social selling

5 'Dark Social' Concerns For Online Leadership

Last week I was running a training session for one of my IT industry clients on how to use LinkedIn for strategic social selling. "No thanks; I don't use LinkedIn" said an uber-intelligent pre-sales solutions architect as I was rounding-up the team to get them intothe boardroom. As someone reached over and lifted my jaw shut, he continued in response to my dumbfounded expression... "Seriously, I don't want my personal meta-data being harvested and being used in ways I don't authorize."

Wow; I'd always thought everyone had decided that resistance was futile and that assimilation into the collective was inevitable. This week I had a coffee with the resistor and, after assuring him he would remain anonymous, I listened to his very valid concerns.

As a professional, Google and LinkedIn are his main concerns and here are his main ones:

  1. He can lose control and ownership of his content.
  2. His data can be used in ways in which he does not approve.
  3. He can be profiled using meta-data (data about activity and content. eg; the IP address of a computer or the location of a device) without his consent.
  4. He will be blasted with advertising in ways he does not like.
  5. He will be approached by people he does not want in his life.

What is 'dark social'? I define it as the unwanted consequences of our content and meta data being aggregated and analyzed for reasons we do not understand and have not authorized.

Corporations and governments are both actively engaged in the process of tracking and profiling users of the interweb. Have you ever browsed looking for a particular car to buy or retail item only to have advertisement for these exact things then pop up all the time?

Facebook famously lured business and communities into their world to build groups only later to turn these into money-making walled gardens where business needed to pay for access and members are bombarded with advertising.  Google is the most powerful meta-data harvester in the world for profiling individuals and predicatively pushing paid [advertising] content at them. LinkedIn is now embarking on a similar journey with feeds becoming cluttered with paid content. Mobility, wearables, proximity beacons, the ubiquity of GPS, the internet of things... it all driving it to a new level. We won't even discuss Artificial Intelligence but imagine IBM's Watson super computer working with Google to digitally profile individuals.

You may think that the commercial gathering of our data is limited tospamming annoyance but Marc Goodman has written a provokative book, Future Crime, which highlights a sinister end-game where everything is connected; and in ways that we can neither imagine or manage.

People tend to create a persona on different platforms (my business life on LinkedIn, my family life on Facebook, My party social life is on Instagram or Snapchat, My political views on Twitter). But although these separate personas reside on different platforms, the APIs and web services provide points of external data harvesting.

Big data analytics can join the dots (URLs) and build a very complete picture on an individual past and an accurate predictive picture of their future. Medical, financial, behavioral, even political and religious views. Forget age or gender discrimination as a problem for the next generation; even now people are being rejected for employment because of their composite social profile... almost always without even being aware of the real reason they are so 'unlucky' when applying for jobs.

Have you ever read the terms and conditions of the social platform companies? Some are literally hundreds of pages long and in legal speak. Who really owns the content and data associated use of their platform? Instagram is a poignant example... millions of pictures in there and then Facebook acquires the company meaning that Facebook now owns hundreds of millions of photos which they can on-sell or use with advertizers.

Google started with search, then maps, then mobility with Android for free... they can now track you, scan all of your email content, search Google Docs, transcribeGoogle Voice, analyze Google+ content, etc.  I've been the regional VP for multi-national content management software vendors and I understand the latent power of content repositories... information transformed into intelligence is highly valuable. 

And then there is the Patriot Act which is currently under review but allows the United States Government to harvest anything within data centers on USA soil or in the overseas data centers of US corporations. What do they do with all this data you ask? They keep us safe because intelligence is the most powerful weapon against organized crime, fraud and terrorism. But the NSA facility in Utah is possibly the biggest data warehousing facility on Earth. It's been built on a scale that even Google envies. The computer cooling requirements alone for the mostly underground Utah facility consume almost 2,000,000 gallons of water every day... that's a huge amount of computing power being managed.

The power of all the social platforms being connected and the meta data (website tracking, timelines, social post activity, geo-location tracking, relationship mapping, etc.) being aggregated is Orwellian. The 'internet of things' creates huge amounts of data that can be harvested and hacked but no-one in business today can stay off the grid despite Minority Report style concerns.

Amazon are working on a Machine Learning service to be offered to developers deploying applications on their AWS infrastructure. It seems Scott McNealy was right when he said "You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it." Interestingly, a study by Pennsylvania University has revealed that most Americans have given up hope concerning the privacy of their data.

When I was young, the worst thing that happened at an office party was someone sitting on the photocopier, pantless... LOL and forgotten with the image fed into the shredder. Now every photo or inappropriate remark is tagged and uploaded to remain somewhere forever... nothing online is ever truly erased. Forget flushing your cache and deleting cookies... all that does is make you feel better... if you visit inappropriate websites... it's all being stored on servers somewhere.

Here are my recommendations:

  1. Embrace technology and social because you cannot avoid a profile being created on you anyway. Positively and authentically manage your digital presence.
  2. Be VERY mindful of everything you post. Before you upload that photo, imagine your mother and boss will see it! True story: A friend of my daughter ditched school in Sydney and caught a train to the city with her partner in crime. They took photos and uploaded them to Snapchat to impress their friends, then they quickly removed them... but others had screenshot the images. The evidence burnt them. Everything uploaded or done online is recorded forever.
  3. Live your life on social platforms and the internet like you do in the real world. Be an authentic person. Online violence and porn desensitizes you and makes you a lesser person. Endless hours of mindless crap reduces your IQ. Instead, the internet can be wonderful with all of its libraries, TED videos, creative thinking, ideas and connections to people that can change the world for the better.
  4. Be hyper security conscious. Always check the URL if you click a link to take you to your bank, Gmail, or anywhere else.

Hacking is a far greater problem than how our data is used by our authorized platform providers. Anthem is a health insurer in the USA who was hacked resulting in 80 million people's private medical records exposed. As a footnote... the internet is increasingly becoming encrypted which is helping to make data more secure BUT those who control the encryption algorithms will hold the power.

We live in amazing brave new world... one in which we need to trust those with whom we engage.

Footnote: Techopedia defines dark social differently here.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website:

Main image photo by Flickr: Roberto Rizzato EMOtion!

5 Topics That Sellers Should Write About

Every real profession demands that its members read to remain relevant. Their members research topics including the latest trends, industry obligations, case studies and research findings. Those within their ranks who are respected most are the ones who develop insights, achieve the best results and publish their findings.

Don't claim to be a professional and then tell me you don't read... you're joking, right?

According to CEB research, 95% of buyers expect insight from the seller. Yet Forrester Research highlights that 85% of sellers fail to meet buyer expectations while CEB research found that 86% of sellers fail to differentiate in the mind of the buyer. We clearly have a problem but it can be solved when sales people embrace imperative to write within the guidelines of their company and with management and marketing serving as editors.

If you want to transform the way you sell, commit to reading and then writing. Don't just read about how to sell, also read about the issues that impact your clients. Researching and writing is the best possible sales training a person can have because it forces the individual to go deep and test assertions while creating their own authentic narrative.Here is why sales people need to write but...

Should sales people write or 'curate' content during office hours or selling time? ... No!

Sales people should instead invest 30 minutes a day in their own time, before or after work, for career development. They should also work closely with their marketing department and manager to ensure quality, leverage tools, and be aligned with corporate messaging and policies. There are two types of content publishing:

  1. Content curation. This is where you work with other people's content and publish Updates via LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or other social platforms in which your clients and target market monitor and engage.
  2. Content Authoring. This is where you create your own blog posts or articles that demonstrates insight and value for your target market. It is also how you evidence your credentials and set the agenda with those whom you seek to engage.

Content publishing is important because 75% of buyers use social media to research sellers before engaging (Source: IDC) and 74% of buyers choose the seller who first provides insight and value (Source: Corporate Visions). It begs the question: What do people see when they find you online? Do they see a sales person's CV or do they see a warm professional person offering insight and value?

Go beyond the basics of personal branding to also attract and engage with content

Content Curation

'Content curation' is the process of working with other people's content where you add brief commentary and then share with your network. Your goal is follow those who are relevant for your target market and then become the 'forager for the tribe' as David Meerman-Scott says. Everyone is busy and you can provide value by being a content aggregator where your market can simply follow you to see content from dozens of sources they don't have time to research individually themselves.

Who are the journalists, bloggers, analysts and industry leaders that your market audience follows and respects? By attaching yourself to these personal brands you elevate your own, and by sharing their content with short additional insights and commentary you can create value for those who follow you. From this list, highlight the individuals with substantial following within your target market whose followers you would like to become your own. Who has substantial following within your target market?

The above format is my simple way of recording the details of those who can provide you with valuable content to then share with your network. Hootsuite or Buffer are excellent technologies for easily creating a scheduling content to be automatically published at the best times. 

5 Topics to Inspire Content Creation

We need to publish content write about what interests our audience instead of projecting our 'value proposition' or factoids about our company, product or service. Importantly, we must be clear about who we are targeting with our content and here are content categories that sales people and marketers can use to create blog articles to write that attract and engage clients.

  1. Your customer’s fears and concerns (competition, disruption, etc.). Without writing from a negative perspective: What are the risks that your customers face? What competitive risks that worry them? How are they being 'disrupted' by technology, changes in the economy or legislation, agile competitors, off-shoring, etc. These topics and more can be the subject of posts you write
  2. Insights from research data that impacts your customer’s world. Search and subscribe to analysts that comment of your customer's industry or the trends that impact them.
  3. Blind Case studies evidencing how things can be improved. Every sales person needs to be masterful at telling powerful true stories of how their customers solved problems, created business cases, managed change and delivered transformation. Even if the client won't do an official case study or testimonial, it can be written by the sales person and attributed along the lines of: One of my clients shared some insights with me recently concerning how they ....
  4. Objection neutralizers that positively position and set the agenda. As an example, I work with a client in the recruiting industry and a common objection is: 'I'm too busy meet but if you have a candidate then send me their CV'. I've coach recruitment sales people to write posts along the lines of: How 20 minutes saves 12 hours and dramatically reduces hiring risk. Skills, experience and qualifications are easy to screen but cultural fit is where the greatest risk resides in a hiring decision. List all of your common objections such as 'I'm too busy', 'We have an incumbent supplier', 'You're too expensive', etc and write about why that is the very reason they should meet you.
  5. Newsjacking topical events to create interest. When Harrison Ford crash-landed his plan on a Californian golf course, I had this post up within 90 minutes.

Trigger events are excellent opportunities for both content creation and initiating contact with potential buyers. What events provide potential opportunities to improve your own customer service, intercept competitor customers, or engage potential clients early in their buying process? In the mind of the buyer, trigger events create awareness of opportunity or need and can amplify perceptions of pain. These events can motivate people to take action to change the status quo? Trigger events can include changes in personnel, a major scandal, legislative changes, new compliance obligations, products going ‘end of support’, suppliers being acquired or dropping the ball, competitor staff leaving or retiring, new leaders coming into the organization. My worksheet below is ideal for identifying trigger events and establishing the best way to monitor.

Sales people should work with their marketing team to formulate strategy, select the right tools and secure the right levels of training and support to build their individual sales pipelines. Here are my tips for going beyond content curation (working with other people's content) and writing your own material that sets you apart as a sales person:

  1. Identify your audience and then write for the one person or role you are seeking to influence. This makes it targeted, personal and on point.
  2. Be clear in your own mind about why your message is important and what you want them to do about. But avoid any call to action that overtly seeks to sell or paints you as a salesperson.
  3. Create a catchy headline (think like a newspaper editor).
  4. Use an eye-catching picture that has an abstract relationship to your topic. Honor copyright by using 'common use license' images and attribute source, or use your own photos.
  5. Have an opening that hooks, a body that informs and a close that motivates or inspires. Deliver insight rather than mere information.
  6. Aim for 700 words and don't ramble. Longer is okay and some of my best posts with more than 220,000 reads have well over 1500 words.
  7. Create back-links to other content but never use click-bate to take people to another site where they have to complete forms or register to view content.
If you don't read, then you're not a professional. If you can't write, then you can't sell because you are incapable of building a strong personal brand online that shows insight and attracts clients.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website:

Main Image Photo by Flickr: Joe Flood Follow Writing = Breathing