007 ~ An Agent For Change

Change Agent, 007, Live and Let Die, Oak Consult, Mark Conway, Organisational Change, Effective Listening, InfluencerThe original version of this post was a partial celebration of the 50th Think Oak! post together with the 50th Anniversary of the James Bond Movies. What better way to celebrate than to talk about very special agents, Change Agents!

Firstly what is a Change Agent?

A Change Agent is a person who leads change within an organisation, by championing change and by helping to communicate the excitement, possibilities, and details of the change to others within the organisation. A change agent doesn’t need to be a full-time, formal role. It can be simply the way someone chooses to be in an organisation.

What are the personal qualities of the ‘007’ of Change Agents?

The Best  Change Agents ‘LIVE AND LET DIE’

L – Love Change!

Probably not a surprise to you that the best agents of change, love change! They thrive on being involved in new ideas, initiatives and projects and are not afraid to roll their sleeves up to get the job done.

I – Innovative

I’m not talking of their ability to develop exploding pens, but innovation in the way they communicate, engage and enrol others in the change effort. They don’t just come up with ideas, they know how to apply them.  Great Change Agents are curious, experimental, and they apply their discoveries to the organisation’s goals.

V – Visionary

Great change agents help to shape the future. They can see very clearly where the change effort needs to go and have a clear vision of what the future will feel and look like, and more importantly the key steps to take the organisation there.

E – Enthusiastic

Change Agents need to have enthusiasm in abundance. It can often be a tough role and often requires a great deal self-motivation to keep momentum in an organisational change effort.

A – Articulate

Communication is THE most important part of being a good agent for change. The best of the best have the ability to articulate the WIIFM – ‘What’s In It For Me’ at all levels of the organisation. They know what makes people tick and know how change will impact individuals and teams alike.

N – Not afraid to speak the truth

This one is certainly near the top of my list for a killer Change Agent. Change Agents, by their very nature, speak to people on the shop floor right the way up to Chief Executive level in organisations. They hear what the ‘troops’ are saying and they see how the senior management interact and behave. By being effective, and by speaking the ‘awful’ truth when necessary, they can be the conduit from the bottom to the top of an organisation, conveying key news, good or bad, straight to the people who can change things for the better.

D – Deliver + 1%

Bond always delivers and then some. So do great Change Agents. They always go the extra mile to ensure that everyone that is impacted by change are engaged, enrolled and bought in to what is required of them. They work tirelessly to engage with the key influencers to ensure that the organisation is as prepared as they can be for change.

L – Listening

Those that are avid readers of Think Oak! know of my passion for generous or active listening. Great Change Agents are masters at listening for what is being said and more importantly for what is not being said, taking time to really understand the challenges that individuals, teams, departments and functions face. They take this feedback and tailor communications and training as well as feeding the learning back into the wider organisation.

E – Empathetic

To many people, change is unsettling at best and to some, downright scary. A solitary piece of generic communication to the organisation is unlikely to affect change and unlikely to address people’s questions or concerns. Change Agents invest time to understand people’s worries and address them with empathy to get the right results.

T – Trusted

For Change Agents to be effective, they have to build reputation of trust with their peers and others in the organisation. They always do what they say they’ll do.

D – Decisive

Change Agents can’t be procrastinators. Decisions often need to be made quickly especially around people issues and business impact challenges. Great Change Agents act with urgency and aren’t afraid to deliver difficult messages to senior management or management teams.

I – Influencer

Stakeholder awareness and management is crucial to the success of any major organisational change programme. An effective Change Agent is a key influencer in an organisation. The have the ability AND relationships, to overcome issues and barriers quickly. They very often anticipate the challenges ahead and engage with key stakeholders in advance to smooth the road ahead.

E – Egoless

Top Change Agents are not in it for themselves. They are 100% behind the change itself and the success of the organisation.

So whilst a ‘007’ Change Agent isn’t quite as glamorous an individual as James Bond, they’re still pretty special.

Hope you enjoyed the post. As always, would love to hear any feedback you may have.

Wake Up and Understand Your Customers

Wake up Call, Wake up and Understand Your Customers, Oak Consult‘Wake Up and Understand Your Customers’ should have been my first blog post and not my 78th! It’s taken me a few years in customer facing roles and running my own business to truly get it!

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always known the importance of customers, having worked for some truly customer centric brands and have always done what I thought was always best for the customer, but for me that hasn’t been good enough upon reflection.

If you work in a medium to large business – as a Product Manager, in Sales, a Marketer, a Commercial Finance Manager, a Social Media Manager, a PR Manager, a Project Manager, an IT Manager or indeed a Management Consultant – do you really know what your customer wants? Or your customer’s customer for that matter? What issues do they face every day? What do they have as their number one priority? If you do, fantastic! Come back next time for my next blog post.

If you don’t or even if you think you do…read on. I’d like to outline some basics and some do’s and don’ts for people to think about. I’m not saying I’m perfect, I’m not at all. I just want to try to rationalise some recent thinking and hopefully get your thoughts.

In Part 1 of 3, I’d like to cover the basics, in Part 2 – the Do’s and in Part 3 – the Don’t’s when it comes to customer understanding

Part 1

The Basics

1. Chances are that your product or service is not your customer’s number one priority

Business owners spend their time driving their business forward – Winning new customers, keeping existing customers, ensuring cash flow and ensuring they have enough money in the bank to pay people’s wages, their own bills and their mortgages.

They don’t want to be spending their time chasing suppliers or dealing with poor service from their supply chain. If your product or service becomes their number one priority because it’s hurting their business, you’d better make sure you give it your full attention or you’ll end up losing them. It may already be too late!

From a Sales and Marketing perspective your product or service only becomes a priority when your customers have a real need for it – when some technology breaks down, when costs from a current supplier become prohibitive, when they need to make business improvements but don’t have the resources or skills in-house or when they want to differentiate themselves and are prepared to invest to do so…to name only a few. Having intelligence on your customers as to when they might be in a position to purchase products or services will save you huge amounts of time, effort and wasted effort in getting in front of a customer at the right time.

2. Segmentation – Damned if you do and damned if you don’t

Strategists, Management Consultants and Marketers need to segment the market, need to generalise, extrapolate and convince decision makers to ‘develop this product’, market to ‘this segment’. I understand completely. It is very difficult to build a product or service that is tailored to everyone. It is less difficult to market and sell to customers if you know your market, your product and your customers inside out though.

According to the Department for Business Innovation & Skill based on data collected at the start of 2013, there are around 4.9m businesses currently operating in the UK. These businesses employ over 24.3 million people, and turn over an estimated £3.3 trillion.

A massive 99.9% of all enterprises are defined as Small and Medium Enterprises – SMEs (i.e. they employ less than 250 people), and SMEs employ just over 59% of all private sector employees. 99.2% of all enterprises are defined as ‘small’ – businesses with less than 50 employees, and 74% of all the businesses in the UK have no employees at all – That’s over 3.5 million businesses that purchase and behave very differently to those with even 5 employees. Combine that with the number of vertical markets you may need to contend with and the segmentation permutations grow to a significant and often unmanageable number.

There are many ways to segment, but it’s best to start by looking at value. After all, this is why you’re segmenting in the first place – to help your business generate more valuable returns.

Create an investment model, using two or three dimensions together. This can help you build a high level portfolio view of your customer base to enable you to separate differentiated value.

For Example:

Value: The monthly or annual profit per individual customer (or revenue if profit figures are not available). Average customer value won’t help here.

Potential: Following propensity modelling at the planning level, this assesses a customer’s potential value from up-selling or cross-selling.

Retention: Again using propensity modelling, this maps the likelihood of each customer staying with your business.

Value Retention Potential Strategy Grow Protect Avoid Build Relationships, Understand your customers

3. Ignore Sole Traders / Small Businesses at your peril.

Sole Traders, Small and Micro Businesses are often disregarded by many companies as being too small to be worth bothering with. Big mistake. Oak Consult is a small business with no employees (at the moment!) but a number of associates and partners who I work with on a regular basis. We work primarily in the technology sectors and meet hundreds of other business people face to face each year. Via social media I have in excess of 15,000 direct business connections through Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn and Facebook across my brands and across the globe. I am an influencer as well as a buyer of services. People seek my opinion and I will give it. My custom is almost worthless to some of my suppliers, and it feels that way. My custom is valued by others – even suppliers that provide me with free services. Some businesses understand that whilst I may not be spending a huge amount with them today, I have the potential to spend much more with them tomorrow. It makes a difference to me and ultimately to them, because I will recommend them time and time again over any of the ‘big’ brands that can’t be bothered to know who I am. When WhatsApp was acquired for $19bn they had only 55 employees! Via a fully thought through market segmentation analysis would WhatsApp be at the top of any sales person’s agenda….or marketing….or ‘Wine and Dine’ list a few years ago? Unless you were very switched on, I would suggest not.

 

4. Who makes the decisions?

In this section, I’m not talking beyond the micro business, where by and large it is the owner that will always make the decision.

Understanding who makes the final decision (and who influences it) has always been a key part of selling to larger organisation. The boundaries have started to change though. Particularly around technology decision-making.

Historically, the IT department have selected software suppliers and have been trusted to make the right choice. The Marketing department has always had the major, if not only, say in which Marketing / Design / Web and Social Media agency is the right choice. Product Managers and Technical Engineers have more often than not, erred towards an ‘in-house’ solution for all the ‘right’ reasons and decision makers have been heavily influenced by the ‘experts’.

The worm is turning.

The challenge is, and there are notable and brilliant exceptions (I know many), that IT don’t understand customers or their business, Marketing Managers don’t understand the market or their customers, Product Managers and Engineers don’t like the ‘not invented here’ principle, and many others operationally, fear dramatic change. Move into the public sector and you have a whole new set of rules, hurdles and shenanigans to deal with.

As a decision maker in a business or organisation, who do you trust?  It’s a tough one. For many business leaders, their ‘gut-feel’ has been enough to see them through.  For others, they have leaned upon their deputies and their senior leadership team to be their conscience. Who honestly comes to the table with no baggage? I would argue that no-one does. Everyone has an angle – internally and externally.

The real trick is knowing your customers and their business well enough to know when to talk and when to listen; to know who to listen to and for how long; to know who influences who and who doesn’t. Who’s just playing nice and who wants to do business.

I hoped you enjoyed Part 1. In Part 2, I’ll be talking about the ‘Do’s’ of understanding your customer.

A to Z of Career Progression

A to Z, Career Progression, Business Strategy, Business Continuity, Information Security, Marketing, Social Media, Business TransformationThe world of work has evolved and changed significantly in the last 20 years. No longer is a job for life and you need to be in the driving seat when it comes to career progression. When did you last make time to reassess what you want from your career? Maybe today is that day! I thought I’d put this A to Z together to give some tips on where you might focus, what planning you might want to carry out and what action you can take to work on your career.

A – Ambition

I guess you wouldn’t be reading this post at all if you weren’t ambitious and didn’t want to learn more about how to develop yourself, your standard of living or find your next role.

Donald Trump extols the importance of ambition with the following quote:

“Get going. Move forward. Aim High. Plan a take-off. Don’t just sit on the runway and hope someone will come along and push the airplane. It simply won’t happen. Change your attitude and gain some altitude. Believe me, you’ll love it up here.”

Unfortunately, ambition by itself will not get you where you want to go. Ambition must be paired with action and execution to be truly meaningful.

B – Brand You

What is it that you want from life? What’s your vision for your own future? What personal values do you live by? What’s important for you in your life? Where would you like to be in 10 years? How do you want to be perceived by others?

I’ve found a couple of simple ways to get to the bottom of some of these often tough questions.

  1. Imagine that you were told you had 10 years to live, starting today, and you would be completely healthy during that time. How would you spend that time?
  2. Imagine that you’re 100 years old, you’ve lived your life to the full and you know that you only have a minute or so before you leave this world. Your great-granddaughter is sitting by your side and she asks you – ‘From everything you’ve learned from your life, what advice could you give me as to how I get the most from mine?’

Doing these two exercises could have a powerful impact on you. They did with me. Your answers will help you understand your personal brand and brand values and ultimately your OMG – your One Magnificent Goal!

For more information on your personal brand please see a downloadable series of posts – Brand New, Brand You

C – Career Planning

So, you’re ambitious, you understand your personal Vision, Values and what you want from life. That’s more than most people, so you’re off to a good start!

If you’re a regular Think Oak! reader you’ll know what comes next – Goals! Setting Goals for your career path, will help you monitor your progress and give you a plan, that you should revisit at least quarterly, but I would suggest monthly.

Your career plan should have some short, medium and long-term goals. Work back from your One Magnificent Goal, your OMG (if you have one!) and fill in the milestones along the way and more detailed, inch-pebbles in the nearer term.

It’s a good idea to review this with at least one other person on a regular basis to keep you honest and on track.

Download a free Think Oak! Career and Development Template here

D – Discipline

Progressing in your career and working through your personal development plan requires commitment and discipline. One of the main reasons why people fail is that there is no discipline in their action. They give themselves excuses why they cannot consistently follow-up on their plans. You will need to sacrifice some personal time to complete your goals in your career plan and that sacrifice takes discipline. Discipline also ensures that you can be persistent, especially when faced with challenges after challenges in your journey to success.

Entrepreneur, author and motivational speaker, Jim Rohn said:

‘We must all suffer one of two things: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret or disappointment’

Your choice!

E – Elevator Pitch

You’re in an elevator, a corridor or at a party and the CEO of the firm you’ve always wanted to work for, is standing next to you. What do you say?

Elevator pitches are developed to relay just enough information to cause the person you’re speaking to, to ask, “Tell me more.” If you’re lucky, the CEO will say, “If you have a few minutes, I want to hear more.” If you’re even luckier, your prospective boss will ask you to set up an appointment the next day to meet up. All of that from the development, memorising, and tweaking of a few simple yet incredibly powerful words.

Putting your pitch together

1. Who are you? Introduce yourself and your credentials up front. There’s no point in saying anything if the listener has no idea who you are or if you have any credibility.

2. What’s your objective? Get to the point quickly about what you are looking for or how that person can help. Being direct not only grabs attention but helps the listener to put your pitch into context.

3. What can you do for the listener? This is where you explain how recruiting you will meet their need. Your goals and dreams are all well and good but remember in the end what you are offering must benefit them. This is your chance to communicate what makes you someone who your audience should consider helping.  People typically like to help those that they feel will be successful in the process.  There are a few things you should think about when highlighting your qualifications:- industry relevance, leadership, expertise, pedigree, and impact.

4. The close – this is tricky to deliver effectively, but ideally you need an outcome to the conversation. This could be a follow-up meeting with the person you’re pitching to, a name of someone who you need to contact to follow-up, or some advice as to how to reach your goal.

Once you have your personal elevator pitch, practice it in front of the mirror. If possible, try to video or audio tape yourself, and watch it in fast forward. You’ll be amazed at your nervous habits!

F – Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway

In Susan Jeffers’ book ‘Feel the Fear And Do It Anyway’, she gives some great insight and practical tools to help you improve your self-belief and your ability to face even the things that you fear the most.

It’s almost impossible to go through life without experiencing some kind of failure. People who do so probably live so cautiously that they go nowhere. Put simply, they’re not really living at all.

The wonderful thing about failure is that it’s entirely up to us to decide how to look at it.

We can choose to see failure as “the end of the world,” or as proof of just how inadequate we are. Or, we can look at failure as the incredible learning experience that it often is. Every time we fail at something, we can choose to look for the lesson we’re meant to learn. These lessons are very important; they’re how we grow, and how we keep from making that same mistake again. Failures stop us only if we let them.

G – Glass Ceiling and How to Smash It

Despite knowing that you have much more potential, is there a limit for “people like you” in your organisation? If so, you’ve hit what’s known as the “glass ceiling.” This is the point at which you can clearly see the next level of promotion – yet, despite your best efforts, an invisible barrier seems to stop you from getting there.

Historically, the glass ceiling concept was applied to women and some minorities. It was very hard, if not impossible, for them to reach senior management positions. No matter how qualified or experienced, they simply were not given opportunities to further advance their careers. Thankfully today, there are many more women and minorities in powerful positions. However, the glass ceiling is still very real. And it’s not always limited to gender or race.

Below are 5 ways you can help to smash through the glass ceiling:

  • Align your objectives and competencies with senior management
  • Build your internal network and relationships
  • Over-perform in everything you do
  • Find a mentor within senior management
  • Move sideways under a different manager who will support your growth

If all else fails you do have a choice to move from your organisation altogether for your next career move.

H – Hard Work

I don’t know many successful people who have got to where they have without a great deal of hard work. True hard work never goes unnoticed. You will gain a recognition and prominence not only in the organisation that you are working in, but also outside the company in your profession.  This will surely work for you when you are creating your job reputation & professional profile.

I’m not saying you have to work 16 hour days every day, although that might be necessary sometimes. I’m saying that 9-5 no longer exists; a job for life no longer exists; and a ‘God-given’ right to promotion based upon your tenure in an organisation, no longer exists.

I – Intuition

Boosting your intuitive intelligence and using it to “coach” you on the job can be your career’s secret weapon. This was confirmed in a research study at New Jersey Institute of Technology, which tested hundreds of business managers for intuitive ability. Those who demonstrated superior intuitive ability also were better at effective decision-making skills. In a Harvard study, 80 percent of surveyed executives credited their success to intuition. And business luminaries from Conrad Hilton to Bill Gates to Oprah Winfrey have declared it essential for success.

Donald Trump said, “I’ve built a multi-billion-dollar empire by using my intuition.”

So, how can we use this valuable skill on the job to become smarter, better employees? You can boost your intuitive intelligence by becoming aware of it, tuning in to what it’s trying to tell you, and heeding its advice. Like any skill, the more you practice it, the easier it becomes.

J – Job Satisfaction

Generally, you can have three fundamental approaches to your work:

Is it your career, your job, or your passion?

Depending on which category of work you put yourself in, the things which offer you satisfaction will vary.

If you feel you are pursuing your career, then chances of promotion and career development opportunities will measure your levels of job satisfaction. Your overall level of satisfaction will be closely associated with your power, status, or position.

If you feel you are doing a job, then it is the salary which will measure your levels of job satisfaction.

If you feel you are pursuing your passion, then work itself will determine your level of satisfaction, no matter what money you are earning or what your position in the organisation is.

In order to attain job satisfaction, first realise what kind of person you are and what gives you happiness. If you are happy, you tend to feel satisfied.

K – Key Performance Indicators

What are your personal KPI’s? Do you have any? Every individual has different goals in different spheres of their lives, whether at work or at home. How do you know when you’re on track or off-track?

By keeping a regular view of what’s important to you in order to advance your career, your relationships, your health or your finances you can begin to understand which areas of your life you need to invest time to improve.

As with any performance indicators, they should have target dates / measures and your should track your progress against them. Where you are falling short, you will need to put remedial action against them. As with your career plan, it is often useful to discuss these with someone you trust to keep you on track.

L – Learn More, Earn More

If you are looking to advance your career, get promoted or even just stay relevant in today’s job market you must be developing new skills all of the time. Many of those skills you will need to develop will be outside of your comfort zone. You need to stretch, take risks and sometimes fail!

Continuous learning is a must for anyone wanting to progress their career. The next few letters within this A to Z will give you some pointers on how to keep your knowledge and learning current and more importantly useful to progressing your career.

M – Mentor

Mentoring is a relationship between two people with the goal of professional and personal development. More professionals these days are actively pursuing mentoring to advance their careers. Whether you’re on the giving or receiving end, these types of partnerships can benefit your career.

A mentoring partnership may be between two people within the same organisation, same industry, same networking organisation or anyone whose professional opinion you value and have a good relationship with. However the partners come together, the relationship should be based on mutual trust and respect, and it typically offers personal and professional advantages for both parties.

A trusted mentor can help you do the following:

• Gain valuable advice – Mentors can offer valuable insight into what it takes to get ahead. They can be your guide and “sounding board” for ideas, helping you decide on the best course of action in difficult situations. You may learn short-cuts that help you work more effectively and avoid “reinventing the wheel.”

• Develop your knowledge and skills – They can help you identify the skills and expertise you need to succeed. They may teach you what you need to know, or advise you on where to go for the information you need.

• Improve your communication skills – Just like your mentor, you may also learn to communicate more effectively, which can further help you at work.

• Learn new perspectives – Again, you can learn new ways of thinking from your mentor, just as your mentor can learn from you.

• Build your network – Your mentor can offer an opportunity to expand your existing network of personal and professional contacts.

• Advance your career – A mentor helps you stay focused and on track in your career through advice, skills development, networking, and so on.

N – Network

You would be amazed at the number of people who still don’t understand the importance of networking – Online AND Offline

Building relationships is crucial – there are many smart, talented people who don’t progress as much as they would hope in their career because they are not visible to the “right” people.

For more on how to build your business network and personal profile visit – Business Networking – It’s not ‘what’ you know…

O – Opportunities

Opportunities are all around you, all of the time. So you need to be continually watching out for them. Get into the habit of looking for possible opportunities every day. Keep a notebook or digital recorder with you, or use a smartphone app like Evernote to note down opportunities when you think of them. Write down as many possible opportunities as you can – you can trim your list back to the most relevant opportunities later on.

You also need to make an effort to seek out “hidden” opportunities. These are opportunities like job openings that aren’t advertised, and projects that you can initiate because you have spotted an unfulfilled need within your organisation or industry.

Begin with your organisation. Keep an eye on current internal or upcoming vacancies, and on any plans for the organisation to expand or change direction. Also, think about how you could progress in the organisation from your current position – what paths are available to you?

It might be obvious which opportunity is best for you. If not, it can be useful to do a grid analysis to make a well-balanced decision. This technique works by getting you to list your options as rows on a table, and the factors that are important to you (such as fit with your strengths and interests) as columns.

You then score each option/factor combination, weight this score by the relative importance of the factor, and add these scores up to give an overall score for each option.

P – Politics without the Politics

Office politics is a fact of company life. Wherever there are two or more people working together, there will be politics and there will be opportunity for conflict. However, destructive office politics can demoralise people in an organisation, hamper productivity, and increase turnover of good staff.

The best way to deal with political environments is to engage them, to turn toward them. To turn away is to abdicate your responsibilities as a leader and manager. It is to let down yourself, your team, and even the organisation as a whole.

So how do you play politics without the politics? Read further about how to be P.O.L.I.T.I.C.A.L.L.Y S.A.V.V.Y. in  – Playing Politics without the Politics

Q – Qualifications

Having the right qualifications for your chosen career will very often get you through the door for an interview. Depending on your particular field, and seniority in that field, you may require more or less vocational qualifications.

For any career, keeping your skills current and future-proofed should be an ongoing and important part of your development. In many cases, this may be ‘on the job’ learning and development, but many occupations also demand a level of qualification for you to even be considered to move to the next level. That being said, once you’re working in an organisation, it will very often be your attitude, work-rate, delivery and over-achievement that will count much more than qualifications for progression.

R – Read

According to a Harvard Business Review article last year, the leadership benefits of reading are wide-ranging. Evidence suggests reading can improve intelligence and lead to innovation and insight. Some studies have shown, for example, that reading makes you smarter through “a larger vocabulary and more world knowledge in addition to the abstract reasoning skills.” Reading — whether Wikipedia, Michael Lewis, or Aristotle — is one of the quickest ways to acquire and assimilate new information. Many business people claim that reading across fields is good for creativity. And leaders who can sample insights in other fields, such as sociology, the physical sciences, economics, or psychology, and apply them to their organizations are more likely to innovate and prosper.

Reading can also make you more effective in leading others. Reading increases verbal intelligence, making a leader a more adept and articulate communicator. Reading novels can improve empathy and understanding of social cues, allowing a leader to better work with and understand others — traits that author Anne Kreamer persuasively linked to increased organisational effectiveness, and to pay raises and promotions for the leaders who possessed these qualities. And any business person understands that heightened emotional intelligence will improve his or her leadership and management ability.

Using down-time during your day, you can increase your reading capacity enormously. There are a plethora of ways to access books on the move – Smartphones, tablet devices and audio books. I personally find that using my daily commute to listen to audio books means that I can get through 4 or 5 books per month.

S – Soft Skills

Aside from reading, attaining professional qualifications and ‘on-the-job’ training, it’s also worth investing time, effort and money in honing some of the softer skills, often untaught in schools and universities and expected in senior business positions. This sort of training falls into 2 broad categories, namely Self-Management and People Skills. I’ve listed below some of the skills within these broad headings that you may wish improve upon once you have a good understanding of your Strengths and Areas for Development under letter ‘U’ below.

Self-Management

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-confidence
  • Self-promotion
  • Time Management
  • Strategic Thinking
  • Problem Analysis & Solving
  • Working with others
  • Building Teams
  • Delegation

People Skills

  • Communication Skills
  • Presentation Skills
  • Interviewing techniques
  • Selling & Negotiation
  • People Management
  • Leadership
  • Stakeholder Management
  • Mentoring & Coaching

Getting this sort of training maybe freely available through your organisation, or via training companies or through local colleges. Be sure to get feedback on the course content and quality before you invest your valuable time, effort and money.

T – Treat Everyone with Respect

Albert Einstein said it best, I think: “I speak to everyone in the same way, whether he is the garbage man or the president of the university.”

Respect is not only about how you talk to people. Human beings crave the respect of others; it’s in our DNA. When we feel like nobody respects us, it’s difficult for us to be positive and productive. When we don’t respect ourselves, we act in ways that our counter to our interests in an attempt to make ourselves feel better.

Cultivating self-respect and earning the respect of others goes a long way toward leading a balanced, healthy, happy life as well as improving your chances of career progression.

The 10 commandments of Respect according to Think Oak! All of which could be encompassed by – ‘Treat others as you would like to be treated’

  1. Act with integrity
  2. Display good manners
  3. Be punctual
  4. Actively listen when someone is talking to you
  5. Follow through on your promises
  6. Understand the impact that you might have on others – your ‘Shadow’
  7. Be compassionate
  8. Value the opinion of others
  9. Be appreciative
  10. Admit when you’re wrong

U – Understand your Strengths & Areas for Development

On the downloadable Think Oak! Career and Development Template, you will find two sections to complete around Strengths and Areas for Development.

Before you complete these sections, I’d like you to do two separate tasks:

  1. Write down all your Strengths and Areas for Development that you can think of. Refine these down to those you will really need to work on to achieve your OMG.
  2. Get some feedback. You may think you know who your are and what you need to do to achieve your goals, but you may find that trusted people in your network can help you tweak or even re-evaluate some of these.

Now, fill in your template.

V – Volunteer

Whether internally or externally, volunteer to do new things, especially if they’re not in your job description! Get involved in initiatives that your organisation is launching or volunteer in your local community. Getting involved in new initiatives or community activity has a number of benefits:

Internal:

Many organisations give people opportunities to get involved in projects that are outside of your job description whether that be Customer Experience Champions, Employee Representatives on committees or sponsors for particular projects. Whilst you shouldn’t allow these opportunities to prevent you from completing your objectives at work, they are a great opportunity for you to build you profile with people from around the organisation, learn new skills and widen your sphere of influence – assuming you do a good job and don’t just use it as an excuse to get away from your day job!

External:

If you’re considering a new or change of career, volunteering can help you get experience in your area of interest and help you meet people in the field. Even if you’re not planning on changing careers, volunteering gives you the opportunity to practice important skills used in the workplace, such as teamwork, communication, problem solving, project planning, task management, and people skills. You might feel more comfortable stretching your wings at work once you’ve honed these skills in a volunteer position first.

Volunteering also offers you the chance to try out a new career without making a long-term commitment. It is also a great way to gain experience in a new field. In some fields, you can volunteer directly at an organisation that does the kind of work you’re interested in. For example, if you’re interested in nursing, you could volunteer at a hospital or a nursing home. Your volunteer work might also expose you to professional organisations or internships that could be of benefit to your career.

Just because volunteer work is unpaid does not mean the skills you learn are basic. Many volunteering opportunities provide extensive training. For example, you could become an experienced crisis counsellor while volunteering at the Samaritans or gain NVQ’s towards teaching qualifications as a support teacher.

Volunteering can also help you build upon skills you already have and use them to benefit the greater community. For instance, if you hold a successful sales position, you raise awareness for your favourite cause as a volunteer advocate, while further developing and improving your public speaking, communication, and marketing skills.

W – Work – Life Balance

This is a tough one for ambitious, driven and career-minded people. It’s actually very easy to get to a point when you’re consistently working 12, 13, 14 or more hour days. For most people, it is physically not sustainable to continue to produce continued quality results working at this level. Something will give – your health, your marriage and family life, your relationships outside of work, your personal time or a combination of any or all of these. It is much better to work on your personal time management skills, your delegation of tasks and understanding what’s critical to your success than to burn yourself out. Believe me, I know from personal experience!

Work smarter, not harder. Don’t get me wrong  – You will need to put in an all-nighter occasionally, you will and should invest in entertaining customers or building your network outside of the 9-5, but you should equally invest time in yourself, your friends and family and for relaxation.

X – 10000 Hours of Mastery

X with a horizontal line above it, is the Roman numeral for 10,000 and Malcolm Gladwell in his great book, Outliers, states that 10,000 hours of practice is required to truly master a field in life, citing The Beatles, Bill Gates and others as examples.

In order to be the best at anything, you do need innate talent, but you also need to practice your craft and practice a great deal!

Hard work alone is not enough, however. Talent, passion and spotting as well as taking opportunities also matter.

Y – You are in charge

Your career progression is no-one else’s responsibility other than your own. You set the pace, you decide when to leave a job that you don’t enjoy, and ultimately you decide how much effort you want to invest in your future. With the right attitude, behaviours, skills, experience and support, you can achieve your goals. Take the next step today!

Z – Zeroes and how to add them to your salary

By acting upon this A to Z, you are already positioning yourself for success in your career. It is essential that you continue to work on your career plan. Review it each month and update your 30, 60 and 90 day plans accordingly. Continually look for opportunities and take seriously any that come your way. Whilst it is often easier to stay in your comfort zone, that isn’t the way to progress your career. You will need to take some risks. Some will pay off, others won’t, but you will learn from them!

I hope you enjoyed the A to Z of Career Progression. As always, would love to hear any feedback or thoughts you may have.

A to Z of Employability

A to Z, Employability, Business Strategy, Business Continuity, Information Security, Marketing, Social Media, Business Transformation

I often get asked by teachers, lecturers and students what are the key skills and qualities that businesses are looking for in young people leaving full-time education for a career in business. In this A – Z I’d like to give some pointers on the very important topic of Employability. I would suggest that there are some people already in business, who are looking to progress their career that could also enhance their skills in some of these areas covered in this post.

A – Attitude

A positive attitude is the key foundation for employability – this can be summed up as a ‘can-do’ approach, a readiness to take part and contribute, openness to new ideas and a drive to make those ideas happen.

B – Behaviours

I’ve listed below some of the key behaviours I would expect to see in any of my employees:

Being courteous and having good manners

Being punctual for meetings

Generous listening of others

Honesty – always be up front

C – Commitment

If you commit to something, then follow through with it. If you do what you say you’ll do, and consistently, you will quickly be recognised as someone who can be trusted to get the job done.

D – Digitally Literate

The nature of knowledge is changing and, in this digital age, our definition of basic literacy urgently needs expanding. With an estimated 90% of UK jobs requiring some level of IT competency, the notion of digital literacy – those capabilities that equip an individual for living, learning and working in a digital society – is one that needs to be taken seriously by schools, colleges and universities. In fact, 16 million people in the UK aged 15 and over still don’t have basic on-line Skills.

Examples of Digital Literacy:

  • Understanding how to use web browsers, search engines, email, text, wiki, desktop publishing, and office software such as spreadsheets, word processors, presentation suites and databases.
  • The ability to evaluate on-line resources for accuracy/trustworthiness of information.
  • Understanding of social media and on-line etiquette
  • Ability to use basic hardware such as projectors, electronic whiteboards, printers and so on.

E – Enthusiastic

Whether you are just starting out in the workplace or you are looking to further your career, enthusiasm for work and the organisation you are targeting is hugely important.

Interviewers / hiring managers love enthusiastic people. They love them because they convey a sense that they will go the extra mile to excel in the role. They’ll do everything on the job description and a bit more.

F – Flexible

Flexibility of an employee is very high on my personal list of qualities I am looking for in candidates for any role. Someone who is prepared to roll their sleeves up to help someone meet a deadline or take on extra responsibility for a special project, even if it’s not their job, will get noticed for all the right reasons.  Going the extra mile for internal or external customers and being willing to adapt to change is crucial for many roles and many organisations.

G – Goal Oriented

People who know what they want are always more likely to get it. The most successful people in business are those who have clear goals to aim for. So decide right now what your goals are in terms of income, lifestyle, and so on. When your goals are clear in your own mind, you dramatically increase your chances of reaching them. In other words, you need to be organised, deadline driven, and do NOT always rely on others to give you a task.

H – Helping Others

Whether it’s showing someone how to insert a picture into a presentation or proof-reading a proposal, helping other people is a great way to build relationships, shows a willingness to succeed and increases the likelihood of you receiving help when you need it. We all need help sometimes!

I – Impact

Presenting a strong, competent, positive image to others throughout your career is important. Having the ability to converse confidently one on one and in groups is something the majority of people need to do in their careers. It’s worth investing time and effort in working on you presentation skills early!

J – Judgement

Judgement is needed for any job. The ability to make a sound decision based on the facts and implement a plan can make the difference between failure and success. Assessing the strength of your judgement skills and those of others can help you learn to improve your chances of employment and success.

K – Knowledgeable

Whilst you can learn many things on the job, any role will demand a certain base level of knowledge. The more knowledge you can build up about your chosen career path, the better. Whatever field you are looking to work in, there will be boundless information already published on-line and in periodicals. Get into the habit early of reading around your industry vertical and keep up-to-date. As an employer, you can tell very quickly who is well-read and informed and who isn’t.

L – Learner

Each of us can always learn and learn every day.  You can learn from people in your teams, your customer interactions, a mentor, your business network, podcasts as well as from reading and more formal structured training. Make learning a habit that you never break.

M – Manage Your Time

Time management is the effective use of a range of skills, tools and techniques used to organise or manage time when accomplishing specific tasks, projects and goals. Effective time management is underpinned by a range of additional skills which include planning, allocating, goal setting, delegation, monitoring and analysis of time spent, organising, scheduling and prioritising. In most roles you will be expected to juggle all of your work load and hit deadlines.

N – Numeracy Skills

Numeracy involves an understanding of numerical data, statistics and graphs, it is also part of making decisions and reasoning.  Numeracy skills are very important, irrespective of whether you consider a job to be “working with numbers”. Having competence and being confident in working with numbers is a skill that can be used to your advantage in a wide range of employment settings. For example, knowing how profitable a company is, understanding value for money for purchasing and ordering supplies, following a budget or just calculating your holiday time. Being able to understand and analyse data in different formats is considered an essential skill in many organisations.

O – Organised

Being organised is a requisite for any job that involves other people or working to time frames. Employers will want to know that you can be relied on to deliver projects and information on schedule. It’s largely about being logical and controlled.

P – Professional

It is important to remain professional at all times when engaged in a business environment, whether for an organisation or your own business. Being professional not only lets people know you are a reputable person to work with, but also conveys intelligence and poise regarding your position.

People who are professional are unfailingly polite, courteous and well-spoken, no matter what the situation. Being professional means you keep your cool and remain calm under any circumstances. No matter how upset a co-worker or customer makes you, you don’t react; you deal with the situation rationally and calmly.

Q – Quality of Work

Maintaining a high quality of work is essential in the workplace. People do not expect to have to check grammar and spelling, spreadsheet formulae, formatting of documents or monitor your work rate on an hourly basis. Assuming you have been trained on the task at hand, you are expected to perform your work with minimum intervention.

R – Resourcefulness

With the recession forcing us to make do with what we have, being resourceful is now a necessary skill for today’s generation of leaders AND employees. It is not simply a matter of doing more with less. It’s about being able to find innovative solutions to problems; it’s about thinking about things differently and about calling on creativity and imagination to get better results with limited resource. Being able to demonstrate this skill will push you further in your career faster than many other qualities listed here.

S – Self-Awareness

Self-awareness is the ability to recognise moods, emotions, and drivers of our behaviour and understand their impact on others and your job performance. People with strong self-awareness not only are able to identify their feelings but also understand why those feelings occur. They are also aware of their strengths and weaknesses and are not afraid to talk about them. That awareness also helps them avoid setting themselves for failures due to overpromising or overstretching on tasks.

T – Teamwork

All employers are keen to recruit people who are able to co-operate and work in teams. As less hierarchical organisations have emerged with project teams, self-managed work teams and management teams, so the requirements to ‘Get on well with people’, and to ‘Work with and through others’ become increasingly important.

Teamwork involves working confidently within a group, contributing your own ideas effectively, taking a share of the responsibility, being assertive – rather than passive or aggressive, accepting and learning from constructive criticism and giving positive, constructive feedback to others.

U – Understand the Business

I’m amazed when someone comes to interview and hasn’t researched the company, looked into recent successes or in some cases even clicked around the company website. This tells me that they’re not enthusiastic about joining my team.

Managers expect their team members to be interested in their business, understand the organisation’s vision and values, as well as the key goals and metrics of their department.

V – Verbal Communication

Effective spoken communication requires being able to express your ideas and views clearly, confidently and concisely in speech, tailoring your content and style to the audience.

Be clear and concise – Vary your tone, pace and volume to enhance the communication and encourage questions

Persuading and Negotiating – Arriving at an agreement that is agreeable to both sides: a Win-Win situation. Back up your points with logic. Show tact to those you disagree with.

Making a speech in front of an audience – presenting your message in an interesting way, structuring your presentation, using audio-visual aids effectively and building a rapport with your audience.

Communicating effectively in a team – Giving and receiving feedback, listening to what others are saying and often more importantly, what they’re not saying as well as motivating and supporting others are key skills you can work on.

W – Written Communication

All organisations rely on some form of written communication, so you can increase your employability by developing strong skills related to writing reports, composing concise and effective emails, and courteous, compelling correspondence with suppliers and customers. Employers want to see evidence that potential employees have mastered basic spelling, grammar and business tone in their written communication. Employers want workers who can write simple, direct and effective communications that convey specific messages in keeping with a company’s goals, vision and values. Demonstrate strong written communication skills from the outset by submitting perfectly composed CVs or resumes, cover letters and emails when approaching an organisation for a job.

X – X-Ray Spectacles

What on earth am I talking about? Employees that can see through the noise and get to the heart of an issue, opportunity, or challenge quickly are, in my experience, rare but extremely valuable people to have in any team. The ability to ask probing questions of the right people, research around topics quickly and make informed recommendations or judgements are key skills to practice .

Y – Your Personal Brand

Suffice it to say your Personal Brand is what makes you employable or not. It is a summation of every one of the characteristics, qualities and skills listed in the A-Z of Employability and a whole lot more. I have a whole series of posts on Personal Brand which can be downloaded here –  The Brand New Brand You.

Z – Zealous

You normally hear the word zealous with the word ’over’ before it and then normally a horrendous customer service or HR related story follows. Being zealous is a good thing however! Passion for what you do, for your customers and your colleagues is a great starting place in your career and a great place to finish the A-Z of Employability.

As always, I hope you enjoyed the post and would love to get your feedback.

A to Z of Business Social Media

A to Z, Business Strategy, Business Continuity, Information Security, Marketing, Social Media, Business TransformationA – Alerts

You can sign up for Google Alerts quickly and easily. Using those keywords and phrases from your preliminary research online, you can elect to have any instance of those keywords and phrases as Google finds them sent straight to your inbox.

Enter the topic you wish to monitor, then click Preview to see the type of results you’ll receive.

Anytime Google indexes any mention in search results of the alerts you’re signed up for, you receive an email notification into your inbox. The notification is a direct hyperlink to the article, website, blog, product review, etc., wherein the keyword or phrase appeared.

B – Blogging

Blogs have been around for over a decade. The word stands for ’web log’ and they’re effectively online diaries. Anyone can set one up, that’s the easy part. Thinking of something interesting to say each time you blog is the tricky bit.

There a number of blogging tools available for free and you don’t need any programming skills to use them. A couple of the more popular are WordPress and Blogger.

C – Crowdsourcing

The term “crowdsourcing” was coined by Jeff Howe back in 2006, in a Wired article which described a new way of sourcing people who are willing to help or work on a project. Enough people with sufficient time can transform into a lot of available manpower. I’ve highlighted below a number of different types of Crowdsourcing

Crowdfunding: Projects are funded by a large group of people. Crowdcube is a great example of an online business in the UK which has raised millions of pounds for all kinds of projects across multiple sectors – with all the funds coming from people interested in supporting the project and not just investment institutions.

Crowdsourced design: Projects are funded for a large group of people to design something, for example, a website.  There have been many successfully crowdsourced designs, one of the most famous ones being the Rally Fighter car, which was designed by the community and built by a company called Local Motors.

Crowdwisdom: Where users ask questions in front of a large pool of people willing to answer, like Yahoo Answers. A more serious form of crowd wisdom can be found at InnoCentive, which is a community where large corporations post technical or scientific problems to people who can help to solve the questions.

D – Digg

Digg is a social news website that can help you share blog posts and web pages. If you find a page you want to share, you can “digg” it by submitting the URL and a brief description of the page through the Digg website. Other Digg users will see your submission and “digg” or “bury” it. Submissions that get a log of “diggs” are displayed on the home page of the Digg website where many people will see them and will be likely to click on them.

In short, if your blog post makes it to the home page of Digg, you can expect a huge bump in traffic. Since most bloggers want more traffic, hitting it big with a post that gets featured on the home page of Digg is like winning the lottery. Unfortunately, making it to the home page of Digg is very difficult.

E – Ecommerce

Social media may not be huge source of traffic to retailers yet, but there are signs that sites such as Facebook are, nonetheless, influencing shoppers. According to research conducted by Sociable Labs last year, nearly two-thirds of consumers say they read product reviews from friends on the social network, with three-quarters of that figure saying that they click through to retailers’ websites afterwards. Once there, 53% claim that they made a purchase, making social recommendations as important a shopping tool as Google search. The statistics are a positive for brands and retailers, highlighting the role social media could play influencing consumers’ online purchasing activities.

F – Facebook

Facebook pages are incredibly useful to businesses as a means to engage consumers. They can be used to grow revenues, support customers, extend marketing campaigns, generate extra web traffic and boost brand awareness. Creating the perfect Facebook page for your business takes time, planning and resources. But judging by some of the success stories, it is worth it.

You can set up a Facebook page for free, but if you want to do things properly it is going to require a budget. It takes time and effort, and potentially people power, if you want to get the best out of Facebook.

G – Google+

With a growing list of new functions, tools and features, Google+ is slowly becoming a front-runner in the social space for businesses looking to increase their market appeal to an online audience. The number of active users on Google+ grew 27 per cent in the last quarter of 2012 to 343 million users.

The first step in creating a Google+ presence should be setting up a business brand page. Ensure relevant information is added to the ‘About’ section, and visually appealing cover image and avatar are used to catch the attention of Google+ users. A number of appropriate links should also be added to the ‘About’ section as these can have a positive effect on the business’s search engine ranking. As with all social media platforms, it’s important to keep your content fresh and engaging.

Google+ Local is a useful tool that allows users to discover and locate businesses that have opted into the service. When a business signs up, it can add information including address, contact information, opening times, photographs and reviews. While Google+ Local is more applicable to SMEs that have a physical location rather than being based solely online, Google+ users have the option to add their own reviews to a Local page, helping to influence the choice of future users.

H – Hootsuite

HootSuite is a social media management tool that allows users to update and post any pages or profiles for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, WordPress and others from one place – the HootSuite dashboard. When you sign up, you are essentially given a dashboard with tabs organizing all the social profiles you connect to HootSuite.

Users can implement and analyse marketing campaigns across all social profiles without needing to sign in to each social network individually. For premium accounts, users get advanced features for social analytics, audience engagement, team collaboration and security.

I – IFTTT

IFTTT, which stands for If This Then That, lets you create connections between different web apps and services through what it calls “recipes.” To create a recipe all you have to do is tell IFTTT what the “This” and the “That” in your equation are.

The service integrates with a number of different applications, such as Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, Google and bit.ly and offers a sizable amount of integration options for each to get you going.

IFTTT is simple to use, and there are thousands of pre-made “recipes” to choose from or even to help you think of what you could use IFTTT for. It helps to keep you organised, save you time, and reduce the time spent wading through the masses of information you see in a day.

J – Joining or Not to Join

Few areas of business and society have been untouched by the emerging social-media revolution – one that is not even a decade old. Many organisations have been responding to that new reality, realising the power and the potential of this technology for corporate life: Wikis, SharePoint and Lync enable more efficient virtual collaboration in cross-functional projects; internal blogs, discussion boards, and YouTube channels encourage global conversations and knowledge sharing; sophisticated viral media campaigns engage customers and create brand loyalty; next-generation products are co-developed in open-innovation processes; and corporate leaders work on shaping their future strategy.

However, many companies still hesitate when venturing into public social media networks, harbouring fears of possible customer criticism such as negative comments on the company’s website. While care does need to be taken when planning social media activity, there are undoubtedly significant benefits of integrating social media into small business operations:

• Social media is a low-cost, low-barrier communication channel that allows businesses to interact with internal and external contacts on a regular basis.

• Social media enables businesses to engage with millions of potential customers and investors available at the click of a button.

• Social media and analytic tools used within a company’s private network can allow employers to track employee sentiments and discover possible areas of contention faster than through traditional means.

My view…Join!

K – Klout

Klout measures influence based on the ability to drive action across the social web. Any person can connect their social network accounts and Klout will generate a score on a scale of 1-100 that represents their ability to engage other people and inspire social actions. Klout enables everyone to gain insights that help them better understand how they influence others. Klout also provides people with opportunities to shape and be recognized for their influence.

L – LinkedIn

LinkedIn is a must for all professionals and businesses alike. It is not merely a social network aimed for business users. Rather, it should be viewed as an online network of influential people all over the world. Whilst there are many uses of LinkedIn for your business, I’ve highlighted three of the top ones below:

Find new suppliers, business partners and clients – Simple searches in your field will reveal thousands of experts, service providers and potential clients. If you do not personally know an individual, you may request to be introduced through a mutual contact or can send an introductory email. Upgrading your membership gives you improved searches and direct access to more people.

Recruitment – LinkedIn can provide easy access to potential candidates. There are both free and paid options Businesses can search for candidates that fit their required level of expertise and approach them directly, provided they are at least ‘2nd degree’ contacts. In order to search further afield, a monthly subscription is needed. However, even the basic or ‘business’ package allows users to contact any individual with a LinkedIn profile. Businesses also have the option of posting a job ad for a monthly fee dependant on location.

Groups – Groups represent a fantastic opportunity for businesses to network and grow. If you are looking to drive traffic to your blog or company website, think seriously about setting up a LinkedIn Group. The key challenge in some industries is to make your group stand out. The key is to find a niche/area of your business that is under-represented and aim to be the authority on the subject. Nevertheless, based on perception alone, the owner is naturally viewed as the thought leader for that niche unless proven otherwise. The more quality content you produce to back this up and the more effectively you run your group, your community will support you and look to you as a leader in that niche.

M – Mobility & Social Media

According to Ofcom in the UK, 55% of adult smartphone users have used their phone for social networking, with one in four (40%) doing so regularly. This rises to 74% in teenagers with 62% doing so regularly. Ensuring that your websites and content are easily viewable via smartphones is becoming more and more crucial.

N – Newsreaders

If you happen to read articles from the same websites every day, then Google Reader might be just for you. Reader consolidates your favourite websites and blogs into one, easy to manage interface. Think of Google Reader as your personalized online magazine. It’s easy to set up and easy to use.

O – Online vs Offline

Social media is still only part of your marketing mix and strategy albeit an increasingly important one. Depending on your industry or sector you will need to consider which will be the important communication channels and how much time, resource and money you invest into which. Ignore Social Media at your peril however!

P – Pinterest

Pinterest is a relatively new, but rapidly growing social network that allows users to visually share, curate, and discover new interests by posting, also known as ‘pinning,’ images or videos to their own or others’ pinboards (i.e. a collection of ‘pins,’ usually with a common theme). Users can either upload images from their computer or pin things they find on the web using the Pinterest bookmarklet, Pin It button, or just a URL .

As with any other social network, Pinterest offers a range of activities you can initiate to market your company to a new audience. The goal here is to gain brand recognition, drive traffic to your website and be successful at converting the new visits into leads.

Q – Quora

Quora is an excellent platform for organisations interested in showing open and transparent thought leadership. You won’t be able to post your news release as the site is moderated and people will contest and question your viewpoint, but if you really know your subject matter, it can be an amazing way to establish your authority in a given field.

Even if you’re not in a position to use the network to demonstrate thought leadership, Quora can still be a useful tool for gathering customer intelligence. You can get insights into how users feel about all kinds of subjects and even ask questions of your own. It’s not a substitute for traditional surveys, since the user base isn’t a representative sample, but it can be an easy way to start getting a glimpse into how your customers think.

R – Reddit

Reddit is a social news website driven by user-generated content in the form of a link or a self-post. Most users view Reddit as a modern-day bulletin board system enhanced for the web. Users submit content on forums, which are split into multiple “subreddits”. Subreddits focus on a specific topic, and there are hundreds of thousands of them. The most popular forums have over 1 million subscribers and more than 100,000 subreddits.

Reddit users rank the content other users submit by voting it “up” or “down. Submissions voted “up” by large numbers of users get listed on the front page of Reddit and usually receive large amounts of engagement from the Reddit community.

Reddit has 2.5 billion page views per month and 34.9 million unique views each month.

Businesses can use Reddit for link building and traffic generation as well as for market research and getting your message out to target audiences with tailored messages. A note of caution though – anything that seems overly promotional or advertising-focused will be very negatively regarded by the community.

S – Stumbleupon

StumbleUpon is a social media bookmarking site that allows users to “like” websites and add them to their profile. These websites are then shared with their friends through their profile and by using the “stumble” button, which is added to a user’s browser toolbar when they sign up. The stumble button basically sends a user to a random website, usually one previously liked by a friend. StumbleUpon boasts more than 30 million users. Each user fills out a survey of their interests, so there is definitely the potential for your business website to reach a broad and targeted audience.

StumbleUpon asks their users to define the categories that interest them, everything from archeology to zoology. If your business fits into one of these interest categories well, your site can get a lot of new visitors that are more likely to be interested in your business. Additionally, you’re going to get a steady stream of visitors if you use it properly and regularly.

T – Twitter

Today, there are over a billion Tweets sent every three days. These Tweets represent conversations related to almost any topic imaginable.

For businesses and brands, these conversations provide a rich canvas and a powerful context in which to connect your messages and your brand to what people are talking about right now. It’s a canvas for telling engaging stories, for participating in cultural events, for broadcasting content, for connecting directly with consumers, and for driving transactions. Businesses can influence and participate in real-time conversations on Twitter to drive consumer action with integrated paid, earned and owned campaigns, delivering results throughout the marketing funnel.

U – User Generated Content

In recent years we have developed into a society which likes to share …digitally. User (or Customer) Generated Content is content that we upload to a website or social media platform, examples of such content include audio files, photographs, videos, presentations, documents and reviews.

Research carried out has shown that more than 8 in 10 say user generated content from people they don’t know influences what they buy and indicates brand quality, while 51% say it is actually more important than the opinions of their friends and family, and far more trustworthy than website content. [Source Talking to Strangers Millennials Trust people over Brands Jan 2012]

V – Voice of the Customer

With incidents like United Breaks Guitars now commonplace, it’s painfully clear that social word-of-mouth has tremendous consequences when brands give a poor customer experience. Of course, there’s upside too. Social media is a veritable goldmine of insights that can help a company innovate and improve its competitive position.

Participating in social media—via online communities, blogging and networking sites—is now thought of much like the internet a decade ago. A company is conspicuous in its absence of a social media plan, especially if it sells to consumers.

W – WordPress

The Think Oak blog is written using WordPress. It’s a very versatile blogging tool that is easy to use, has a range of free and chargeable templates, great analytics and has built-in search engine optimisation for Google and Bing. It’s open-source and can be hosted (WordPress.com) or un-hosted (WordPress.org). Even some of the world’s biggest brands use WordPress – Ebay, Ford, Sony and CNN all use it for their blogs!

X – Xbox One, Playstation 4 & Next Generation TVs

With announcements of the next generation games consoles imminent, it will be interesting to see whether any increased elements of social media are woven into the new Xbox and PS4 operating systems. With 55% of homes having games consoles that can link to the internet plus advances in Smart TVs that already connect with social media channels, I would expect significant growth and opportunity in this space.

Y – YouTube

Though Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter were the leading social networks that swept through the business world in recent times, YouTube continues to be the most valuable video marketing and advertising tool for businesses of all sizes. By far the web’s largest and most popular online video archive, YouTube offers fantastic opportunities for a business to show off its expertise, share knowledge, market products and connect with customers, colleagues and prospects.

Z – Zero to Hero

With some investment of time, energy, enthusiasm, creativity and a little bit of know-how you can rapidly build up the social media presence of your organisation. This is Social Commerce: Turning Social Media into Sales by Guy Clapperton is a new book that I would recommend to get you started,  together with his previous book – This is social media.

Ultimately, you need to choose the social media services that are right for your business. You can’t be engaged with users everywhere and on every medium. If you try, you’ll quickly be focusing only on social media and not on your business. Stick with a handful of services where you can build a following and engage customers on a regular basis.

Hope you enjoyed this A to Z. As always, I look forward to hearing from you.