, neither will your audience. You’re audience does not seem interested? Then ask them questions.
  10. Speaking of questions. Many people ask the audience to hold questions until the end. Why? Because they don’t want to get sidetracked and lose their place. But if you have a cheat sheet, you have no worries.

The 2013 Communications Intern

While we recently posted on the current meaning of social media, we’ve also got a new perspective on the 2013 intern. In the coming year, interns – from public relations to social media and graphic design positions – should look at their internship search and their experience in a new light.

1. Change your way of thinking.

After completing two communications internships, one of which turned into my current public relations assistant position at Kimball Communications, I suggest a new way of looking at internships.

Think of an internship as a highly important class in college or as the new “grad school.” Communications majors do not often go to grad school after college – they go to work. But, first, you have to pay your dues. If you think of completing an internship as taking an educational course that will help your career, and you plan for the investment accordingly, it won’t seem like just an extra “thing” that you have to do on top of your undergraduate classes. Internships are unfortunately added expenses, but they are necessary in today’s job market.

And, don’t just think of internships as resume builders; they give you an opportunity to start building the skills to break into the communications industry. It’s up to you to take advantage of this. Ragan’s PR Daily suggests ways to do so in these 50 tips.

2. Understand what you’re searching for.

When I was pursuing internships in undergraduate school, I discovered two types of internships: 1) Those that offer a-part-of-the-team experience and 2) Those that hire interns to work from the bottom up – which isn’t necessarily negative.

If you know your top goal is to work in a highly competitive corporation or industry, then running errands or faxing media alerts is sometimes just a stepping stone in that particular job. You have to start somewhere if that you want to go into a specific field.

However, if you have no preference for an industry and are looking for a general communications internship, then search for one in which you will gain quality experience. Don’t settle for an internship where all you do is get coffee if you don’t want to be sitting at the receiving end one day.

Simply put, decide where you want to end up and search for the appropriate internships, with the right people, to lead you to that goal. Also – be prepared to change your end goal on the way. As many have said, internships are sometimes more about what you don’t want to do than what you want to do. For specifics on landing an internship, Ron Culp, PR expert and professional director of the graduate PR and advertising program at DePaul University, offers advice in his blog.

3. Prepare to be well-rounded.

While some communications internships may have a title, not all internships are specific to that title. Interns today can specialize in a certain area, but are still asked and expected to fulfill other projects. So, be prepared to schedule social media posts as an event planner or edit a video in between drafting an article.

Also, get used to the idea that PR agencies are going partially or fully virtual, and so are internships. The renowned Internship Queen Lauren Berger gives the positives of virtual internships in this article.

More importantly than the work itself – students or post-grads need to absorb their overall time in the office. These experiences introduce the language used in the field and the different types of office atmospheres (we prefer a casual environment here.) This understanding of office cultures is all a part of being a communications professional, and it will help prepare you for any type of job you go after post-internship in the 2013 PR and social media world.

Here at Kimball Communications, we’re looking for our 2013 graphic design intern and we look forward to your applications.