The New SMS – Social Media Strategy

Social Media StrategyFollowing on from my last post the A-Z of Business Social Media, I’ve had some feedback that whilst the A-Z was really useful, for people who are new to social media, particularly in a business sense, they don’t know where to start and how to get the most out of their limited resources, time and money.

So, with that in mind, this post will focus on how to build your social media strategy and where to focus your energy and money.

Your social media strategy needs to be tailored to what your organisation does, who your customers, or potential customers, are and what you are aiming to achieve. I’ll walk you through a framework of questions you need to ask yourself and give you some pointers as to where to get started in a cost-effective way.

Explore

Before you start to build your strategy, it’s a good idea to explore social media channels to determine which will be the most appropriate for your organisation. The A-Z of Business Social Media mentions a number of sites you can check out as well as a few more in this post you may want to think about.

Create a personal account on a few of the most pertinent to your particular business or organisation and explore what people are saying and how they are interacting with each other. As a starting point, whatever your organisation does, I would suggest LinkedIn and Twitter as a minimum if you’re not already using them. Once you’ve spent a bit of time browsing around and becoming familiar with the social world, you’ll be better placed to start thinking about how you can use it to the best effect for your organisation.

Goals and Objectives

What are you trying to achieve from your social media activity? This is a really important question you should ask yourself before putting finger to keyboard. I’ve made a short list below, but it’s by no means exhaustive. You may answer yes to more than one:

Do you want:

Increased brand presence across social channels?

Increased positive sentiment about your brand?

Development of relationships for future partnership opportunities?

Increased traffic to your website?

Improved customer service?

Increased sales leads?

To improve your personal or organisational profile?

Build your network of contacts?

To be perceived as a ‘Thought Leader’ in a segment, market or technology?

Depending on your answers above, you will need to tailor your strategy and focus accordingly.

Social Footprint

Unless you’re a start-up business, chances are that your organisation will already have a Social Footprint. How come?

Your customers, suppliers, employees and the media may already be talking about you online.

Type your organisation’s name into Twitter, Google, LinkedIn, Facebook and you’ll be surprised at who’s being saying what about you.

This is useful for a number of reasons. You’ll be able to;

  1. Determine whether you have a footprint or not and the size of it.
  2. Understand the sentiment towards your organisation – good, bad or indifferent.
  3. Discover whether your target audience is present and engaging in dialogue about you and importantly where.
  4. Find out if you have employees that are advocates or disparaging your brand.

There are a number of tools that can help you do this for free:

Twilert: A great and simple tool to consolidate and keep up with the Tweets on your brand. This tool will email you whenever there are Tweets regarding your brand name and/or other search terms you set up for your convenience.

Kurrently not only searches Twitter for mentions regarding your brand or other search term, but also checks out Facebook and Google+ so you are even more up to date on what’s being said regarding your brand.

Topsy indexes and ranks search results based upon the most influential conversations people are having every day about each specific term, topic, page or domain queried. Therefore you know whether a specific mention has been influential or not, and what type of positive or negative effect it may or may not have.

There are organisations that can carry out this work on your behalf, but would recommend you have a try yourself first.

Analyse Your Social Space

Analyse what people are talking about in your industry – about you, about your competitors, the marketplace, trends, news and reviews.

Who are the most influential brands and individuals in your space? Who are the key social influencers – are they individual thought leaders, news organisations, journalists, politicians, consultancy firms, bloggers or even customers?

You do need to know this, as networking online is as hard, time-consuming and as important as offline networking, if you feel that social media is an important part of your marketing mix.

Once you’ve done some detailed analysis, you understand what you want from Social Media, and you know where your target audience spenda their time and how they interact, you can decide on which social media platforms you invest your time and effort and in what ways.

Choose your Channels and Content

Whatever channels and tools you decide to use you will need to have some content. The richer the channels the more the content you will need. Of course you will hope to reach a stage where the conversation and interaction you achieve will form part of the content. But be under no illusions, tweeting, blogging, sharing, casting, whatever you do will take content and you need to find it. So, review your existing content, and consider where more might come from. What format will you need? Can you subcontract its generation?

It is important to recognise that in a social media context sharing and drawing on others’ material is all part of the inclusive behaviour you need to adopt. If you are tweeting be sure to re-tweet other material that is useful, and spend time responding to others’ posts. Social media is not about one-way broadcasting, it is about conversation and acknowledging and contributing to others’ work. It is part of the deal, and it helps get you noticed as well. So consider your mix of self-generated,  found  material  and  commenting  activity  you  will  use  to  create  content  and engagement.

Define metrics and benchmarks

The most important part of developing your strategy is determining how you are going to measure your success. These should be revisited regularly to ensure you’re measuring the right things, doing the right things, and having the desired effect. I’ve listed some examples below:

If your business goal is to … Then you should measure… Followed by measuring
Generate leads Number of leads generated through social media Sales
Increase customer satisfaction Positive sentiment around your company and brand Customer Satisfaction
Lower customer service costs Number of incidents resolved through social media Headcount Costs
Improve product / service quality Feedback +ve / -ve about your products / services Returns / Complaints
Improve your brand’s awareness Number of product-related issues posted. Brand Awareness

Create and publish content

Publishing content, and regularly, is crucial to any organisation wishing to grow their online brand.

Whichever social platforms you have chosen to engage your audience, it’s important that you’re visible at the right time, with current information and engage in the right way.

Think 70:20:10

70 percent of content should focus on your customers’ interests and needs. This can be accomplished through how-to tips, answers to frequently asked questions, and links to helpful resources. Put yourself in your customers’ shoes – “Would I find this content helpful?” If the answer is yes, then go for it.

20 percent of content should be other people’s content. That means a willingness on your part to allow user-generated content on social channels you manage, such as a Facebook page. This gives your customers a sense of ownership in the conversation and serves to foster trust.

10 percent of content should be promotional. If you are willing to focus 90 percent of your content on others, then, hopefully, no one will complain when 10 percent of it calls attention to your products and services.

Think about timing when you publish your content. As an example, if your target audience is the UK, US and India, 12.30 GMT is a good time to post (start of day in US, lunch in UK and evening in India). If you’re targeting a youth audience 1600-1800 during the week and at weekends is a good time. If you have a mixed audience, you may wish to tailor the message to the audience and post the same product or service at differing times with subtly different content and calls to action.

Engage in Conversations and Help Others

It’s not enough to push out content – Social media is not just another marketing channel you can use to reach your target audience.   The biggest mistake companies and brands make is to use social media as a way to just sell a product. Content should be created with a view to inspiring and participating in conversations.  Social media is about a two-way flow of conversation. People are no longer willing to be passive bystanders – they want to take an active part of the conversation. Think about the kinds of topics and interests that your audience have and engage with them on those topics too. It shouldn’t all be about you!

Followers, ‘Likes’ and traffic are good, but are people engaging with you?  93% of the Internet users active in social media say they expect a company to have a social media presence and to be able to actively engage with that company. 93%! [Forrester]

The key to success with social media is to keep your eye on where your target audience are talking, what they’re saying and more importantly what they’re saying about you. Track these things, adapt accordingly and engage positively and you’ll do better than most!

I hope you enjoyed this post and I look forward to hearing your views and comments as always. Until next time…

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A to Z of Business Social Media

A to Z Business Social MediaA – Alerts

You can sign up for Google Alerts quickly and easily. Using those keywords and phrases from your preliminary research online, you can elect to have any instance of those keywords and phrases as Google finds them sent straight to your inbox.

Enter the topic you wish to monitor, then click Preview to see the type of results you’ll receive.

Anytime Google indexes any mention in search results of the alerts you’re signed up for, you receive an email notification into your inbox. The notification is a direct hyperlink to the article, website, blog, product review, etc., wherein the keyword or phrase appeared.

B – Blogging

Blogs have been around for over a decade. The word stands for ’web log’ and they’re effectively online diaries. Anyone can set one up, that’s the easy part. Thinking of something interesting to say each time you blog is the tricky bit.

There a number of blogging tools available for free and you don’t need any programming skills to use them. A couple of the more popular are WordPress and Blogger.

C – Crowdsourcing

The term “crowdsourcing” was coined by Jeff Howe back in 2006, in a Wired article which described a new way of sourcing people who are willing to help or work on a project. Enough people with sufficient time can transform into a lot of available manpower. I’ve highlighted below a number of different types of Crowdsourcing

Crowdfunding: Projects are funded by a large group of people. Crowdcube is a great example of an online business in the UK which has raised millions of pounds for all kinds of projects across multiple sectors – with all the funds coming from people interested in supporting the project and not just investment institutions.

Crowdsourced design: Projects are funded for a large group of people to design something, for example, a website.  There have been many successfully crowdsourced designs, one of the most famous ones being the Rally Fighter car, which was designed by the community and built by a company called Local Motors.

Crowdwisdom: Where users ask questions in front of a large pool of people willing to answer, like Yahoo Answers. A more serious form of crowd wisdom can be found at InnoCentive, which is a community where large corporations post technical or scientific problems to people who can help to solve the questions.

D – Digg

Digg is a social news website that can help you share blog posts and web pages. If you find a page you want to share, you can “digg” it by submitting the URL and a brief description of the page through the Digg website. Other Digg users will see your submission and “digg” or “bury” it. Submissions that get a log of “diggs” are displayed on the home page of the Digg website where many people will see them and will be likely to click on them.

In short, if your blog post makes it to the home page of Digg, you can expect a huge bump in traffic. Since most bloggers want more traffic, hitting it big with a post that gets featured on the home page of Digg is like winning the lottery. Unfortunately, making it to the home page of Digg is very difficult.

E – Ecommerce

Social media may not be huge source of traffic to retailers yet, but there are signs that sites such as Facebook are, nonetheless, influencing shoppers. According to research conducted by Sociable Labs last year, nearly two-thirds of consumers say they read product reviews from friends on the social network, with three-quarters of that figure saying that they click through to retailers’ websites afterwards. Once there, 53% claim that they made a purchase, making social recommendations as important a shopping tool as Google search. The statistics are a positive for brands and retailers, highlighting the role social media could play influencing consumers’ online purchasing activities.

F – Facebook

Facebook pages are incredibly useful to businesses as a means to engage consumers. They can be used to grow revenues, support customers, extend marketing campaigns, generate extra web traffic and boost brand awareness. Creating the perfect Facebook page for your business takes time, planning and resources. But judging by some of the success stories, it is worth it.

You can set up a Facebook page for free, but if you want to do things properly it is going to require a budget. It takes time and effort, and potentially people power, if you want to get the best out of Facebook.

G – Google+

With a growing list of new functions, tools and features, Google+ is slowly becoming a front-runner in the social space for businesses looking to increase their market appeal to an online audience. The number of active users on Google+ grew 27 per cent in the last quarter of 2012 to 343 million users.

The first step in creating a Google+ presence should be setting up a business brand page. Ensure relevant information is added to the ‘About’ section, and visually appealing cover image and avatar are used to catch the attention of Google+ users. A number of appropriate links should also be added to the ‘About’ section as these can have a positive effect on the business’s search engine ranking. As with all social media platforms, it’s important to keep your content fresh and engaging.

Google+ Local is a useful tool that allows users to discover and locate businesses that have opted into the service. When a business signs up, it can add information including address, contact information, opening times, photographs and reviews. While Google+ Local is more applicable to SMEs that have a physical location rather than being based solely online, Google+ users have the option to add their own reviews to a Local page, helping to influence the choice of future users.

H – Hootsuite

HootSuite is a social media management tool that allows users to update and post any pages or profiles for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, WordPress and others from one place – the HootSuite dashboard. When you sign up, you are essentially given a dashboard with tabs organizing all the social profiles you connect to HootSuite.

Users can implement and analyse marketing campaigns across all social profiles without needing to sign in to each social network individually. For premium accounts, users get advanced features for social analytics, audience engagement, team collaboration and security.

I – IFTTT

IFTTT, which stands for If This Then That, lets you create connections between different web apps and services through what it calls “recipes.” To create a recipe all you have to do is tell IFTTT what the “This” and the “That” in your equation are.

The service integrates with a number of different applications, such as Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, Google and bit.ly and offers a sizable amount of integration options for each to get you going.

IFTTT is simple to use, and there are thousands of pre-made “recipes” to choose from or even to help you think of what you could use IFTTT for. It helps to keep you organised, save you time, and reduce the time spent wading through the masses of information you see in a day.

J – Joining or Not to Join

Few areas of business and society have been untouched by the emerging social-media revolution – one that is not even a decade old. Many organisations have been responding to that new reality, realising the power and the potential of this technology for corporate life: Wikis, SharePoint and Lync enable more efficient virtual collaboration in cross-functional projects; internal blogs, discussion boards, and YouTube channels encourage global conversations and knowledge sharing; sophisticated viral media campaigns engage customers and create brand loyalty; next-generation products are co-developed in open-innovation processes; and corporate leaders work on shaping their future strategy.

However, many companies still hesitate when venturing into public social media networks, harbouring fears of possible customer criticism such as negative comments on the company’s website. While care does need to be taken when planning social media activity, there are undoubtedly significant benefits of integrating social media into small business operations:

• Social media is a low-cost, low-barrier communication channel that allows businesses to interact with internal and external contacts on a regular basis.

• Social media enables businesses to engage with millions of potential customers and investors available at the click of a button.

• Social media and analytic tools used within a company’s private network can allow employers to track employee sentiments and discover possible areas of contention faster than through traditional means.

My view…Join!

 K – Klout

Klout measures influence based on the ability to drive action across the social web. Any person can connect their social network accounts and Klout will generate a score on a scale of 1-100 that represents their ability to engage other people and inspire social actions. Klout enables everyone to gain insights that help them better understand how they influence others. Klout also provides people with opportunities to shape and be recognized for their influence.

L – LinkedIn

LinkedIn is a must for all professionals and businesses alike. It is not merely a social network aimed for business users. Rather, it should be viewed as an online network of influential people all over the world. Whilst there are many uses of LinkedIn for your business, I’ve highlighted three of the top ones below:

Find new suppliers, business partners and clients – Simple searches in your field will reveal thousands of experts, service providers and potential clients. If you do not personally know an individual, you may request to be introduced through a mutual contact or can send an introductory email. Upgrading your membership gives you improved searches and direct access to more people.

Recruitment – LinkedIn can provide easy access to potential candidates. There are both free and paid options Businesses can search for candidates that fit their required level of expertise and approach them directly, provided they are at least ‘2nd degree’ contacts. In order to search further afield, a monthly subscription is needed. However, even the basic or ‘business’ package allows users to contact any individual with a LinkedIn profile. Businesses also have the option of posting a job ad for a monthly fee dependant on location.

Groups – Groups represent a fantastic opportunity for businesses to network and grow. If you are looking to drive traffic to your blog or company website, think seriously about setting up a LinkedIn Group. The key challenge in some industries is to make your group stand out. The key is to find a niche/area of your business that is under-represented and aim to be the authority on the subject. Nevertheless, based on perception alone, the owner is naturally viewed as the thought leader for that niche unless proven otherwise. The more quality content you produce to back this up and the more effectively you run your group, your community will support you and look to you as a leader in that niche.

M – Mobility & Social Media

According to Ofcom in the UK, 55% of adult smartphone users have used their phone for social networking, with one in four (40%) doing so regularly. This rises to 74% in teenagers with 62% doing so regularly. Ensuring that your websites and content are easily viewable via smartphones is becoming more and more crucial.

N – Newsreaders

If you happen to read articles from the same websites every day, then Google Reader might be just for you. Reader consolidates your favourite websites and blogs into one, easy to manage interface. Think of Google Reader as your personalized online magazine. It’s easy to set up and easy to use.

O – Online vs Offline

Social media is still only part of your marketing mix and strategy albeit an increasingly important one. Depending on your industry or sector you will need to consider which will be the important communication channels and how much time, resource and money you invest into which. Ignore Social Media at your peril however!

P – Pinterest

Pinterest is a relatively new, but rapidly growing social network that allows users to visually share, curate, and discover new interests by posting, also known as ‘pinning,’ images or videos to their own or others’ pinboards (i.e. a collection of ‘pins,’ usually with a common theme). Users can either upload images from their computer or pin things they find on the web using the Pinterest bookmarklet, Pin It button, or just a URL .

As with any other social network, Pinterest offers a range of activities you can initiate to market your company to a new audience. The goal here is to gain brand recognition, drive traffic to your website and be successful at converting the new visits into leads.

Q – Quora

Quora is an excellent platform for organisations interested in showing open and transparent thought leadership. You won’t be able to post your news release as the site is moderated and people will contest and question your viewpoint, but if you really know your subject matter, it can be an amazing way to establish your authority in a given field.

Even if you’re not in a position to use the network to demonstrate thought leadership, Quora can still be a useful tool for gathering customer intelligence. You can get insights into how users feel about all kinds of subjects and even ask questions of your own. It’s not a substitute for traditional surveys, since the user base isn’t a representative sample, but it can be an easy way to start getting a glimpse into how your customers think.

R – Reddit

Reddit is a social news website driven by user-generated content in the form of a link or a self-post. Most users view Reddit as a modern-day bulletin board system enhanced for the web. Users submit content on forums, which are split into multiple “subreddits”. Subreddits focus on a specific topic, and there are hundreds of thousands of them. The most popular forums have over 1 million subscribers and more than 100,000 subreddits.

Reddit users rank the content other users submit by voting it “up” or “down. Submissions voted “up” by large numbers of users get listed on the front page of Reddit and usually receive large amounts of engagement from the Reddit community.

Reddit has 2.5 billion page views per month and 34.9 million unique views each month.

Businesses can use Reddit for link building and traffic generation as well as for market research and getting your message out to target audiences with tailored messages. A note of caution though – anything that seems overly promotional or advertising-focused will be very negatively regarded by the community.

S – Stumbleupon

StumbleUpon is a social media bookmarking site that allows users to “like” websites and add them to their profile. These websites are then shared with their friends through their profile and by using the “stumble” button, which is added to a user’s browser toolbar when they sign up. The stumble button basically sends a user to a random website, usually one previously liked by a friend. StumbleUpon boasts more than 30 million users. Each user fills out a survey of their interests, so there is definitely the potential for your business website to reach a broad and targeted audience.

StumbleUpon asks their users to define the categories that interest them, everything from archeology to zoology. If your business fits into one of these interest categories well, your site can get a lot of new visitors that are more likely to be interested in your business. Additionally, you’re going to get a steady stream of visitors if you use it properly and regularly.

T – Twitter

It took Twitter three years, two months and one day to reach their first billion Tweets. Today, there are over a billion Tweets sent every three days. These Tweets represent conversations related to almost any topic imaginable.

For businesses and brands, these conversations provide a rich canvas and a powerful context in which to connect your messages and your brand to what people are talking about right now. It’s a canvas for telling engaging stories, for participating in cultural events, for broadcasting content, for connecting directly with consumers, and for driving transactions. Businesses can influence and participate in real-time conversations on Twitter to drive consumer action with integrated paid, earned and owned campaigns, delivering results throughout the marketing funnel.

U – User Generated Content

In recent years we have developed into a society which likes to share …digitally. User (or Customer) Generated Content is content that we upload to a website or social media platform, examples of such content include audio files, photographs, videos, presentations, documents and reviews.

Research carried out has shown that more than 8 in 10 say user generated content from people they don’t know influences what they buy and indicates brand quality, while 51% say it is actually more important than the opinions of their friends and family, and far more trustworthy than website content. [Source Talking to Strangers Millennials Trust people over Brands Jan 2012]

V – Voice of the Customer

With incidents like United Breaks Guitars now commonplace, it’s painfully clear that social word-of-mouth has tremendous consequences when brands give a poor customer experience. Of course, there’s upside too. Social media is a veritable goldmine of insights that can help a company innovate and improve its competitive position.

Participating in social media—via online communities, blogging and networking sites—is now thought of much like the internet a decade ago. A company is conspicuous in its absence of a social media plan, especially if it sells to consumers.

W – WordPress

Think Oak is written using WordPress. It’s a very versatile blogging tool that is easy to use, has a range of free and chargeable templates, great analytics and has built-in search engine optimisation for Google and Bing. It’s open-source and can be hosted (WordPress.com) or un-hosted (WordPress.org). Even some of the world’s biggest brands use WordPress – Ebay, Ford, Sony and CNN all use it for their blogs!

X – Xbox 720, Playstation 4 & Next Generation TVs

With announcements of the next generation games consoles imminent, it will be interesting to see whether any increased elements of social media are woven into the new Xbox and PS4 operating systems. With 55% of homes having games consoles that can link to the internet plus advances in Smart TVs that already connect with social media channels, I would expect significant growth and opportunity in this space.

Y – YouTube

Though Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter were the leading social networks that swept through the business world in recent times, YouTube continues to be the most valuable video marketing and advertising tool for businesses of all sizes. By far the web’s largest and most popular online video archive, YouTube offers fantastic opportunities for a business to show off its expertise, share knowledge, market products and connect with customers, colleagues and prospects.

Z – Zero to Hero

With some investment of time, energy, enthusiasm, creativity and a little bit of know-how you can rapidly build up the social media presence of your organisation. This is Social Commerce: Turning Social Media into Sales by Guy Clapperton is a new book that I would recommend to get you started,  together with his previous book – This is social media.

Ultimately, you need to choose the social media services that are right for your business. You can’t be engaged with users everywhere and on every medium. If you try, you’ll quickly be focusing only on social media and not on your business. Stick with a handful of services where you can build a following and engage customers on a regular basis.

Hope you enjoyed this A to Z. As always, I look forward to hearing from you.

The Brand New, Brand You! ~ Part 4

Elevator PitchIn the fourth part in the series of The Brand New, Brand You, I will be covering the third step in the START process – Articulate.

Brand You is who you already are, whether you are consciously aware of it or not. Brand New, Brand You is about building a name for yourself based on what you have achieved and what you want to achieve and what differentiates you from others. It essentially is your reputation. The benefits you offer to others; your value proposition and your return on investment to prospective employers. And it must be consistent throughout your communications and how you Articulate yourself.

The key to Articulate is how you establish yourself as an expert in your field and is one of the most essential ways to brand yourself. It builds credibility and demonstrates your achievements and proven abilities through various venues, such as by writing articles published in trade journals, giving speeches at conferences and conventions, being quoted by the news media, and the like.

In this post I’m going to focus on a few key areas, namely Your Elevator Pitch, Telephone and Face to Face Interviews and Your Online Presence.

The Elevator Pitch

You’re in an elevator, a corridor or at a party and the CEO of the firm you’ve always wanted to work for, is standing next to you. What do you say?

Elevator pitches are developed to relay just enough information to cause the person you’re speaking to, to ask, “Tell me more.” If you’re lucky, the CEO will say, “If you have a few minutes, I want to hear more.” If you’re even luckier, your prospective boss will ask you to set up an appointment the next day to meet up. All of that from the development, memorising, and tweaking of a few simple yet incredibly powerful words.

Putting your pitch together

1. Who are you? Introduce yourself and your credentials up front. There’s no point in saying anything if the listener has no idea who you are or if you have any credibility.

2. What’s your objective? Get to the point quickly about what you are looking for or how that person can help. Being direct not only grabs attention but helps the listener to put your pitch into context. 

3. What can you do for the listener? This is where you explain how recruiting you will meet their need. Your goals and dreams are all well and good but remember in the end what you are offering must benefit them. This is your chance to communicate what makes you someone who your audience should consider helping.  People typically like to help those that they feel will be successful in the process.  There are a few things you should think about when highlighting your qualifications:- industry relevance, leadership, expertise, pedigree, and impact.

4. The close – this is tricky to deliver effectively, but ideally you need an outcome to the conversation. This could be a follow-up meeting with the person you’re pitching to, a name of someone who you need to contact to follow-up, or some advice as to how to reach your goal.

Once you have your personal elevator pitch, practice it in front of the mirror. If possible, try to video or audio tape yourself, and watch it in fast forward. You’ll be amazed at your nervous habits!

Even though you’ve prepared and practiced, keep it natural.

Articulating Brand New, Brand YouInterviews

Arguably one of the most important times to articulate Brand You, is at interview. You’ve got through the CV shortlisting stage, but now you have to impress. More often than not you will have to face a telephone interview before you get to meet a prospective employer face to face.

The Telephone Interview

Eighty percent of human communication is body language—eye contact, facial expressions, the way you move your hands, your behaviours, the way you sit or stand, and all of this is missing during the telephone conversation. However, you still have three powerful ways to get Brand You across:

Tone:  Your passion, energy level and pronunciation.

Content:  Your expertise and depth of experience.

Quality: Your choice of words and your ability to demonstrate a solid, consistent thought process.

Before the Interview:

  • If you haven’t already, research the company and the position. Visit the company website and review news releases and other public information about the company, including quarterly and annual reports. Learn about any new product releases, any awards or special recognition received by the company. Find out about the structure of the organization, its products or services and the markets it serves. You would be amazed at the number of candidates I’ve interviewed over the years that miss this crucial step. I’ve actually terminated interviews at the point I discover that they have not bothered to prepare.
  • Make sure that you know who you will be speaking with and can check for that person’s LinkedIn profile and you should also “Google” them to learn more information.
  • Revisit the job description and the person specification for the role. Make a special effort to identify any areas where your skills and experience may be of particular value.
  • Prepare a list of your achievements pertaining to the job description. Specify and quantify your accomplishments, e.g. ‘increased sales by x%’ or ‘reduced costs by y%’. Keep this list in front of you during the interview for you to refer to.
  • Make a note of any key questions that you wish to ask.
  • Make sure that you have a copy of your CV with you and ensure you have a pen and notepad to hand.

The Interview:

Ensure that you will be somewhere quiet for the interview itself and that you will not be interrupted.

If you have been asked to call at a specific time, ensure that you call at precisely the correct time. If you can’t get through, leave a message if you can and also call a secretary/receptionist to show that you called at the right time. Ask when the manager is expected to be free, and try again then. Repeat the same procedure until you make contact. If you have been told that the hiring manager will call you – do not expect the same rules to apply. They will call you when they want to!

  • Sound interesting/interested, energetic and enthusiastic.
  • Try smiling while you are talking. Studies have shown that this has a positive effect on the person who is listening. It is also a good idea to stand during a telephone interview as this makes you sound more confident and helps project a positive and professional image.
  • Be polite and don’t swear or use colloquialisms.
  • Try not to use jargon if at all possible, unless the interviewer introduces it into the conversation.
  • Use the other person’s name regularly throughout the conversation (but not all the time). Also, use the company name a few times.
  • Be succinct. For most questions a 2-3 minute answer is a good target. Time is always an issue with telephone interviews and you’re wasting your own time if you stray off the subject.
  • Be a good listener. If you do not hear or understand what was said, do not hesitate to ask that it be repeated. Do not make up answers to questions you think you have heard.
  • Do not bring up salary, holiday entitlements and benefits at this stage.
  • Have powerful questions written down that you can ask when provided the chance.
  • Use strong, positive phrases, such as “I know,” and avoid weak phrases such as “I think.”
  • Never speak negatively of anyone or anything—a former manager, colleague or company.
  • Emphasise why you want to go to work for the company you are interviewing with and NOT why you want to leave your current employer.
  • Do not try to evade any question. If you don’t know the answer to any particular question, say so, and then say you’ll get the answer and call back.
  • If something doesn’t sound good to you, take note of it. Do NOT confront the interviewer at this stage.
  • “Close” at the end of the interview. You might use:  “I really appreciate your time today, and I am genuinely excited about and interested in this opportunity. Based upon our conversation, is there anything that will keep us from moving to the next step?”

After the Interview:

A post interview thank you letter or email is an excellent way of re-impressing your qualities and abilities on the mind of the interviewer. It may also separate you from others interviewed, and will tell your prospective employer that you are courteous and professional.

The Face to Face Interview

Before the Interview

Repeat the same steps as for the telephone interview. Depending on the gap between the telephone interview and the face to face interview, there may well have been recent activity within the organisation that you need to be aware of.

Ensure that you are dressed neatly and professionally. Doing so will immediately create an air of quiet confidence that will be evident in how the interviewer responds to you.

Get plenty of rest the night before. Many job seekers are so nervous they find it hard to sleep and wind up pacing the floor half the night, only to be exhausted by the time they get to the interview.

Ensure that you get to the interview venue in good time. Leave yourself enough time for traffic problems or any other eventuality that would delay you being on time. I would suggest arriving 15 minutes early, giving you time to relax once you’re there, and it creates a good impression.

The Interview:

Be ready to make a good first impression right away. Look your interviewer(s) in the eye and smile warmly. Be ready with a friendly greeting, and offer your hand to shake. You’ll score points immediately by getting this right – a clammy limp handshake is not good, but a bone crushing vice-like grip is equally as bad. If you’re not sure about your handshake ‘quality’, ask someone you trust to give you feedback – it is important!

During the interview itself, try to be natural. Don’t use the time the interviewer is talking to you to prepare your next answer – if you haven’t been listening attentively, it will be blindingly obvious. Punctuate any long speeches by your interviewer with very slight nods of the head – particularly the ‘let me tell you a little about what we do here …’ speech. The interviewer knows this by heart, and so is far more interested in your reaction to it. If you are being interviewed by more than one person, switch your attention periodically. It’s good practice to address your remarks to one interviewer only if he or she has just asked you a direct question, but don’t turn your back on the rest.

Be confident, you’re the expert of Brand You! Nobody knows you better than yourself, and you this is your opportunity to Articulate your passion, your value proposition and why you are the best candidate for the role.  

I’ve listed some generic questions below that I often use with candidates that may help you prepare; obviously you’ll get specific role-related competency based questions about the role you’ve applied for.

  • Tell me about yourself and your career?
  • Why do you want the job and why do you want to leave your existing one (if applicable)?
  • What can you tell me about this company / department / role?
  • What is the worst feedback you have received?  What was it about?  How did you react?  What did you learn from it?
  • What motivates you? What frustrates you?
  • Assuming I offer you this role, what would be the goals you set yourself for the first 30, 60 and 90 days?
  • What has been your biggest achievement and failure in the last 12 months?
  • What are you most proud of in your professional life?
  • How would your last employer describe you?
  • What strengths would you bring to this role and where would you need some support or development?
  • How do you manage your time / work under pressure?
  • What does success look like for you?
  • How do you deal with conflict?
  • How do you relax outside of work?

The key is to have lots of examples that you can draw out during the interview to demonstrate your skills and experience. Using the same example more than once to answer a question is not ideal. If you can, practice your answers with someone else.

 After the Interview

As with the telephone interview, a thank you letter or email to the person / people who interviewed you is a good idea.

If are offered the job at this stage:

Ask yourself are you genuinely excited about the prospect of working for the company for a fixed term?

  • If ‘yes’ – keenly accept – verbally; await the written offer and reply within a few days.
  • If ‘no’ – explain to the interviewer why you feel you cannot accept it.  Do not wait several weeks before declining – there may be another candidate who genuinely wants the job.  Remember to be civil and polite – at some stage you may want to go for another interview with them.

If you are not offered the job:

  • Review your performance objectively with yourself.
  • What interested the interviewer?
  • How could you improve your presentation next time?
  • Did you get all the points across?
  • Did you interrupt the interviewer at all, or fail to complete any questions?
  • Were you positive, aggressive, tense, too laid back, too talkative or taciturn?
  • What questions were difficult or needed further research?
  • Try to get some feedback from the interviewer(s). Most people are happy to give feedback, so use it as a golden opportunity to develop.

It may be that there a several more hurdles for you following the 1st face to face interview. Many companies now ask shortlisted candidates to complete psychometric tests, medical or physical tests, analytic tasks, skills tests or other tested measures. Some companies will ask you to attend a second or even third face to face interview, depending on the seniority of the role or the rigour of their recruitment process. They may also ask you to deliver a presentation at this stage of the process. Don’t panic…this is all good news. It shows that they’re very interested in Brand You! Ensure you repeat some of the key preparation steps above!

Use the second interview to clarify any of your doubts about the organisation including its training program or location. And use the second visit to work out if you like the people you may be working with. Remember this is a two-way process. They may like you, but what’s your opinion of them? Use this opportunity to meet individuals, view facilities, review company philosophies and ask any additional questions. Do the employees seem happy, bored, overworked? These are people you will have to spend much of your time with so it is best to find out now.

Second interviews are often occasions for you to be introduced to other potential colleagues as well as the manager – and just as much as it’s their mission to find out if they really like you, it’s yours to determine if you can happily share an office or desk with them. If you are lucky enough to be introduced to people who would effectively be your peer group, don’t be afraid to ask them what it’s like to work there. 

 Online BrandYour Online Presence

Depending on your field of expertise, your personal brand values and your career goals, you need to think carefully about your online presence. Over 20% of employers (according to careerbuilder.com) research candidates online and 77% of executive recruiters use search engines to research applicants.

If you type your name into Google, where do you appear and more importantly does that article or link represent Brand You?

Your professional image/headline is already created. It is a matter of taking charge, marketing it and building a solid reputation in your industry. Establishing credibility and visibility in your field is essential in building meaningful relationships and elevating your online presence.

Today’s business climate is too competitive not to create and build your brand and you need to keep pace with your competition. Not only can your online footprint give you that edge you need when someone comes looking for you, but effectively marketing yourself online can actually bring great opportunities to you. There are many success stories of people who’ve been discovered on the web and created viable businesses around their passion.

I’ve already covered LinkedIn and its importance in Part 3, but what other areas should you be thinking about to build your personal brand?

Contribute to industry blogs and forums – a great place to build Brand You is on industry specific blogs and forums. You never know who is reading and where those connections might lead. Comment on popular blogs in your field. Contribute on forums related to your field. Leave links to your LinkedIn account so people can learn more about you.

Start your own blog –A blog is a great to begin building your personal brand. Having your own personal website or blog will not only make it easier for people to find you, it will give you a chance sell Brand You. In order to really connect with people, you should personalise your site in a tasteful and professional manner. Post a picture of yourself and tell your audience who you are and how you got where you are today. What you write should exude confidence, but not come across as boastful. Your web address should contain your name or the name of your company or business, and your website should be appealing to the eye yet simple in design. If you are looking for a new role, be sure to incorporate your CV and a portfolio of your work into your website or blog so that potential employers or clients can view your background and your work. You need to make a great first impression. Because of advancements in technology, many first impressions are formed in the virtual world! I would recommend WordPress. It’s really easy to use, and you can be up and running with a minimal amount of effort and technical know-how!

Not everyone needs to blog (or should) – You don’t need to blog to establish an effective brand online. If you do want to blog without the pressure or time commitment, look for opportunities to guest blog. Remember that Twitter is a form of microblogging. Other ways to share your expertise: participate in online forums, contribute to LinkedIn’s Q&A section, or submit articles to sites such as eHow or your local or professional equivalent. If you’re a dynamic speaker, add podcasts or post videos on YouTube.

Keep your personal brand separate from your company brand – If you’re working for an IT firm, don’t tweet about the company. Establish yourself as the person on Twitter locally who has all the IT answers. Otherwise you’re limiting the power of your personal brand (and what happens when you leave that company?).

Safeguard your privacy – Whether you’re using Facebook, LinkedIn, or any of the social media platforms, check your privacy settings. Most people don’t realise how much control they have. Consider keeping your online private and professional lives separate. On Facebook, for example, you might choose to have a personal page for family and friends and a separate page for anyone else. This is a particularly good strategy if your profession has a more conservative public image that differs from your personal beliefs.

It’s really important that you keep Brand You fresh. Make sure that you invest some time at least each week to keep your profiles current and your opinions flowing!

That concludes the third step in START. Good luck with Articulating the Brand New, Brand You  – let me know you get on!

In the next post in the series of The Brand New, Brand You, I will be covering the fourth step in the START process, Reinforce.

If you missed the first three posts of The Brand New, Brand You please click Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

The Brand New, Brand You! ~ Part 3

Brand ToolkitIn the third part in the series of The Brand New, Brand You, I will be covering the second step in the START process in Brand New, Brand You ~ Toolkit Development.

START – Toolkit Development

What tools will help you deliver your brand to the outside world and what do you need to have in your own toolkit to drive the success of Brand You? In this post I’m going to start with the basics.

Your Curriculum Vitae – CV

You cannot underestimate the importance of a good CV. This is your first impression and your chance to capture your potential employer’s attention. It does not matter what job you are applying for – whether you want an entry-level position at a sales office, or a more senior position in a large business, you have got to have a good CV, otherwise you are not even going to get your foot in the door.

Its purpose is to list your accomplishments, your skills, and your qualifications, especially as to how they pertain to the job for which you are applying. You have to show your prospective employer that you are right for the job. Not only that, but you have to outline your experiences and your successes – otherwise, how will he or she know that you are truly qualified for the job? Furthermore, the document also serves as an indicator as to how well you can communicate and how good you are at organisation.

Most importantly, remember to keep it short. It should be a maximum of two pages, in total. By all means build up a bigger personal portfolio document where you can capture all the detail from your career that you can draw upon for interviews and more detail should a potential employer need them.

When applying for a specific advertised role, always customize your CV. Follow the word choices that the company uses, focus on the credentials that this particular employer values most. And if you don’t know what those are, ask and find out!

In Part 2 of Brand New, Brand You I talked about the importance of understanding how you can differentiate yourself from others. What are your Unique Selling Points for this position? Show how you can make / save the company money and show how you can resolve the problems that they have.

Don’t lie! Some people think that by putting little or bigger white lies in their job history, lists of successes, courses, training and experience – they will get away with it. You won’t. And that goes for your referees also. Your interviewers will check you out. They will check your qualifications, then referees, then work history, they will check everything. They are used to people lying to them, despite the pleasant smiles you may see. It’s all part of their job to pick the best candidate.

One final point – CHECK IT OVER before you send it out! Check it for spelling, grammar, dates, formatting and against the role profile. Then ask someone you trust to check it again. You would not believe the number of CV’s I see every year with spelling mistakes, unfinished sentences, incorrect dates and horrible grammar. Point made.

Online CV’s

There is a difference between a paper CV and an online CV as far as readability is concerned.

Some people make the mistake of just copying and pasting their hard-copy CV’s into an online format. It’s better to consider an online CV as a completely different resource and take advantage of some benefits that it offers.

a. Use bulleted lists – This holds true for paper resumes as well, but large blocks of text are even harder to read online. People tend to scan content online more than they do in hard copy.

b. Break text up with headers – Headers make CV’s easier to scan and make keywords stand out more for the reader.

c. Hyperlink text – If you’ve written articles online, have been published in some way or you’ve developed your own blog, hyperlink the title in your CV to save the reader some trouble of copying and pasting the URL into a browser.

Read!

No matter how much you already know, you can always learn more. In Part 2 you went through a process to discover your values, passions, differentiators and your Brand You Vision. You need to think about what you need to learn, and develop a strategy to accomplish that. To enhance Brand You keep learning and reading everything you can to give you an edge in your field.

Use any ‘down-time’ in your day, on your way to and from work or at lunch, to catch up on the latest news from your industry or field of interest. I’ve found a good way to collate useful information quickly is to set up newsfeed dashboards on iGoogle or using Google Reader. This takes a little time initially, but does allow you to dip in and out, throughout the day to keep updated on the latest from your industry. Another great online tool is Alltop. You can select from thousands of categorised newsfeeds and personalise a homepage of all your favourites. This is also available on mobile devices so that you can pick news up on the move.

Email Address

Your email address is an important part of your personal brand, especially when you’re in any correspondence with potential employers. If you can afford it, and it really isn’t that expensive, try to buy an appropriate domain name. Yourname@yourdomain.com does portray a professional image and if you decide to build a website or blog (See Part 4) you can use the domain for that too.

Gmail is an accepted alternative, but again try to keep your address to firstname.lastname@gmail.com if you can. Hotgirl435@gmail.com or LoveBieber25@gmail.com really don’t create a professional persona!

Business Cards

If you don’t already have business cards with your current role, or want to build Brand You outside of your day job, then getting business cards printed is important, especially for networking events or job fairs. There are plenty of online resources that you can use that deliver high quality products such as Vistaprint out there. Keep the design simple and professional and limit the number of contact methods you use. Try and make the design fresh and different to make it distinctive.

Build your Profile and Network

Six degrees of separation works – the people you know, know people, who know people. Everyone you encounter has someone in their network with the potential to help you. The best relationships are formed by way of “introductions” or “referrals.” Everyone you meet has someone in their network who may be a potential client, supplier, employee, or employer of yours sometime in the future.

LinkedInJoin LinkedIn

As I’m sure you’ll be aware, LinkedIn is THE business networking resource on the internet with approximately 150 million users worldwide.

It complements your fundamental networking skills in building relationships of value which you would use with people you interact with in person. It offers you a world-wide connection, a way to personally brand yourself, make contacts for jobs, and have a chance to acknowledge good people throughout your past and interact with like-minded business people from you industry or with your interests.

A few steps to get started and make the most of LinkedIn:

1. First of all sign up if you have not already. The basic service is free.

2. Fill out the entire profile – Include as much information in your profile as you can.

a. Add your photograph – Elementary you might say, but do you have a professional picture uploaded or is it a random picture you copied from Facebook? As the photograph space on LinkedIn is small, you want your picture to be a head shot taken in a professional environment with no distractions in the background. Take a good look at your picture today and ask yourself what an employer’s first impression would be.

b. Employment History – A basic field that needs to be filled out properly. Transfer your CV data to LinkedIn and make sure you get all dates correct. Include all jobs you have had, unless it’s more than ten, in which case you only include the most important ones.

c. Summary – This section is often overlooked. In the summary section you want to put your elevator pitch (If you haven’t got one – See Part 3 of Brand New, Brand You! Coming soon.). Write who you are, what your skills are and most importantly what you can do for the reader. Always think how you can add value and structure your skills and experience with bullet points to make it pleasing on the eye.

d. Specialities – Another overlooked section, mainly because nobody knows what it means. The specialities box allows you to throw in all the keywords that reflect your experience and skills. The beauty here is that every keyword is searchable, meaning you increase your chances of being found by recruiters.

e. Recommendations – Endorsements from peers, customers and managers are essential for your job search. Although not a knock out factor in the early stages of a hiring process, it can be a deciding factor at the last stage. If there are two final candidates for a job, the number and quality of LinkedIn recommendations can be the decider. Get two to three recommendations per job you have had if you can. Aim high and ask previous managers and other people with impressive titles as it will look better on your profile.

3. Connect, Connect, Connect – Think about people of value from your past who you might want to link with. Search for their names and invite them to reconnect. Then take the time to write them an endorsement (even a sentence is good). Your name is tied to this so make sure it is authentic and also reflects well on Brand You. If you keep doing this and helping people your own endorsements will grow over time and be well-earned. Endorsements of you initiated by others are obviously best. You really don’t want to ask for an endorsement unless you are clear they would love to give you one and are simply looking for an opportunity.

4. Jobs, Groups, Companies and more – I’ve walked you through the basics, but LinkedIn has much more to offer you. Take some time to explore other areas of the site and get involved. Follow Companies you’re interested in – either your competitors, your customers or prospective employers. Join Groups so that you can LinkIn with other like-minded people and contribute to discussion threads. Lastly, many companies are now using LinkedIn for their main route to source new employees. Use the advanced search function within the jobs section to get the most of your searches.

NetworkingNetwork the old-fashioned way

One tremendous tool to help build and promote your personal brand is to learn how to Network. Make your way to high level networking events. Before you arrive, set a goal to make a few quality connections at the event. Find out what you can do for the people you meet. Great business networking is about helping others and building lasting connections, and you don’t have to contain your networking to just events. When you get home, add your new contacts to Outlook, Facebook and LinkedIn. Help these people connect with business opportunities, employment leads and personal resources. Try to keep in touch with your network. Send them useful information, introduce them to some of your network and make sure you meet up every now and then. Individuals with a strong network of real connections don’t have to interview for future jobs, they get business opportunities and they have a ‘safety net’ if a real need arises.

That concludes the second step in START. Good luck with developing your Brand New, Brand You Toolkit – let me know you get on!

In the next post in the series of The Brand New, Brand You, I will be covering the third step in the START process, Articulate. This post will give you some ideas about how you market the Brand New, Brand You.

If you missed the first two posts of The Brand New, Brand You please click Part 1 and Part 2.

Business Networking – It’s not ‘what’ you know…

Business NetworkingYou would be amazed at the number of people who still don’t understand the importance of networking. Building relationships is crucial – there are many smart, talented people who don’t progress as much as they would hope in their career because they are not visible to the “right” people. Use every opportunity to build relationships with a diverse group of people at different levels in organisations pertinent to your business or your career. When you meet people, one introduction isn’t enough – maintain contact with them – that’s how relationships are formed – over time – not just by one meeting.

Six degrees of separation works – the people you know, know people, who know people. Everyone you encounter has someone in their network with the potential to help you. The best relationships are formed by way of “introductions” or “referrals.” Everyone you meet has someone in their network who may be a potential client, supplier, employee, or employer of yours sometime in the future.

Online vs Offline networking – Which should you do?

In today’s world you need to do both! In my line of business, there is no substitute for good regular face to face contact with your key clients, suppliers and colleagues. I can really build powerful relationships much more quickly in this way. That being said, I’m a big user of LinkedIn and more recently Twitter  (see below) – both of which help me keep in touch with key contacts and influencers wherever they are in the world. I also use them to keep on top of what my contacts are doing, help them spread the word on important technology or business news and help target new markets and customers.

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedInOnline – There are many business networking sites out there, but those below are, by far (in my view), the easiest to help you get started:

1. LinkedIn – With over 100 million users worldwide and 5+ million in the UK, LinkedIn is one of the easiest, and arguably best, ways for career-minded professionals to connect. But it’s far more powerful than just an online CV. Use LinkedIn effectively and you can reap the rewards for your career – from being head hunted to closing business deals and establishing yourself as an expert in your field using Q&A and Groups. By upgrading your subscription you can also use LinkedIn to target customers or new contacts. I’ve found that once you get over a couple of hundred contacts, it has really come into its own and has helped me to connect with numerous new suppliers and potential business partners.

2. Twitter – I personally have found Twitter to be more effective than LinkedIn in growing my professional network. This is mainly because on LinkedIn, I generally only add colleagues and business contacts I have already worked with in the past or know personally. You are free to follow anyone on Twitter you want to connect with that may have similar or common interests. Therefore, Twitter will help you find and network with new people worldwide. When you are using Twitter For Business Networking it is important to remember to use it consistently to share your expertise, build your credibility, and take an interest in others. Many people make the mistake of immediately pushing products and services which results in alienating their followers.

3. Facebook – Whilst Facebook is primarily seen as a consumer social networking site, over the last year or so more and more businesses are setting up pages for people to ‘Like’. Thousands of well-known brands are interacting with their customers for service queries and publishing breaking news on product or services.

4. Plaxo – Whilst not really a ‘networking’ site, Plaxo provides automatic updating of contact information. Users and their contacts store their information on Plaxo’s servers. When this information is edited by the user, the changes appear in the address books of all those who listed the account changer in their own books.

Business NetworkingOffline – In the UK, there are many organisations that you can join that will help you build your business network – BNI, British Chambers of Commerce, Institute of Directors. All of these organisations have regional networking events.

Regionally in Yorkshire and Humber, UK We are extremely lucky to have a number of great networking organisations in addition to those mentioned above:

1. Yorkshire Mafia – Is an online and offline organisation that offer regular face to face informal meet-ups around the region – It brings together executives and stakeholders from the Yorkshire Business Community to meet, network, share experience, learn, build relationships and ultimately trade.

2. Techmesh – IT & Telecoms business to business (B2B) networking events, receive business development support, professional skills development and professional services provision. Business networking events feature global IT & Telecom keynote speakers and are held in Leeds, Sheffield, York and Hull on a monthly rotation.

3. Hull Bondholders – The Bondholder scheme in Hull is fundamentally about bringing businesses together to raise Hull’s profile and change its image, providing a positive context in which Hull’s businesses can operate. It’s also a fantastic networking opportunity for business people from businesses of all sizes to meet and explore business opportunities.

Some tips on Face to Face Networking:

1. Have a plan – Do you know who will be at the event? Find out if you can. Who do you really want to meet? Do a bit of online research about the people / companies you wish to engage with or ask around your own network as to key people you should meet.

2. Arrive early – people are more likely to approach you if there are fewer people in the room and you can get better visibility of who is arriving.

3. Don’t be shy – Introduce yourself simply by saying something like – ‘Do you mind if I join you?’

4. Be interested – in what the other person has to say. Ask lots of questions about them and their business.

5. Don’t sell – Networking should not be about the hard sell, although opportunities often present themselves and that’s ok. Networking is all about building relationships.

6. Business Cards – Ensure you have enough! Ensure you exchange business cards during interactions (or ‘bump’ your iPhones!)

7. Follow-up – a quick email or a personalised LinkedIn request following the event is key to keeping the relationship going.

8. Follow-up some more – If you feel that you made a good first impression with someone and you got on well, keep in touch.

9. Keep it up – you’ll be amazed after attending a few events the number of people who will start to recognise you and actively engage, especially if you’ve kept in touch.

Good luck with your networking…..Let me know how you get on!

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