Viral Social Network Marketing - Make Passionate Consumers Your Marketers

The simplicity with which consumers can share information through social networks is helping business referrals take on a new shape. Businesses creating a fan site on Facebook is an example that can support the development of a self-selecting community of followers (or 'fans') of your business with the promise of a viral response. Just consider how you chose the last new restaurant you tried. Chances are good that someone you know told you about it, or you read about it online, or both. Perhaps you're even a fan of that restaurant on a social network. Further, the integration of online social networks like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and even blogs ease the process for businesses to reach consumers where they already spend time, and puts the marketing engine in the hands of the most passionate of followers that want to spread their message like it's their own.

It's likely that your initial community or fan base will be friends of your business and the most passionate of your current consumers. The key to tapping their passion is creating viral campaigns that trigger their urge to share what you offer. Provide them tools like video, special offers and incentives, compelling news, funny content. Think of them like the newest group of media you'd like to pitch. They want to share something different, something that represents why they love your business.

It doesn't matter if your business is big or small, local or global, viral online marketing can build business if you have a great product, service, message, and the right media. A great case study of this is a small fitness business working to start up a program and facility for athletes to improve their performance. Hammer Down CrossFit is still establishing its facility, and in the meantime has built a small but growing community of passionate consumers that are virally spreading the word about their experience, about the business and its offerings. How are they engaging them? By providing them the tools to spread the word through social media, including:
Viral Media
- Hammer Down CrossFit Interactive Blog including daily postings of the company's programs, and a commitment from participants to post results.
- Hammer Down CrossFit Facebook Fan Site fully integrated with blog to build community, and to reach people with blog content on their personal home pages. Also provides the ability for users to promote blog posts, pictures, video, and other viral messaging to friends in that space.

Viral/Sharable Message
Regular posting of viral videos, photographs and messaging featuring the participants and passionate consumers who like to spread the word. Tagging of material on social network platform attaches the participants to the activity and encourages them to share the content with their existing communities, triggering questions and promoting recruiting.

Special Offers - Hooks
Hammer Down combines these viral social marketing techniques with traditional special offers including offering regular free "entry" classes that give its passionate viral recruiters an open door to bring their friends into the fold to experience the business' services at no cost.
It's a simple but powerful example that demonstrates how basic social network marketing can build a strong community around your business and create advocates that serve as your marketing arm. Interested in learning more about how social network marketing can help your business? Contact Vivazu Communications today.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to all of our clients and friends. Thanks for a great year of business in 2009! Welcome to 2010, a year to focus on your business goals, and communicating effectively to engage your clients and employees. We look forward to working with you all!

Volunteerism a Win-Win in a Downturn

I attended the Volunteer Fairfax Service Awards last week, and it was clear there are many amazing people still out there volunteering their time, and worthy of significant recognition.  But trends show that volunteerism is down across the country.  Perhaps as we all work harder to try to sustain our jobs and support our families, we feel we have no room left for volunteerism.  

With a lot of organizations and individuals needing more support than ever right now, consider thinking of volunteerism as an opportunity.  Here are a few ways to do just that: 

Free Training - if you're an employer and cutting costs across your company, employee volunteerism can serve as an excellent supplement or substitute for expensive training sessions.  A good fitting volunteerism placement for your staff can give them new skills or help them refine their existing ones by exercising them in a different environment.  You can even work it into your training programs or performance metrics to encourage it more.  If you yourself are looking to grow your skills, volunteerism is a great place to do that, from food banks to nonprofit boards, each offers an opportunity to bring your skills to bear and to acquire new ones.

Great Free PR - Not only is volunteerism a great chance to build skills for your workforce, it can also be fantastic public relations for your organization.  Many consumers and clients hope to do work with organizations with value systems that connect with their own, and in a down economy, volunteerism is a great story.  You may inspire other companies or individuals to follow your lead, as well.
Job Hunting - if you're one of the many individuals that has lost your job in this tough economy, consider adding volunteerism to your repetoire while you search for you next opportunity.  Pair your volunteer efforts with your passions, and you'll find opportunities to demonstrate your skills to the organization, as well as to other volunteers and sponsors. Nonprofit organizations are often looking for people with business skills to support them, and could be a place where you can shine, network and land leads for your next job!  Volunteerism is also a great way to fill a gap in your resume with meaningful contributions.

Think about how you can integrate volunteerism into your plans or your business!

Boost Morale To Do More With Less

In this crazy economy, the need to downsize, streamline and find efficiencies left and right is leaving companies tired and remaining employees worried.  This has quite an effect on productivity and creativity. Whether your organization has undergone layoffs or not, tension and concerns about the economy and how it will personally affect your employees is front and center in their minds.  This distraction is keeping your business from being productive at a point where you need your staff to do more, not less. So, how to overcome it?  Here are a few concepts that may boost morale and work for your organization:

1.  Look to add free benefits - find ways to add flexibility for your employees, in their work schedule, in how they can dress, in what they can bring to the office.  Creating a flexible work environment reassures that your actions to streamline the business aren't tied to not caring about your staff.  

2.  Communicate Everything - Be clear and transparent.  The more employees know about what's happening in the organization (good or bad), the more at ease and prepared they can be for what's happening, and the easier it will be to make changes when necessary.  Leadership should be constantly speaking out and sharing results with employees, so they remember their role in your company!

3.  Look for the Silver Linings  - Some companies are choosing to focus on, and communicate where things are going right...see this article for how one company is looking at reduced turnover and lower hiring costs as a result of the recession.  What's going right for your company?

4.  Ask for ideas - Consider starting an idea-sharing program, or if you already have one, run a new campaign through it, looking to your staff (all of them) for new approaches to solving efficiency issues.  You may find those folks you won't want to let go and you'll engage your workforce.  Just be smart about communicating why you're doing this, so as to not create additional concerns about why you're reaching out.

Check Out the Feds Leading the Way...

Three cheers for the Obama administration's open campaign and new approach to transparent, technology savvy outreach and now governance.  With the ease of social networks and the accessibility and low cost of emerging communication tools, businesses would be smart to follow suit, especially given the current economic climate.  This promise of transparency in government is no longer just a promise, but a reality.  We literally get emails direct to our in-boxes from the President now (if you don't, sign up!).  Messaging from the top - a practice we've advised businesses of for quite some time, gets attention and action.  We saw it with Obama's campaign outreach not only through email but through Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter, MySpace, text messaging and a whole host of other channels.  If government can make this kind of hyperleap into the digital age (surely you saw the boss is keeping his super secure blackberry), what are you and your organization waiting for?  Even if it's a baby step, consider increasing your organization's transparency and easing your messaging at the same time.  Creating a limited-audience blog to which your employees can subscribe is one easy way to get started.  Check out Blogger or Wordpress for ideas.

Salary Transparency Goes Market

Businesses have discussed and some even have tried on and off for years to share salary information with their workforce.  Most companies take the privatization approach, keeping salary info behind closed HR doors and strictly with management.  While this gives them the flexibility to make adjustments to stimulate an individual employee's work, in today's digital age, it will become harder to maximize the benefits on a case-by-case basis.  

With new digital offerings online like,,, and, employees are taking it into their own hands and seeking negotiating information that was once once reserved for the Compensation specialists at big companies alone.  Now people are publishing their salaries in self-propelled salary surveys thatare slowly building steam and credibility, and could end up backfiring on companies who operate in a close-hold salary environment and might have major imbalances.  

Thinking about it, sharing salary information is prevalent at the executive levels, particularly in public companies where it's required by the SEC and shareholders, but what about the rest of the company, or in private business? Some companies, like Whole Foods Markets, share salary information at multiple levels and use the transparency to drive expectations and teamwork.  It does demand a high level of communication and authenticity in why changes are made.  Check out John Mackey's blog (CEO Whole Foods) as a great example of a CEO explaining changes to a salary cap.  This type of exposure and consistency in communication supports their policy, keeps employees in the know, and provides a sort of corporate social responsibility in declaring it to the public as well.  

Emergency at Work - Are you ready?

Gustav, Hannah, Josephine...geesh.  As an East-coaster, of course I'm tracking the hurricanes and tropical storms coming across the Atlantic, devastating the Caribbean and Southern US.  It does beg the emergency preparedness discussion, as does the anniversary of September 11th.

With September being US National Preparedness Month, what do you have in your emergency kit?  Oh, wait, you don't have one?  What about your business?  Do you have your company prepared to respond to an emergency?  A great practice I've seen companies provide is an emergency kit for every employee.  Think the basics you need in any kind of emergency and attach it to their desk...then make sure they know about it (this is the communications part).  

I have a self-created kit in my car (water, jumper cables, one of those silver foil-looking blankets, a granola bar, a first-aid kit, a flashlight, a hand-crank radio, etc), although I somehow feel that my iPhone will be more helpful.   In some places I've worked, I've had a kit at work under my desk - something like this kit , in addition to a "Grab and Go" document that told me what to do in case of an emergency. At it's simplest, I've created stickers to go on employee ID badges that everyone always has on them (to get in and out of the building) with an emergency website and numbers for employees and families to call in emergencies.

The key part of this is to communicate why it's helpful, important, a good thing, to be prepared.  During times of no concern, employees are complacent and forget about what's available to them, so consider using September -- National Preparedness Month -- to remind them.  

Here are some ideas:
  • Send out a weekly preparedness update during the month (email, display, seminar)
  • Distribute emergency kits (or better yet, install them at employee's desks)
  • Train employees in CPR, AEDs and First Aid and identify them to other employees
  • Set up an emergency call center where employees and their families can call in, in the case of an incident
  • Set up an emergency website for employees and/or the public about your business response in an emergency
  • Identify emergency coordinators by floor in your building
  • Connect emergency response to your business continuity plans
Got ideas?  Share them by commenting.

Unstructured Play at Work

The Today Show this morning featured a segment about how kids are in too many structured activities, and that the brain actually develops best through unstructured play.  A guy from even talked about how kids learn to think and innovate by not having so much structure.

So what about in the workplace?  Is innovation drying up?  Is it because we have too much structure and scripted activity in our jobs?  When was the last moment you had an unscripted, unplanned, unstructured moment at work?  I'm not talking about a unexpected fire-drill.  Sometimes structure and process helps you get through those.  Have you had an impromptu brainstorming session with your staff, taken a siesta under your desk, or stood on your head in your office?  How about a lunch out where you don't talk about work?  

I'm one of those people that wakes up in the middle of the night to write down ideas that pop into my head.  Is it because my brain has a chance to rest in an unstructured way?  

Many companies are starting to extend their suggestion box programs into true innovation drivers by setting up unstructured idea-sharing systems.  It's a sort of social networking concept that gives people time and space to contribute ideas. Companies like Bright Idea are banking on the fact that we need more open idea sharing and time to network online. Are you using idea-sharing or types of unstructured play to drive innovation?

Dogs at Work and Corporate Social Networking

I'm not talking about all of us working like dogs every day (although sometimes it feels like we have to bark and growl our way through 70-80 hour work-weeks, right?), but every place that I have worked, start-ups and Fortune 500 companies, I hear people talk about wanting to bring their pets to work.  

During the dotcom boom, I saw it happen - anything to keep people happy at work in a super-competitive hiring market. I've also seen executives do it, having their assistants take mid-day poop walks, while forwarding calls from a headset (seriously).  

Question is, does this common request for canine companionship at work mean people just miss being around their pets? Perhaps, but I'd venture a guess that it's an indicator of a need for community beyond the daily work-like-a-dog grind.

OK, admittedly, I'm one of these people.  I signed the petition to have an official "bring your dog to work day" -- although the thought of controlling my dog at work around other pets while I'm working seems a bit daunting.  We looked at ways to make it happen and between building code restrictions, liability issues, allergic colleagues, it just never seemed realistic.  Closest we ever got was to host pet adoption days in our lobby or common areas (a great idea to support your local shelter, for sure), but not really meeting the need.

The American Human Society says that morale and productivity increases in places that bring pets to work, and pet-friendly employers talk about reduced stress levels and fewer absences.  Check out for more about dogs at work programs (hmmm).

Back to the community concept though.  Talking to others about my pet seemed to be an outlet, a creative stimulant, a way to identify with colleagues, much like parents sharing kid stories with other parents.  Yes, there are moms' groups, dads' groups, running groups and more in many companies, all possibly filling these same needs.  So what do they do for the business aside from giving employees an outlet to find balance?  And more importantly, should they be required to contributing something other than increased morale?  Were talking about the company formally creating employee affinity groups based on non-business related topics or interests.

I've seen corporate diversity programs fund organically formed groups with the requirement that they contribute to the company in a defined, business-benefit delivering way.  That got me thinking about how online, internal social networks can work to connect employee interest groups, and can they grow into a benefit for the business?

Could setting up internal social networks like personal blogspaces, affinity group wikis, and idea-sharing sites help form communities that ultimately benefit the business, or will they detract from more than contribute to the bottom line? Will they work for any group or are they just dogs diverting our attention?

CIO Insight magazine last year called Corporate Social Networks, "The Next Big Thing" and touted how they help people do their jobs.  No argument from me on that one, but where does that business relationship building intersect with personal information sharing in so many companies that are establishing blogging policies?

What do you think?

Bringing on a New CEO

Change is normal, but never feels right when you're at the receiving end of it.  It's the same for your employees when inheriting new leadership. You've conducted an intense search to find the right fit for your company, perhaps with key shareholders and your board of directors involved. Now you need to introduce your decision to other leadership and employees in a way that helps them embrace the change.

Undoubtedly with a new CEO comes a fresh, new vision for the company and the opportunity, or challenge, of launching it internally.  We consistently see companies hold that vision tight, script a very intense release of a new strategy, and then wonder why retention rates suffer and productivity decreases.  Some key objectives when you're introducing a new leader and his/her vision are to make changes clear, get employee input and buy-in, and be consistent and frequent with your communication. Think constant drumbeat here.

So, easier said than done, right?  As usually is the case, with a new CEO comes other new leadership and sometimes the departure of some trusted individuals with a good bit of history at the company.  This doesn't make the job of getting buy-in easier, but it does create an opportunity for engagement.  

Having helped companies through this process, the one thing that is clear is that attention is heightened during a time of transition. Employees, clients, analysts, consumers -- either rooting for your company or not -- want to know what will happen, and in most cases, want to have some influence.  Setting the tone with your communications and with engagement opportunities will help them feel a part of the process, understand your vision and be willing to support and contribute to its success.

With all of that in mind, consider the following for welcoming a new CEO to your company:

Be as open as possible during the search process
Explain the process for finding a new CEO to your staff, and where you are with that process.  Short of divulging who is on the list, there are many things you can share with the company to help people understand that the company's future is secure.  For example: who is on the search committee (board members, shareholders, search firm, HR, other leadership, etc.); what traits are you searching for in a leader; how many people are being seriously considered; what is the planned timing for making a decision.  Including an outlet for questions and submission of ideas to the search firm creates an open forum for conversation and builds trust in the process.  

Do initial outreach
We've seen new CEOs do some terrific outreach, even before their first day leading the company.  Personal phone calls and lunches/meetings with existing leadership demonstrate the desire to build trust, understand existing state of the business from a variety of perspectives.  Doing these one-on-one gives each of the existing managers a chance to shine and share information.  Whether the CEO is coming from inside the company or outside of it, this is a great step to getting your leadership on board and to leverage their experience to solidify your direction for the company. Once you've heard them, it's much easier to sell your vision.  The best cases of initial outreach include as many levels of leadership and management as possible, individually or in small groups. 

Brand the change process
Part of the battle to making a change accessible is to help people identify with it.  We've seen companies brand change internally to draw attention to opportunities to influence it and have an open dialogue.  Good practices with branding this type of change include:  keep it positive, indicate that every employee owns the change to come, respect the company's history.  

Here are a couple of examples:
  • Discovery Communications - Reaching New Heights - this one is positive, shows where the company can go, respects where it has been, implies that everyone needs to do it together.
  • PG&E - Transformation@Work - this one indicates that change is happening and employees are a key part of it, also that it's a process, not something just done to them.
Develop clear messages and provide access to real information
You're getting the idea that more information is better than less information.  So, consider your company's platforms for getting the word out.  Do you have a robust intranet?  Do you have an e-newsletter or do regular webcasts?  Do you have a corporate blog?  To keep the drumbeat consistent, leverage your most frequented communications channels to push your messages about the new leadership.  

A best practice includes creating an online hub for news and resources surrounding the introduction of new leadership.  The hub should reinforce the new vision of the company, include any and all internal and external news (we'll get to that in a sec), and offer resources to support employee success during the process pointing to engagement opportunities (see below).  We've built them before with these types of sections:
  • Get to know the CEO - include bio, photos, video message, blog/personal q&a, testimonials, an opportunity to send him/her a message
  • A New Vision for the Company - info about the introduction of the new vision, visioning meeting schedule
  • Organizational News and Information  - include internal and external news about the transition you're going through.  Including both positive and negative news that may evolve externally builds your credibility with employees (acknowledging that you know they see this stuff anyway).
  • Resources for Success - Training courses (leading during times of change, for example), reference library, access to change ambassadors, flexibility and work-life resources available at your company.
  • Get Involved!  - here's a spot for your key engagement opportunities...discussion boards, recognition program links, idea campaigns 
So, back to the "real" part of the message.  The critical aspect of introducing a new leader is to be as genuine as possible and to deliver a consistent and real message platform to employees.  Your workforce is smart, right?  Otherwise you wouldn't have hired them.  Keep that in mind as you share information.  This builds confidence in the new leader and shows integrity.  Past IABC surveys show that topics that employees want to know from CEOs include:  the future of the organization, overall corporate strategy, top-line financial results, major changes and restructurings, board feedback, major stakeholder issues and responses to media attention.  Don't forget, you have their attention during the transition. (Incidentally, IABC is a great resource for information about employee communication).

Create engagement opportunities
Last, but certainly not the least of concepts when introducing a new CEO, creating avenues for employees to participate in the change process enhances its success.  If you traditionally haven't asked for input, you might be surprised that employees have been waiting for a chance to offer opinions, but want to do it in a low risk way.  We've done great town hall meetings, sharing tons of information and providing visibility and access to new CEOs, but with few live questions from employees.  Really, who wants to be the one of the first to question the new CEO in front of the entire company?  (That's why those small groups are so much better at the onset of the CEO's tenure - and are smart to continue).  Here are some other techniques to give employees a way to interact:
  • Change Ambassadors - look for individuals in your organization that are natural opinion leaders in their area of the company.  Often your HR group can help you identify them.  Bring them together to share their ideas on how to get employees on board and develop a grass-roots engagement plan.  Give them the tools to share information (department blogs, videocasts, meeting budgets, etc.).
  • Transition Stunts - depending upon the culture of your company, it can help to introduce a light, fun engagement activity to get people thinking about what it would be like to be the new CEO.  Whether a photo contest, story submission series, or employee-generated video stunt, ask employees to share their perspectives with the rest of the company and develop energy, excitement, empathy and engagement.
  • Idea Sharing Program - If you have one, perfect, if not, a CEO transition is a great time to launch one.  You're employees are closest to the business on a day-to-day basis.  Give them an outlet to share solid business concept ideas that relate to the new vision and watch your business begin to solve long-time issues.
  • Recognition Program - During transitions is the best time to acknowledge important contributions.  It shows you're paying attention and appreciate the challenge associated with embracing a new vision.  Leverage your existing program or develop a special transition recognition for those change ambassadors or others that shine during the introduction of your new vision.
  • Employee Survey - Whether a full-on survey of your company or spot survey, asking for feedback about how the transition is going will help you understand your effectiveness maintaining consistency with asking for input.
Set expectations
Once you've got people smart about who the new leader is and embracing the new vision, there will always be those that just can't get on board.  The importance of clearly setting your expectations in line with your vision can't be underestimated. Consider communications expectations, performance and productivity expectations, respect in the workplace, and anything else that supports your mission, then communicate them through your mission, values and strategy with which you expect everyone to align.

There are many ways to roll out a new CEO or other leader, so share your thoughts with us!  If you need assistance introducing new leadership in your organization, Vivazu Communications can help.