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Where storytelling meets social influence

August 12, 2013 1 comment

Experience may be the best teacher, but a compelling story is a close second. This is true as much in the workplace as it is in content marketing.

Let me explain with a story from my work life.

The meeting about meetings

In one of her first acts as the new manager, Sami called a staff meeting with one item on the agenda: meetings.

“We’re having a meeting about meetings? What’s that about?” several people wondered. I had my theory.

The weekly staff meetings were out of control. We never made it around the table for individual updates because each time the meeting would get hijacked by the same four people.

storytelling social influence

Storytelling at work.

They would consume the time with tirades about everything that was not working and how others in the organization were thwarting our efforts. Eventually others joined in:

“The sales reps are too lazy to pick up the phone and make a call.”

“I’m losing revenue because the plant is holding up production.”

“We can’t sell this product because the finance department priced it too high.”

The result was always the same: a rehash of the same issues every week with no solutions, but lots of hyperventilating. Mondays at 10:00 were my time of dread.

Sami had attended some of those meetings. My silent prayer was that she would bring change. That prayer was answered in a way I did not anticipate.

She opened the meeting that Monday morning with a statement that caught everybody by surprise. “I think we should discontinue the weekly meeting. I’m not sure anyone is getting any value from them. What do you think?”

The typically vocal group went silent.

Then one by one, people began to list reasons we needed to keep the meetings. This led to a discussion on how to make them more productive. Then the group came to agreement on new ground rules for interacting: offer solutions when voicing a problem; time limits to discussions; no sidebar discussions.

It turned into one of the most fruitful meetings we’d had in a long time.

At the end Sami added one last thing. “I’d like everybody to have a chance to lead the meetings. We’ll rotate each week and the leader is responsible for gathering agenda items, circulating the agenda beforehand and enforcing the ground rules. Everyone agree?”

They did. Enthusiastically.

The whole thing was handled brilliantly, especially that last part. It started a complete turnaround in the productivity of the meetings that spilled over into overall effectiveness of the group.

Related: The secret to bringing influence in any situation

From a management perspective, the lesson of this story could be about enabling teamwork or leading change. From an influence perspective, it is an example of the power of a narrative to motivate and inspire in the workplace.

But is it storytelling?

Lead with a story

Sami’s approach to tackling this management challenge follows a simple storytelling structure, with a beginning, middle and end. Paul Smith, author of Lead with a Story, describes this structure for business narratives with the acronym CAR: context, action, result.

Let’s look at the “meeting about meetings” and see how it fits into this model.

telling a business storyCONTEXT

The context sets the stage for the narrative. It is the who, what, when, where of the story. It also identifies the protagonist and antagonist in a conflict. On one side we have Sami, with a desire to improve productivity. On the other side we have the disruptors with a desire to vent.

ACTION

This tells what happened when the protagonist and antagonist come into conflict. Sami opened with an element of surprise to break the thought patterns of the disruptors. They were drawn into a debate defending the merits of weekly meetings.

RESULT

At the meeting the action shifted from negative fault-finding to problem solving. In hindsight, we can see the lessons learned: putting the audience into the story, team involvement in problem solving, leading and motivating change.

Stories at work

We often limit our thinking about storytelling to brand stories, case studies and marketing content or presentations. At least I do. But business narratives have the same power to inspire, educate, entertain and engage as brand stories in our content marketing. They can boost your influence in the workplace.

How do you put stories to work for you at work?

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The paradox of scarcity on the social Web

social networking-scarcity

When is scarcity the wrong persuasion tactic for social networking?

Maybe it’s more a paradigm shift than a paradox, but scarcity as a persuasion technique seems to have lost some of its luster in our social networking age.

At least where exclusivity in wielding social influence is concerned.

This observation began with something I experienced on Twitter the other day.

I was checking out new followers to decide if I should follow back. I was pleased to see one of them is a former associate who I haven’t heard from in a long time. What a great opportunity to reconnect!

That opportunity was thwarted when I tried to follow back. I was notified that the account is locked, the tweets are protected, and my follow is pending approval. I’ll take a pass.

It seems to me this approach is anti-social. It runs counter to the fundamental idea behind social networking. The message it sends is “I don’t trust you and what I have to share is so awesome, you have to qualify to see it.”

That might work for selling luxury items, but it doesn’t make sense on social networks.

What does work on social media is accessibility, sharing, connecting and responding. Trust and generosity are the underlying values enabling that.

RELATED: Going the extra mile activates the butterfly effect

The paradox of scarcity is that its power lies in limiting those things in order to create desire for them.

I have an ongoing story arc in my own home that illustrates this paradox.

A tale of two kitties and social influence

social networking - cats

Bela & Uma, social influence coaches

I have two feline housemates that allow me to share living space with them. If you are a cat owner, you know what I mean.

One is a Russian Blue named Bela. A characteristic of that breed is they are very shy, untrusting and only bond with one human. I didn’t learn this until I brought him home.

I’ve had him more than 10 years and most of my friends and family have never seen him. At the first sign of a stranger he hides in the basement. My mom refers to him as my imaginary cat, since she’s come to doubt his existence.

Because of his limited access, he has succeeded in generating curiosity and desire to see him and experience his presence. He is anti-social, but esteemed from a distance.

My other cat is a Siamese named Uma. A characteristic of that breed is they are very talkative and social. She makes her presence known in every situation, constantly underfoot, demanding attention and engaging in every conversation despite the language barrier.

Because she has greater trust, she is accessible to everybody. She connects with a wide variety of people in far greater numbers than Bela.

Social success belongs to connectors

Connectors are critical to spreading word-of-mouth epidemics on social networks. Malcolm Gladwell describes them as:

  • Gregarious and intensely social with a knack for making friends
  • Knowing a lot of people
  • Knowing a variety of people from different worlds and subcultures

Bela, with his limited access, will never have the social influence or reach Uma does.

Another example of this is Amanda Palmer, performance artist, musician and social media innovator. In a recent TED Talk she told her story of building a tribe through connection and extraordinary trust. It’s a great message. What do you think?

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All you really need to know about increasing your Klout score

Increasing your Klout

While Klout’s scoring algorithm is a guarded secret, there are some things you can do to increase your social influence score.

“The best strategy for obtaining a high Klout score is to simply create great content that your network wants to share and engage with.”

That’s a direct quote from the Klout website. It pretty much sums up all you need to know to increase your score.

SIMPLY create great content. SIMPLY engage your network.

The irony, of course, is that those things are not simple to do. Nor are they simple to measure.

Measuring your influence

In fact, Klout has a complex formula for measuring influence based on calculating 400 social signals across seven different networks for each individual each day. Most signals are derived from activities that rank influence attributes such as:

  • The ratio of reactions you generate compared to the content you share
  • The selectivity of those who share your content
  • Your engagement levels with a wide range of individuals

Attempts to crack the code for Klout’s algorithm are futile. It is refined daily.

However, Klout does offer insights into the core concepts behind its social scoring. Those guiding principles give you an idea which activities affect your score.

Connecting to multiple networks can help your score. It gives a bigger picture of your potential reach.

Influence is built over time. Scores are based on a 90-day window of activity to arrive at a more consistent measurement.

Influence is the ability to drive action. Engagement is more important than the size of your network.

Activity is not the same as influence. Beyond engagement metrics like retweets and likes, how much content you create is also an important factor.

In a nutshell, this boils down to three primary scoring factors: true reach, amplification probability and network influence.

Improving your Klout scoreImproving your Klout score

The key to improving your Klout score comes down to focusing your social media activities on those three scoring factors. In the excellent book on influence marketing, Return on Influence, Mark Schaefer outlines a practical three step process for accomplishing this.

1. BUILD A RELEVANT NETWORK
For optimum amplification, your personal network needs a balance of size and quality. Of the three scoring factors, this is the most manageable. Some tips for building an engaged network include:

  • Create a benefit for those in your network
  • Seek out others with an affinity for topics you discuss
  • Weed out inactive connections that don’t move your content or provide value

2. DELIVER COMPELLING CONTENT
You need a focused strategy for both curating and creating content on the social Web. To achieve the kind of influence measured by Klout, your content must be helpful, informative, interesting and entertaining. This is what will drive engagement and sharing.

When it comes to social scoring, Klout rewards consistency. You need to blog, link, post, tweet or comment regularly and consistently to elevate your influence rating.

3. SYSTEMATICALLY ENGAGE INFLUENCERS
Your Klout score also depends on how often you engage, and with whom. When other influencers move your content or otherwise engage with you, your personal influence goes up. So it is beneficial to interact with people who have a higher Klout score than you. Some ways to spark engagement:

  • Ask earnest questions
  • Show appreciation individually
  • Be witty and fun
  • Participate in Twitter chats
  • Keep tweets brief to enable sharing

The true benefit of raising your score

By following these three steps, you can make your Klout score go up. This content and network strategy is simple, but not easy. There are no shortcuts, tricks or black hat techniques to game the scoring system. It takes time and consistent effort.

But in the process of working these steps, you will not only see your score increase, you will also see your level of influence increase. Isn’t that all you really need to know?

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Why is consistency hard?

November 14, 2012 6 comments
consistency and context marketing

Old Town Cozumel

For marketers, consistency has been a simple rule to follow for communicating across channels and optimizing customer experience.

However, it’s not always easy to achieve consistency. Let me illustrate with a story.

One of my favorite vacation spots is Mexico. Years ago I discovered Cozumel, and became infatuated by its charm. It offers all the things I enjoy in a getaway: tropical weather, beautiful beaches, authentic food and interesting tourist attractions like Mayan ruins.

Wandering around the port district is an escape into old town Mexico, where roving Mariachi bands and bazaar merchants are framed by colorful, historic architecture. It is an atmosphere that takes you into a different world.

One year I planned a return trip, but all the hotels were booked solid. The alternative was to go to Cancun instead. It was nice, but not the same experience I had in Cozumel. In particular, the shops did not have the same native charm. In fact, they weren’t shops at all. They were strip malls with all the slick stores and merchandise you’d find in any city in the U.S.

The contrast was striking. It set my marketing brain to reeling. Logically it makes sense for retail chains to create a consistent shopping experience for customers wherever in the world they may be. But the context didn’t fit my expectations. This consistency seemed, well, inconsistent. Does consistency matter as much as we have assumed?

The case for marketing consistency

Consistency is a key ingredient for social influence, brand loyalty, customer satisfaction and integrated marketing communications success. Consistent actions and messages deliver many positive benefits.

Consistency builds trust and integrity. In Return on Influence, Mark Schaefer’s book on influence marketing, he notes “a high degree of consistency is normally associated with intellectual strength, logic, rationality and honesty.”

Consistency establishes authority. This year Altimeter Group published a report on digital influence identifying topical relevance as a pillar of influence. When an individual or brand invests in a topic of interest, they earn authority and expertise from a community of focus.

Consistency builds confidence. Successful relationships thrive on predictable actions and messages. When others know what to expect of you, they are comfortable in knowing you will deliver on promises.

Consistency strengthens your message. “People cannot focus on two conversations at once,” says Harry Beckwith in Selling the Invisible. A focused message repeated over time has power to influence and persuade.

Consistency sells. “Would you like fries with that?” There is a reason fast food cashiers are trained to ask you that. Joseph Sugarman, author of Triggers, says once a purchase commitment is made, a buyer tends to act consistently with the decision and is more agreeable to buy more.

consistency and context marketing cancun shopping mall

Cancun shopping mall

Challenges to consistent messaging

The “always-on” nature of new media puts demands on business communications that make it difficult to maintain marketing consistency. In an environment of rapid change, it can even render consistency moot. Consider:

Information overload. With the sheer volume of information on the Web, social media messages can evaporate soon after they are published. One recent study found the median lifespan of a tweet to be 18 minutes. You have to question the real impact of consistent messaging in that environment.

Real-time communications. Being able to respond to events as they unfold on social media is a powerful marketing opportunity. In the heat of real-time marketing it is also an opportunity to veer off-message and off-brand.

The attention economy. Because of information overload, we are increasingly challenged to find ways to make ideas stick. In Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath note one characteristic of a sticky idea is that it is unexpected. One way to get someone’s attention is to break a pattern. They explain, “Humans adapt incredibly quickly to consistent patterns. Consistent sensory stimulation makes us tune out.”

Putting it in context

Are we witnessing the end of consistency as a marketing maxim?  I don’t think so. It’s more of an evolution pushing content marketing toward a higher degree of context. It’s a call to a deeper understanding of customer and prospect personas to reach them where and how they are consuming our message. And of course, this has a shiny new name: context marketing. One of the better explanations I’ve seen describes it as using known qualities of prospects to present content in a frame of reference that is natural or noteworthy.

I’d like to hear your thoughts. Has marketing consistency become irrelevant?

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Measuring Klout: Love it or hate it, influence marketing is here

November 6, 2012 6 comments
Influence marketing is here

Social scoring has touched a nerve with some consumers, but it is a revolutionary business opportunity for marketers to reach influencers.

The Klout phenomenon escaped me for a while. It seemed to divide people into two camps: those who object to the principle of saddling individuals with a rating score; and those who obsess over gaming social media activity to elevate their score and lead them to glory. Much of the dialog felt like the jocks versus the nerds during homecoming week.

Now I realize both sides are missing the big picture. I finally got it when I read Mark Schaefer’s book Return on Influence. It was an eye-opener, which I can only describe in two words. Awe. Some. I knew I was in for an interesting read when I came across this passage in the introduction:

We are at the dawn of the creation of a new social media caste system determined by how and when you tweet, connect, share and comment. The haves may score better jobs, higher social status, even better luck on the dating scene. The rules of personal power in our world have been changed forever. And there’s no turning back.

The new rules of online influence

The book lays a solid foundation for understanding online influence from its historical applications in marketing, to its basic elements, its role in content marketing, scoring processes, and current and future applications. It covers a lot of ground and is a compelling read for today’s online marketer.

In the first section he talks about the evolution of earned authority on the Internet. The glut of information available to users renders choice irrelevant. So we have a natural inclination to seek out authorities as a filter. Authorities earn trust by an online presence characterized by consistency, commitment and affinity.

Scarcity also plays a role for online influencers. While content is free, the real commodity is time, attention and reach. Influencers serve as brokers or gatekeepers to move content. The real power on the social Web is in reciprocity, the subtle indebtedness of exchanging favors for the distribution of ideas and content. These new rules are a dramatic change from traditional marketing. And they are being incorporated by marketers in new ways.

Influence marketing in practice

In another section, Schaefer outlines several case studies of companies using social scoring as a driver of marketing strategy. It is a powerful testimony of the potential for leveraging influencers to create buzz that achieves business objectives.

APPLYING SOCIAL PROOF TO TRADITIONAL MARKETING

An online merchant that matches buyers with trustworthy sellers added Klout scores to seller listings and saw likelihood of sales increase by 500 percent. Social proof gave juice to the purchase decision. The scores gave buyers added comfort in purchasing when they could see how long sellers have been online and how active they were.

ENGAGING INFLUENTIAL FANS

Auto manufacturer Audi used Klout to engage technology influencers outside of traditional trade press to nurture brand advocates on the social Web. They also used Klout scores to interact with millions of Facebook fans, employing targeted content. It enabled a more meaningful engagement. The outreach resulted in the buzz and reach they were seeking over and above traditional marketing.

Return on Influence coverINTEGRATED INCENTIVE PROGRAMS

A consumer packaged goods marketer devised a conquest strategy by combining social listening and Klout data to identify unhappy competitor customers and targeting them with coupon promotions. It is part of an overall strategy to move from expensive coupon blasts inserted in newspapers to more organic advocacy and pass-along activity online.

MANAGING ONLINE SENTIMENT

One company CEO interviewed is integrating influence scores into customer service to craft rapid responses to customers with the most potential for spreading negative word-of-mouth online.

PUBLIC RELATIONS AND CRISIS MANAGEMENT

A corporate director shared how he used social scoring to manage a potential PR disaster that could have affected company stock prices. A blogger posted that a key client might be going bankrupt, an assertion based on faulty data. After reviewing the influence scores of tweeters sharing the information, he concluded the misinformation was unlikely to spread enough to have an impact. The data gave the management team confidence to watch and wait. The meme quickly died.

These are a few brief examples of how businesses are currently using social scoring outlined in Schaefer’s  book. Beyond the applications of early adopters, he concludes with a look to the not-to-distant future.

The future of social scoring

In researching the book, Schaefer interviewed 70 prominent thought leaders on social scoring and influence. Here are some of the developments they foresee for influence marketing.

1. The social scoring trend will help people reclaim their data and the value of that data.

2. Scoring algorithms will advance to measuring the dollar value of probable referral sales from the individual.

3. Technology will enable the understanding of network structures and influence of interactions in the network. Scores will be more about subjects of influence and the impact on the network.

4. Social scores will integrate into other key business metrics such as customer loyalty, satisfaction, retention, attrition, CRM.

5. Marketers will look to combine influence scores with location-based data.

6. Technology will seek to connect online conversations with offline behaviors.

7. Social scores will evolve into a form of social currency, where services are customized to individual levels of influence.

In this video, Mark Schaefer talks about the ideas behind influence and social media marketing discussed in his book.

‘We are numbers now’

It should come as no surprise we have arrived at a time when we can put a score to our individual influence. Google and Facebook keep track of massive amounts of data about our activities, habits and preferences. We are scored for our creditworthiness. Database marketers score us for propensity to buy. The natural progression leads to scoring our influence on social media. It has gone mainstream and has led us to new opportunities.

For those who struggle with the humanity of being rated for social influence, Schaefer offers this concluding thought: “Yes, we are numbers now. Unavoidably, we will be known for our Klout scores and followers and badges of social proof. But the smartest marketers will always remember that we are people too.”

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Marketing lessons I learned from one referral

October 31, 2012 7 comments
Referrals start with relationships

Relationship marketing seeks to create a partnership that results in word-of-mouth referrals.

In the pursuit of sales and market reach, it is easy to overlook the human factor. This is especially true in digital marketing. This story is a reminder to me of the power of building relationships that create value, loyalty and a lifetime of referrals.

Mom was in trouble. Through a series of events beyond her control, she lost her house, her job and most of her life savings. Six years prior, she had begun a harrowing and heroic battle with cancer. Now, at the time of life when she should be looking forward to retirement, she was faced with starting life over from scratch.

The first step to rebuilding her life was to find a place to live. Given her financial situation, this was a source of great anxiety. I referred her to Jeff Anderson, a realtor who had done a great job helping me get into my first home. I figured if anyone could solve this puzzle, he could. I guessed right.

In short order, Jeff found an affordable townhouse in a safe community where the value of the property was sure to increase. He helped her get financing that qualified her to buy it. On moving day we were thrilled and relieved to close that chapter.

If the story ended there, it would be a great testimony. But there is more.

At the closing, Jeff told mom that in a year she would be eligible to refinance her mortgage to get a lower monthly payment. Good news.

Fast forward 12 months. One day mom got an unexpected phone call. It was a friendly reminder from Jeff that she could now refinance. He offered her advice on how to initiate the process with the lender. The result was a streamlined refinance that gave needed relief to her monthly budget.

That happened more than 15 years ago. Jeff has become a family friend and trusted advisor on any type of real estate question or transaction we might have. He succeeded in creating a true business relationship where each side works to serve the other. Guess who I would recommend if a friend asks me for a good realtor to work with?

The power of relationship marketing

This is a great illustration of the power of building relationships that result in mutual benefit. The principles apply to several areas of business, such as referral sales, social media and influence marketing. I have thought about this story many times in my years as a marketer. Here are some of the lessons I learned from this referral experience with Jeff.

1. Clients are happy when you meet their expectations. They become loyal when you exceed expectations. They turn into word-of-mouth advocates when you create memorable experiences.

2. You build strong relationships with clients by taking a genuine interest in them. Gain an understanding of their frame of reference. Mom’s frame of reference was more than the immediate need to buy a house; it was to manage a limited budget.

3. Listening is the most important relationship skill you can practice. Listen for the reason your client is seeing and feeling the way they do.

4. Give and you will get. Our society operates on the law of fair exchange. When you give extra, you activate the law of reciprocity.

5. Look beyond the initial transaction to the lifetime value of a customer.

6. The close of the sale is not the end. Relationship marketing seeks to confirm the sale, confirm the beginning of a relationship and confirm the beginning of a partnership.

7. Turn your relationship-building mindset into action. Follow up with added value, even if it’s a year later and the sale is closed.

8. Turn the relationship into something more than what brought the two parties together in the first place.

9. Referrals are the most powerful, cost-effective form of lead generation. They give you third party credibility and open the door for a receptive conversation with a warm lead.

10. Each time someone gives you a referral, you have an opportunity to make them look like a hero.

The human factor

The reason this story has stuck with me these years is because it was personal and it was tied to strong emotions. Whether in face-to-face interactions, social networking or content creation, it is important to remember that we are dealing with real people and real emotions.

In The Psychology of Relationship Selling, Orv Owens said the primary reason for sales resistance is fear. People are either afraid of making the wrong decision about you or your product or their fears are stronger than the reasons you have given to act. Your job is to help them conquer that apprehension.

Relationship marketing is not a persuasion technique so much as a mindset. It takes the human factor into account when doing business. David Ogilvy is famous for saying “The consumer is not a moron, she is your wife.” Humans are hard wired to respond with the emotional brain, even in business situations. That is where we connect to create word-of-mouth loyalty.

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Is enchantment the new influence?

October 16, 2012 7 comments

Guy Kawasaki showed how to take influence to enchanting levels at the MIMA summit in Minneapolis.

Guy Kawasaki has a new calling.

The former chief evangelist for Apple is preaching the virtues of enchantment to bring personal and online influence in the digital age. On October 10, he delivered the luncheon keynote to the Minnesota Interactive Marketing Association (MIMA) summit meeting in Minneapolis. Attendees were treated to highlights from his book, Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds & Actions.

What is enchantment?

When Kawasaki talks of enchantment, he means more than customer service. It is more than traditional persuasion, influence or marketing techniques. It holds a deeper power to motivate voluntary, enduring change in others, interpersonally or on social media.

He has taken Dale Carnegie-inspired principles for building relationships and influence, and updated them for today’s culture. “If you want to change the world,” he said. “You need to convince people to dream the same dream you do.” Tapping into peoples’ passion to get behind a cause – social, personal or brand – is a key to creating enchantment. It is built on three pillars:

ACHIEVE LIKEABILITY

Likeability is a much-discussed concept for both personal and social media success. Kawasaki laid out fundamentals of likeability starting with the importance of a genuine smile for making a favorable impression. A genuine smile shows by the crease in the eyes. “Ladies remember,” he said. “If you have crow’s feet, you are enchanting.” Likewise, online marketers can also put on a social media smile by establishing a likeable tone in content for the Web.

Other likeability factors he emphasized are to create an environment of acceptance and to default to “yes” in dialog with others. Having an attitude of helping the other builds goodwill and trust.

I'm enchanting. Resistance is futileACHIEVE TRUSTWORTHINESS

Building trust begins with trusting others first. Kawasaki gave examples of Amazon, Zappos and Nordstrom as companies who have earned the trust of customers by their trusting business policies.

A second element of trust is to apply a philosophy he described as “bake, don’t eat.” Don’t approach your business situation as a zero-sum game, rather be generous in creating value for customers up front.

The last point he made for building trust is to find something to agree on when you meet resistance. Starting on a point of agreement, you begin a dialog that builds rapport and receptivity to your cause.

HAVE A GREAT CAUSE

People will be inspired by a product, service or cause when you give them a reason why. It goes beyond the financial benefits of engaging to an emotional connection to something that matters. Kawasaki said the key to achieving this is to do something DICEE:

  • Deep
  • Intelligent
  • Complete
  • Empowering
  • Elegant

Launching an enchantment campaign

With those pillars in place, he outlined how to launch an enchantment campaign around your business cause. He covered these high-level points:

1. Tell a story using salient words that involve customers; sell your dream

2. Overcome resistance with social proof and reach out to all influencers, not only end-users

3. Invoke reciprocation by making it easy for others to pay back

4. Use technology to touch people; remove the speed bumps to engaging

5. Provide value in the form of information, insights and assistance

6. Follow 3Fs of engagement: Fast, Frequent, Flat (person-to-person)

7. Enchant up the leadership chain by prototyping fast and delivering bad news early

8. Enchant down the ranks by empowering staff and providing vision

With social media, marketers today have a phenomenal way to engage, influence and enchant customers and prospects. A final takeaway from Kawasaki’s presentation is the principle of endurance. An enchantment campaign must be viewed as a process, not an event.

Building a relationship takes time and effort, but the rewards can endure. He used the example of The Grateful Dead allowing fans to video record performances, thus allowing the concert experience to live on beyond the event. Guy Kawasaki’s call for enchantment takes influence to a new level of brand loyalty.

Below are the slides from Guy Kawasaki’s presentation to MIMA.

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