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Lots of direct sales companies have Twitter accounts today. The problem is, few companies seem to know what to do with them. Without a clear understanding of WHY the company has the account (besides, everyone else has one so we should too) companies are broadcasting a stream of ads, without anything to show for it.

If your company is trying to figure out the best way to use Twitter, the first thing you have to ask is “Who do we want to talk to?” And in order to answer that question, you need to understand how Twitter fits into your larger marketing plan, of which social media is a part. Are you trying to find new recruits? Increase brand recognition? Increase sales? Each of these marketing goals may have a different audience. So first figure out who you want to talk to, and then you can figure out if that audience is on Twitter.

If your goal is to reach a consumer audience, frequent tweets about the features and benefits of your product line is the wrong way to go. First, no one on Twitter likes a steady stream of ads, and they’ll simply ignore you. But also, a consumer audience is often easier to find on tools such as Facebook.

Does that mean you should abandon Twitter? No. But it does mean you need a different strategy.

Instead of engaging consumers directly on Twitter, you may be better off engaging the folks that INFLUENCE your consumers. This is often popular bloggers. They often do spend time on Twitter. However a steady stream of ads won’t work with them either. Instead, you need to talk to them. Find out what’s important to them. Retweet their content, and share content they’ll find valuable. You have to actually spend time on Twitter talking to people if you want it to work for you. Simply sending out a tweet a day with information about your product or opportunity won’t do a thing for you. It takes community management to be successful.

Twitter, along with other social networks, has particular types of users. Depending on your goals, you have to engage in a certain way. It takes a skilled community manager with the time to invest in building relationships for your brand, if you want your social networking engagement to bring measurable results for your brand.

Does your company use Twitter? How’s it working for you? Who are you trying to reach? Would love to read your thoughts in the comments below.

Jennifer Fong helps direct sales companies leverage the power of social media marketing to increase sales and recruiting, and manage online brand perception.  She provides strategic social media consulting to companies, as well as conference speaking and training. To learn more about how Jennifer can help your company, visit http://luceandassociates.com/Jennifer-Fong.html.  You can also check out her direct sales and social media blog at http://www.jenfongspeaks.com, and her Facebook Page at http://facebook.com/jenfongspeaks.

Is your company engaging successfully through social media? Are people responding to your posts on your Facebook Page? Do people comment on your blog posts? When someone mentions your company online, are you aware of it, and respond when necessary?

While a few companies might say “Yes” in our industry, unfortunately the vast majority will probably say “No,” or “I don’t know.”

Why is that? After all, social media has been around for years now. Many best practices have been defined, and consistently applying these techniques has been proven to work.

So what’s the problem?

For many of our companies, resourcing is the issue. We haven’t put someone (or a department) in place to handle online marketing for the company. For others, it’s a desire to tightly control what’s being said about the brand online, which leads us to one-way conversations without any opportunity for people to respond. And yes, there are still companies that just don’t know what to do. They don’t have the expertise internally, and they haven’t brought in a direct sales and social media expert from the industry to educate the executive team and put a comprehensive strategy in place.

The salesforce is going to lose patience with us soon. Because there are direct sales companies that get it. Companies that provide opportunities for the salesforce to develop business online, and who get people excited about the company online through corporate efforts. Those people in the salesforce who understand business will realize where the greatest opportunities lie. It’s a hard truth, but a truth nonetheless.

Let’s make this the year where we do the work that’s needed to develop engaging online presences for direct selling companies. It took a while for us to all get replicated websites, but we eventually understood the need and now it’s SOP. It’s time for the same thing to happen with social media. This is not going away. It’s only going to become more prevalent and necessary.

If your company needs help, contact me. I’ve helped many of the companies in our industry put into place comprehensive social media strategy. But don’t pull the wool over your eyes any longer. It’s going to be damaging to your business to ignore this, or do this poorly, much longer.

Your thoughts?

Jennifer Fong

Jennifer Fong helps direct sales companies leverage the power of social media marketing to increase sales and recruiting, and manage online brand perception.  She provides strategic social media consulting to companies, as well as conference speaking and training. To learn more about how Jennifer can help your company, visit http://luceandassociates.com/Jennifer-Fong.html.  You can also check out her direct sales and social media blog at http://www.jenfongspeaks.com, and her Facebook Page at http://facebook.com/jenfongspeaks.

One of the keys to a successful social media marketing effort is good content.  Companies have to put out great content, and so does the salesforce.  The problem is, not everyone is a writer.  And so what you wind up with are a vast range of posts, some of which represent your company well, and some that don’t.

As a company, how do you address this?  Do you outright ban consultants from producing their own content?  Or do you take the other approach, and leave it completely up to the field?  Is there middle ground?

Some vendors have been working on solutions for our industry.  I’ve seen solutions where companies can go so far as to write individual status updates that they can push out to a distributor’s Facebook Page or Twitter account.  The problem with this approach is that everyone in your company has the same status updates, which flies in the face of the “social” aspect of social media.  Nothing personal about a “form letter” update.

I think there are a couple of things that companies can do to tackle the content issue:

  1. Produce sharable content – When your company puts out blog posts, status updates, videos, and other types of content, think about the types of content that would be easy and effective for your salesforce to pass along.  Don’t just send out ads.  Produce value-driven pieces that will be valued by the friends of your salesforce, and then teach your salesforce how to share them through their own social networks.
  2. Provide a content “bank” – While “word for word” canned status updates aren’t terribly effective, it can be helpful to give your salesforce a group of ideas they can choose from when writing status updates and blog posts.  These can be tied to monthly promotions and incentives, new product launches, holidays, and more.  The goal is to provide more than ads, but rather useful tips and advice that will provide value.

Since social media is so content-driven, it’s important for direct sales companies to tackle this issue early on. Then your entire salesforce has the potential to put out content that represents the company as a whole well.

How does your company approach the content issue?  What advice would you give?  Would love to read your thoughts in the comments below.

Jennifer Fong

Jennifer Fong helps direct sales companies leverage the power of social media marketing to increase sales and recruiting, and manage online brand perception.  She provides strategic social media consulting to companies, as well as conference speaking and training. To learn more about how Jennifer can help your company, visit http://luceandassociates.com/Jennifer-Fong.html.  You can also check out her direct sales and social media blog at http://www.jenfongspeaks.com, and her Facebook Page at http://facebook.com/jenfongspeaks.

Recently I photographed an event for a client that totally “gets it” when it comes to social media. They had a home office employee dedicated to posting pictures immediately after I took them. At first I thought this was going to be a huge pain in my backside. But it didn’t take long for me to get caught up in the excitement. Within minutes, the sales consultants at this event were checking Facebook and tagging themselves in the photos. They would then update their status with something exciting that was happening at the meeting. There was a buzz all during the conference among the consultants but more important was the affect it was having all over the country. Hundreds and eventually thousands of friends had become fans of this company. I was so intrigued by what was happening that I asked several people how they were liking it. They shared that posting all these pictures during the conference opened up many conversations about the product and career opportunity that probably would have never happened.

Mark Taulbee is a professional event photographer and commercial product photographer with over 25 years experience in the direct selling industry. Learn more about Mark and how he can help your company with photography at http://www.luceandassociates.com/Mark-Taulbee.html. To view some of his work visit http://www.proshotsevent.com and http://www.taulbeephoto.com.

This week I wrote a post about a bad experience with Domino’s Pizza, and how I felt that they ignored me on Twitter.  My thought is that if you’re going to have a Twitter account, you need to be prepared to service customers there, even if it’s simply to direct people to the appropriate customer service channel.

And I had someone on Twitter question whether I was being fair to Domino’s.  After all, the national brand is represented by independent franchisees.  Shouldn’t we hold the individual franchise responsible for a customer service failure, instead of the whole brand?

And as nice as that would be in a perfect world, I think it’s unrealistic.  Fair or not, consumers do hold national brands accountable for the service they experience from franchisees.  And that affects our direct sales model too.  If a customer or prospect has a bad experience with an individual consultant, they are most likely going to hold your brand responsible for that experience.  They may tell others how terrible your brand is as a result of that experience.  And more and more, they’re going to do that on social networks.

And as a result, social networks hold both the potential for disaster, as well as the potential to identify issues and resolve them before negative word of mouth takes off.  Every company needs to take a long, hard look at their monitoring and customer service functions as they relate to social media.  This is where our customers and prospects will increasingly congregate.  And our response as brands to issues will have a tremendous impact on the public perception of our brand.

Maybe it wasn’t fair for me to expect the corporate Twitter account for Domino’s Pizza to resolve my issue.  (And incidentally, as a result of my post they did open a customer service ticket to resolve my issue.)  It doesn’t change the fact that I DID expect it, and was disappointed when they didn’t come through.  Maybe it’s not fair for a customer to complain about your brand online because of a negative experience with a consultant who was already on the way out.  It doesn’t change the fact that they will complain.

The only thing you can control as a brand is your response.  Begin planning now.  You NEED a monitoring solution in place, you NEED a support path in place to direct issues appropriately, and your customer service department NEEDS to be trained to support web issues.

We can talk about what’s fair until the cows come home.  It doesn’t change what IS.

Are you ready?

image credit: sdminor81

Jennifer Fong

Jennifer Fong helps direct sales companies leverage the power of social media marketing to increase sales and recruiting, and manage online brand perception.  She provides strategic social media consulting to companies, as well as conference speaking and training. To learn more about how Jennifer can help your company, visit http://luceandassociates.com/Jennifer-Fong.html.  You can also check out her direct sales and social media blog at http://www.jenfongspeaks.com, and her Facebook Page at http://facebook.com/jenfongspeaks.

A couple of weeks ago my family ordered pizza from Domino’s.  Since they’ve improved their recipe, we order pretty regularly.  We enjoy things like the ability to order and pay online, track the delivery online, and the fact that the pizza normally arrives in under 30 minutes.

However things were not so happy the last time we ordered.  Wanting to beat the dinner rush, we ordered about a quarter to five.  That meant that our three children would eat at their normal time, and our evening could go on as usual.  We paid online, used the online delivery tracker, same as always, and our pizza was shown as out for delivery in the normal amount of time.

And that’s when things went wrong.

It was nearly an hour and a half, and 3 phone calls later, that our pizza finally arrived.  Cold.  When I called, I got different stories about why my pizza had not yet arrived.  Finally, on the 3rd call, I asked what they were going to do to make this right.  My kids were hungry!  And they offered me free cheesy sticks.  On my NEXT order.  FAIL.

20 minutes after that call when my cold pizza arrived, the driver didn’t even apologize.  Worst. Customer. Service. Ever.

In frustration, I tweeted to Domino’s from my husband’s Twitter account.  I expected at least an apology.

Nothing.

Thinking that maybe they decided that my husband’s account wasn’t “influential” enough for their notice, I tweeted from my account the next day.

Still nothing.

And that leads me to the moral of this story.  I have still not ordered again from Domino’s, and am not sure I will.  I’m also sharing this unfortunate experience with you, which may cross other people’s minds when they make pizza purchasing decisions.  There are certainly other options when it comes to pizza.

But what truly baffles me is WHY Domino’s has a Twitter account if they don’t plan to use it to respond to customer concerns?  If your company has a Twitter account, please understand that customers (especially the unhappy ones) will EXPECT to be able to reach you on it.  Is your customer service department trained in Twitter, and prepared to address issues that are shared?  You do realize this is public, right?  That other people can see when issues go unresolved? And people tend to get louder when you ignore them.

Burying your head in the sand or pretending that unhappy customers don’t exist won’t make them go away.  It will just make them more upset.  And then they may take issues that could have been resolved with a simple “we’re sorry,” and turn them into PR nightmares.

Domino’s has already had its share of PR nightmares.  You would have thought they learned their lesson the first time.  Apparently not.

UPDATE: This PRSA story discusses how Domino’s approached their PR nightmare. It was shared with me on Twitter. You may find it interesting.  I think that it will be interesting to see who is ultimately responsible for customer service in multi-distributor brands like franchises and direct sales companies.

Don’t make the same mistake.  If your company has a Twitter account, you need to be prepared to service customers there.  It’s not all about you talking.  It’s about listening, and resolving issues.  People want to be heard.  Are you listening?

Update 2: Domino’s has seen this article on Twitter, and responded.  They have now opened a customer service ticket and referred it to the independent franchise owner.  In my opinion, this should have happened the first time, and not necessitated a blog post.  This should be standard customer service.  What do you think?

image credit: didbygraham

Jennifer Fong

Jennifer Fong helps direct sales companies leverage the power of social media marketing to increase sales and recruiting, and manage online brand perception.  She provides strategic social media consulting to companies, as well as conference speaking and training. To learn more about how Jennifer can help your company, visit http://luceandassociates.com/Jennifer-Fong.html.  You can also check out her direct sales and social media blog at http://www.jenfongspeaks.com, and her Facebook Page at http://facebook.com/jenfongspeaks.

I was having a conversation with a colleague during the DSA Be Connected conference in Las Vegas last week about blogging.  He told me that he still hadn’t seen any reason why his direct sales company should have a blog.  Since I believe that a blog can provide a lot of benefits for a direct sales company, today’s post will give you some of the reasons I think companies should consider one.

By the way, if your company IS considering a blog, I refer you to the wise words shared by Lisa Kuftinec from USANA, during the blogging session at the conference.  Paraphrasing Yoda, she said, “Blog or don’t blog….there is no try.”  It’s good advice.  Either you’re going to commit to blogging, and be prepared to provide fresh content regularly, or it’s not worth the effort of setting it up at all.  And the best way you can ensure that the blog happens is to put someone in charge within your organization.

So that said, what are some of the benefits that a blog can bring to your direct sales company?

  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Google loves fresh content.  A blog, housed on the same server as your website, gives your site Google juice.  (By the way, when you allow your consultants to blog, and require them to include a link to your website on their sites, those incoming links are another great shot of Google juice for your site.)
  • Official Corporate Response. When things go wrong (which they will, at some point), you need a place where your side of the story can be presented, and where you can be part of the conversation.  The blog is a great vehicle to do that, and can also be a resource that reporters will use when writing about your company.
  • A Great Source of Sharable Content for the Field. If your salesforce is going to use social media effectively, it needs to provide content that is valuable.  And while some of them may be good at coming up with fresh content regularly, they won’t all be.  When you provide great content that your salesforce can easily share, you provide one more tool to help your salesforce market their businesses effectively.  They can also spend more time on selling and recruiting, and less time trying to think up new content to share.
  • Lead Generation. Sometimes people may have an interest in your company, but are not ready to commit to connecting with a consultant.  Capitalize on that moment of attention by giving them something to sign up for on your blog.  It might be a newsletter.  Or it may just be the RSS feed for your blog.  Either way, they’re hearing from you regularly, which makes it a lot more likely they’ll convert in the future.
  • A Friendly “Face” for the Company. In 2010 we’ve seen companies in many industries benefit greatly by getting more social.  As direct selling companies, we can’t ignore this trend.  People want to connect socially with their favorite brands, and a blog provides a great way for you to share some of the fun of your company.  Plus, you can auto-import all your blog content into your Facebook Page, which means fresh content there, too.  Once people like you because they’ve interacted with you, they’re a lot more likely to consider your products and/or opportunity in the future.  A blog can be a great tool to get that done.

We’ve seen companies in our industry take many successful approaches with their blogs.  Companies like USANA speak directly to their distributors.  Companies like Creative Memories are more consumer-focused.  Regardless of the approach, more and more people are expecting to hear from their companies, and don’t feel that a static website is enough.  You can meet that need through a well-planned blog.  Be sure to have a strategy first!  But once you do, a blog can be a valuable part of your overall marketing strategy.

Your thoughts?

image credit: ShashiBellamkonda

Jennifer Fong

Jennifer Fong helps direct sales companies leverage the power of social media marketing to increase sales and recruiting, and manage online brand perception.  She provides strategic social media consulting to companies, as well as conference speaking and training. To learn more about how Jennifer can help your company, visit http://luceandassociates.com/Jennifer-Fong.html.  You can also check out her direct sales and social media blog at http://www.jenfongspeaks.com, and her Facebook Page at http://facebook.com/jenfongspeaks.

Most direct sales companies are creating Facebook Pages these days.  There are a lot of good reasons to:

  • Increased brand exposure
  • More direct communication with consultants
  • The ability to connect directly with the consumer

And so much more!

But have you ever noticed that some direct sales company pages are SUPER active, with lots of comments and fan engagement, while others are just a steady stream of company posts, with no response whatsoever?  What’s the difference?  Why are some people “Like-ing” and engaging, while others “Like” and then never come back?

There are two things going on here, and the solution is the same for both.

Issue #1: Your posts aren’t engaging people, so they’re not showing up in people’s news feeds.
The default setting for people on Facebook is “Top News.”  This means that the only posts that show up when people log in to Facebook are the ones that other people have commented on or interacted with in some way, or are from a Page that they have recently interacted with.  Since 99.5% of all the interaction that happens with a Facebook Page occurs from the News Feed, if you’re not showing up there you have a problem.

Issue #2: Your posts are all about you.
You already know that people only care about your brand insofar as it solves a problem or meets a need that they have.  So if all you talk about is your latest special or your next opportunity call, it’s a disconnect.  Even though on the surface you might think that the posts about your products and opportunity are why you have the Facebook Page, it’s not true. If you don’t engage people first, they’ll ignore you. 9 out of every 10 posts on your Page should be specifically designed to provide VALUE and promote ENGAGEMENT.

The Solution
So if you’ve suddenly realized that your company Facebook Page is not even showing up for most of your Fans, what should you do?  Here are some suggestions:

  1. Begin by creating a list of “Engagement” posts. These are posts that provide tips, ideas, ask questions, or in some other way provide value to your list of “Like-ers.”  You might consider “crowd-sourcing” ideas for your next product (e.g. Would you like a pumpkin or a cranberry-colored one?), run contests where people can win products (just make sure you stay within Facebook’s rules for that, by using a company like WildFire), or share posts that relate to common aggravations or experiences (e.g. Hit “Like” if you’ve ever lit a candle to offset the smell of your kids’ stinky sneakers!  Tell us which scent you used!)
  2. Put all of your posts into a monthly editorial calendar. How do they balance?  Sometimes we need to fifty-foot view to see that we’re way too heavy on the promotional end, and way too light on the value and engagement end.
  3. Engage back. Do you respond to every single comment and post on your Page?  Do you even know if people HAVE commented?  You should!  In this social arena, one of your biggest tools is, well, social.  So respond to every single comment, even if it’s just a “thanks for sharing your ideas” or clicking the “Like” link on a comment.  It helps people to stay engaged when it’s a 2-way conversation.
  4. Show your consultants how to participate. Your ace in the hole, so to speak, is your field of independent consultants.  If you take a look at The Pampered Chef Facebook Page (disclosure: client), and click “The Pampered Chef + Others” at the top, you’ll see a vibrant and engaged community of consultants sharing tips and ideas.  This activity makes Facebook think that the Page is relevant to a lot of people, which means it’s more likely to appear in the Top News feed.  Make sure your consultants know how to use your corporate Facebook Page.  Invite them to share tips they would share at their parties, answer questions, and express their enthusiasm on the posts you put out there.  This will help people checking out your company to see what a great and engaged community that you have, while also helping you engage more of your current fans.

The more that people engage with your posts, the more likely it will be that your posts will show up in the Top News home page of your Fans.  And if you’d like more Engagement ideas, check out this post I wrote over on my Direct Sales and Social Media blog: Building Your Facebook Page Engagement Strategy

How do you engage the people who “Like” your Facebook Page?  Would love to read your thoughts in the comments below!

Jennifer Fong

Jennifer Fong helps direct sales companies leverage the power of social media marketing to increase sales and recruiting, and manage online brand perception.  She provides strategic social media consulting to companies, as well as conference speaking and training. To learn more about how Jennifer can help your company, visit http://luceandassociates.com/Jennifer-Fong.html.  You can also check out her direct sales and social media blog at http://www.jenfongspeaks.com, and her Facebook Page at http://facebook.com/jenfongspeaks.

The viral nature of the internet can be a wonderful thing.  Messages about your company can spread far and wide, resulting in new consultants and higher sales.  But that viral effect can be a double-edged sword.  Because if someone has a bad experience with your company, or one of its consultants, that can have a devastating effect on your company’s reputation, and its ability to recruit.

We saw this very thing happen to United Airlines when they broke a musician’s $3,500 Taylor guitar, and then refused to pay for it.  Google “United Breaks Guitars” and you’ll see a remarkable string of posts that have preserved this rocky patch in United’s history forever.  If United had had a strategy in place to deal with such situations before they became viral sensations, they would have been much better off (and you can bet they do now!)

This past year we saw a member of our own industry, Arbonne International, manage this quite well.  When the company went through a debt restructuring, it could have been very easy for negative information to fly, causing many of its distributors to flock to other companies.  But the company took a pro-active approach, creating a company blog as part of a larger communication strategy that kept distributors informed, and helped the company weather the storm.  Now this is but a far-distant memory that the company has been able to put behind them.

Does your direct sales company have a plan for when disaster strikes?  We all know that the information that the salesforce sees and consumes is essential when it comes to managing crisis.  What should you have in place ahead of time to be prepared?  Here are some tips:

  • Create an escalation procedures document. Make a list of “worst that could happen” scenarios, and who is authorized to make a public statement.  This will save you hours of meetings trying to decide who should take care of the situation, while it spirals out of control, and makes it very easy for the person who spots the issue to quickly route it to the correct person, no matter what the hour.
  • Create a “24 hour statement” for each issue you identify. This is a standard response that can be made in response to each of the scenarios you identified, so the company looks responsive while you’re crafting a more specific company response.
  • Have “community ambassadors” within your corporate structure. These are folks who work with influencers in the online communities most important to you.  When a crisis arises, chances are these influencers will reach out to the person they know and trust in your organization, for your side of the story.  This means these influencers are a lot more likely to provide a balanced view of the situation.
  • Create a culture that admits when you’re wrong. Transparency and authenticity are DEMANDED in social media communities, particularly when things go wrong.  Be sure the employees in your organization are able to admit it when you’re wrong, and empowered to fix it.
  • Have a place for your official corporate response. This is typically a corporate blog.  If the issue is big enough and mainstream media picks it up, they’ll have a place they can go that provides the official corporate response.

By planning before crisis hits, you can more effectively manage online crises before they go viral.  And if you handle them well, you might even get some positive feedback from the online community.  It all starts with a plan!

image credit: Jim Linwood

Jennifer Fong

Jennifer Fong helps direct sales companies leverage the power of social media marketing to increase sales and recruiting, and manage online brand perception.  She provides strategic planning consulting to companies, as well as conference speaking and training. To learn more about how Jennifer can help your company, visit http://luceandassociates.com/Jennifer-Fong.html.  You can also check out her direct sales and social media blog at http://www.jenfongspeaks.com, and her Facebook Page at http://facebook.com/jenfongspeaks.

image credit: jurvetson

Direct selling companies are in an interesting position right now.  Many executives who don’t know much about social media are looking to hire people who do, to guide them.  The challenge is finding people who also understand our industry and its specific nature. Just because a program or site someone saw is cool, doesn’t mean it’s going to work for direct selling.

It all comes down to understanding your business objectives before diving into social media.  By establishing a clear goal up front, every new program and site can be weighed against it, to decide if it’s a fit.  For example, let’s say that a social media advisor is in love with a virtual reality site he thought was cool when he worked at his last tech-savvy company.  This, he says, will be the shining star in the company’s social media strategy.

A quick look at the company’s business objective though, reveals that the goal is to increase consultant productivity.  Even though the site may be cool, it’s neither a) a place the company wants its sales force to be spending time (we want them selling and recruiting!) nor b) a tool that will in itself provide any tools to consultants to increase their productivity.  Sure, the site might help with brand recognition, but that has not been identified as the goal for the company’s social media strategy.

It’s critically important to ensure that companies start with business objectives, and not the “oooh! shiny” tools that try to sway our attention.  Focus is key.  The latest and greatest is not always the best solution for your particular needs.  Your best bet is to focus on tools that have the greatest concentration of your target market.  And then focus on ways to increase productivity by using those tools.  This is what will bring success with social media.

Jennifer Fong

Jennifer Fong helps direct sales companies leverage the power of social media marketing to increase sales and recruiting, and manage online brand perception.  She provides strategic planning consulting to companies, as well as conference speaking and training. To learn more about how Jennifer can help your company, visit http://luceandassociates.com/Jennifer-Fong.html.  You can also check out her direct sales and social media blog at http://www.jenfongspeaks.com, and her Facebook Page at http://facebook.com/jenfongspeaks.

image credit: jurvetson