Friday, April 3, 2009

3 Open Letter to Running Companies: Please Put Your Brand on Twitter & Facebook! And While You're At It, Here Are Some Basic Ground Rules To Follow!


OK, I have a request for my favorite running companies: Please put your brands on Twitter & Facebook, if you haven't already done so. :)

For the clueless & as-yet unconverted (& that means both companies & individual private citizens) who have yet to harness the awesome power of Twitter & Facebook, I say please get with the program. Wake up & stop making fun of the rest of us. These tools aren't a waste of time; they are a way to reach people & communication information.

And for companies, they are not only pure marketing genius, but also a way to keep their pulse on what their customers want (a central tenet followed by any good business) & also a great way to generally communicate with their "customers/fan base."

However, there are some ground rules. You have to know the "correct" way to go about setting up your Twitter account, tweeting, & interacting with your customer base.

Also, furthermore, it is not enough for running companies to simply have a presence on social media sites. Companies need to be able to tweet useful information to consumers & be actively conversational as part of the process. They've also got to understand the subtle ground rules, many of which are unofficial (i.e., to be read as "not yet available in printed 'RTFM' guidebook format," ;-) ), especially when it comes to social media etiquette.

First of all, unless you want massive unfollows, do NOT, & I repeat, please do not DM (i.e., "direct message" for the as yet uninitiated) people unnecessarily with marketing/advertising garbage as your first tweet.

I don't care if they chose to follow your Twitter ID first; that doesn't mean they want to be bothered by unnecessary direct messages cluttering up their Twitter mailbox &, (if they link their Twitter accounts to their email accounts), their email Inboxes. This is almost always perceived as the equivalent of spamming people or if you need an "IRL" equivalent (i.e., "in real life"), sending them direct mail marketing in "snail mail" format, i.e., unwanted junk mail. :)

I would even tread lightly after establishing rapport via tweeting with your customer base. Abuse the DM privilege with your customers, & you'll quickly find yourself unfollowed.

Direct messages in Twitter are really not supposed to be utilized like direct marketing. And we all know what happens when companies send out massive amounts of junk mail (in either snail mail or email format) to people without consideration or regard for consumer preferences; their unsolicited advertising flyers & catalogs & emails usually end up in the trash bin, or hopefully, better yet, (if we are talking about actual paper!), in the recycling heap. :)

Either that, or people will usually call & ask to have their names removed from your lists & will unsubscribe themselves from your email lists. "Please do not rent or sell my name/contact information" is often the most common catch phrase used by consumers in this case. :)

It's one thing to send marketing when it's wanted; quite a different matter, when it's not wanted. :) True, you probably can't blame companies for trying, & sending out an initial catalog or flyer as an attempt to try to reach new customers, but for goodness sakes, it's high time that companies wisen up to the process & use electronic databases to track whether their direct marketing is actual effective or not in building or maintaining their customer base: Please don't keep sending us catalogs & flyers in the mail when we didn't seek you out & are obviously NOT buying your products after the five zillionth catalog mailing. Then your marketing campaigns just becomes wasteful & ineffectual, & environmentally irresponsible.

Speaking of which, in this Digital Age of social media & social responsibility, I honestly prefer to buy from companies that choose not to blanket the earth with their paper catalogs & flyers; there's a much more consumer-friendly, eco-friendly/green, & responsible choice -- product websites/online stores/blogs & yes, email. Now, I don't mean harassing people with unsolicited emails either. People hate that sh... er, stuff. :) I mean, provide a way for customers to sign up for your emails or tweets or Facebook product information pages, as a voluntary choice. :)

Not only is the aforementioned tactic a personal pet peeve of mine -- both IRL & online, but it will, generally-speaking, get you more unfollows in Twitter faster than you can say "twitt-diot." ;-)

And ahem, it's not just me who doesn't like this. This seems to be a general consensus amongst the Twitterati the last time I checked. ;-) People have already been bombarded with these sorts of tactics IRL & in email, & are frankly getting mighty annoyed, & rightly so. So please don't alienate your fans & future clientele this way.

Instead, let me suggest another way to go about making your presence known: Prominently feature Twitter & Facebook badges on the front pages of your company websites, which in turn will link to your corresponding company/product pages.

Also, instead of DM'ing people to death, it's much better to simply use the @reply feature, (now the @username feature), & thank your fans publicly for their follows. This does two things: It makes people feel good that you are (publicly) acknowledging their presence & rewards them for their "brand loyalty." Also, since Twitter has now changed the "@replies" to "@twitter_username," which allows any mention of their username (whether it's a direct reply or a general mention, etc.) to show up on their own "Twitter radar" (i.e., in their @username Tweet stream) when they click their own @twitter_username, & also allows people who follow your followers to see your @twitter_username in their Twitter stream as well. :) Viral marketing via word-of-mouth-advertising can't get much better than that; & wow, it's all been done without being a nuisance to the general populace too. :)

Even better, you can thank your customers by putting the "#followfriday" tag at the end, which will give both you & your customers new followers. Your tweeps will greatly appreciate your shoutout/recommendation, particularly if it's genuine. :) The "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" thing really does work quite effectively in this case. :)

Secondly, talk back to us when we talk to you. That's just good plain customer service tactics. Especially if we followed you first, it's clear that we are interested in what your company has to say, or rather tweet :). However, the no-DM rule still applies, unless we are contacting you first in the same manner, or have sent you an @username tweet & it's apparent that the response requires the delicacy/privacy of a DM communication.

If you follow us first, do not unfollow us right away if we don't give you an immediate follow. Not everyone twitters regularly or checks their Twitter account with unfailing frequency notifications to see whether or not they've got any new follows. Also, some people have configured their Twitter accounts NOT to notify them when they get DMs or new followers (or they redirect this sort of mail to a spare account they never check ;-) ), precisely because they don't want these messages cluttering up their primary email Inboxes.

Also, by the same token, do not immediately unfollow us after we start following you. This is typically construed as rude, & viewed very unfavorably in the Twitter community. Nothing will give you a bad rap (or an unfollow) faster than using this unsavory technique to artificially inflate one's Twitter following. A BIG NO-NO & might I add, très uncool.

Several of us use tools like Qwitter, SocialToo, or FriendorFollow, so we KNOW when you unfollow us. So don't think we don't know. We usually do. :)

Also, unless the person has already revealed their real name in their Twitter profile or website listed on Twitter, the best policy is to not tweet to people using their first &/or last names. This is the equivalent of "calling someone out." No one wants to have their privacy violated, so please be respectful. Also, be careful what you tweet to people; try to be sensitive about what you tweet to people in the public space. People don't exactly enjoy the act of being publicly shamed.

What you reveal about yourself is one thing; what you reveal about someone else without their express permission is quite another! If you're not sure that what your tweeting will be received well by others, then that moment of hesitation should probably be telling you something. ;-) It's usually best to trust your gut instincts, unless of course, you have no social graces or consideration for others whatsoever, & then please disregard the earlier portion of this statement. ;-)

Also, please realize that Twitter is a two-way street. Even though someone might protect their tweets & thus, not have them listed on the public timeline, this does not mean the same automatically applies to your tweet replies. If you tweet publicly, others can see your Tweets. In other words, this means that if the entire world so chose to follow you on Twitter, they'd see your tweets. Even if people aren't expressly following you, there's a lot of general content (from Twitter, Facebook, & other social media sites, etc.) which is publicly searchable, & a lot of people might actually be horrified to find out what other people can find out about them online. And I'm not just talking about those websites where people can pay to fish around & find out private information about private citizens. Those sites are nefarious enough, but as is common knowledge amongst the IT & subterranean IT communities (i.e., read "black hat vs. white hat hackers"!), you don't even need to pay someone to get this sort of information. Any common search engine will do. Plus, there are spambots, searchbots, & all sorts of other tools. You don't even need to provide tags for search engines. Trust me, they will find you, even without those. :)

Also, be mindful of creating useful & timely content in social media. No matter whether you are low-end or high-end, social media participants expect companies to provide value, not only in their products, but in their Tweets & other social media communications.

Admittedly, individuals have a little bit of an advantage here. We can tweet things like "eating a delicious tomato & basil sandwich on sourdough bread a local outdoor cafe." OK, true, not everyone might care, & sending repeated mundane tweets (especially as general tweets without the @username!) might get you unfollowed after a while, but we have the leeway/prerogative to do this if we like. Companies obviously have less leeway, not just because these tweets could potentially be viewed as "unprofessional," but also because they lack tangible value for their target customer base. :)

People who have specifically chosen to follow companies are doing so because they either would like to receive useful product information from you & hear about your events, or because they want to be affiliated with your brand as a follow & are potentially interested in generating future discussions with you. :)

Also, Jane/Joe Citizen can tweet things like "OK, I'm going to workout now at my gym. TTYL, tweeps!" as a way to let our followers know we're going "offline." Companies don't have this option, because as an online entity, they are expected to to forgo these types of communications & be a seemless 24/7 presence on the internet. While people might not expect instant responses from Twitter, they do expect some response at some point from professional/business entities on Twitter.

So, for those running companies who've yet to get on Twitter & Facebook, I'd like to ask, "What are you waiting for?" If want to stay current with Gen X, Y, & Z :), you'd better get twittering & Facebooking. They are your current & future customers.

You know that old, tried-but-true business adage about how it's important to stay current & adapt to dynamic changes in the marketplace? Technology & social media are a HUGE part of that equation. If you don't realize significance of the former, then you are REALLY living under a rock. And if you recognize the former without acknowledging the value of the latter, then you might just be living under an electronic rock. :)

Plus, it's like, "Hello. Twitter & Facebook are free advertising media." A-duh. :) You should be jumping, nay leaping, hand-over-foot, to get yourself onto the social media highway. And if you don't yet have an online presence, you REALLY better get with the program. And fast. :)

Plus, I've even given you a more-than-generous chunk of social media advice to get you started. So there. Now you really have zero excuses. :)

And finally, for those running companies who are already online entities & have joined the social media revolution (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), I applaud you. And for those who are doing it well, I doubly applaud you.

As for the clueless & as-yet uninitiated remaining entities out there, I have one thing to say: Get on board. The rest of us have already hopped that train, & have long ago left the station. :)

And to those of you who think social media is stupid or useless, you just don't get it, do you?! "Sure, go ahead & snicker at the rest of us." Those who do not "get" social media will be left in the dust. The idea isn't going away anytime soon.

So sure, go ahead & laugh. The rest of us will be laughing all the way to the bank. :) Ka-Ching! :)

Likewise I'd like to say to friends & family members who have yet to join the party, you might want to hop on board & start twittering & Facebooking. Yes, that's right, I just used Facebooking as a verb. :)

Several of my friends have already realized that if they want to communicate with me in the most immediate but nonintrusive way, they'd better start twittering. :) My preferred communication typically goes in the following order: Twitter, email or (mobile) phone calls, Skype ;-), & then Facebook. (Facebook is used more for staying in the loop with what friends are doing. Honestly, I'm not a huge fan of Facebook apps or email; there's a lot of privacy loopholes/violations that are just plain wrong. Also, as a hint to those trying to reach me, my social media mailboxes get checked far less often. ;-) )

Everything else comes after that. Except for obviously socializing face-to-face & in-person communication. :) As is typical of most people, where that ranks in the scheme of things honestly depends on the general level of one's busy-ness. :)

So, if you want to reach me or know what I'm up to right now, you know where to find me. :)

Speaking of which, you're welcome to follow me on Twitter as @cyberpenguin (personal twitter ID), @coachpenguin (professional Twitter ID, running coach), @ferlanticouture (professional twitter ID, original artwork/online store), & wfdjewelry [professional twitter ID, original jewelry (bridge line)/online store]. Also, feel free to become a fan of my Facebook pages, Ferlanti Couture and Wildfire Designs. :)


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