You Know Me, Right?

You Know Me, Right?

As an athlete you have spent the better part of your life on the court or field. You’ve delighted fans and filled stadiums, providing gladiator-like feats of athletic splendor. All of your hard work and dedication led you to a career at the professional level. So how is it after all these years in the spotlight that you are a virtual unknown in the city where you play?

It could be that you have missed visibility opportunities that are right in front of you! Strategically leveraging social and earned media will help you raise your overall visibility and unlock a new fan base. Below are a few tips to get your game back on track.

Consistency. In the crowded social media space of platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram even the most famous of faces need to frequently and consistently post. Click here for some additional tips on how to create effective posts.

Provide real content. Not every post can be your musings about daily life.  Just like any corporate brand, you too should be following the 80/20 rule by posting content from other sources that is interesting and useful to your audience.

Authentic Follow-up. Not every fan Tweet or post deserves a response, but many do. Take time each day to actually respond to fan correspondence rather than just clicking the “Like” or “Retweet” button. Authentic engagement goes a long, long way.

Proactively engaging media. Not everything you do or are involved in is on the media’s radar. Make sure that traditional journalists and/or bloggers are kept abreast of your activities outside sports. Following appearances or interviews, repurpose and comment on their content to expand your reach.

Often it really does take a village to obtain or maintain a person’s visibility. Just like with your performance on the field or court, practice makes perfect. But don’t hesitate to bring in reinforcements if managing your online presence takes more time than you can spare.


3 Reasons your auto DM is hurting your brand

If you are active on Twitter, then you have almost certainly received an automated direct message (auto DM) from someone you’ve connected with. The message likely thanked you for connecting, and then directed you to buy their product or service and/or connect with them via another social media platform.

The logic for the person sending the auto DM is obvious: automated DMs help a person build their brand by saving time, helping maintain their message consistency, and ensuring they are reaching their audience at key times. But like most things that are too good to be true, auto direct messages actually hurt an emerging brand by cutting off the one thing that actually makes people want to connect—authenticity.

Below are three additional reasons why your auto direct message is hurting rather than helping your brand and what you can do to better establish yourself.

They just become noise. Most people receive a large amount of unsolicited emails every day. Most are not relevant and turn into just noise that makes up our daily lives. That’s likely not how you want your brand to be perceived.

They are not useful. Content marketing 101 is that whatever we create and distribute ought to be at least unique, new, and/or immediately useful. Most auto direct messages are general blanket correspondence about the person’s products or services without any indication of how it is needed by or relative to the end user.

There is no follow-up. Social media was established for us to be social, right? People rarely (if ever) take the time to follow up on an auto DM with a personalized message. If you absolutely must send an auto direct message, take the time to periodically touch base with your followers in a real, authentic way.

The key to developing any new relationship is to be clear that you are genuinely interested in your audience. Rather than a blanket general message about your products or services, send a message with a real, honest question. Or, offer them something useful—like a discount code to an event—that isn’t a self-serving sales pitch. While more time-consuming, a personal touch will lead to larger brand equity dividends down the road.


Speaking Your Mind But Managing Your Brand: Professional Athletes and Social Media

Social media and professional sports are the two major passions in my life, and few things bring me more delight than when the two converge. For more than a decade, professional athletes have been using social media to connect with fans and share their personal lives in ways they never could before. As an avid supporter, it enhances my love of the game to not only cheer the team on the field, but to be able to view and connect with my favorite players off of the field.

The athletes who are using social media to craft their brand are now trending younger and younger. Some, even as young as junior high, are establishing social media accounts, and a few wind up gaining more followers before they receive their high school diploma than most small businesses gain all year. For example, Tre’ McKitty, a tight end who matriculated at a high school with close to 700 students and has committed to play football for Oregon next season, has more than 3,400 followers on Twitter.

However, the use of social media during recent current events, such as the killing of Philando Castile in Minnesota and the shooting of five police officers in Dallas, have landed several professional athletes in hot water for poorly timed or controversial status updates. Cleveland Browns running back Isaiah Crowell’s Instagram post depicting a masked man slitting the throat of a Caucasian police officer is one such example.

Professional athletes are just like everyone else – they watch the news and ingest what is happening daily in their communities. And just like everyone else, they have defined opinions about topics such as politics, violence, and race relations. But unlike the majority of us, they also have thousands of onlookers ready to judge their every Tweet.

An athlete taking a firm stance on a controversial topic is not new. Legendary boxer Muhammad Ali is likely one of the most notable athlete-activists, but he spoke out during a very different time in the spectrum of our media consumption. Words that Ali spoke were not instantly shared around the world and/or manipulated by others simply by re-Tweeting.

Most professional athletes do not have a publicist or a public relations firm managing their social media. Having a third party manage their accounts would create a layer of inauthenticity that could diminish the impact of their online presence. But as a result, they often recklessly air their personal opinion to thousands of onlookers who stand ready to attack the thoughts and opinions of celebrities.

There’s no reason an athlete should be afraid of or unwilling to use social media to help grow their personal brand. But fair or not, they are held to different standards. With that in mind, I wanted to provide current and future professional athletes a few tips for speaking their mind while also managing their brand:

Know the rules. All sports have rules. The organization that provides you a paycheck also has rules specifically outlining social media use. Know them, follow them, and you will likely avoid a large fine or very painful public faux pas.

Check your ego. While extremely tempting, your social media platforms should not be used as vessel for you to solicit anything beyond praise for your play on the field and/or your community service work off of the field. Topics such as how you look today or how nice of a car you drive are just a slippery slope to negative attention. If you need positive praise, call your mom (or agent).

Do your homework. If posting about a controversial topic, make sure you have done your homework and understand all sides of the issue. Make sure any facts you share are accurate and be willing to defend whatever stance you take.

Use good grammar. It might sound silly, but it is effective. Proper grammar in your writing is one of the most important elements – it makes a statement about you as a professional and as a person. If you want to be taken seriously, a good place to start is by spelling out “you” rather than just typing “u.”

Always be diplomatic. You are not required to respond to or engage with every person that has posted to your account(s). If you do decide to engage with a negative commenter, use words and phrases that mitigate the circumstance rather than incite more conflict. You wouldn’t give a live on-camera interview without carefully crafting your response, so take that same approach when responding to online comments or questions.

Phones and bars don’t mix. You can’t always control what fans and onlookers post, but you can control what you post. When headed out for a night with friends, it might be a good idea to leave the phone in the car. Not having it removes any and all temptation to post something that you can’t take back.

Think of your mom. A good rule of thumb before posting any image and/or controversial statement is: Would you feel comfortable with this post being read in a court of law? In front of your head coach? How about to your mother? If no, then consider revising or not posting altogether.


It’s okay to be a one-trick (social media) pony

If you’re just starting out as a small business owner you have plenty on you mind – obtaining new clients, making payroll, and dealing with taxes – the list goes on and on.

You know that to grow your business you must make social media part of your marketing mix. But with that acknowledgment come so many more questions. What platform(s) are best? What should I post? How frequently should I post? Phew, it’s exhausting just writing about this!

Whatever you do, whichever platform you chose, it is vital that you execute your outreach with authenticity. As you ramp up your operation, my suggestions is to concentrate your efforts to one single social media platform so that your message and audience can grow in an organic, authentic way.

So how do you know which platform is going to be most effective for you? Begin by thinking about the compelling content you have or could easily create. Is your content mostly images? Videos? Whitepapers? Sneak peeks to products? Your answer will dictate which platform to use. For example, Instagram is good for photo-based sharing. Facebook is ideal if you seek community building.

An example of how this method can and has been successful comes from a very unlikely place.

DJ Khaled of “All I Do is Win” fame is currently the darling of Snapchat. Using that particular social platform to document a late-night Jet Ski trip gone awry catapulted him into a social media phenomenon. DJ Khaled is not afraid to be exactly who he is, which is hilarious and honest and — dare I say — aspirational. This means you inherently trust him and also, maybe, want to be him — or at least have insight into his every day.

There are many lessons to be learned from his approach.

First, he’s going for brand awareness, not sales. He shares images of his garden, kitchen, and outings. He’s not trying to sell you on his next album, he’s just being himself — and people are tuning in.

Second, he’s sparking engagement. True, he has a ton of followers — and that’s great — but more importantly he creates posts with which his followers engage. They like and share what he posts, and thus his ‘brand” continues to grow.

Third, he replicated his success on other platforms. His method wasn’t broken, so there wasn’t anything to fix. He took his Snapchat approach and adapted it to be applicable for Twitter and has seen tremendous results.

If you’re not an international recording star, your social media growth may not be as fast and fluid — but it will happen. Growing your reach using an authentic tone — one platform at a time — is a sure-fire path to success.


A Revolution in Your Personal Brand

The concept of a “personal brand” first surfaced in the nineties, well before my time. The idea was simple: just like companies and product lines benefitted from a unique distinguishing concept, so could the individual. Don’t be another face in the crowd, employees were told. Become the Chief Marketing Officer of You, Inc.

The raison d’être for a personal brand in the nineties, though, was surviving in an era when you could no longer bank on lifelong employment with one company. A personal brand was a means of protecting yourself from downsizing, reengineering, restructuring, and other polite terms for getting fired or laid off. With personal brand intact, one could progress from employer to employer none the worse for wear and in fact, building brand equity and value.

I believe things have come full circle, in a surprising way. Now your personal brand is just as important to your employer as it is to you.

Here’s what I mean. More and more, customers tend to trust people more than they do companies. This is especially, but not exclusively, true for professional services firms and those selling advanced applications. The reason is that almost no one is expert enough to really tell the products or services apart. Instead, customers look to trusted advisors to guide them.

The average customer, for example, can probably not tell whether one cardiac surgeon is truly better than another, or whether optical router A is better for his or her business than optical router B. Instead, they make most buying decisions based upon relationships – the trust or lack thereof they feel in sales representatives, referring colleagues, consultants, or, in the case of professionals, the service providers themselves.

But what is a brand but an expression of a relationship? After all, “you’re lovin’ it” at McDonalds, or “sharing” a Coke, or even agreeing to “Be Marlboro.” In the same way, building a strong personal brand sells not only you, but also the company or organization you represent. Not only are you leveraging your unique individual strengths for your own benefit, you are leveraging them for the benefit of your employer. And that’s a good thing.

If you are that cardiac surgeon, for example, patients won’t really be able to evaluate your expertise. But they will remember your distinctive confidence, your empathy, and your skill at connecting with them, and this will make them more likely to choose you, your practice, or your hospital for their cardiac care.

If you’re marketing that optical router, even IT professionals may not be able to really distinguish your product from the competition. But they will remember your remarkable listening, your memory for their personal details, and your wry sense of humor, and it may well persuade them to purchase your company’s technology for years to come.

So important are relationships that I believe a personal brand is no longer a nice-to-have, but an absolute necessity. You don’t have to be the human equivalent of Nike, but you do have to pay personal attention to the elements of Marketing 101: know your target audience, develop messages relevant to that audience, place the message where your audience frequents and remain consistent. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. And if you are an employer, you need to encourage and enable your staff to develop personal brands of their own. It’s not a threat; it’s a business imperative.

There are dozens of books and articles about building a personal brand out there. I don’t need to repeat the principles. But there are differences from the nineties, when the term first came into widespread use. The biggest is the advent of social media.

Social media can give you the opportunity to build a much wider brand than is possible with strict one-on-one interaction. You can craft an online profile, especially on LinkedIn and Twitter, and make sure it is consistent with your personal standards and your employer’s values. You can communicate your brand through postings, comments, and content. If those things are not among your strengths, however – or, if you’re an employer wanting to provide your key employees with stronger personal brands through social media – consider professional assistance. A growing cadre of content creators – writers, video producers, and designers – understand social media, personal branding, and how the two are inextricably linked. It’s a fact: you can create the “you” that you want the world to know.

I have worked for years to develop a personal brand. It has worked for me and my employers not only in previous positions, but it my past role as Director of Corporate Visibility for PCI, and my current role as the Founder of Firestarter.

I’m not afraid to say it: I’m unique. I’m one of a kind. But you are too – and with a little work both you and your company can derive tremendous value from your own, strong, personal brand.

Director of What? Why you need a Director of Corporate Visibility

I admit that my job title is unusual, and I should not be surprised that I get a lot of questions about it. To me, however, the name says it all — my job is “Director of Corporate Visibility.” Here’s how we think about it at PCI, a marketing agency based in the Washington, DC area, and how our thought process might benefit your own organization.

Like many small-to-midsize professional services firms, PCI traditionally relied almost entirely upon referrals and word-of-mouth for its business development. Certainly there is no better way to get new business than to have your own clients talk you up. But there is also a built-in limitation to depending exclusively upon this channel. You are restricted to your clients’ own networks of contacts, and you are hoping that they will see fit to look for opportunities on your behalf. Even clients who are deliriously happy with your services may not make it a priority to get you new business, though, and some even guard you jealously, afraid that your attention will be diverted by other parties.

PCI did a better job than many of networking and asking for referrals. Still, I had to agree when my CEO stood up at our annual kickoff meeting and said, “Let’s face it. In the grand scheme of things, nobody knows who we are.”

Professional services firms often struggle with business development. We serve a select clientele – the decision makers who choose legal, accounting, and in our case, marketing firms to meet their corporate needs. We don’t have a shiny product to take pictures of; we don’t have an easily identifiable competitive advantage. The fact is, it is very hard for someone outside of our profession to judge who is good and who is not, or who will be the best for their particular situation. For this reason, most forms of advertising don’t work very well. People don’t make a decision about who is going to handle their critical marketing and advertising needs from an AdWords blurb or radio commercial; they act only after meeting and becoming comfortable with the individuals who will be doing their work.

This is a key fact that many professional services firms fail to grasp. We all pay lip service to the idea that “our people are our competitive advantage,” but when it comes to business development, we forget that and try to tell prospective clients why our firms are so great. They don’t care. They want to know that the people with whom they will interact on a day to day basis have their back, and have the experience and expertise to solve their problems.

Personally, I take this for granted. I am a people person, and I have no problem to put myself out there as the face of the company. I’ve worked hard to develop a personal brand, not because I plan to jump ship, but because I know that certain clients will gravitate to me and the firm of which I am a part. This is not something with which everyone is comfortable. Many of my colleagues at PCI are outstanding individual contributors, true artists and experts in their field. But the idea of leveraging that expertise in a public forum, even on behalf of the company, is foreign to them. My affectionate message to them: get over it. The world is not going to beat a path to your door if they don’t know the door exists.

So when my CEO asked me to take on the job of making the company more visible, I knew it was not going to be an easy lift. But here are the three strategies that he and I settled on, and some sense of how they are already beginning to pay off.

Build a Strong Home Base. They have to be able to find you, and when they do, they have to receive a benefit for their search. This means two things in today’s marketplace, even for professional services: you simply must recognize the need for SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and you must have a website that represents your human assets in the best possible way.

The algorithms for Google and the other search engines (yes, there are other search engines) are in constant flux – both to provide better search results for users and to keep people from gaming the system. SEO is therefore a never-ending battle, if your potential clients are going to be able to find you through an organic search. And search they do –don’t kid yourself that your client base is older or less digitally native. Even senior executives use Amazon and, and the behavior carries over to their searches for professional service firms.

Then, when they get to your website, will they get what they came for? Is it more blather about your firm, or is there unique, sharable content that spotlights your people and their unique expertise? We took a hard look at PCI’s SEO and website, and came to the inescapable conclusion that it all had to be redone. From scratch. It was a project that we liken to a surgeon taking out his own appendix, without anesthesia, but it’s done now and we’re seeing the benefits in the form of new clients and new business, for the first time originating from something besides referrals.

Get Social. It’s no longer an option for a professional services firm to participate in social media. But it’s even more critical for your people to do so, as well. Social media has become one of the most powerful means for breaking out of the constraints imposed by the size of your personal network, and that of your best clients.

This does not mean that every member of your team needs to be spending the day posting, tweeting, and commenting on every social media platform. It’s generally better to pick one or two – with LinkedIn and Twitter being my current favorites for business-related participation. But recognize that social media participation helps to build linkages in a way that nothing else can replicate.

This comes naturally for me, but it frankly has involved pulling teeth at PCI. Some people just consider themselves “private,” and don’t see the value. I understand, but as with all things there is a balance. Keep private social media private – that’s as it should be – then pick one or two channels for which each team member can participate on a professional level. We’re seeing a huge increase in our links, likes, and shares as more and more of us get social on a daily basis.

Go to the Show. Online digital is great. But there is still no substitute for personal contact. The best leads will come from people who see you, meet you, or hear you and decide that you have something to offer them. This is no mystery – there are opportunities everywhere for speaking engagements, panels, workshops, and talks.

I’ve never met one I didn’t like. Every opportunity to get in front of people has the potential to multiply a network many times over. I’ve spoken to CPAs in Ohio, lawyers in Illinois, and infographic artists in Oregon – the last being the most interesting since I knew next to nothing about infographics before I started working on the presentation. Even an audience that yields no potential clients is a chance to polish your message and work on your presentation techniques.

So part of my job is not only fulfilling opportunities to speak myself, but also getting more of the PCI team – sometimes kicking and screaming – in front of in-person audiences as well. They never fail to step up, and we’ve begun to get the best feedback of all – requests for follow-up appearances.

Corporate visibility – through SEO, social media participation, and in-person presentations. Today, it’s an essential way to transform business development efforts. The end result can be the gold standard for a professional services firm: to no longer be waiting for business, begging for business, or hustling for business, but instead to have the business chasing you.