Early in my career I spent hours crafting highly detailed RFP’s and seeking the right vendor to build the communication tools that the company needed to be relevant and successful. The services were expensive, the tools took months to build, required dozens of design/revision meetings, and a ton of training to get them in use throughout the company. A small company at that.
Every time an update was needed more money was spent and more training was required. We never seemed to realize the full potential of these tools which were meant to help us manage our customer relationships, collaborate remotely, communicate with segmented customer groups, market our services, gain traction for our brand and overall become a more productive, nimble organization.
Today we have more instantly accessible tools than we know what to do with. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Dropbox, Basecamp, Constant Contact to name just a few. We have a plethora of business apps that allow us to collaborate on projects with people all over the world. We can set up conference calls for dozens of people from our mobile phone or tablet. We can arrange video chats and webinars to discuss ideas, train and teach, or unveil new products. Heck, we can even raise money for our latest invention or slightly left of center idea. Many of these tools are free or very low cost. Most are “off the shelf” options that we can customize to our heart’s content. They are easy to set up and for the most part intuitive to use.
These tools help us communicate as often as we want, guide our message toward targeted customers, keep track of every opened and forwarded email, post and tweet, and allow us to spread our message globally with no big advertising budget required. The business apps for managing projects, collaborating remotely, and creating reports, presentations, and proposals allow us to literally run our companies while on the run. I’m not kidding, I run my entire company from my iPad. It’s truly awesome.
All that said, there are some cautionary tales. The provocative tweet that was meant to be funny but backfired miserably, the dangers of being hacked and someone maliciously using our brand and image to create havoc, the snarky Facebook post that was meant to go on our personal page but accidentally ends up on our company page…Oops!
As great as these tools can be they must be managed. Once out there in the cyber marketplace they are there forever and easily discoverable by anyone who googles your name. However the payoff for implementing these tools and using them well can be huge. Here’s how to get started:
1. Start with one or two tools and get really comfortable using them before taking them public or adding to the tool box. Send your first few messages exclusively to a trusted friend or co-worker until you get the feel of it. Know how to edit and delete your posts. If segmenting into groups is an option learn how that works. Once you’re comfortable go public and link the tools to your website with active icons.
2. Be sure you are subscribing to your own posts and tweets so you can see instantly what is going out to your recipients and fix/delete if needed.
3. Don’t blur the lines between your personal social media accounts and those dedicated to your company. Keep them totally separate. Seriously, trust me on this.
4. Reuse content in the format that best fits each tool. That long update you posted on Facebook needs to be edited down to 140 characters in order to be tweeted. It’s valuable to reinforce your message using different tools and it can be fun to find a way to be brief, informative and creative. It certainly encourages you to reflect and refine your messaging, which is a good thing.
5. Your subscribers and followers will expect to hear from you with regularity and there is time and effort involved in building your base of followers. Keep a list of interesting links and topics on hand (I keep mine in the notes section of my phone) so you can send something out quickly when you have a free moment pop up. (I’m looking at you airport flight delay!)
6. People like photos! If your message can best be communicated with a photo then go for it. Announce a newly hired account exec, a new product line or an industry award with a photo. Be sure to look over the photo carefully before posting to ensure it contains nothing objectionable or embarrassing.
7. There are reciprocity expectations between folks who promote your communications to their subscribers and followers. Re-tweet, share, endorse and refer as often as possible. You will get paid back in kind and this serves to create good will, grow your base of followers, and gain referrals.
8. The information you share should be relevant to your recipients and reflect your company’s values. Ask yourself: Would I want to receive this information? Does it reflect well on my company? Is it controversial in a way that will demean or offend my followers? Being provocative can build interest and be thought provoking. But done poorly and without forethought it can hurt your efforts in a big way. If in doubt…don’t send, post, or tweet it.
9. You have a very real obligation to keep your IT infrastructure secure. Documents and information shared with you have value to the sender. As do the mobile phone numbers and private contact information provided to you. Keep it safe. Talk to your IT company about the safe guards they have in place and ensure they are vigilant with their security processes. Take your password protections seriously and if available ensure you have enabled the ability to remotely wipe your mobile devices if they’re ever lost.