Jennifer Fong has tremendous experience in the network marketing and party plan industry as the former CEO and founder of her own direct selling company. She has taken her exposure and knowledge of how a direct selling business functions, and is now applying that to a growing speaking and consulting business. Jennifer helps direct selling companies of all sizes create and implement the way they use social media on every level. She helps put preemptive policies and procedures in place to make sure that the entire sales force is not only remaining compliant, but also getting all they can out of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Throughout our conversation, Jennifer offered a lot of practical advice, and also some tools to help you and your sales force stay ahead of the curve.
Jennifer Fong on Maximizing Social Media for Your Business
Well first of all Jennifer, I want to thank you again for joining me today. You have a pretty extensive background in direct selling. For everyone that’s not familiar, could you give a quick background on how you got into direct selling and social media so strongly?
I actually founded a direct selling company in 2006. At the time I really didn’t know much about direct sales, it was more about that I had a demonstrable product that I thought would sell quite well through a home party model, and I learned a lot about the industry, kind of hands on. It takes a lot to run the operations of a direct selling company. Through that process, that was right about the time when social media was starting to take off, I had used it personally since about 2002, participating in online forums and things like that. We started exploring tools like Facebook, we weren’t ever really that good at it, but what we found was Facebook very quickly became one of the top five referrers to our corporate website consistently, and people were spending 3 times the average visit length of any other referrer.
That was the point at which we kind of said “here, that should probably be explored for the industry”. So I had actually started a blog at that point really with the idea that we as an industry could discuss social media and really kind of try to figure this out together, I’m a big believer that we learn things better as a group than try to do that in silos. One thing led to the other, when my company did close, thanks to the economy, that was the point at which I really immersed myself in social media and really had the opportunity to learn what the best practices were, and then say “Yes, but how does this apply to our industry?”. Because direct selling is such a unique business model, but at the same time, it’s so well suited for social media simply because we are such a relationship business, and that is what social media is all about.
What are some of the guidelines you give a new start up direct selling company that’s kind of saying “Hey, I would love to get into this, but where do I start? How do I develop a strategy?” What are some of the things you do to steer them in the right direction?
I do have a process that I take companies through when they are beginning to look at social media. You can’t just put up a Facebook page because everybody has one, that is not the best way to start. Instead you need to look at social media as one component of an overall marketing plan, and you need to really figure out what your goals are for social media, what impact do you want it to have on the bottom line? Are you looking at social media as a way to increase recruiting or to increase the reorder business? Are you looking at it as a tool to increase to retention of your sales force?
All of these are very legitimate, but they are very different approaches. So you first need to decide what you want social media to do for the business, and then you are able to say “well gosh, on the fact that this is what we want it to do for us, now we can make a much better choice when it comes to the tools we are going to use.” So that’s one thing, in our industry, social media is not just about what you are going to do at the corporate level and enable the field to do the sales force, so you really need to think about, well, you are going to need policies and procedures, you know that is one thing I help a lot of companies with, is putting in place social media policies that protect both the company and the sales force, because there are regulations out there, the FTC is very stringent on what they require in terms of reviewing material connections between, you know, if you are going to make money, essentially, or if you are recommending something, you need to disclose that, there are disclosure rules. So really protecting your sales force as well as the company, and getting that all ethical and on the up-and-up. So that’s something you really need to think about.
You also need to think about the website. Is the website prepared to receive the social media traffic? Because if you are going to all this effort to put together a dynamic social media presence that is going to draw people to you, well when they come, are you prepared to convert? So there is also this thinking around, what is it we need to do to the web site to make sure that when people come we can generate the leads that are potential.
What are some ways that you have seen companies do well, or have advised companies to move those conversations to a conversion point, whether that’s in Facebook or on a website or elsewhere?
That’s kind of the magic key right there, engagement that drives conversions. There are a number of things that I have worked with my clients to do. Everything from as simple as, if you want them to do something, tell them to do it rather than just putting up “Whoohoo, we are so excited about our sale this month”, say “It’s Valentines Day, how would you use this product? Share your ideas in the comments below.” So you have actually told them what kind of engagement you want to see. That’s number one.
Then there are all sorts of things you an do in terms of advertising strategies and contests and sharing value that are going to make peoples lives easier, giving them information that they need. There is a reason they engage with your brand the way that they do. So finding out what those triggers are and then sharing information that connects with that. So for example, let’s say that you are a skin care company, well chances are that you have got people who are very interested in makeup application tips, or how to prevent winter skin, those sorts of things. Sometimes we are going to say “here is a great product that does that”, but sometimes we are going to share informational articles that just talk in general terms about how to do it, something written by a scientist, or something written by a blogger. You know, sometimes just showing that content and saying “what tips would you give?” or “click Like if this is a problem that you have”, “what questions do you have about XYZ?”.
That’s one way to drive engagement, and then once you start getting that conversations going, then we also want to make sure people know how to convert. So on your Facebook presence you want to have a form on a custom page that allows people to sign up, right there. It might be on a welcome tab, we found that welcome tabs on Facebook increase conversions dramatically, I think something like 40%. More people click the like button if you’ve got a welcome page. So that’s obviously something that you want, you to give people a chance to convert there. If they are clicking over to the web page, where ever they land, you also need to have a way for people to sign up there and give you their email address.
Social media is the ultimate lead generation tool, but if you are not trying to collect leads at every point, you are kind of shooting yourself in the foot.
For me, one of the most interesting things about social media and web marketing on the whole, is that you can really learn from other peoples mistakes and kind of prevent going through those same challenges. I want to know if you, I’m sure you have seen plenty of these kinds of things, but if you could highlight some things to avoid in terms of mistakes you have seen, you don’t have to highlight any specific companies, but general things you want to steer away from when implementing a social media strategy.
One of the big mistakes that I have seen, and you know a couple of companies have done this, where you provide a set of tweets, or status updates, and you say “these are the only ones you are allowed”, and so suddenly your entire thousands of people sales force is all putting out the exact same thing, honestly it makes the company look so foolish. Because people don’t like to see the same thing over and over and over again. Social media is all about creating meaningful connections with people. It’s not a form letter, but that type of mentality does not generate relationships.
Another mistake companies make is the failure to adequately train the sales force. The sales force really needs, they are so enthusiastic, but they don’t always know exactly what to do, they don’t necessarily understand the difference between social media for personal use and social media for business use. It’s essential that companies; A, get educated themselves because they aren’t all educated, and then B, really make sure that the sales force knows how to represent the brand properly. So those are a couple of mistakes that you need to have adequate policies in place to guide sales force behavior.
Are there any particular tools that you recommend to either distributors or to companies that you are working with?
It all depends on how deeply you go into social media. If you just got a Facebook page set up for example, you are actually better off posting directly from facebook, because when you get into Facebook edge rank, you are more likely to show up in the news feed if you post something manually, than if you use an outside tool to publish to Facebook. So those kinds of situations its actually better to get into the tool, plus you can see updates from people.
I very much like hootsuite for Twitter, and also just for watching updates from Facebook. I think there are a couple other social media tools you can hook up through hootsuite too, and its free and it’s browser based so that’s pretty convenient. It terms of analytics, Google Analytics is great, it just lets you keep track, I do recommend to all my clients that they set up analytics and also Google Alerts as well so you can be notified when your brand is mentioned, you just get emails, that’s helpful.
Another great tool is social mention dot com, another free one. I’m giving out the free ones, obviously you can go out and spend money an get the top of the line, but it terms of free, social mention is great in terms of monitoring the brand and keeping track of whats being said across the web. Are you going to get everything? Probably not, but you are going to get enough of an overview that you can kind of stay on top of things and also see what the sentiment is, are people generally positive, are there some negative conversations going on, just helps you to keep track, its computer generated number, but at least it gives you an idea.
What are some good ways that a company can address compliance issues, I think there is a good and bad way to do it. What do you do to guide companies if someone says something that is a little bit edgy or is a real compliance issue, what is the best way to approach that?
Well, when we start this talk about compliance, there is a couple of points here, first of all, the first thing you should always do is that personal reach out pick up the phone and say “hey, we had to take down your post, and here is why”. Companies also need to, especially on the company’s Facebook page, you need to have a policy on that page that explains exactly what will be taken down ahead of time so people aren’t surprised as well.
I would say, 9 times out of 10, if people are out of compliance they have no idea, and once you call it to their attention, the are terribly sorry, they can’t believe they did it, it’s not intentional. That’s why it’s super important just to have that person, whether it’s in customer service or where ever that person lies within your organization, just get on the phone and say “hey, just wanted to let you know”. 9 times our of 10, that fixes the problem. When it does not, obviously you need to have within your policies certain things that say “if you do X, Y is going to happen”, and at some point you are going to have to, the most extreme would be taking away a distributorship, but that is not required for a majority of the cases.