Q & A with New Media Marketing Innovator & Restaurant Owner, Justin Levy

justin-lcp-gradsmFor part four in our series of “451 Heat 1-on1’s,” we spoke with the General Manager of New Media Marketing Labs, Justin Levy. Justin, based in Boston, helps businesses understand the potential of new media marketing, including how to use social media tools like blogs and community platforms to listen to clients and drive business revenue. He is the author of a forthcoming book, “Facebook Marketing: Designing Your Next Marketing Campaign,” and the Partner/General Manager of Caminito Argentinean Steakhouse.

To read more about Justin’s experience using social media to the benefit of his restaurant business, his new book, and his experiences working with Chris Brogan and New Media Marketing Labs, scroll on.

What first compelled you to engrain yourself in the world of new media marketing? Did you immediately recognize the potential that these tools could have for your restaurant business?

I have always used these tools as they continued to evolve. It first started out with forums, user groups, chat rooms, IRC and IM. Over the years it evolved into social networks such as MySpace and Facebook. Of course, the number of social networks have continued to grow and now there are a whole host of networks which make up the tools and core of new media marketing.

As it relates to the restaurant. I began experimenting with these tools because they were free and we needed to find ways to extend our brand. Our issue was never a quality of food or atmosphere inside of the restaurant. But, if no one is coming in and buying your stuff, then all of that other hard work doesn’t matter much. We began using new media marketing as a way to grow our brand, build community and leverage that community to spread the word about our restaurant.

Tell us about New Media Marketing Labs and what sort of brainstorming led to the creation of the popular events, Inbound Marketing Summit and Bootcamps?

New Marketing Labs is a social media agency that was founded by Chris Brogan. We opened at the beginning of 2009. At New Marketing Labs, our team works with medium and large businesses to help them use these tools to move needles that are important to them. We do this by helping them to develop a strategic plan with clear deliverables backed by a strong analytics dashboard. We do everything from strategic development to blogger outreach to manning listening and monitoring stations and a host of other activities related to using social tools to fulfill business needs.

Our Inbound Marketing Summit event is a 2 day conference that was formerly the New Marketing Summit. The New Marketing Summit has been around for approximately 3 years and was run by our parent company, CrossTech Media. When we started New Marketing Labs, we acquired the Inbound Marketing Summit from HubSpot and adopted the name. The Inbound Marketing Summit brings together some of the top thought leaders, marketers, brands, and agencies in the industry to discuss using these tools to take strategy and turn it into action. For 2009 we brought the Summit to 3 cities: San Francisco, Dallas and Boston on October 7th and 8th.

The Inbound Marketing Bootcamps are intensive one-day keyboard level training events. Topics typically include blogging, social networks, social media marketing, listening and monitoring, profile development, reputation management, and how all of this ties into business needs. By the end of 2009 we would’ve held Bootcamps in 5 cities as well as our private Bootcamps we do for brands.

You are currently in the midst of writing what should be a popular book, “Facebook Marketing: Designing Your Next Marketing Campaign.” Even social media savvy individuals and businesses seem to struggle at times to grasp how they should be using Facebook to connect and mobilize fans and prospects around their product or service. Will you address how Facebook should be utilized by B2B marketers to have a more effective reach and engage with potential buyers?

That is exactly the intention of the book. This book is being written for businesses and will, hopefully, provide them the concepts, strategy and tactical information needed to bring Facebook into the fold of their marketing plans. The book will provide a basic overview of features, deep dives into some of the tools that are important for businesses to understand, a review of some of those brands that are considered the “best in class” through their use of Facebook, and how to build a marketing plan that has Facebook as a main component of it.

Every social media marketer seems to have a slogan, or a concept, that they espouse when describing how best to use these tools for business (i.e. “listen to engage’, etc). What is your go-to?

While I have a lot of ways that I tend to explain how I believe these tools should be used by businesses, I tend to return to topics surrounding how these tools allow business to become humanized. Also, that we tend to want to do business with friends. By showing the human side of your business, it allows you to develop these personal relationships with your customers. In turn, they become fans of your business, product, or service and carry forward the message.

I also think that listening and monitoring is the most important thing that any business can do, especially when they’re just starting out. Conversations are taking place all around their brand, products, services, executives, competition and industry.  It’s up to them if they’re going to be part of that conversation.

What have you found to be the most useful social media tools for marketing your restaurant? Why do you think this is the case?

The most successful tools for our restaurant have been our listening and monitoring station, blog, video blog, Twitter, Facebook, Yelp, and Flickr. Each of these tools allow us to have two-way conversations with our customers and fans. They also allow people to connect with us on a more personal level and get to see some of what goes on behind-the-scenes at a steakhouse. Tools like Yelp allow us a mechanism for feedback about what our customers like and don’t like.

What kinds of advice do you give to people who are just beginning to get involved with social media?

Start reading as much as possible. Subscribe to blogs that you find valuable and start following those people who you learn from on networks such as Twitter. Also, don’t think you need to start everything at once. You should lay back for a minute and observe everything that is going on and then set a plan on how you want to engage. If you don’t have a clear plan of how you intend to use these tools and what your measures of success are going to be, it will be hard to determine if you’re using the right tools in the proper manner.

Chris Brogan is obviously a very popular figure on the social media web. Can you tell us what the most important thing is that you’ve learned from Chris?

I’m constantly learning from Chris. I’m extremely fortunate to get to work every day with someone that I consider a mentor and a friend. Probably the single most important skill that I continue to learn from Chris is how to build community with trust at its core. In everything that Chris does, one of the reasons he’s able to be so successful is due to how hard he has worked to build and nurture his community. He gives everything he has to his community.
For more information about Justin Levy, visit his blog.

The Evolution of Crisis Communication

deer islandAfter finishing Neil Swidey’s 2-part story in The Boston Globe Magazine last week – “Trapped Under The Sea”, the untold story of two divers who died in the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) Deer Island Treatment Plant Outfall Tunnel – I was immediately transported back 10 years to one of the seminal events of my public relations career, making me reflect on how much crisis communication has evolved over the past decade.

On July 21, 1999 I was sitting at my desk at the MWRA in the Charlestown Navy Yard writing a mundane press release about summertime water conservation, when the phone rang. It was my boss, Executive Director Doug MacDonald, and he sounded uncharacteristically shaken. There had been a terrible accident on Deer Island, he said, and that I needed to get there fast to handle the press…

As the 25 year-old spokesman of the MWRA in 1999, I personified the classic “Flak” of the time. I wrote press releases, nurtured media relationships, proactively issued good news, spun the bad news and reacted to the unexpected accordingly. I carried a pager and a basic cell phone (used sparingly for outgoing calls), and sent press releases over the fax machine. I had email, but since most media members didn’t, it was fairly useless. The internet was several years old, but it was really still just a novelty. In 1999, the dissemination of news was still solely done by traditional news outlets. As a spokesman, controlling the media meant “controlling the message”.

From a public relations standpoint, The Deer Island Outfall Tunnel crisis was handled perfectly. Pre-set protocols that had long been established were set into motion – notifications to key personnel were made quickly, a communications center was set up on the site of the incident, accurate and up-to-date information was disseminated to key communications personnel, and a single spokesperson for all public information was set (me). Within an hour of the incident, we had established control of the information and were in a position to release that information as we saw fit in a well thought-out, clear, concise manner. If the press wanted the story, they had to go through me…and they did.

Fast forward to 2009…If this same incident occurred today and the protocol we had established in 1999 was still all that was in place, I cringe to think of all the loose ends that would be flying around! What had been an airtight crisis communication protocol at the time would be seriously flawed today.

Advances in communications technology, and people’s incredible access to it today in comparison to a decade ago, has created a playing field so drastically different for a Public Relations professional that it’s not even comparable. The internet, which was just emerging in 1999, has become a critical conduit for news, communications, commerce, and social interaction. The internet has taken our vast world and shrunken it down to the size of an iPhone. Cell phones are no longer clunky mobile telephones with a single use and purpose.  Today, “Smart Phones” are multi-faceted portable communications tools that not only allow users the ability to connect with each other anywhere, at any time, through voice or SMS; they enable users instant access to the internet and all of its mass communications tools.

Armed with a Smart Phone, every citizen has become a source of news and information. Look no further than Janis Krums, the blogger who happened to be on the first ferry to arrive on the scene a few minutes after US Airways Flight 1549 had plunged into the Hudson River in New York City earlier this year. Within ten minutes of the crash, Krums had used Twitter (and Twitpic) to post a photo of the downed plane with news of the crash and distributed that information to tens of thousands of people. It was roughly 30 minutes before the first news crew was even on the scene.

Controlling “the message” today as a PR professional no longer means controlling the press. Since everyone who has access to a computer is now a viable news source, it is now virtually impossible to completely control the message. It is still possible, however, to mitigate the crisis and influence public opinion.

With that said, I will share with you my Five Principles of Handling a Crisis in 2009 that will help you to minimize the damage of an unforeseen crisis and protect your company’s short-term and long-term interests:

  1. Prepare – Abraham Lincoln once said; “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”  Being prepared for a potential crisis situation is absolutely critical.
    1. Develop a set protocol that will be placed into motion as soon as an unforeseen crisis strikes. This protocol includes everything from a strategic contact list (eg – key decision makers, communications personnel & legal council) to the creation of a physical command center.
    2. Media train key personnel. Establish a spokesperson(s) for the company and have them work with a professional public relations professional (or firm) to receive the proper media training.
    3. Set up online monitoring tools. Every company should employ free online monitoring tools like Google Alerts and Tweet Grid, or paid services like Radian6 and Cision. It is critical to monitor your brand online 24/7. Whether it’s a disgruntled employee smearing your company name on a blog or an online news article about a client or competitor, monitoring the web is a necessary step towards protecting your brand’s reputation and to identify, or in some cases, avoid a crisis before it happens.
  2. Get the facts – Stay calm and keep your wits about you! While it is important to respond swiftly to a crisis, it is even more important not to make any rash or reflexive moves. It is imperative to get all of the facts as quickly as possible from the most credible sources. Before you can successfully handle a crisis, you need to understand what happened, how it happened and where your exposure lies.
  3. Be Proactive – Once you have all the facts, it is imperative that you take a proactive approach to responding publicly. Avoid taking a defensive posture. Make sure that your stance and message is carefully crafted and delivered in a clear and concise manor. Avoid live interviews if possible and never, ever say “No Comment!”  In the court of public opinion, “no comment” means “I’m guilty!” The most effective way to ensure that your response is clear is to issue a written statement attributed to your designated spokesperson. A statement should consist of a two to three sentences that can each stand alone. The statement should be conciliatory in tone and firm and decisive. Make it clear that you are aware of the incident, state your stance on the matter and ensure people that you will get to the bottom of it and take action.
  4. Monitor – Good intelligence is your greatest weapon for diffusing a crisis situation. Utilize your online monitoring tools, adjusting search terms as necessary, to monitor what people are saying about your company, what they are saying about the crisis itself, and how effective your response has been. This allows you to keep a virtual finger on the pulse of public opinion and enables you to uncover additional exposure that may warrant a response.
  5. Take Action – Whether the crisis has been averted or you’ve simply mitigated the fallout, it is important to publicly take steps to remedy the cause of the crisis and ensure that it will never happen again. Announce new policy, hire a consultant, or fire your CFO. Whatever it is, make sure you announce it, so the public knows you intend to fix what broke.

While advances in communications technology and the advent of the “citizen journalist” have significantly added to the challenges faced by a crisis communicator, the key principles remain the same. Whether you own, manage or operate a company or public agency, you can be sure of one thing – you will inevitably be faced with a crisis situation. When you do, will you be prepared to handle it?

Social Media and Generation X

social-media2Although social media may seem to belong to teenagers and early 20 something’s, it has become widely adopted across all generations.  Online social network acceptance by American adults has grown by more than 400% since 2005 (courtesy of PEW).  Among the most intriguing adult demographics are the Gen Xers (those born between 1960-1979).

Gen Xers use social networking sites for both personal and professional use and therefore are more likely to carry several profiles and utilize multiple social networking outlets.  Overall, 17% or American Gen Xers visit social networking sites on a daily basis. LinkedIn, the Internet’s largest professional network, boasts a median user age of 40 and  according to PEW, 30% of 35-44 year olds have at least one profile on social networks (along with19% of 45-54 year olds).

Interestingly, female Gen Xers seem to be slightly more involved in social media on a regular basis than males.  In fact, females over the age of 40 are statistically more engaged in social media than younger women according to the website SheSpeaks.com.  In fact, females 45 years old and older used Facebook between January and March 2009 at a rate higher than any other category of users (eMarketer.com).

Clearly Gen Xers are becoming increasingly Internet savvy utilizing social media to make more informed purchasing decisions, find employment, engage with particular social groups (i.e. mommy bloggers) and stay in touch with family and friends through these most efficient and immediate methods. A recent eMarketer.com survey also found that social networks (67%) were more popular than email (65%) for mass communication.  Given the above trends in Internet social network use, Gen X’s use of social media is only expected to continue to rise. Keep an eye out for the new social media tools and technologies that spawn over the next few years—it would not be unlikely for them to be targeted to this demographic.

Social Media Can Be a Game, but Never Forget Why You Are Playing

kidAs soon as news leaked through a corporate memo that ESPN was going to regulate their employee’s free use of social networking sites like Twitter, the social media community sounded off their collective disapproval. “Dear ESPN—You’re Doing it Wrong” was the title of social media expert Chris Brogan’s blog post on the subject, which alluded to his dissatisfaction with the network’s decision to force employees to refrain from using sites like Twitter “for anything but ESPN-specific stuff.” Brogan continued to write that ESPN’s policies do not reflect “how relationship-building goes in the social web.” And many others agreed. We can only assume that this action by ESPN was an attempt by them to safeguard their brand.

So where did ESPN go wrong, and how could they have handled the situation differently?

First, the issue. The lines between personal and corporate social media use have been blurring since the first person realized that social media could impact business. As companies are encouraging employees to Tweet, post, and comment on their behalf, many are finding that those same employees are having a difficult time separating their personal lives from their company’s corporate marketing objectives. This often leads to damaging content (mainly by association) being posted in public forums by uninformed staff. This is where the issue lies for many corporations.

So here’s where I think ESPN “didn’t get the memo.”

Implementing a corporate social media protocol is not just providing a set of rules for your employees about social media usage. Rather than discouraging personal social media use, you should actually determine the types of online interactions from employees that could actually serve to benefit your brand, even if they have little to nothing to do with your company. And you must also clearly explain your objectives for encouraging your staff to use social media on your organization’s behalf and repeatedly remind them of this motive (i.e. it is ok to employees to add an appropriate level of individualism to online communications as long as it reflects your brands personality). When your employees fully comprehend why you are encouraging them to utilize social media on your organizations behalf there is less of a risk of them damaging your brand.

As you, as marketers, realize your individual measures of success (leads, web traffic, mentions, etc.), you must clearly map out a social media strategy to ensure that you (and everyone involved in your corporate social media initiatives) reach those goals. It is this strategy that must be stamped on the collective corporate conscience like a brand mission or statement.

The bottom line: If you want employees to continuously engage with social media on your organization’s behalf, make sure you consistently remind them of your corporate social media marketing objectives. This will help ensure you reach your marketing goals while helping to avoid any social media pitfalls.

“We catch fish using fishing rods, nothing else"

Recently, while at an event, I had a discussion with a marketing director at a large law firm here in Boston. The subject of online lead generation was brought up and here was his knee-jerk response:

“We are not interested in online lead generation at the law firm, because we’re primarily a business to business law firm and we only get business from known referrers.”

I found this response odd, as most of our clients are in the B2B space, but not surprising. Many people are not privy to the current data and trends surrounding social media, online marketing, and purchasing behavior for the B2B buyer. I immediately informed him that we work with many law firms, accounting firms, and consulting firms in the B2B space. I supported my statement by sighting recent data and statistics from reports and studies by Forrester Research, MarketingSherpa, MarketingProfs, and B2B Magazine. I stated that nearly all of the data and qualitative analysis suggests that B2B buyers of technology and/or services are influenced by social media, and that most B2B marketers plan on increasing their online marketing spend in 2009.

Here was his second response:

“Well, we don’t want that type of business that you get online”

Huh? It was like someone claiming that they don’t want the business they get from public relations, advertising, direct marketing, or even networking. In my response, I explained how one of our professional service clients (that offers audit, tax, consulting, and wealth management services – with over 400 employees) is averaging over 20 new business leads per month, and has generated over $600,000 in new contracts that directly resulted from, and are tracked by, our efforts over the last 6 months. I also cited how when I have made purchasing decisions for our 20+ person agency in the past, I was greatly influenced by product reviews and advice/referrals from individuals in my LinkedIn groups, as well as from content that I downloaded online and from search results on Google. He still wasn’t buying it and so I moved on.

fish-stocking-1Later in the day I asked myself, “Why wouldn’t someone want this type of business (from online sources)?” I thought about what he said and equated his statements to something like “We catch fish using fishing rods, nothing else. We don’t want to try using nets, fishing boats, or any other means because we don’t want the type of fish that you catch using these tools.”

Thinking in these terms helped me to understand that there really was only one answer to my question… It wasn’t that this marketer didn’t want this type of business (as I am sure the firm’s leaders would agree); it was just that this person didn’t want to engage in an activity that he didn’t fully comprehend. This is a very common issue among c-level marketingfishing execs.

My conclusion led me to another question—with social media adoption (for general usage) among B2B buyers growing at a much higher percentage rate than that of B2B marketers (for marketing purposes), wouldn’t it make sense that the marketers who embrace this shift in purchasing behavior at an early stage also be the ones that realize the greatest benefit (i.e. the largest “catch”)?

My advice to any person in a senior marketing role is to educate themselves as quickly as possible on the current trends, data, and purchasing behavior of the B2B buyer and how the Web is influencing and impacting their purchasing decisions.

If you don’t like change, you‘re going to like irrelevance even less.”— General Eric. Shinseki, retired Chief of Staff, U. S. Army