To All Good Bosses!

Boss-bashing is a fun activity, and one that many of us indulge in when we run out of interesting topics of conversation. Of course, bad bosses do all they can to become the butt of bad jokes. Having become a ‘boss’ myself, I am wary of stepping on the management minefields that trigger off the ‘bad boss’ tag. Of course, even in a small organisation like mine, management issues do crop up and as a boss, my efforts are to resolve it keeping my employees’ morale as well as the organisation’s good in mind.

Chanced upon an HBR post by Robert Sutton, author of Good Boss, Bad Boss, today. It had me thinking: we rubbish our bad bosses all the time but do we really take the time to praise our good bosses? Yes, we put what we have learned from our good bosses to use nearly every day (just as we avoid bad-boss traps) but have we ever really let the world know how good they were? Not enough, I think. Taking inspiration from Sutton’s post, I’m just going to mark my gratitude to a boss and two colleagues who were not technically my bosses, but definitely senior to me in experience and wisdom and guided me a whole lot.

First up, of course, is V S Jayaschandran, now Senior Editor of The Week, who taught me the nuances of editing. With a sharp eye for errors and caustic wit reserved for those who erred, he made sure the articles we edited were perfect in tone, tense and turn of phrase. He helped me see the joy in turning unreadable copy into a crisp reader-friendly story. And yes, you had to double-check your facts before handing over your copy to Jayasch; there was no two ways about that! It was always a moment of private celebration when Jayasch returned my  copy almost-intact. He was also a boss we could have illuminating conversations with as we all slogged into the wee hours of the night for our magazine’s pages to be sent to print.Jayasch now pens a column, Wicked Word, in The Week and as you can see, he does have quite a way with words.

Then there’s Jacob K J, who now runs Independent Media. Though we only worked together a short while, Jacob made a deep impact on me and to this day, he is the first person I call when I need advice, professional and sometimes, personal. The most important thing I learned from Jacob is perhaps, being passionate about your work and sharing that passion with others. Looking for innovative ways to do things is Jacob’s hallmark as is a penchant for inspiring people to give their best. Just a couple of weeks back, he explained to me how it wasn’t just enough to employ people but also to motivate them and nurture their strengths.

And then there’s dear Sam. Samuel Abraham, now Senior Assistant Editor at Frontline, is one of my favourite  people for more reasons than one. He’s one of that rare breed of men who are a perfect mix of sensitivity and intelligence, charm and empathy. Sam taught me to value my colleagues as human beings. A firm believer in the power of relationships, Sam goes the extra mile to bring cheer to people’s lives. Of course, that also meant we all took our burdens to him. But Sam also has a touch of the philosopher in him; so our burdens seem vastly reduced after chatting with him.

Some day, I hope to be a perfect boss too. Which means taking all that I have learned from the people who taught me and using that collective experience to temper my natural impatience and impulsiveness… I’m sure I can hear my friends and colleagues at DropCap cheer to that!

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Why should businesses ‘do’ social media? Answers to your FAQs

As an ardent believer in the powers of social media, I have always upheld its importance as a novel tool for businesses in marketing, branding, customer relations and lead generation. Time and again, in my interaction with clients and peers, I have been asked to validate my stand. Here are the major queries I get and their answers, in a lighter vein:

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Q. Does my company/non-profit/brand need a social media presence?
A. Is your company/non-profit/brand relevant to others? [The client’s answer is often ‘Of course’ in an ‘Are you crazy?’ kind-of tone.] Then of course, you need a social media presence.

Q. So shall we just jump right in?
A. Hold it! Get your top management to sit down and discuss your social media goals, just as you would for any other major decision you may make. Once you have your goals in place, draw up a social media strategy. Get expert assistance if needed.

Q. Facebooking and Tweeting are simple! Why do I need a dedicated person/consultant for the job?
A. Because half-hearted attempts show up easily on social media. You don’t want the wrong kind of ‘viral’ effect, right? You are dealing with actual people–customers, influencers, critics, competition–on social media; and you need time, effort, consistency and clarity to build up a social media presence that suits your corporate profile/brand. It’s not enough that you care about your brand/product/clients/channel partner, you need to show that you care.

Q. OK, so what else do I need to know?
A. In addition to establishing your brand on social media, you need to track social media metrics. This involves both the engagements that have taken place on your sites/pages (like your FB page, blog, etc) as well as what people are talking about you elsewhere, away from your official pages. Is the predominant sentiment positive/negative? How is your brand being perceived? You can use premium tools from Radian6, ScoutLabs, etc for this or your social media consultant can track it for a fee.

Q. We are an old-fashioned company, operating on traditional values. Will a Facebook presence dilute/trivialise our essence? Will we have to develop a more youthful image to fit in?
A.Your customers and channel partners love you for who you are; you do not need a makeover in order to fit into the social media sphere. You may need to engage younger clients with specific content/activity geared to their likings, of course but that does not necessarily translate into rehashing your corporate identity. Look at social media as a place where people can connect to the soul of your business and you, in turn, get your message across in a more direct, interactive and consummate manner than ever before.

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Social media for Business: Nine tips to get it right

Last week, I was invited by the Rotary Cochin Knights to speak on social media for business. Putting up my speech here; it’s practically a transcript, so do excuse colloquial usage and the like.
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It’s good to be on this platform talking to you about something I am passionate about. When I set up DropCap with social media outreach as part of our portfolio of services, I was happy with the initial reaction I got from friends, family and existing clients. But then came the barrage of questions: Are you sure about this social media thing? Is it sustainable? How will you do it? How will you track it?
My answer was simple: You can run from social media but you can’t hide from it. Sure you can choose to ignore it, you can refuse to be part of it but you know what… your clients, your channel partners, your critics, your competition, they are all on it. And if you are out of the picture, you have no control or awareness about what is being said about your brand online or how your company is being perceived in one of its most visible branding avenues.
And when we say big, we are talking big, waiting to explode…. Facebook crossed the 500-million user mark in June, of which more than 8 million are from India. Then there’s the micro-blogging platform, Twitter, where India ranks no. 2 after Japan in Asia, with 6.48 million users. And these are numbers that are growing by leaps and bounds.
So what do you do if you are a company or a startup and want to do social media? You want some part of those numbers, right, all translating into sales figures, right? People say getting on social media is easy; you don’t need an expert for the job. Sure, it’s easy; it’s as easy as signing up on FB, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Digg, Tumblr or wherever. But what do you do next?
It’s not being on social media that’s important; it’s actually being a presence there. What matters is what you actually do out there. And if you don’t have a plan for this, you will be like the guy dressed in an Armani suit at a rock concert. Sure, he can afford it but does he feel like a fish out of water!
So let’s talk a bit about how companies can do social media:
  • Most companies jump onto social media because everybody else is doing it. The first thing about social media is to stop treating it like an impulse buy. And start thinking of it as an investment. You can buy a Levis jeans on an impulse… perhaps you like the way it looks on the model or just because bootcut is back in vogue. But you wouldn’t buy a house just because you like the brochure, would you?
    Especially if you are in Cochin you will look at the builder’s history, his track record, maybe speak to a couple of the company’s customers, a few experts… social media for corporates is a long-term investment. It’s an investment in relationship-building. And you have to treat it just as carefully as you would a special relationship, maybe even extra carefully because this is one of your most visible relationships. It’s like being on reality TV 24/7. 
  • The next thing you need before you jump into the fray is a social media strategy. You need to define strategic goals clearly and definitely. Gauge what you want your social media presence to do for you and plan your strategy accordingly.
    Are you going to use social media for lead generation? Or for strengthening existing customer relationships? Or troubleshooting? Maybe you just want to create a buzz. Or perhaps you have loftier ideals… you want to be a thought leader in your space. Or maybe even all of the above? Whatever your goal, define it… otherwise you won’t know how to get there and worse, you won’t even know if you have arrived! This is a simple thing of course, perhaps even a management mantra but we so easily tend to overlook the obvious when it comes to social media. 
  • Your strategy should define your social media presence. There is no need to be all over the place. You don’t have to sign up at every social media website or application that has ever been invented. Choose the platforms that work best for your company’s goals.
    And here’s a tip: start small if you are unsure. It’s way better than starting with a bang and then fizzling out. 
  • Give. It’s always Christmas in the social media sphere. I don’t know any other medium that responds so beautifully to the Biblical commandment: ‘Do unto others as you would have done unto you.” Social media is not just about creating a Facebook page or a Twitter profile and then sitting back and waiting for your follower count to rise. Nope, doesn’t work that way! You have to connect with people. You have to put out relevant content that interests and engages people. You have to do the ‘giving’ bit first before you can start receiving.
  • Be consistent. You cannot afford to ignore your social media commitments and then expect it to work for you. Consistent, interactive and meaningful activity is the no.1  element that keeps your followers attracted to your profiles. Whether you are blogging, tweeting or posting updates, you have to stick with it. It would be best to draw up a schedule for all your social media platforms, with desired frequency of activity and just do it!
    It’d be ideal to put a person in-charge of your social media platform, either in-house or a consultant, because it takes time, effort and coordination to get it right.
  • Engage, engage, engage! All social media gurus will tell you that this is the cardinal rule of the game. There is just no way you can afford to ignore your online community. Are people commenting on your blog posts? Add a meaningful reply or just say thank you. Are people re-tweeting you? Thank them. Are they asking you for help? Go on, help them and let your community know with a follow-up comment. It’s all about making people feel included and important.
    See, there’s no magic to social media. Ultimately it boils down to keeping people happy. It’s just that we often forget that there are people associated with those icons we see on screen. 
  • Now when it comes to comments and reactions, you have to take the good with the bad. How you handle negativity online is as important as important as how you deal with all the praise and good stuff.  There’s a cardinal rule to dealing with negative comments: unless there’s actual use of abusive language or something, do not delete negative comments. Get in touch with the user and try to solve his issue. And most importantly put up follow-up comments on what is happening so the rest of your community is in the loop.
    Two quick tips here: content on the Internet is rarely ever truly deleted. Even if you delete a comment it might turn up in a weekly email digest that the social media service sends out or may be present in some archive.
    Secondly, always ensure that comments appear on blogs only after moderation. This helps prevent spam, abuse and other little irritations. 
  • Social media is not all about me-me-me. Don’t talk only about your company and your fabulous products and services. The client has probably got all that from your website. You need to also put up content that helps the reader or is useful to them. For instance, I always find that whenever I blog about practical writing, editing or social media tips, I get the most number of visitors.
  • Of course, that said, don’t forget the power of ‘social media specials.’ You are building special communities online so you can occasionally offer your followers discount coupons or freebies that are exclusive to those communities. As it turns out, the whole world loves a discount. On Twitter, there’s even a user profile @theearlybird, which offers special discounts through tie-ups with various retailers.
I guess you must have got some ideas about the whole process now. I would encourage each of you to look at social media as an enhancing experience rather than just as a frivolous outing.

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