You Spoke, I Listened

I posted a logo contest on Facebook this past Friday for Lady Soleil. Almost half of the feedback was negative.

In total, 80 plus comments were delivered, some friends just giving love, many friends criticizing the logos. Here are the critiques:

  • Lady Soleil is a bad name
  • Sun logos are obvious and cheesy
  • The combinations make you look like a) a feminine hygeine company, b) a Myrtle beach (or some other beach) type of company c) a tanning salon
  • It isn’t clear what you do

At first I defended the name, as the company is named after my daughter, and it has been for the past two years. Plus the initial comments seemed like graphic designers fighting the religious war against crowdsourcing (which in turn made me regret posting the contest in the first place).

This is not to get into the whole crowdsourcing creative services debate, which is significant in its own right. As a writer who competes in a market where my creativity is often demanded for free (like blogs, white papers, etc.), I certainly empathize with my creative brethren, but have surrendered to market realities.

Yet as the comments continued, I realized the comments had more substance. Those who commented were sincere in trying to prevent me from making a possible mistake. The feedback was valuable and useful.

I should be grateful that enough people cared about my business to voice their opinion in the first place. Because so many did, I listened.

As a result, I am considering several paths.

It’s too costly to change the company name. Instead, I am having a conversation with my lawyer this week about the possibility of picking up a trade name for Lady Soleil, Inc. This is legally known as “doing business as” (DBA), and would represent a trademark. A lot depends on cost and complexity in the commonwealth of Virginia, but it is a possible route to explore. And I do have an awesome name up my sleeve.

In addition, I am still working on a possible Lady Soleil logo (see above), albeit one without the sun. It also includes a small tag that describes what I offer (marketing services).

Regardless, the feedback clearly made an impact and was useful.

Thank you.

Haters Hate and I Choose to Listen

Hater's Locker Room
Image by pixel8

Haters gonna hate.

It’s what top bloggers and community managers say when they interpret criticism to be nasty and inappropriate.

In the case of trolls that deliver aggressive comments that border on threats or worse, you have to agree with them. This post is about the haters, the ones that deliver criticism in harsh ways that irks the recipient, but doesn’t necessarily equate to trolldom.

Brands and bloggers alike need to listen to harsh critics. Sometimes these people are right in spite of their methods.

Continue reading

When Hate Turns to Apathy

The only thing worse than haters is silence.

In the attention economy, losing wholesale support from vocal minorities as a result of shunning them — even publicly mocking them — is a worst case scenario. Isn’t that what companies and bloggers are asking for when they coldly dismiss disagreeing voices wholesale as haters?

Certainly, to some extent, the “Haters Going to Hate” concept is true. Some people will never agree. In fact, if everyone agrees with you, you’re not talking to enough people. Everyone with some level of online success has kvetches and trolls.

Yet, simply dismissing whole vocal minorities as haters seems like a dangerous proposition for a brand. Lack of responsiveness, and worse uncaring public refusals risks turning upset customers and advocates into the apathetic and the disenfranchised. All because the heat of criticism was too strong to bear. How much churn can a brand sustain?

This is particularly ironic for the social media expert who preaches listening. What’s good for the goose is not good for the gander. Ah, the hypocrisy.

Perhaps in the end, it is better to acknowledge the differing voice, and respect the right to a minority opinion. Let someone else have the last word, and listen. Maybe, just maybe, they possess an element of truth.

And when we fail (and we all do), go back and own it. Sometimes the apology is well received. It is always a good personal reminder to keep our sides of the street clean in business, and in conversations.

Otherwise, enjoy the silence.

Listening Is Key, But Don’t Forget Your Research

by Heidi Sullivan

Stage actors have an old, if somewhat crude, joke. When they read a script it looks something like this: “BS BS BS BS … I enter … BS BS … My line … BS BS BS … Another line … BS BS … My last line … annnnnnnnnnnnd exit.”

Actor with Script
Image purchased from iStockPhoto

As Geoff discussed here three weeks ago, whatever your influencer engagement strategy may be – Direct Community Interaction with Stakeholders, Top Down Influence, Flanking, or Creating a Groundswell – you need to first “read the tea leaves” to be successful. He rightly spoke of the importance of listening prior to engagement in social media.

But, listening is just not enough; it’s too passive. And to a lot of people, engagement sounds too much like “this is when I get to talk.” Let’s rethink engagement as a process that begins long before you post a comment to someone’s blog or show your face on Twitter. It begins even before you start listening. True engagement means committing yourself to a deeper understanding of your communities – discarding outdated assumptions, re-learning basic drivers of perception and behavior (and identifying possible disruptions), knowing who is doing the talking and where their head is at, and finding the right, real voice that adds to the discourse.

Knowledge should come first. In-depth research can lead to true engagement – knowing how to listen and what to listen for. From this comes a greater intimacy with your online communities, better networking and interpersonal communication practices, and the development of social capital and trust that will be the foundation of a rewarding social media presence.

Step 1: Learning to Listen

Before you can figure out who is talking about you or your industry (or who should be talking about you!) it’s important to understand your keywords so you can identify who’s using them. Because your community might not be talking a lot about you yet, find out who’s talking about your competitors and other topics in your space in addition to your brand itself.

Whether you use an advanced social media monitoring solution or free tools to listen to conversations, it’s important to assess the breadth of the communities you’re monitoring. Search across outposts to discover communities, trends and types of interactions in your space in addition to benchmarking your success within your community. Which blogs are receiving comments and tweets? Who is answering Q&As on LinkedIn? Are there any Web 1.0 communities (like Yahoo! Groups) in your space that are particularly active?

As you dig into the content you identify through monitoring, you’ll start to discover the content producers (whether it be through Twitter, a blog, traditional media or another social platform) who are mentioned most frequently, get the most comments and responses, and are producing content that is being shared by others.

Those producers are the building blocks of your stakeholder list. Quite simply, these digital influencers are as unique as snowflakes, and their influence can be felt in very different ways. By measuring across multiple outposts, you can begin to identify patterns of influence.

Step 2: Deep Dive and Discovery

Then, dig a little deeper: go beyond listening to truly understand your influencers, stakeholders and communities. Read all the blog posts, industry news and general community interaction to familiarize yourself with breaking trends, shifting perceptions and tastes, and begin to understand each individual influencer in your community.

Really “knowing your stuff” will put you ahead of the game just by showing that you are aware of what people are interested in – both personally and professionally. Getting to know the stakeholders in your space are simply the fundamentals of solid business networking – with a social media twist.

Analyze what you’ve discovered to develop a solid strategy before diving in. Identify business objectives and establish benchmarks – these will help you in the future when talking to the C-Suite about the benefits and ROI of your program.

Step 3: Authentic Engagement

The cornerstone of engagement is establishing community trust: You can blind copy dozens of journalists on a canned pitch and be dubbed a “spammer” or you can take your initial discoveries and create story ideas, guest posts, tips, breaking news, etc. that intrigue each stakeholder in your community. Guess which one will garner better results?

Ensure that your community interaction is exactly that – interacting as a member of the community and not just pushing your own content. Read blog posts and leave comments, send a related tweet to join the conversation, watch others’ posts on Facebook and LinkedIn. Think of it as digital karma – what you contribute to the community will be returned in kind.

Lastly, remember to maintain relationships that you’ve built. Engagement is not an in-and-out concept – even after you develop a great relationship or contribute great content, you must nurture the relationship to maintain the trust you’ve developed.

And as for that theatre joke, only the “hams” believe things like that. Great actors through the years, from Spencer Tracy to Meryl Streep, have said the same thing: “Acting is listening, truly listening.”

Heidi Sullivan (@hksully) is Vice President of Media Research for Cision North America and a self-proclaimed social media metrics nerd. Heidi was formerly an editorial manager for a firm that produced regional business magazines, an account executive at a PR agency and an editor and media researcher for a major newswire service. She is a host of the popular Cision Social Media Webinar Series, a blogger for Cision Blog and frequently speaks at industry conferences and events on best practices in social media, public relations and the changing media landscape.

4 Ways to Improve Content

Carré d'as
Image by Markaud

Sometimes blog content doesn’t resonate as well as one would like. It can be hard to pinpoint why. There’s an editorial mission in place, regular posts are published everyday, and you seem to be talking about what matters, but no one pays attention.

There’s nothing worse than feeling like you’re stuck. That’s when examining mechanics means the most. What are some ways to strengthen content to increase reader attention? Here are four ways to jump start your writing…

Slow Down Production, Focus on Quality

Audi R8 (DC Auto Show)

A current conversation amongst leading voices has reinvigorated the old quality versus quantity debate. Mitch Joel says dilution of content to achieve frequency (and therefore attention) doesn’t help. Richard Becker recently began compiling research of 250 blogs from the 2010 Fresh Content project. Becker’s research demonstrated that BOTH consistency and clarity were necessary for success.

Publishing crap content five times a week or twice a day won’t make your situation better. Half baked content gets one quarter of the attention that a fantastically well thought out blog post does. You do the math.

Ideally, a blog needs three posts a week to maintain enough presence to achieve a top ranking or become a leading vehicle for thought and conversation. Slow down production and refocus on creating outstanding content. You can always increase frequency once the blog is back on track.

Stop Talking About Yourself (or Your Organization)

It’s been said here before. It will be said again. No one cares about you. They care about themselves. Frankly, overusing first person pronouns makes you sound self promoting and egotistical, and if it’s an organization it reads like corporate messaging. In fact, the narcissistic compulsion to consistently talk about me, myself and I (or we, our and us) becomes a detriment to building readership.

Instead of waxing your own car, get right into what’s in it for the reader. If your opening paragraph mentions the first person more than once (if at all) and doesn’t have a clear thesis, know that it’s a failed post right out of the gate. Focus on the reader and what’s in it for THEM, not how smart you are.

And if you are hiding behind the personality argument, please, please consider what you are saying. Good writers know their personality comes through sans self talk. It’s called style. Do an intentional edit to weed out the first person as much as possible.

Increase Listening

Listen
Image by ky_olsen

If you are creating more content than you are reading, you have a huge issue. First of all, it’s highly likely you are out of touch with your stakeholders, and what interests them. Great content creators develop relevant, prescient information that speaks to the times and trends.

Secondly, because of the disconnect with the community you’re dictating to your readers and stakeholders what you think matters. That may be OK if your primary goal is journaling; however, this post seeks to increase traffic, not wax poetic.

Don’t treat your readers like “consumers” of bubble gum! They invest time and in some cases social capital to read and spread the word about your writing. Do your homework. Read your stakeholders’ conversations and content. Listen to them, understand what they care about so you can offer relevant content.

Create More Content That Works

Andrew Dumm, Winner (Men) 2008 MCM
Image by dbking

Sometimes an editorial mission can create too much latitude for the writer, and it becomes necessary to refocus on content that readers actually want. Go back through your Google Analytics data and see what’s been working. Focus on trends instead of individual posts. A combination of analytics on unique visits, time on page, and conversation (via PostRank) should reveal an interesting picture.

For example, in the past few months on this blog you like four types of posts; strategy-oriented pieces, online content best practices, timely event-centric pieces, and discussions about the ethics and issues surrounding the growing social media bubble. You don’t like pieces about the environment, causes or entrepreneurial leadership.

Take the findings to heart, and adjust your editorial mission as necessary. Wash, rinse, repeat.

How do you strengthen your content during down periods?

Related reading: Blogging Primer, 5 Tips for Blogging in the Post RSS Era

Linkbait and Monopoly: Responding to Your Criticism

EdsTweet.jpg

What’s good for the goose is good for the gander as they say. In that spirit, I have received and listened to several complaints from readers, friends and spectators over the past few days.

Some of the criticism was fine — everyone’s entitled to their opinion — but seemed to be a defense of ideas that were being questioned. And as such, the Teflon Revolution post written with Ike Pigott serves as my answer. But other criticism merits a deeper inventory and either a response or an amends. So dear reader, here are my responses:

Linkbait and Gearing Up

I respect Ed Shahzade a lot, and committed to him that I would consider his criticisms. The ones I’d like to address directly are in the above tweet.

The gearing up one is easy. The first and most well-read punk social media post — the one that really started this conversation, IMO — was published just before my daughter’s early arrival. Mindless and Elite was an extension of that concept using specific ideas from individuals who have top ranked blogs. I have blogged again on the topic since and am going to continue (more on this coming). So I would argue that I had the most welcome interruption possible, not that it was a vain attempt to jump start traffic.

In that original post, it concluded with, “P.S. This post will not accept trackbacks. Keep the SEO.” None of the ensuing posts (see the Punk category) had that denotation, and all of them accepted trackbacks. So I can see why Ed might feel that way. I have turned off trackbacks and added a writer’s note to both the Mindless and Teflon posts indicating that links and SEO were not my intent.

Now as a blogger, you can usually tell when a post has fire to it. From this post forward any “punk” post I write will have a disclaimer declaring that trackbacks are turned off, and to encourage bloggers not to link to the posts, but to consider them in the context of their own efforts. Further, I have changed the settings on the blog to only allow comments for one week on any post. Point being, the circus is not welcome here for very long.

Monopoly and Spin

Real-Estate-Google-Monopoly.jpeg

So am I spinning as a differentiator? If not, what am I doing? There is a strategy, and it’s very simple: Shake up — even disrupt — the current online communications idea market, inject new ideas, and inspire a return to core community values. These posts are thinking challenges.

When I was researching and writing Welcome to the Fifth Estate, I found myself constantly stumbling on bubble gum, meme oriented social media theory espoused by the most well read communications and marketing bloggers. Conversation seemed enforced, stiff and frankly wrong. Some of it may be intent or more likely, we are simply a market and a group of thinkers that are too comfortable with a successful formula.

So my intent is to do the following:

1) Break the monopoly: An unintentional monopolistic stranglehold is in place from the industry’s top voices that ignores and does not allow for criticism and dissent, and worse, the injection of new ideas and approaches (unless it comes from them of course).

Many of these people have called me friend in the past. They may not choose to anymore. That is fine. The principle that idea markets need to be open comes first. I hope we will see a renaissance in conversations between all industry bloggers, but if not, I hope to support a smaller faction of less well known voices that do engage in healthy discourse.

2) Provoke new thinking: We have become formulaic in our thinking about social media, and it is often thoughtless in the sense that it revolves around getting the most views, impressions, etc. instead of building real relationships. This industry is dangerously close to losing its best potential — fostering great relationships between people in and out of communities, organizations and companies. Instead, it is becoming its worst nightmare — a creator of shallow “value propositions” or a thinly veiled spam machine to achieve “Return on Attention.” In that sense, most of the posts I read remind me of Monopoly! Better buy Boardwalk first!

Dissent is often expressed as a list of wrongs. These lists are amusing, full of vitriol and fun. They have been published for years, here’s one I wrote in 2008. They haven’t worked very well as a mechanism for change.

So these new “punk” posts are directly trying to infuse ideas into the challenges, and provoke new thinking. Malcolm McClaren, the punk ethos of challenging discourse, moving conversations off Twitter and open fan pages and on to blogs again and groups, etc., are all examples of this.

Regardless of the above motives, some people will always accuse me of spinning this for market leadership. That’s fine. I am actively conversing with others who feel the same everyday. In that spirit, I will explore with others the possibility of moving the punk conversation off of this blog in 2011, and into a newer wider platform that is clearly not a personal blog. :) In the interim, perhaps it’s time to add a roundup post to the repertoire to highlight some of these other great minds.

Ugly Discourse

“When liberty comes with hands dabbled in blood it is hard to shake hands with her,” Oscar Wilde.

Some people misconstrued the intent of the Mindless post to be a hatchet job on the persons cited. It’s not my intent to “take out” people. Far from it, this was about the above goals. If they embrace a more vigorous discourse, I would be thrilled. If they don’t, I’ll still foster that discourse with other people.

That being said, sometimes feelings are hurt, names get tossed about like kindling, and discourse becomes ugly. Right or wrong, when it became clear that many of you were perceiving the ongoing conversation to be a blood feud, I stopped immediately.

We Livingstons are a mouthy bunch. Bred in this environment, I have learned interesting ways to make my voice heard, some of which I am constantly trying to remove from my behavior patterns. Maybe Darwin should step in, I don’t know. Regardless, I speak about my beliefs and do so with passion. The topic in its own right is very challenging. Both my personality and the general conversational thrust will always rub some folks the wrong way.

This is an unfortunate truth of the forthcoming conversation. Ideas need to be challenged and as such ideas are usually attributed to a blogger. That means criticism will occur, and as a result, some egos will be offended.

For every Sam Adams we need a Thomas Jefferson, and while I have achieved neither of these great men’s heroics, I hope our Thomas Jefferson arrives soon. Until then and in that spirit, I will endeavor to be mindful about people’s feelings when discussing their ideas. When there is a rising cry of foul play, I will listen and, when appropriate, try to address these situations.

To demonstrate my sincerity in this matter I am donating $100 to Civilination. This 501(c)(3) believes that free speech is enhanced through civil dialog and a rational exchange of information and ideas. By fostering an online culture in which individuals can fully engage and contribute without fear or threat of being the target of unwarranted abuse, harassment, or lies, the core ideals of democracy are upheld.

Thank you for your feedback.

Trackbacks on this post are turned off. This post does not seek to generate in-bound links, instead it will hopefully inspire people to consider the ideas discussed in the context of their own efforts.