Posts tagged Superstorm Sandy
Hey everyone out there! Just wanted to give everyone an update on the status of our store one year and almost one month later … We just received good news! We will definitely possibly kind-of-sort-of probably will “qualify” to receive a loan from the SBA for “Emergency Recovery” from Superstorm Sandy!!
Here’s the catch – on top of it not being a sure thing on approval, I was told today by my loan assistance officer that I will have to take a mortgage out on my condo as collateral!!!!
I sure wish someone would have pre-qualified ALL OF THE BUSINESSES AND HOMEOWNERS to see if we passed all the criteria to get HIT with the storm!
And can someone out there please explain to me how I can’t get the SBA to loan my business money – my business that has employed people for almost twenty years, paid taxes and fees as required, and actually makes money (not millions but some profit) but companies that flat out say that they are not making money, have the financials to back that claim, are coming up with valuations in the millions and/or go to Wall Street for their IPO launch. Anyone have any explanation on that?? We’re not asking for millions, just a loan to rebuild.
Just amazes me…
In part 2, we address staying silent, being a target for hackers, losing out on talent that can help your business and how all of this can impact the direction your business takes.
You Can Become a Target for Hackers
If no one at your company is paying attention to social media, could you wind up like ExxonMobil who ignored Twitter in its naissance and wound up having a poser create a faux account in the brand’s name?
Or, if no one is minding the social media ship, at what point will you notice that your account has been hacked? When the Associated Press’s Twitter account was hacked just this week, it caused temporary havoc in the stock markets. At least they were paying attention.
The ramifications of this are truly daunting. If you don’t even know you’re are being part of social media, how would you know you were hacked?
Client A spends hours using every search engine and keyword string imaginable to try to find information, comments, feedback, etc. about their business. Luckily, they have a pulse on what should be where in terms of their social media program. Unfortunately, the one person doing all this leg work is also trying to run the day-to-day business and desparately needs a more effective way to moderate the world wide discussion.
As you can probably guess, Client B is only minimally aware of what social media their company is “reviewed” on. Reviews are the only thing that catches their attention. They have spent hundreds of dollars with each of the various review networks thinking that they can have negative comments removed at will and also that they have more control over their reviews because they are paying for something – it’s just that they are not to sure what they have actually paid for.
As far as our investigations, we have been able to confirm that neither business has been overtly hacked. No questionable reputation scarring issues have arisen, except for the missteps of dealing with a customer service company.
Competitors Get a Leg Up
Ignoring social media gives your competitors an advantage. You seem archaic or clueless; they can portray themselves as hip and current. Your competitors can also monitor your brand mentions on social media and respond to complainers with offers or other means to woo you away. For example, in my book I cite an example provided by Gini Dietrich: After Avis failed to come through for her despite her being a long-time Preferred Service customer, Dietrich tweeted, “@AvisWeTryHarder No, you don’t try harder…at least not in this case.” Within two minutes, Hertz tweeted Dietrich, apologized for the hard time she was having with Avis and offered her a car at her location along with a 20 percent off coupon. Now that’s smart use of social media!
Client A will often run promotions that they have seen through their international professional organization. Some have worked, some have not but they have not been truly able to harness the strength of social media to include a larger world-wide audience. They have had to keep to their client base and local delivery recipients. They have had a good response to contests and challenges. Through their feedback pages on several of their sites, they have been able to foster a virtual WOM (word of mouth) social program where new clients look for positive and negative feedback from other customers before they become new customers. Some customers have even commented that they are calling and using Client A because they have noted great comments on customer service in particular – something that have not been able to get dealing with competitors in Client A’s area.
In the eyes of Client B, competition was never something they worried about. In a time when their industry was not saturated with brand new locations, competitors featuring highly trained, highly skilled work forces, Client B was able to not concern themselves with what other people were doing. In recent years, their particular industry has grown exponentially on an international scale. Metropolitan areas have been inundated with competitors for Client B. These competitors are using every source of social media, print and traditional media advertising, even advertising as destinations to potential customers on an international level. Client B’s representatives wonder aloud sometimes as to why Competitor D has a line out the door in the middle of the week and they don’t; how events can be booked on weekend days at Competitor G’s location, but not in their’s. Meanwhile, suggestions of “Frequent Buyer Programs”, licensed apparel, books and other products to send the business into diversified areas and lead to a larger reach have fallen on deaf ears – dismissed as “making more work for us”.
You’re Blind to Existing and Potential Employees
If you choose to ignore social media, you probably also lack a social media policy. If you do not set boundaries for how employees can use (or not) social media on the company’s behalf or during work time, you have less recourse if an employee puts your brand in harm’s way. At least with the notorious Domino’s 2009 “gross-out” video, the employees were rightfully terminated, but apparently the franchisee still suffered: His location could not recover from the scandal and ultimately went out of business.
We stress to each and every client the importance of customer service – ours to them and they to their customers. Client A has requested of us a complete Social Media Analysis, reviewing what is in place and what can be modified to make better use of Social Media without further taxing an already busy staff. Bringing all accounts under one dashboard, creating teams within heir organization and enabling team members to be active parts of their organization while retaining reviewing control of what can actually be published to their accounts is the course of action they have chosen to begin with. They wish to utilize e-mail marketing and promoting various promotional programs they offer for schools, religious and community-based organizations.
Client B is a stalwart; change is not good according to them. This “social media thing” is simply Facebook and Yelp and for just those two entities, one of the co-owners can handle that work. Unfortunately, “handling” is not what needs to be done. Client B misses the true focus of Social Media and that is engagement. Putting out fires when someone writes a scathing Yelp review is not the only thing that needs to be done to “handle” your company’s social media presence. Proactively engaging your returning customers and your prospective customer is to invite them to learn about you and what you can do for them in terms of services, products and promotions. Several Yelp reviews that cited the same issues focusing on “just in the door” customer service at Client B’s location are seen as the clients’ inability to understand them and their rules and do not address a bigger issue of how customers are led to feel once inside their doors. Client B “handles” their bad reviews and customer interactions the same way – they do everything a Social Media Consultant will tell you not to do – the co-owner answers almost immediately, addresses clients by name, almost challenging them to a debate, offering to have them “make the choice to come in again” but scolds and chastises them for their opinions. The danger here is that the industry Client B is in still has a heavy leaning on word of mouth and in a local area, that can spell trouble.
On the flip side, if you ignore social media you miss the opportunity to see, connect with and ultimately hire that perfect new employee. You know, the one who didn’t know you had a job opening, which wasn’t necessarily looking to make a switch and you didn’t have to pay a recruiter to find.
As you can probably gleam from this case study, Client A has gone to contract with us and has hired us to build a social media program specific to their needs. Client B has taken over six appointments with us over the last two years; they have told us that two of the hour long meetings were not remembered, that after review of all the services we offer they did not know that we did “this type of stuff”, and as you guessed, have not given us a definitive answer on hiring us. They have had the opportunity to harness some great staff over the course of the last twenty to thirty years and cannot seem to deal with the trust issues that might impose – to let a talent handle a job and make them look good.
Falling Rankings in Search Engines
Social sharing now also impacts your search engine rankings. Simply put, if you’re absent from social media, don’t expect the rest of the world to help your falling search rankings.
The industry Client A is in is not regulated by any agency on a Federal, State or City level so a medium sized store like theirs has to worry about competition from the big box stores as well as home-based part timers who may or may not be saddled with similar overhead issues. Placing first on every single page of every single search engine is extremely important to their bottom line.
The old way of thinking is holding Client B back from having their doors explode. Their industry has nothing but potential written all over it and ranking high will help every other part of a Social Media Plan, as well as putting more people in the seats by offering new even non-traditional events, items and more. They are missing out on high placement because they feel it is not necessary -“everybody knows where we are, what we do and how we do it – and they like it that way”. They struggle with an aging client base yet site that they don’t know how to get to the younger people. The saddest part is that the co-owner in charge of their “Social Media / Facebook Page Program” is involved in other organizations (religious and community based) that are specifically using Social Media to reach their intended targets – the demographic of young professionals with higher incomes, who like to go out and will look specifically to social media before anything else to get ideas.
Outsourcing Still Needs Your Attention
If you’ve outsourced your social media management, don’t think you have that base covered and you can now move on to more important things. You still need to provide your outsourced agent with guidance and monitor their activities. You can find plenty of stories of social media blunders related to outsourced accounts, so pay attention.
The main difference with our company is that we live to show you exactly what it is we do – we want to show you every step of the way what we are doing, why we are doing it and what the results are. We look to our clients for continued input and feedback to let us know where to refine our focus and get the job done for them.
It is the most important thing you can do for yourself – to be a true “boss”, to find the talent to bring your company to the next level, hire that talent and empower that talent to do the job well. Oversight has to be a positive thing here – you must keep an eye on what is planned, implemented and what is done. If you don’t understand something, have it explained or do some homework on your own. Make sure the talent you hire is reputable and trustworthy.
Silence and Abandonment Embody Your Brand
When a crisis does occur, in today’s social media age, you cannot be silent! When a recent computer glitch stranded hundreds of passengers, American Airlines turned out in force on its social media accounts to help keep people informed and issue apologies. Passengers were still frustrated, but many credit the airline for its swift, savvy handling of the problem.
A friend of mine was stuck in an airport for over three hours over a holiday weekend. Upon her arrival home less than six hours after the delay, she had an e-mail with an apology from the airline, an offer for 7,000 frequent flier miles and a $500 voucher for use toward a future flight. She may have been agitated by the delay but today on Facebook, she had nothing but nice things to say about that airline and, most importantly, that she will be flying that airline again and again. The problem was not even the airlines but rather a round of horrible storms that had affected the area. That is the greatest level of customer service when a company will compensate regardless of who the inconvenience was caused by. Smaller businesses may find this a little daunting but an e-mail from a smart phone before the customer calls to complain will sometimes go further than one could imagine.
Abandonment is another form of ignoring. Company blogs with the last post dated over a year ago or a Twitter account with no activity in weeks or months instantly tells your prospects and customers that you either don’t care about the impression you make or about what others have to say to or about you. Is that how you want to be perceived?
So the one thing to take away from this case study is ENGAGEMENT. That is the most effectual product of using social media – you engage, you will be engaged. Tread softly, listen to what the masses are saying and react professionally. But most of all, be sure to do just that REACT – don’t wait on the sidelines to see how this whole Social Media fad goes. You want to be part of the game – not the one sitting on the bench with no followers/customer and profits.
HURRICANE SANDY RECOVERY UPDATE:
This is to let you all know the status of our “recovery” as we close out the 10th month after the storm…
I just got off the phone with NYS & NYC offices for various “Recovery Programs”. My conversation with the representative of both agencies ended with this statement – “I couldn’t get any luckier if I stood in the middle of a field with a metal pole in my hands” – we applied to every program the State of New York offered and luckily, our last application went in on March 24th – the following week, the State turned over all applications for city based businesses and homeowners to NYC.
Guess what?? “Some of the thousands of applications were actually lost in the transfer” is the answer I was told. Upon further investigation and tracking of my application registration number, we have determined that our application was, you got it, LOST!
So while I harbor no animosity toward the staff at any of these agencies that go home every pay period with a paycheck, NO ONE in the State or City bureaucratic machine gets the idea that we, small and micro businesses literally swamped by this storm have been breaking our backs, going without, exhausting savings, and standing by aimlessly as we watch everything we’ve built for years, even decades, ebb away. Who cares about the year round community as long as rides are running and people can lay on a beach? Coney Island looks like a ghost town when many of those businesses never even bothered to open again. And by the way, even the few businesses that have qualified for the “Emergency Loans” have yet to see the money – 10 months later!! Some emergency!!
So our status? Contrary to what some may believe, we did not “hit the lottery:, we are not “sitting on our winnings”, and no, Sandy wasn’t “the best thing that could have ever happened to us” (all things I have heard from people who think we made out like bandits!) Disappointed by a system designed to fail the people who it was supposed to serve – you know, the ones that pay the corporate taxes, payroll taxes, providing year round jobs and stable foundations in a city we have been born into, immigrated to, raised in and supported. Doesn’t matter who is in charge – what a disappointment to not even be allowed to BORROW ourselves into oblivion to try to get back on our feet.
In an article posted by Hollis Thomases in the April 26, 2013 inc.com post, social media is the topic and the consequences of ignoring social media are brought to light. It is a great article that breaks down several points, reasons why business owners ignore social media and the relevant outcomes to their bottom line. The line that grabbed my attention in the first paragraph of this article was this one: “But one move will have more measurable impact on your bottom line than the number of Likes, mentions or +1s will ever have: ignoring.” We have two clients that have issues with their use of social media – using this article as a guideline, let’s create two case studies from Client A & Client B, reviewing what they are doing/not doing according to each factor in the article.
Background: Micro business; 2012 was a stellar year for this business – retail sales were up 57% over the previous year. The owners attribute their successful year to the influx of customers both private and corporate who came upon this particular company through views on Facebook, Twitter and their blog, where they showcase their decorations and services, events they have managed and new offerings. In a NYC Zone A the day Superstorm Sandy struck, the entire production area, all storage and displays were completely destroyed. Out of action for two weeks, the business has floundered since November 2012, as they have received no financial assistance from NY State, City or Federal agencies. In business since 1993, business is good but sections of the business that were lost with the storm have not been reinstated – their store manager did not return so the co-owners have had to go back to basics and manage all of the day-to-day processes themselves, leaving little time for attention to social media.
Background: Small Business; 2012 was another in the last few years when gross revenue was down slightly, approximately 20%. The owners cannot explain the drop in sales but rather blame it on a weak economy and a client base that is getting older. This company has prided itself on never having to advertise. The first generation that founded the business did so when print advertising was the basic form and was astronomically expensive. Their web page is rarely updated and has been cited for broken links and misinformation, lacking continuity within the site itself. Social media usage is minimal although the owner in charge of their tech feels that an update at a holiday or two is sufficient. They do not feel social media or an on-line presence is necessary – “that’s not what we do” and “they know where we are” are two things often said when marketing is discussed. Also in NYC Zone A, the business was approved for the higher end limit on an SBA loan but nine months after the storm, they have yet to receive actual funds. They have done a complete rebuild with no modifications to design or function and on the word of their construction contractor, made no use of the tremendous social media opportunity the storm left in its wake.
Small business owners usually wear a thousand hats and have just as many issues on their plates on a day-to-day basis. Taking time out of a day to concentrate on the Social Media aspect of marketing your business may not be something that is in the cards for most business owners. But ignoring the fact that Social Media drives a major part of advertising and marketing could signal the beginning of the end for some of those small businesses.
For our purposes within this article, Client A has from their very beginning focused on their competitors, involved themselves with their industry by joining professional groups, attending seminars and workshops, and, generally, keeping an eye on industry trials and tribulations as well as shifts in marketing and client requests. Client B is a second-generational business with a rich history. The new generation of owners was eager to make their own mark on the community at large, taking the entire operation from a small facility to one serving hundreds of clients at a time. New equipment, a new plant design and a second generation client base enhanced by an economy that was making more of their customers more and more comfortable and willing to use their services made their numbers skyrocket and “things were good”.
Both companies have dealt with the economic and emotional impact of the September 11th attacks, the .com bubble burst, the housing market collapse, and the tremendous economic downturn of the late 2000′s. Client A reworked their focus many times over their 20 year history; Client B kept their focus on what they new worked. Client A had tried to advertise via traditional media early on and again after 2001, but budgetary constraints made it almost impossible to create a media campaign that was effective. Client B continued the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality – first generation didn’t advertise, and they wouldn’t either. The “tech”savvy co-owner thinks that posting a holiday menu and an old picture or two suffices for a Social Media marketing campaign.
Client A has few online reviews. The nature of the gift giving business is such that the person buying the product rarely is at the location on the day the gift is delivered. They are not the ultimate user so rarely do they give feedback unless there is a high level of interaction between the sender and the receiver. Client B has had numerous calls, notes written and now, Yelp and UrbanSpoon reviews that are not exactly glowing. However, they are one of the few remaining “old school” establishments and for that fact (and the fact that their product is impeccable), they continue to enjoy their returning clientele but they are not always happy either, but are almost intimidated and won’t say so.
As a result, neither business is well positioned to hear criticism or praise for that matter about their business and do not know what may be said about them online – bringing these possible reviews to a global level. As former Kodak CMO Jeffrey Hayzlett has stated the so-called ‘risk of ignoring’ references the dangers for companies that choose to turn a blind eye to social media while everyone else in their world embraces it. He sites the following risks.
Conversations Go On Without You
If you’re MIA, you better hope people are saying positive things about your company because you won’t be there to defend yourself. If people want to talk to you and can’t find you on social media, they’ll talk about that too, and then their friends and connections will see you’re absent. These are all the wrong kind of amplification effects.
For Client A, who has a strong social media campaign in place, alerts automatically reach their community manager as soon as they hit Google’s pages. The alerts include when, where and how the feedback or mention has come in and this gives the community manager the opportunity to respond. Client A has all e-mails funneled to one area (Outlook) and can respond to any direct feedback immediately also. Responses through Twitter seem to be the most effective as they are short, quick and right to the point – as are the users of Twitter, so a quick response is appreciated.
Client B’s community manager does not exist. Rather, any mentions on the Internet largely go unnoticed, save for a Yelp review or two, as they have set up notifications through Yelp for when a new review is received. Generally, these Yelp and other niche review sites garner a prompt response from the owner, which isn’t always the best rule of thumb to follow. Many customers as well as staffing have tried to bring the absence of a social media campaign to the owners’ attention but are answered by the set-up response mentioned in the background for this client – once or twice a year is a fine response for their social media campaign.
You Miss the 24/7 World
Even brands that have social media accounts have learned the hard way that they really can’t ever “go dark” in our 24/7 world. I recently attended a conference where Travelocity revealed a social media “war story” where a mommy blogger started complaining over a weekend on her blog about her Travelocity website experience, and because Travelocity wasn’t monitoring the social media sphere over the weekend, her complaints only got worse.
Client A often states that “The store is never really closed” – 65% of their overall sales come via the Internet, which gives them an international client base. As an ecommerce presence, the overall look, content, backlinking, etc. must be updated almost daily in order to insure high customer satisfaction levels. Even with only one day off during any given week (that being a weekday), Client A is constantly checking all areas for mentions and feedback on every level of their operations. They have the ability to not only monitor their business remotely but also can respond to any issues with service from outside their physical location.
Superstorm Sandy created “downtime” for both of these Clients. Client A’s physical location was down for two weeks – Client B’s, one month. Client A kept all their followers and fans apprised of the damages from the storm, the cleanup, work that began again, friends in the business that helped them get back on their feet, and when they were ready to resume “normal” operations. Client B posted storm damage photos with the exact same text introducing each picture on Facebook during the first week of the storm’s aftermath; a thank you to all who showed support; and not another post until the end of November, just three days before they reopened. Their Twitter account was not used. Nor were any review pages or sites that could have brought information to their client base. Client B did not even use their own website to keep their clients informed. In fact, no closure information was posted on their web site – when you arrived at the website, the business appeared to be running “as usual”. A perfect opportunity to walk your customers through the rebuild along with spreading the word about a grand re-opening was not used. Putting aside social media for a moment, as Client A & Client B are situated across a physical street from each other, many of Client B’s customers contacted Client A through all social media channels to inquire about the progress to Client B’s location, as they were unable to find any information from Client B directly. Many people outside the community these two clients are based in thought that Client B may have actually decided not to come back after the storm. Now, ten months later, some patrons do not even realize that the physical location of Client B’s business has been totally redone after being storm ravaged.
Part 2 of this series will center on concerns with hackers, competition, losing footing with existing customers, not having a presence for new customers to find the company and more. All of these issues along with decline in rank on search engine pages can lead to decreased revenue. The possibility exists to actually so damage a brand that a complete re-branding might be the only salvation for an entity.
By now, most people (at least those in the Northeast) are familiar with the commercials featuring the jingle, “Cause we’re stronger than the storm”. Running on both TV and radio, the driving rythmn of this promotion makes you stop and take note.
The Jersey shore is back as they boast in the commercial – even Governor Chris Christie and his family appear, the state’s biggest cheerleaders, reiterating the jingle – not even a storm can hold back the spirit of the Jersey-ites! But let’s be honest here, stronger? It sounds nice, positive, and downright optimistic. However, for most homeowners, small business owners and people who just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time last October, the word “stronger” brings more sarcastic humor to the table than anything else.
My scorecard from Superstorm Sandy?
Three cousins with completely destroyed basements – every momento, appliance, and memory – gone in an instant. One cousin’s house was almost completely destroyed by the Atlantic Ocean. Over one dozen cars, both personal and those used for business – flooded. A 105 year old business flooded – its first and basement floors rendered useless. The business my partner and I put every ounce of our effort into for 20 years, gone along with every piece of equipment. Buildings so damaged that going back down to brick was the only solution.
Now after most of the repairs have been done, let’s talk about how the government sponsored programs have worked for us “victims”.
There was a tremendous amount of money “set aside” by the Federal government for people that were the latest victims of Mother Nature’s wrath. The United States Senate passed a $50.5 billion aid package and a $9.7 billion increase in national flood insurance in early January. Sandy victims were told that $60.2 billion was indeed set aside for them and financial rescue would be on its way. Then the rejection letters started piling in.
Any program, whether on the state level or the Federal level came with it a huge amount of paperwork. Funny how in the first few days, the paperwork was downplayed and every FEMA/SBA worker, every NYCEDC staffer, Congressmen, City Council Members and any other dignitary who was around at that time, reassured the “victims” that they would indeed be “there for all of you”. The money was allocated and once approved, we would be able to come back “stronger than before”, kind of like the jingle says.
People who open a small business are told that most businesses fail within the first year or two. I have watched businesses that were “in business” for 3, 5, 10, 20 years or more struggle over the last few years – from terrorist attacks to economic downturn to the “bubble of the week” that burst and now, a 100 year storm. A good number of these businesses tried every way to get approval from whatever agency would listen. A lot just never reopened. The required paperwork assumes that every person in a small business has enough time in the course of their day to be completely caught up with their record keeping, invoicing and debt totals and the ability to continue a clean-up, the likes of which most people should never have to see in their lifetime’s while trying to maintain their business footing in a very competitive market during “iffy” economic times and corral the required financial paperwork. And to boot, a lot of businesses have all their property on one level – so most paperwork, financials, computers and more were swept out with the tide, making compliance almost impossible. In Coney Island, 98 “micro businesses” came back after the Superstorm – over 75% of those businesses footing their own bill – no help, no loans, no grants (save for a $500 dollar grant from the Alliance for Coney Island).
The point of this article is not to cry over what has happened. The purpose of this article is to warn small and microbusiness owners. The days of the pizza man with his receipts in a shoe box are not ever going to go away – let’s face it, some businesses are just that small and although most people couldn’t live without their computers, there are still many people in business that rely on support staff or other professionals to pull it all together once or twice a year. Even so, accounting software, tax laws, credit applications and government filings are a daunting process. Stay on top of your business’ “business” – know when too much is just that – too much. Small business is a gamble even in the best of times.
Second opinions make sense when dealing with health issues; second opinions should matter where the health of your business is concerned also. Take yearly inventory or your insurance policies – liability, property, general, umbrella and don’t forget Worker’s Compensation and Disability. Make sure employee numbers and equipment purchases are noted and updated whenever they change. Make sure you “self-insure” for those things that are never supposed to happen but do. It may not be a lot that you can put away, but the rainy day can come sooner than you ever expect and 3, 5, 10 or 20 years seem like a blink of the eye.
Regardless of what other community based businesses or organizations tell you, ALWAYS get involved with the community you are in. The particular industry our business has been involved in has always stressed community involvement and activism in order to spread the word about our products and services. Many years ago, we spoke to business owner’s in our community about going to Community Board meetings and Chamber of Commerce meetings – we were told that “those people” were shady and crooked and you “really didn’t want to get involved with that sort of thing”. Funny thing about that is the same people who told us not to get involved with the local groups are now “in tight” with them and (surprisingly, or not) are receiving media attention and (funnier) money. Go to those meetings, network, network, NETWORK!!! It is the key to knowing what is going on, how you can be involved and most importantly, regardless of the size of your business, you will never be “too small to be forgotten” in the eyes of your community.
One question still remains, and that would be where all the Federal Aid promised is going. New programs seem to be cropping up constantly as the money allotted still sits in Federal coffers. Hopefully, the “right thing” will be done (eventually) and sometime before the micro businesses go under for the last time (pardon the pun), help will truly arrive.