Archive for the ‘consulting’ Category

Want to get better at social media? Ask “Why?”

Social media practitioners: want to get better at your job? Learn one word:


Used well, asking “why?” can help you get to the bottom of almost any problem, push your colleagues to explore new options, and force a new level of honesty in decision making.

I’ve just started reading Christopher Barger‘s book The Social Media Strategist (side note: only a few pages in and I already like it), and one particular section stood out to me:

“The individual connections and relationships made within social networks on behalf of organizations and brands don’t happen because the brands want to appear more approachable or more human. Those are nice side effects. But make no mistake, as unromantic as it sounds, businesses and organizations get into social media because they want customers (or potential customers) to eventually buy their products, feel better about having purchased their products, and have problems with their products resolved more efficiently, and they want to get insight on what might make a customer more likely to buy those products in the future. “The conversation” and “engagement” are just means to that end.”

We’re operating in a field which is still full of kumbaya and hugging. Social media is still a shiny object to many people – companies still come at it with a focus on the shiny object rather than on what they really need. In that context, asking “why” is critical to improving your odds of success.

Let’s take an all-too-frequent conversation that agencies have with clients: the “we should be ‘in’ social media” conversation. At face value, a statement from a client like “we should be in social media” has no meaning, direction or any sort of objectives whatsoever. However, by asking “why?” a few times, you can dig to the core of it. The conversation could go something like this:

A: We need to be in social media.

B: Ok, why do you want to be in social media?

A: Because we’re a customer-focused company and we want to get closer to our customers.

B: Fair enough. Tell me, what do you hope to achieve by getting closer in this case – why do you want to be closer to them?

A: Because we want to build a relationship with the people who use our products.

B: Great. So why do you want to build those relationships?

A: To help us hit our sales targets.

That’s by no means the end of that conversation – it’s just the beginning – but in just three questions you’ve dug down from “get me one of those” to a more focused objective of increasing sales volume. Other times that might be increasing loyalty; other times it might be gaining product insights. Once you’re at that point, you can help to re-focus objectives, and can work to build strategies and tactics that drive at the true business need rather than the one originally stated. You can apply the same things to strategic or tactical conversations too, with the end goal of driving better thinking, better communication and better business decisions.

What’s more, you can do the same thing internally. Instead of challenging or editing, ask:

  • Why did you use that particular phrase?
  • Why do you think that’s the right platform for this contest?
  • Why do you think a contest is the right tactic for this objective?
  • Why do you think we should be on Pinterest?

Build a team culture where asking “why” is the norm, and you’re well on your way to building a high-performance organization.

(Image credit: a_ninjamonkey)

Social Media Is Becoming A Commodity

Anyone can do media relations. Anyone can pitch a journalist. Some people can even do it well. However, no-one in their right mind is going to hire your firm because you pitched a straight media relations campaign to them because everyone is pitching it.

Oil barrel

Social media is fast becoming a commodity, just like media relations. A few firms used to differentiate themselves by being the ones who paid attention to social media. Now, anyone who can talk a good game and who knows slightly more than the client is able to pitch it and sound like an expert.

Basic business theory says that while first movers gain a temporary advantage, if they don’t create barriers to entry to others then that advantage can quickly be lost. 

As social media increasingly becomes a commodity, companies need to do more than just be there. Those who have enjoyed an advantage from being early to market need to work hard to separate themselves once again. 

Just ‘doing’ social media is no longer enough to win you business. Having done it for a little longer than everyone else does little to differentiate you, either. You might crow that you were doing it before other people, but potential clients probably don’t care.

What do clients care about?

  • Ideas - creative, strategic ideas that solve a problem and accomplish objectives
  • Integrated solutions – approaches that bring together disciplines into a strategic approach
  • Understanding – a clear knowledge and grasp of the issues that matter to them
  • Rounded team – a well-formed team that covers all the bases
  • Chemistry – a team that gels with the client-side team personally as well as professionally
  • Thought leadership – demonstrated leadership in the areas that matter
  • Success – documented case studies – the one area in which, for now, being a first mover gives the advantage.

So what if you have 25,000 Twitter followers? It takes a few weeks for unscrupulous types to game the system and gain that many if that’s what they’re after. Similarly, who cares if you’ve had a blog for six or seven years? It’s what you’ve done with it that matters.

If you’ve been around in social media for a few years, think: what have you done to separate yourself now that everyone else is just like you?

Eight Tips For Difficult Client Conversations

Kerri Birtch, our latest hire in the Toronto office of Thornley Fallis, wrote a post on the PR Girlz blog recently talking about the art of consulting from the perspective of a new account coordinator.

One of Kerri’s more insightful thoughts:

…it’s not nearly as easy as some might think.

Here’s why:

We work for them, but we may not always agree with everything they ask of us. I think the key is balancing their wants with what you as the consultant feel they need.

Kerri neatly summarizes one of the founding principles of our firm – we tell our clients what they need to hear, not what they want to hear.

Unfortunately, sometimes that means having difficult conversations with your clients. Here are seven tips for making those conversations as conflict-free and effective as possible.

1. Explain the implications of their approach

Organizations bring us in to offer our expertise in communications and social media. They aren’t necessarily experts in these areas. As a result, they may not realize the implications of some of the ideas they have. Chances are, they don’t really want to act ineffectively or unethically; they just don’t realize that they’ll be ineffective or unethical. Remembering this fact enables you to approach potentially awkward discussions delicately so you can avoid any embarrassment on either side.

2. Find other solutions

Try to avoid saying a straight “no” to the client if possible. If possible, come up with palatable alternatives that leave you closer to a solution than “no” would do.

3. Remember that they are the experts on their business

Your bright new idea may sound great to you, but remember that while you’ve studied-up on your clients, their expertise in their business is still an order of magnitude higher than your knowledge. They may know of factors that affect your work, about which you know nothing.

4. Don’t be afraid to disagree

Your clients may come to you with ideas that you believe simply won’t work. It’s your job to tell them that. Simply agreeing to implement ill-advised ideas does them – and you – no favours. It wastes their money and lowers your credibility, both with the client (who doesn’t see any good results) and perhaps with your media contacts (who see you pitching non-news to them).

You offer the best value for money when, rather than being a “yes man,” you offer useful, honest advice.

5. Think it through in advance

If you have the opportunity, take five or 10 minutes to think the conversation and your approach through in advance. Jot down a few notes if it helps. It’s much easier to have those tough conversations when your case is clear, organized and well presented.

6. Look to maximize the length of your relationship, not the budget

As I’ve often heard around the office, being a full-service agency it doesn’t mean we’ll suggest every service for our clients. Throwing-in a bunch of tactics that don’t fit the situation might maximize your short-term budget, but if you suggest the appropriate tactics you’re more likely to have a long-lasting relationship with a satisfied client.

7. Remember it’s their choice

This was something I learned early-on in my time in government: regardless of whether your client is a government minister or an organization, your job is to give them the best advice you possibly can, then carry out their wishes.

Sometimes clients will take your advice. However, sometimes they’ll listen, thank you and choose to approach things differently. When the latter happens, as long as it’s ethical, within your contract’s scope and budget and as long as you’ve explained the likely outcomes, you have to respect their decision and implement it to the full extent of your ability.

8. Stick to your principles

Sometimes you may be asked to do things that go against your principles. My advice is to politely but firmly stick to your principles. While doing so, respect point #1 above – they may not realize the implications of their approach.

If necessary, tell them you’ll get back to them on their ideas then talk it over with your manager, but don’t compromise on your principles.

How do you approach those difficult client conversations?