Tuesday, April 21, 2015

How to Build a Social Media Presence With Little Effort

In a previous post I explained why businesses can no longer afford to ignore social media, but the next concern is how to use social media with limited resources available. Fortunately it is possible to begin with a very modest effort and gradually increase commitment as you become more confident and efficient.

For most small and medium businesses there is no need to be constantly tweeting and sharing photos like celebrities. Much of the time it is sufficient to be present, to watch what is being said and to participate in the discussions from time to time. Just like a few pencil lines can evoke a picture, a few well-chosen posts can give the impression of a solid social media presence. But concretely how should a small business get started?

Start By Just Being There. In social media just like in many other places simply turning up brings a noticeable return. Begin by creating an account and profile page on several top social sites including Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, with the addition of Instagram and Pinterest if you have interesting photos to share and YouTube if you have video content. Initially all you need to do is to create profile pages with a photo, a brief description, contact information and a link to your website. This presence is very important for two reasons. First of all it ensures that you will have a more solid presence in Google searches -- social media sites are highly ranked by Google so these profile pages are more important than they might appear. This social presence also blocks other people from creating accounts with your name. Social sites like Twitter allocate user names on a first-come-first-served basis so that if there are two companies called Acme the first to register gets the username. Don't ever let anyone be first with your brands.

Continue by Starting to Listen. Once you have a basic social presence start to monitor activity around your name, your company, your brand, your technology and your field. Again this is easier than it might appear. You don't need to spend all day watching rows of monitors like they do in social media war rooms. In fact you don't need to look at all. The best way is to set up alerts using Google or tools like If This Then That so that you get notified on your phone when there is something interesting. At the very least you will be aware of what people are saying about you and your business.

Begin to Participate in Conversations. When you start to monitor social activity you will see posts that you would like to respond to. Thanks to the alert you will know when there is something interesting to respond to and if you install mobile apps like Twitter on your mobile you will be able to respond immediately. It's also possible to post news through your social channel using tools like Hootsuite that allow you to schedule publication in advance. The advantage of this is that you can schedule all the routine posts at the beginning of the week and then stop thinking about it. There is no need to be constantly posting, monitoring or responding, so that with a very modest effort you can build a satisfactory low-profile presence that will bring many benefits.

Just by following these three steps any small business can begin to benefit from the advantages of using social media but with a minimal effort and no budget. You don't need a PR company and you don't need a full-time community manager, though you do need someone who has learned how to use social media safely, but that's a story for another post. Watch this space!

This post is one of a series that was inspired by a short lecture that I delivered at the Future of Swedish and Danish Life Science conference at the Medicon Village in Lund, 8 April 2015.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing

If you would like to contact me to talk about lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching or writing about social media or other communication topics send me an email at conseil@andrewhennigan.com, call 0033 6 79 61 42 81 or 0046 730 894 475. You can also read more on my website at http://andrewhennigan.com

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Five Reasons Why Businesses Can’t Afford to Ignore Social Media

Many small and medium-sized businesses underestimate the power of social media. This is especially true in highly-technical business-to-business fields where the customer is another business rather than a consumer. 

Talking to entrepreneurs I hear many reasons for this. Some say that their stakeholders don’t use social media – which is almost certainly not true, they just haven’t noticed. Others say that they have tried using Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or other social sites but nobody responded to their posts. This could be true because it takes time to build up this interaction. 

But even if there is little direct response to social media posts there are some indirect effects that make social media something that a business or organization can no longer ignore. Here are just five of the most important:

SOCIAL MEDIA ACTIVITY INFLUENCES SEARCH. Whatever you do people are going to Google you to see who you are. To most people you are exactly what Google says you are, so managing your online reputation is critically important. Luckily anyone can build a robust online footprint very easily simply by creating accounts on popular social sites and populating the profiles. To be seen that is all you need to do, though to get the best results it helps to post sometimes, too, and interact with other people.

MEDIA RELY INCREASINGLY ON SOCIAL MEDIA. Journalists in traditional media channels rely increasingly on content from and communication through social media. Everything happens first on Twitter and it has become an ideal place to look for sources, ideas and stories. It’s also a great way to reach out to experts who might be able to comment on a story. LinkedIn, Facebook, GooglePlus and other social networks are also very useful for discussing ideas for articles, collecting stories and identifying experts. To be absent from social media puts any business at a disadvantage in traditional media. Without an online footprint you have to rely on press releases – notoriously ineffective – or personal contact, which is very effective but costly.

SOCIAL MEDIA “UNDERTALK” DRIVES CONVERSATIONS. The people you talk to in normal face-to-face conversations, in meetings and at events are often influenced by social content and conversations – what I call the “undertalk” -- that they have seen recently. This parallels exactly the way that early adopters of the world-wide web were often ahead of other people a generation ago. What this means is that someone who is also monitoring social conversations concerning your business can effectively see what people might be talking about and the position they might take. Even better, if you participate in this social media undertalk you can help to shape the online conversation which in turn means that you influence the face-to-face conversation later.

RECRUITING IS HAMPERED BY ABSENCE OF SOCIAL MEDIA. People that you try to recruit are likely to try a Google search and also to look at the social media activity of a company before making their decision. When this activity is absent that can make people concerned that they are making a bad decision. Many people are used to interacting through social media channels so not finding access through this route they already feel uncomfortable. This is not a deal breaker for everyone but when a popular candidate has several offers to consider this might make a difference.

INVESTORS ARE SUSPICIOUS OF SMALL SOCIAL MEDIA FOOTPRINTS. Every investor I have talked to admits that they Google companies before they invest and that they are influenced by a lack of presence. A business can be perfectly solid without a social media presence but the lack of visibility breeds uncertainty and doubt. Given a choice between two equally appealing investments most people would favor the one with a more robust online footprint. This is because good networking tends to boost performance and because good external communication suggests that internal communications and investor relations are also likely to be well managed.

These are just the top five reasons why no business can ignore social media, but any single one of these is sufficient to justify the effort required to create and maintain a basic presence on top social sites. At the beginning it is enough to create profile pages, but to get more benefits you should also be monitoring the conversations related to your business and also participating in some conversations. This probably takes much less work than you expect but that’s a story for another article.

This post was inspired by a short lecture that I delivered at the Future of Swedish and Danish Life Science conference at the Medicon Village in Lund, 8 April 2015.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing
Andrew Hennigan does lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing on social media and other communication topics. You can contact him through email using conseil@andrewhennigan.com, by phone at 0033 6 79 61 42 81 or 0046 730 894 475 or through his website http://andrewhennigan.com.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Three Practical Tips to Make Your Pitches More Effective

Over the years I have coached many speakers and presenters. Some people simply need to put more work into refining the structure and the logic of their presentation, while others just need more practice. But there are also a few practical tips that can bring a very fast improvement to many pitches and presentations.

USE A CLICKER. Standing next to a laptop and pressing keys or giving instructions to another person are both distracting. They are distracting to the audience and they also distract the speaker from her message. Go buy a clicker -- a presentation remote -- and make sure you always have it with you. They are not expensive and they last years. In fact if you present often you should really have two in case one breaks or -- more likely -- you leave the receiver in a computer somewhere and forget it. With the clicker in your hand you can walk about the stage, you can stand in front of the key people in the audience, you can gesture and you can point. You can also switch to the next image on precisely the beat where the change has most impact. Try it sometime. A pitch with a clicker always beats any other style.

PLACE A MONITOR SCREEN IN FRONT OF YOU. Turning round to look at the screen is distracting and looks unprofessional. You can avoid this completely if you place your laptop or an extra monitor screen between you and the audience. Ideally you know your material so well you need this only to check that the clicker worked and see which slide is on the screen. But if you have forgotten the contents you should be able to read it without ever having to look away from the audience. In most rooms you can place your laptop on a table or chair in front of you, but at events consider asking the organizer to place a monitor on the front of the stage.

MAKE SURE YOU HAVE A PLAN B. What happens if your presentation or demo don't work? Don't waste time trying to make it work. Allow yourself a certain time and if it doesn't work after that time then switch to plan B. What is plan B? This could be a handful of smartphones with demos that you can hand around. It could be a talk-only pitch with no slides. It could be a words and flipchart pitch. Whatever it is make sure that you have prepared. One sure way to impress people is to deal with the unexpected smoothly and professionally. Never let a technical fault stop you making your pitch.

These three practical tips can turn a fairly ordinary pitch into something much more impressive and professional. But remember also to practice until you can do the pitch without hesitation and without going over the agreed time.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing

For lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing about speaking, presenting and influencing skills and other communication topics contact Andrew Hennigan at conseil@andrewhennigan.com, through the website http://andrewhennigan.com or by phone on 0046 730 894 475 or 0033 6 79 61 42 81.

Why Careful Speakers and Writers Avoid the “Slippery Slope”

A Google News search today reveals 7850 articles containing ”slippery slope”. It’s become the go-to rhetorical device for a generation of unoriginal speakers and writers but careful influencers avoid it because it is tired, lame and too easy to counter. Try using this phrase just once when I am coaching you and I will  hit the pause button right there and make sure that you promise never to do it again.

A slippery slope argument is tired because it has been overused to the point that it has become a joke. It is lame because it might sway the unthinking mob but isn't supported by experience, research or logic. And it is easy to counter because any point on a  slippery slope is also on that slope. So gay marriage is the slippery slope that leads to marrying sheep? Well if that were true then classic marriage is also on that same slippery slope – remember, that’s what led to gay marriage. By this reasoning any marriage is dangerous because it inevitably leads to marrying sheep, or whatever that leads to.

Everyday experience and history demonstrates quite clearly that the fabled slippery slopes are, in fact, anything but slippery. More often than not trying to get anything to change is a struggle and people are resistant even to change that will almost certainly benefit them. It took a long time, for example, to convince people that putting wheels on luggage was a good idea. Similarly many people were very reluctant to give up their typewriters for personal computers and others stubbornly resisted email until it was unavoidable.

So next time you are tempted to use a slippery slope argument remember that it long ago lost any freshness it might have had. Remember also that someone in the audience is going to rip your argument to pieces. Even if they don’t say so out loud you are only telling them that you don’t really have a convincing argument. If slippery slope is the best you have to offer then basically you don’t have any argument.

And once you start using the slippery slope device you risk sliding down the slippery slope towards a surfeit of rhetoric and before you know it we will all be speaking Greek, or marrying sheep or whatever else is down there at the bottom of that slope. Or maybe not.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing

For lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing about speaking & influencing skills or other areas of communication you can contact Andrew Hennigan by email at conseil@andrewhennigan.com, through his website http://andrewhennigan.com or by phone on 0046 730 894 475 or 0033 6 79 61 42 81.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Five Things Every Startup Founder Needs to Know About Getting Media Coverage

A surprising number of the founders I meet are planning to send out a press release or to cold email an important publication to pitch their startup. Neither of these approaches is particularly effective. Press releases work best for established companies – when Apple sends out a release for a groundbreaking new product everyone will cover it -- otherwise it ends up being used only by minor blogs and websites. Cold emails are also rarely successful simply because you are just one in a very large crowd. But there are five things everyone should be doing if they hope to get coverage one day.

BE EASY TO FIND. At this very moment there is probably a journalist somewhere who is writing about your field and you would be mentioned if they could find you. They might try a Google search to see what comes up so make sure that you are easy to find. This is much easier than it sounds. All you need is a website and a few social media accounts to fill a page of Google search results. Google your name and keywords related to your business regularly. Make sure that people can find you.

BE EASY TO CONTACT. Believe it or not but more than once I have written about a company that was not my first choice just because the number one on my list was near impossible to contact. At the bottom of your home page make sure that there is an email address like “press@startupname.com” or “media@startupname.com”.  There should also be a phone number because some questions just can’t wait even a quick email turnround. And if you have a Twitter account – and you should – be sure than someone is monitoring the @ messages in case there’s an inquiry from the media.

BE RESPONSIVE. Once someone has tried to contact you get back to them very quickly to confirm that you have received the message and that you are interested in responding. Ask for clarification about the deadline and what is expected. Once you have taken the commitment deliver the answers on time. Rocket launches can be scrubbed, football games can be postponed but Tuesday’s newspaper will come out on Tuesday. There is no tolerance for late inputs. Respond too late and another company will fill your place.

BE CONCRETE. Some inputs from companies are completely unusable. Learn to explain what you do concretely without talking about being a “provider of technology solutions” or “leveraging synergies”. And don’t bother to say how excited you are. Nobody cares. Be careful to state the obvious. One especially common problem is for software companies to forget that not everyone makes software so they sometimes forget to mention it.

BUILD RELATIONSHIPS. Just like everyone else media people tend to trust people they know more than strangers. Start early to build relationships with people in media. Be helpful even when you are not directly involved. If they are writing about a topic that you are qualified to comment on then be responsive, helpful and dependable. Then they will come back to you again and you get a reputation for being a good source, so maybe others ask you for comments, too. They when the day comes that you have an interesting story to pitch then people are more likely to listen to you.

This blog post is based on the lecture “What Every Startup Founder Needs to Know About Getting Media Coverage”. If you’d like to have this lecture at your meeting or event contact speaker@andrewhennigan.com.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching & Writing

For lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing on this and other communication topics you can contact Andrew Hennigan by email on conseil@andrewhennigan.com, by phone at 0046 730 894 475 or 0033 6 79 61 42 81 or through his website http://andrewhennigan.com.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Social Media Posts Can Come Back to Bite You in Unexpected Places

When you post controversial stories and images you are probably not surprised when there is a negative reaction. But even if you stick to strictly innocent, professional posts on your social media sometimes they still come back to bite you in unexpected places.

Most people don't expect that their LinkedIn profile could ever do them any harm, but several stories in the news show that this is not always the case.

Recently Apple has been sued for poaching engineers to develop new electric vehicle technology. A report published by the Guardian newspaper on 19 February 2015, Apple Sued for Poaching Engineers with Deep Expertise in Electric Car Systems cites as evidence for the accusation a survey of LinkedIn profiles of company employees. These profiles, individually nothing exceptional, when placed together paint a picture of precisely targeted people moving to Apple at the same time. Very few companies address this problem but employee LinkedIn profiles are well known to be a valuable source of competitive intelligence. I have never heard of anyone trying to control employee profiles, but in the workshops I do for companies I draw attention to these risks and suggest that people reflect on what they write in their profiles.

LinkedIn profiles are not just interesting in the corporate world. Journalists are learning to use them as a source to verify other facts. New Statesman published an investigative piece on 2 February 2015, Is the story of the middle-class Heathrow homeless couple too good to be true?, where they examined a story originally published by a tabloid about a couple alleged to be living in an airport. One of the primary sources in this investigation was the LinkedIn profile of one of the people involved, providing names of employers to contact and an approximate timeline. Increasingly journalists are checking online profiles as fast as they can find them and before they are removed as a news story breaks.

Even if you never use social media and never post any online profiles they can still cause unexpected problems because other people use them. As part of a multi-part series about foreign owners of luxury apartments in New York's Time Warner Center the New York Times published an investigative piece on 9 February 2015, Amid Complaints in India, a Real Estate Deal in Manhattan, describing their efforts to determine if an Indian property developer Kabul Chawla was the owner of apartment 68F in the Time Warner Center. Chawla denies owning property in New York but journalists at the New York Times noted that his teenage son posted photos on Facebook showing the characteristic windows and view of this building. This isn't evidence because the son could have been visiting anyone else with an apartment at a similar height, but it is very suggestive and undermines all the work purchasing the apartment through a string of shell companies.

If there is a lesson in all of these stories it is that journalists have learned to parse every public profile and post you make, so you need to be even more cautious. It's not just the drunken party picture or the shirtless tweet to teenage admirers that you need to worry about. Sometimes it's just your apparently unexciting career history on LinkedIn or the background of a routine photo shot by a friend or family member.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing

For interesting and useful lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing about social media and other communication topics you can contact me by email at conseil@andrewhennigan.com, by phone on 0033 6 79 61 42 81 or 0046 730 894 475. You can find more contact information on my website http://andrewhennigan.com.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Curing Toxic Email Syndrome in An Organization

When's the last time that you had an offensive, rude or snarky email in your inbox? If you don't remember then consider yourself lucky. If you're looking at one right now then maybe your organization suffers from Toxic Email Syndrome. Luckily we have a cure for that and it isn't so difficult to apply.

Toxic Email Syndrome seems to occur spontaneously in many workplaces. One person has a bad day and sends a mean-spirited email that they might regret later. Others respond to that in the same way and even more are influenced by the tone to follow in the same style. Over time the culture of sending toxic emails becomes sedimented in the company culture. But there is no reason for this to start and once it has started it can actually be stopped simply by following three best practices:

MANAGEMENT HAS TO SET A GOOD EXAMPLE. People don't do what you tell them to do, they do what they see you doing. When the management is sending impolite and disrespectful emails to each other and to employees this sets the tone for the communications in the entire organization. So the management has to be trained or at least advised to reflect carefully before clicking send. Management can also help by making sure that employees who send an offensive email are told by their direct supervisor that this is not the right way to do things and that they don't want to see emails like that again. When the response of management to a hostile email is always swift and negative people quickly learn the new company culture.

EMPLOYEES SHOULD NEVER SEND A TOXIC EMAIL. Employees should all be trained in some way that toxic emails are strongly discouraged by management -- which they will see in action if you are doing the first point. They should also be trained that toxic emails are also ineffective. In most cases they worsen the problem and, more importantly, they fail to achieve results. Remind employees that they are measured on results like sales booked, lines of code written and so on. Nobody gets a bonus for winning flame wars. Once employees realize that their work becomes easier in a non-toxic email environment it gets easier to convince them to follow policy.

EMPLOYEES SHOULD NEVER RESPOND TO PROVOCATIONS. Even if you apply the second point there will still be the occasional email that is out of line, perhaps coming from a newcomer or from outside. Every employee has to be taught how to deal with this. I have covered this in more detail in Three Tips for Responding to Angry Emails but the key learning is that you respond to the substance of a message and ignore all the parts that you perceive to be rude, hostile or just snarky. Answer the factual questions and ignore all the rest. Not only does this help work get done, it also de-escalates conflict and makes people feel better.

Once a workplace email system has been purged of toxic emails employees will be more productive and less stressed. The negative consequences of toxic email syndrome are often underestimated so this small effort can yield impressive results. When people are no longer afraid to open emails, when they don't feel their blood boiling when the email notification appears then the are able to focus more energy on constructive work.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching & Writing

For lectures and workshops about effective email and effective email in a global business contact me on conseil@andrewhennigan.com or by phone at 0033 6 79 61 42 81 or 0046 730 894 475. You can also find more contact details on my website at http://andrewhennigan.com