If you’ve enjoyed our posts on this blog, you may want to follow us at the Creative Concepts blog — home to the organizers of the Business Smart Tools Conference.  We’ll still update this blog with new information on social media for business, but our new “home base” allows us to talk about larger issues facing the social media industry today — including content creation, legality, licensing and distribution.

As always, you can follow us on Twitter too — both Business Smart Tools and Creative Concepts!

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Join John Havens from the May 2009 Business Smart Tools Conference as he speaks about BlogTalkRadio, the book he co-authored Tactical Transparency, and social media tips that can help every business!

Valorie Luther of Creative Concepts at 2009 Business Smart Tools Conference

It’s barely been a day since the 2009 Business Smart Tools conference wrapped, but the event was a tremendous success!  Thanks to everyone who attended, as well as all of our speakers AND the tireless team at Creative Concepts, who organized and managed the entire event.  We covered a lot of ground at this year’s event — from “when your company is READY for social media” to “how you adapt to negative feedback,” and everything in-between.

Some key points from our speakers:

John C. Havens highlighted the ways some companies have benefited from social media engagement — as well as the ways people who have negative experiences with your brand can potentially damage your company’s reputation.  But instead of fearing that possibility, companies should embrace it as an opportunity to address concerns and improve flaws.

Cindi Bigelow discussed the ups and downs associated with her handling of the Don Imus issue a few years ago, and how her interaction with supporters and detractors on all sides of the issue — including CNN — helped shape her appreciation of transparency in social media.

Tom Guarriello, David Vinjamuri and Albert Maruggi suggested that the real issue companies should be addressing isn’t whether social media is right for their company — it’s whether or not the company’s mindset is ready for social media.

* Greg Kirk of Pitney Bowes explained that social media can change the public’s perception of a company, even without that company’s name or logo being front and center. (As Gregg says, “that’s kind of the point.”)

*  Both Pepsi and Ford now consider themselves “media companies.”  (Which, in other words, means EVERYONE is a media company — so think like one.)

*  Ford’s Scott Monty debunked the corporate fear that a company’s own employees might “misuse” social media to damage their brand: “If you don’t trust your employees, why did you hire them in the first place?”

We videotaped most of the day’s sessions, and we’ll be uploading excerpts from those talks throughout the coming weeks.  Plus, we’ll still be addressing any ongoing questions, concerns and opportunities surrounding social media + business.  This year’s conference may be over, but the conversation is just beginning!

(If you missed the event, search our Twitter hashtag — #busconf — or see all the fabulous photos on Flickr!  And if you’re not already following us on Twitter, join in!)

Scott Monty, Head of Social Media at Ford

The speakers at this year’s BST conference will be sharing their insights into how social media works within business. To give you a glimpse of what you can expect at the live event (which happens on Tuesday, May 5), here are 3 questions with Ford‘s head of social media, Scott Monty.

Q: Why is Ford investing their time and effort in social media?

A: We recognize that digital / social media communications are the future; no longer is it seen as a trend.  Instead, it’s where a lot of our constituents are spending their time, and it’s up to us to be there to share information, have a two-way dialog, and to learn from them.

If we can start with a solid social media strategy and begin to execute both internally and externally, we’ll be in a position to humanize the company to the outside world.  If the world at large could be made more aware of the stories we have to tell (and of the storytellers themselves), and if we give them the ability to share these stories with their own communities, we’ll begin to see perceptions changing, and ultimately, to see a rise in sales.

Q: What are some of the ways you’ve seen Ford benefit from using social media tools?

A: One of the areas I started on very early was the idea of opening up our media events – in-vehicle programs and forums with our subject matter experts – to bloggers at large.  Historically, these have been open to traditional journalists and automotive bloggers.  But my contention is that nearly everyone needs to buy a car, so if we can form relationships with mainstream bloggers, we can reach more mainstream customers – like the readers of these blogs, who trust the authors because they’ve been following them for so long.  With that theory in place, I’ve been pushing to reach out to bloggers interested in technology, environmental issues, luxury/design, and parents, to name a few.

Aside from blogger relations, we have an immediate opportunity to help change the perception through my own participation on Twitter, blogs and forums.  I do a lot of commenting on posts that may have some misinformation, and I share news and information from my unique position within the company.  And I hope I do all of this in an authentic way, to give the company a little more of a human element.

I think it’s paid off.  A recent study showed that Ford came in as #1 a listing of the Top 20 Most Social Auto Brands; previously, Ford was ranked #12 on an overall listing of the Top 100 Social Brands of 2008.

Q: How difficult is it to keep up with emerging trends in social media?

A: You know, I used to worry about that more when I was a consultant.  It seems like there’s a new site/service/network/tool out there every day.  But joining a company like Ford has made me realize that we need to concentrate on where the mainstream is going.  It helps in two ways: first, it keeps us from chasing after trends that are fool’s gold; and we can concentrate our efforts on the main sites that matter.

Thought leaders are way out ahead.  I’ve seen people proclaiming the death of blogging for over a year, yet there’s still a good portion of the population that is just getting up to speed on that.  And if I ever uttered the word “Plurk” in a meeting, I’d be laughed out of the room.

Now that’s not to say we shouldn’t try new things and see what works for us and our constituents.  We’ll do that, and I’ll rely on my own trendspotting abilities and that of our partner agencies to help determine what’s worth trying.

Learn more from Scott Monty and the rest of our speakers at the 2009 Business Smart Tools Conference on May 5 — register here!

John C Havens of BlogTalkRadio and Speaker at the Business Smart Tools Conference interviews Valorie Luther about the Business Smart Tools conference and social media at large!

Bad Publicity

For years now, companies from Dell to Comcast to Tide have weathered negative PR that stems from negative customer experiences. But when those customers use social media tools like blogs, Facebook and Twitter to spread their frustration, the resultant backlash can even stun a stable brand like Motrin or, most recently, Dominos. Even web-centric companies like Amazon or GoDaddy can get tripped up by the speed of web gossip.

By the time most of these brands recognize the problem and mount a solution, the damage has already eroded their credibility, and they have to spend precious time rebuilding a level of consumer trust that they’d previously taken for granted. But having a social media presence and engaging your audience on a regular basis can help limit (or at least contain) the effects of a negative PR event because your company will already be in the water, where the accident happened, rather than having to swim out from shore.

As for the overarching effects of these PR disasters, two truths should now be obvious:

* Life on the internet moves fast, and
* Trust is never something you can take for granted

To learn more about using social media in your business, check out our Business Smart Tools Conference on May 5th!

Image by pixelcore.

tomguarriello

The speakers at this year’s BST conference will be sharing their insights into how social media works within business. To give you a glimpse of what you can expect at the live event (which happens on Tuesday, May 5), here are 3 questions with management consultant and Vloggerheads co-founder Dr. Tom Guarriello, who makes a living by connecting people.

Q: Why should companies be investing their time and effort in social media?

A: Companies should only invest time and effort in social media if they’re interested in what their customers and/or competitors are doing! If not, carry on with business as usual! Joking aside, there is a wealth of information to be gained by following social media conversations, and even more by engaging in them.

Q: What are some ways you have seen companies directly benefit from using social media?

A: Adroit companies are using social media to learn what customers really think about their products and services. This is not always pleasant, but invariably useful. The very best are asking questions, gaining valuable information and having ongoing conversations with customers, after convincing their social media-using followers that they’re seriously interested in listening and not just looking for another channel for broadcasting traditional marketing messages. Social media users can smell the difference and don’t react well if it looks like more of the same.

Q: Tell us about one emerging social media trend that you’re keeping an eye on, and why.

A: Multi-channel communication is the trend to watch. When a company understands the power of social media you see an eagerness to break out of the “is Facebook going to be the winner?” mentality. Instead, those companies look for as many places to engage their customers as there are places for those customers to congregate. In other words, be platform agnostic but communication-centric.

Learn more from Tom Guarriello and the rest of our speakers at the 2009 Business Smart Tools Conference on May 5 — register here!

http://www.businesssmarttools.com/files/20090408_smartbiz.mp3

Download podcast here

Albert and Valorie take some time out for the Marketing Edge Podcast.  Learn more about the Business Smart Tools Conference and join in the conversation that has begun here and will continue on May 5th. To register, go here.

Several weeks ago, a video that Creative Concepts (the organizers behind the Business Smart Tools conference) produced for their client, Bigelow Tea, generated some online buzz.  But while most viewers enjoyed the personal touch of seeing Bigelow Tea president (and 2009 BST speaker) Cindi Bigelow talking about tea with strangers on the streets of New York City, others thought the video needed some “YouTube star power” to help it appeal to a wider audience.

While Bigelow Tea hasn’t crossed the bridge to YouTube stardom just yet, they do have a few recognizable faces among their fans — including LA Dodgers manager Joe Torre, Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona, and NFL sportscaster Phil Simms.  In fact, they recently shot another quick video in which these gentlemen talk about health, fame, competition and (of course) tea:

These two videos have plenty in common — including being filmed on the same morning.  They also have a similar theme: tea brings people together.

But while some viewers are inspired by the “everyman” vibe of the first video, others need a little more “star power” to keep their attention.  However, the difference between YouTube celebrity and “real life” celebrity does raise some questions.  For example:

*  Torre, Simms and Francona actually drank Bigelow Tea even before they become spokesmen for Bigelow, which makes their endorsements authentic.  But does that authenticity resonate with customers, or does everyone automatically presume a celebrity spokesperson is simply pitching a product, regardless of how the spokesperson really feels about it?

*  How would the message change if Bigelow hired a YouTube celebrity who’d never even had a cup of tea in her life, just for the sake of reaching that person’s built-in audience?

*  Even with the help of a YouTube spokesperson, would a Bigelow Tea video featuring that person gain any traction beyond that person’s existing YouTube fanbase?  Or would it result in one traffic spike that wouldn’t translate to long-term interest in the Bigelow brand?

*  Torre, Simms and Francona are near-household names (in sports-obsessed homes, anyway) but that doesn’t mean their fans are necessarily searching them out online.  Meanwhile, a YouTube celebrity’s fans are ALREADY online, so while their niche may be narrower, their audience may be more active — and more inclined to listen to what their heroes have to say.

All of these (and more) are questions that any company should ask itself when considering the best way(s) to reach their target audience(s) — online and beyond.

So… what do YOU think about online celebrity?

Albert Maruggi

Albert Maruggi

The speakers at this year’s BST conference will be sharing their insights into how social media works within business. To give you a glimpse of what you can expect at the live event (which happens on Tuesday, May 5), here are 3 questions with PR veteran Albert Maruggi, who’s been tackling marketing issues for over 25 years.

Q:  Why should companies be investing their time and effort in social media?

A:  Every time you read about a newspaper cutting back or going under, think, “Who is going to cover my company?”  Every time you see a decline in television viewing, wonder, “What are those former viewers doing?”  Online and mobile devices are where people are going for entertainment, information, discovery, and networking.

Q:  What are some ways you have seen companies directly benefit from using social media?

A:  Small companies now get major national news coverage without writing a single pitch to the media, access to specific high level executives at major corporations, and leads directly from sources like Twitter and blogs.

Q:  Tell us about one emerging social media trend that you’re keeping an eye on, and why.

A:  The world of widgets — for me, that’s an exciting place.  It’s a format where you can allow others to carry your information to places like their blog or Facebook, and this data can be aggregated across the web. It can also be used to pull data from a variety of places that have natural synergies.  In fact, I’d like you to test one out: I use qcwidget on the Marketing Edge podcast.

Learn more from Albert Maruggi and the rest of our speakers at the 2009 Business Smart Tools Conference on May 5 — register here!