How Social Media is Transforming Business

by Eric Tsai

Lately I’ve been researching on how brands are using social media to improve their business.

While doing a bit of thinking on social branding, I recalled a conversation I had with a friend that just launched a web2.0 startup business.

The one advice I gave was to launch it as soon as possible without worrying too much on branding.

The idea is to deploy your initial idea and allow your users to tell you how to evolve the product.

That’s how majority of the new web startups utilize crowdsourcing with an emphasis on the power users then really listen to what they have to say.

The brand development aspect of a startup isn’t as important as the initial user experience.

It got me thinking about business models and how more and more companies are finding it necessary to transform their business model due to the economic crisis.

In addition, the shift in consumer behavior will cause brands to adjust to a fundamentally altered playing field.

In most cases brands will find it hard to transform themselves unless they’ve already got a flexible, dynamic long-term strategy that embraces change.

This means dismantling silo culture within the organization while fostering cross-functional collaboration to spark fresh thinking.

Brands that have this fluid approach are more likely to adapt to change through uncertainty.

Brand Fluidity Creates Advantage

In my previous article “The Emerging Trend of Hybrid Marketing Model,” I pointed out that hypercompetition is no longer allowing businesses to have a sustained competitive advantage, so the idea approach for brands is to have an agile business model.

This happens consistently in the tech industry where every 3-5 years technology evolves and often improves (1.0 to 2.0) leading to a need for adoption.

The key is to stay flexible and scalable because products, services, and business models will evolve over time as knowledge becomes ubiquitous which leads to the path of commoditization altogether.

Just look at the costs of electronics, web hosting, printing, or even internet bandwidth have dropped in price in the past 10 years. In fact, not only are they cheaper, you get more for less even with inflation.

By having an nimble business model, it’s possible to build brand momentum that has relevance in addressing consumer needs.

And relevance is a good predictor of short and long-term success.

However, more focus should be put on proven short-term tactics that aligns with long-term goals.

Short-Termism Is Not Sustainable

The eruption of social media has forced brands to incorporate this new tactical tool as part of the overall brand strategy playbook.

This is indicative of the validity from companies like Intel, IBM, eBay and Wall Street Journal that have moved quickly to publish social media guidelines for their employees.

In a structured brand ecosystem, social media is an unproven short-term scheme because it will continue to evolve as an ongoing, living tool that facilitates real time dynamic conversations.

I’m not denying the success that some brands are having in social media but in general most brands are still trying to figure out the arc of its trajectory in pursing the adequate usage of Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and even blogs.

Brands that quickly jump on the bandwagon without defining the desire outcome are focusing on short-term solutions that are simply band-aids not cures.

Coupled with a lack of attention to the overall strategy, fundamentals, and conventional approaches to long-term value, it’s simply not a sustainable model.

What’s important is to create an unambiguous structure for brand fluidity while maintaining energy and involvement throughout the organization.

The transformation extends well beyond tactics. Brands must become more engaging by being more social, this means building meaningful relationships that resonates with their audience.

Social Media Accelerates Upstream Reciprocity

Every relationship has a purpose especially on the increasing social web. What social media demands is trust and authenticity.

I see it as doing what you promise and be consistent especially in transactional business. In a recent article “Altruism Repays the Best-Connected Individuals” from Technology Review published by MIT, stated that:

Unselfish behavior spreads through society in a way that most benefits the “hubs” in the network.

The article basically illustrated how being unselfish will benefit you at the end because those who have been helped will likely to go on to help others, then spreads through a group creating the upstream reciprocity phenomenon.

There is actually an entire study done with formulas to support the phenomenon and you can go read the “Upstream reciprocity and the evolution of gratitude” analysis from U.S. National Library of Medicine if you like.

reciprocity_stream
I found the information fascinating because it mimics the structure of a social network.

Apply this concept to social media and you’ll realize that you’re the red dot A and everyone else is dots B and C. Imagine altruism can be any form of your direct or indirect influence in social media.

It could be the content on your blog, tweets you’ve answered, or even products and services you’ve sold (ebooks, videos, webinars, web design, copywriting, consulting, etc).

The takeaway is social media accelerates both upstream and downstream reciprocity especially for reputable individuals.

In business, the act of unselfishness is another form of the Freemium business model. And this immediately hit home with me on how social media is transforming the way companies are doing business.

You can no longer neglect your reputation online because that’s where the conversation about you is taking place.

Social Transformation

Social media has evolved to be the hub for instant and viral reciprocation for any organization’s internal structure and external engagement.

The power of its reach and the openness of its platform commands the kind of transparency that challenges your core value proposition.

It really doesn’t depend on the wisdom of gurus or experts for its dynamism.

That’s the primary reason it will almost certainly withstand the “it’s a fed” challenge.

Social media is transforming businesses and it matters.

From Twitter to Facebook and every web2.0 tool in between, consumers are more and more concerned with the integrity and intent of the brands they interact with, while employees are less afraid to expose how companies work internally.

The challenge for marketers is not to merely appear engaged, but to actually be engaged – to live up to the promise and deliver.

I hope this is helpful in uncovering the implications of social media in business, it’s important to identify the fundamentals and rethink the overall picture.

I know I haven’t analyze any of the specific social media tools in detail, but you can simply conduct a Twitter or LinkedIn search to find every possible tactic and how-to’s out there by the so-called “experts.”

3 Ways to Capitalize on the Destruction of Traditional Media and Embrace Social Media

by Eric Tsai

If you’re part of the social media movement, you’re witnessing the annihilation of traditional media.

From newspapers to cable TV, everything is converging onto the internet resulting in a more accessible, cost-effective and integrated media.

Let’s look at some statistics courtesy of Sillicon Alley Insider:

Newspaper

saichart060209-print-ad-sales

– “Print ad sales fell 30% year-over-year in Q1, led by a 42% year-over-year drop in classified ad sales.

saichart061109-craigslist-newspaper

– “Newspaper classified revenues peaked above $16 billion in 2005, only to plummet to an estimated $5 billion or so in 2009.

Cable TV

chart-cable-tv

– “A Bernstein survey says 35% of Web video watchers might dump their cable TV provider in favor of online video within 5 years.

Internet

pew-broadband-chart-apr-09-new

– “Some 63% of adult Americans had broadband Internet at home in April, up from 55% last May, according to the Pew Internet & American Life project.

wireless-only-households

– “By the end of 2008, 20% of U.S. households had unplugged their landline phones and gone exclusively wireless, say surveys by the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics. That’s a huge increase from early 2005, when only about 7% of U.S. households were wireless-only.

The Bigger Picture

Although the current recession has contributed to the decline of newspaper subscriptions and the increase in people viewing online videos; the truth of the matter is we’re no longer accessing or consuming information the same way.

This translates to a less effective advertising channel for brands and the bulk of the advertising dollars will be spent where consumers are spending their time – the web.

Furthermore, the convergence of technology has weakened the foundation of traditional media authorities especially those that didn’t have an immediate online strategy.

Even those with web1.0 strategy, the rapid expansion into web2.0 has left some without a social media strategy.

One thing is clear – internet will continue to grow as the cost of broadband continues to drop.

This means more people will have faster internet and faster internet takes us a step closer to the real-time web.

What does this mean to you?

It means instant access to data across the web with a massive coordination effort from social media.

Mass Amateurisation of Brands through Social Media

The rise of social media tools such as Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn, Digg, and many other social networking sites has accelerated the spread of simplified media technologies, making it easy for anyone to access, participate, and share information.

Social media in particular is leading the way on what web commentator Clay Shirky called “the mass-amateurisation of everything.

It is now possible for individuals to choose from a wide variety of communication arsenals outside of the mainstream commercial system to reach the mass audience.

As a result of this ubiquity of social media, individually created media content that originated on the internet has started to infect mass media.

This not only challenges the traditional media authorities, but it also created dynamic conversations across the globe.

Take the latest Iran incident as an example, Twitter was the fastest medium to report what had happened as it was happening before any other traditional media could get to it.

It enabled people all over the world to rapidly react to this piece of news and participate in support and interact with the people in Iran.

Take social bookmark sites like Digg, and Delicious for example, users are encouraged to “vote” for the top content they want to appear for maximum exposure.

These services aggregates content across the web to determine what content is popular making it easy to filter for individuals.

It’s like real-time TV/radio rating and you can simply choose from a list of categories within your interest.

In addition, there is now an element of choice and coordination to establish a new content authority.

You no longer have limitations on what’s available from newspaper or what’s on TV; you have millions of content to choose from or you can create your own.

This applies to blogs as well because you only have so much time to consume information, reading from one source means not reading from another.

As a result, blogs are taking readers away from authority sites and turning them into loyal subscribers.

If you’re reading this post, either you’re a new reader or a regular subscriber to my RSS or newsletter.

3 Ways to Capitalize on Social Media

In many ways, social media is still at the “technology trigger” aspect of the hype cycle. If you can capitalize on it, you will benefit by capitalizing on the destruction of traditional media.

Here are 3 ways to capitalize on this opportunity:

1. Expose your personality – Social media is a one-to-many interaction medium, it’s the perfect platform to personify your brand and build a fan base.

Demonstrate your expertise is important but showing your personality can be the difference between choosing to engage with you versus others. This will ultimately convert visitors to fans, transform viewers to participants.

Give your audience a reason to engage by revealing your emotions and even political stance will help you to stand out, be a person not a company and have fun.

Remember, it’s impossible to be liked by everyone and you won’t be anyway, the key is to create synergy with those that like you in order to foster trust.

A great example is the CEO of Zappos who updates his every move via Twitter with what he does and how he interacts with his employees, creating a personable, likeable, transparent identity that everyone can relate to.

2. Drive engagement and visibility – One of the disadvantages of traditional media is the limitation of engagement opportunities.

This is different in social media. You can create your own opportunity to be “high touch” with your audience by sending update notifications, creating a poll, asking to join your group, conducting an offline event, or promoting a cause.

Combine engagement with marketing through conversation will reduce resistance to you brand’s message.

As a result, your fans will become your best evangelists. However, there is a fine line between a prolifically active brand and an annoy spammer.

The key is to become a good listener and allow conversations to come to you before reacting swiftly.

If you do it right, you will succeed in coordinating a massive word-of-mouth campaign, a sharing frenzy across all social media platform that increases your brand loyalty.

Get it wrong, you will need to put out the fire with reputation management strategies.

I recommend having different social media accounts to provide a focused-orientated engagement strategy.

Dell is the best example for this as the company has more than 30 Twitter accounts that they use to communicate to very specific audiences.

Ford also got more than 7 Twitter channels to handle customer service and reputation management.

3. Leverage multimedia and mobile platforms – As I’ve mentioned before, all media has converged onto the internet so why not use all of them to maximize the experience.

You can easily create your own podcast now, load it up to iTune or deliver it in mp3 format.

For images, you can use Yahoo’s Flickr, Google’s Picasa, or Twitpic to share it on Twitter.

By far the most powerful multimedia content is the use of videos through YouTube or Viemo.

Although still limited by network and bandwidth, there are a few “live” video streaming social media tool that’s making headways specifically UStream.tv, Blip.tv and Justin.tv.

Not only do people respond different via a variety of media formats enabling a broader reach, there is an increasing demand for location-based interaction as well.

Thanks for iPhone and BlackBerry, mobile web content delivery is now an important consideration of a brand’s social media marketing strategy.

The cost of mobile broadband will continue to drop enabling mobile rich-media content to be produced and distributed anywhere.

The exciting part about mobile content is the ability to target location based users then engages them with relevant content.

Are you capitalizing on the rapid growth of Social Media?

Or do you still believe in traditional media?

Why You Should Always Be True to Your Brand

by Eric Tsai

Recently I’ve had great conversations with other brand strategists about the changing landscape in brand building.  There is no doubt that social media is having a profound impact on brands in all fronts of marketing, advertising, PR, and networking.

The core value of social branding is about fostering the “trusted” relationship from experiences associated with a service, a person or an entity.  This is largely built on the effectiveness of the brand’s ability to communicate and influence people’s perception.

Today social media aims to bridge the gap between brands and people by providing a platform that embraces the concept of a community. It’s a new stage for brands to engage and interact with their audience.  But one thing remains the same, there is always a challenge involve when it comes to creating and delivering value.  Therefore, it is vital that brands demonstrate the indisputable benefits to their audience.

Strategies Vs Tactics

Described by the Chinese General, Sun Tzu:

Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.

Simply put, tactics present a small picture perspective. They’re tools to fulfill your big picture strategy. Branding is not about using tactics such as scarcity, sense of urgency, risk reversal and value-for-price positioning.  How about email campaigns, search engine optimization, product placements, celebrity endorsements, promotional events, telemarketing, or direct response advertising?  Think again. They’re the vehicles that carry out the messages and to generate and funnel leads.

If you know what I’m talking about, you know those are techniques often used by marketers.  In fact, I help clients implement those tactics regularly as part of the overall plan to achieve the stated goals.  They can often be confused as strategies because within tactics there is also an element of strategy.

brand-strategyI see tactics as marketing triggers to gain attention, the “Hey! Look at me, I’ve got something important to say!”  And when you gain people’s attention you must provide relevant and tangible value that’s meaningful to fulfill their expectations.  And believe me, people have expectations when they give you a chance to deliver.

Brand Authenticity

Once you get that opportunity, it all boils down to the execution (tactic) and the authenticity of your brand (strategy).  Execution focuses on conversion tactics while brand authenticity focuses on value-extraction strategies.  An authentic brand fulfills the implied promise that people have come to expect.   And by doing so, the brand becomes more believable and trustworthy creating the foundation to build a relationship.  As a result, you need to exposed the true intention behind your tactics.

Let’s take a look at brand slogans as examples.  Walmart’s slogan of “Save Money, Live Better” says nothing about the quality of products it sells nor does Taco Bell’s “Think Outside The Bun” implies to what’s inside the bun.  However, Porsche’s “There Is No Substitute” or Rolex’s “The Crown Of Achievement” both allude to a sense of novelty and dominance.  These brands stay true to their slogans without suggesting artificial statements about their products.  Of course there is always a gap between what consumers expect versus what brands imply, the trick is to narrow the gap by being authentic.

By simply being authentic, brands that focus on fostering a healthy relationship with their customers will increase the chance of stimulating an action to buy.  This is the outcome brands desire, turning prospects into lifetime customers. For personal brands, it’s turning speculators to fans.

Create Your Brand Value Proposition

It doesn’t matter if you’re building your business brand or personal brand, you should create a brand value proposition.  These values act as the blueprint to create your brand strategy so you can stay consistent, cohesive and most importantly unique. By having a solid brand value proposition you will be efficient in implementing your marketing tactics. Even if you’re selling a product with lots of competition, knowing your value will allow you to be creative in finding new ways to execute those tactics.

Hers are 3 simple ways to help you identity your brand value proposition:

1. Know your audience and identify their pain points – This may sound easy but I often see companies sell too broad because they want to sell to as many customers as possible .  This is a false perception because you can not be all things to everybody, follow the 80/20 rules and focus on the 20% of customers that generates 80% of your revenue.  The key is to understand the decision maker’s psychology.  Things that matters to a manager may mean nothing to a CEO that makes the final decision. This is typical in the technology industry where companies often sell features to department managers instead of outcome to owners or executives.  Great attributes mean little when the audience is looking for the bottom line impact. Identify all the scenarios to describe the situation where you come in and solve the problem, alleviate the pain.  Keep in mind that you want the “ideal customer” that already has a need for what you provide.

2. Describe what you do and what you don’t do – Write down your competencies that represent what you offer.  Focus on key words or phrase to capture what makes your brand special.  Make it simple and use verbs that express an action or a relation between two things.  Be plain and straight forward, if your company sells software start with “we sell software” not something like “we increase sale for businesses with an innovative software application.”

3. Create your brand message and test them – Once you have some core messages to work with from the two above steps it is time to test them.  Get inputs from internal and external stake holders, what you think and care about may not be what others see or remember.  That’s okay. You just need to learn to drive home a few key points that will stick in their minds and inspire them to learn more. It’s more effective in an initial interaction to pare down what you talk about to weed out the non-essential information. The idea is to have different talking points tailored to different audiences. It’s important to constantly update and improve your value proposition so it stays fresh and relevant.

Now go create your brand value proposition and use them as the foundation of your bio or company description on your Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Digg accounts or post them on your Blog .

Do you have a brand value proposition?  Are they authentic?  Share it right here and get some feedback!

5 Easy Steps to Build a Solid Social Media Profile

by Eric Tsai

Whether it’s your business or your personal brand, people always connect with people on a personal level.  It’s all about engaging in a dynamic relationship.

Brands are not logos or commercials, they are the perception and emotion of people built on trust and credibility.

A successful brand cultivates extensive user experience and encourages interaction that creates meaningful dialogues.

In order to foster strong relationships you must be trusted.  And to earn trust, you need to allow others to become aware of you.

This concept also applies to the art of social networking, particularly with the shift from face-to-face communication to more online communication.

There are literally thousands of social media websites on the internet with hundreds more popping up every week.

The strategy is to focus on the ones that suit your niche.

Setup a blog

I recommend setting up a blog if you don’t already have a website.

Even if you have a website such as your company or product website, incorporating a blog will enhance your online presence because blogs are typically search engine friendly, and they allow for rapid content indexing on the internet.

You can easily sign up for a free account on Blogger, WordPress, or TypePad and start blogging away on whatever topic you want. It’s not required that you have a blog but it provides another source to learn about you or your company on a personal level.

The latest phenomenon is the development of ‘micro-blogging” – a form of blogging that allows users to send brief updates either to be viewed by anyone or by a restricted group which can be chosen by the user.

This feature is available in Facebook and LinkedIn as status updates and by far the most popular one now is Twitter.

Sign up social networking accounts

For professional and business related social profile, the ideal website to use is LinkedIn.  LinkedIn is a professional community that shares your credentials in a resume format.

It has an unique format for users to browse and connect with a person’s and all of his/her contacts.

You can aggregate your blog content right on your personal profile page too so whenever you post new entries, it will update automatically.

And for connecting with family and friends, Facebook would be the choice because it focuses on displaying photos and allows for more personal dialogues and interactions.

Both LinkedIn and Facebook has a “groups” function that lets you create, join and interaction in sub-communities of your choice.

You can create a group for your company so all your employees can join, or if your hobby is photography you can join a photography group.

This feature encourages networking and brings liked-minded people with simliar interest together.

Follow the 5 steps below to learn how to build your social media profile:

1. Register your account

This requires a username, email, and password.  It’s important to use the same username and email across all social media websites so people can search for you if they’re already connected with you in another websites.

For business profile, use your company name, for personal profile go with your real name.

You can use an alias if you like but keep in mind you need consistency and recognition.

Registration process should take no more than a few minutes.

2. Input the right information

Privacy is a priority in social media so typically there will be settings to manage your privacy such as opt in to receive updates, newsletters, or allow/disallow certain information about you to be exposed in the community.  If you’re not sure, test it out and play around with the settings until your satisfaction.

3. Add your immediate friends and colleagues

Once you’ve setup an account, take a few moments to search for your family, friends and colleagues and add them to your network.

People gravitate towards popular names and like to know that you’re not the only friend they have, it’s a simple perception of social proof.

4. Search for people you like and study their profile

– After adding everyone you know that exists in the social network, it’s time to search for new connections.

This is a tricky task because just like email spam, there are lots of spammers on social network sending unsolicited messages.

If you are a fan of someone or want to get to know them, the best way is to build up your profile so they can review then decide if they want to connect with you; or you can get introduced through one of their existing connection.

Either way, you need to study their profile and have valid reasons to be part of their network.

This applies to groups as well, and most social network groups require the group administrator to approve your request to join.

5.Participate, contribute and share

– After you connect with someone you can receive updates on that person via the status update feature.

This allows you to participate in their conversation, add comments, or share your updates with them.

The key is to build and maintain common ground by bringing value to the conversation.

Interacting with your friends with comments like “good job” or “I like it” is fine but not in the professional communities where preeminence and expertise are realized.

You must demonstrate your value in those professional forums to optimize your social profile.

The Unspoken Rules Of Social Media

42-17678818The following rules are self-explanatory and will take you a long way.

Do’s:

  • Do speak your mind and contribute
  • Do bring value to the network
  • Do share and learn from others
  • Do keep in touch

Don’ts:

  • Don’t just focus on yourself
  • Don’t be afraid to ask
  • Don’t abuse social networking relationships
  • Don’t use social media to spam

Many businesses use social media as a part of their marketing strategy while others enjoy the experience for personal reasons.

Focus on your desire outcome and try to have fun too.  There are plenty of opportunities to build your rolodex by embracing this new tool.

Have you started your social media journey?  Connect with me to discuss more.

Twitter: www.twitter.com/designdamage
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/erictsai

Left Business, Right Marketing

by Eric Tsai

Dan Schawbel’s interview with Laura Ries reminded me of my own constant struggle between left and right brain. It’s true that left is more logical and analytical and right is visual and holistic.

left-and-right-brainI started out my career as a right brainer, always after creating visuals, communication designs, photography and art. I never thought I could fit or do well in a corporate environment until I was promoted to be part of a executive management team years ago.

During that time, I rapidly evolved into an extreme left brainer knowing I had to deliver the numbers and create value for the company.  Naturally, I empowered my team and even hired people to fill in my design duties so I can focus on leading the team. That was the first time I sat on the other side of the meeting table facing my design team, I was perceived as the corporate man.

Ultimately my experience as part of the management team and as part of the marketing/design team helped my left and right brain to communicate with each other. The product design were well received by the sales force and marketing campaigns were seamlessly integrated with the corporate objectives.  Sales were up and the company was growing with more successful products.

I’ve learned over the years the importance of communication in any environment. Not everyone will be able to communicate effectively, but one should focus on consistency and the right delivering methods for the optimal outcome.

Consistency is what comes to mind when the thought of a brand, a name or even a sound evokes. The delivering method is the vehicle in which the message can be effectively communicated to the maximum number of audience at any given moment.  It is what comes to mind when you hear Coke Cola, is it the red and white logo or the sizzling sound of bubbles? How about McDonald’s? Smell the fries or hear the “I’m loving it” music?  Can you sign Expedia dot com?  How about those annoying infomercials from HeadOn ‘apply directly to forehead‘ to that guy selling ShamWow or Slap Chop?

Whether you like it or not they made some kind of impression.