Social Media – Nine Years In

Nine years ago this evening I sent my first Tweet. I believe this was after I joined Facebook, but it’s all a blur. For years I was energized by the small pipe platform of Twitter. I saw it as a way to connect with people all over the globe. A platform to learn, gain knowledge and better understand the world. I viewed Facebook as a convenient way to share and connect. I didn’t think Facebook was as pure as Twitter, and I still don’t. Facebook has always been burdened with; should I friend them? Why are they friending me? What about my boss or direct report? So much cognitive weight.

How did that work out? Social media, led by Twitter and the largest thing in the world, Facebook, have become the opposite of connectedness. Facebook and Twitter separate, segment and quarantine people.

Founded in 2004, Facebook’s mission is to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected. People use Facebook to stay connected with friends and family, to discover what’s going on in the world, and to share and express what matters to them.

Houston, we have a problem.

  • Power – Opinions are frequently weaponized.
  • Open and Connected – Anyone can say or post anything, including their suicide.
  • Connect with Friends and Family – I’d love to see the real stats on this. For the most part, Facebooks tries to connect you to complete strangers or companies because they can profit from it.
  • Discover What’s Going on in the World – Facebook is it’s own reality. A planet Twilo. Keep your oxygen tank filled.
  • Share and Express – Totally nailed it. Bring it on.

I’m listening to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s soundtrack to The Social Network (so brilliant) as I write this. All the while realizing the genesis of social media (losing the caps) is nothing new. I grew up in the ’60’s and I know what a revolution looks like. We stated, “The revolution will be televised.” Today the revolution is fractured. Hamilton has resonated precisely because it repurposed a timeless message. The brilliance of Hamilton shows us nothing has changed.

Silicon Valley thinks only of the future. Of what the next world could / should be. To that I say hooray. But don’t leave behind the foundation that gave you this privilege. Being able to express an opinion is a privilege, not a DIGITAL RIGHT. Rights are fought for, they can’t be coded. Silicon Valley is fighting mostly for profits.

Time is the ultimate teacher. The final arbiter. How much time do you have or are willing to spend in the world of bits? How much time will you spend in the world of atoms with your family and friends without a wall of code between you? Social media is a force multiplier. The question is, of what?

Amazon Prime makes my life easier because it delivers atoms to my doorstep. Things I use, need, and yes, indulge in. That’s worth my time.

Notation: I embrace technology on all levels. I am pre tech-innate. I am suspicious when opinion coupled with technology is peddled for absolute truth.

Six Years on Twitter. How Many More?

imagesI was contemplating whether or not to blog about why I’m on Twitter and how I use it. My first Tweet was February 23, 2008. For some unremebered reason I put it on my iCalendar that day with a perpetual repeat. The internal food fight of whether I should give it life here went on in my brain for days. Guess which side won? Just couldn’t help myself.

Twitter is now a public company that requires it to adopt a solid business mindset. Quarterly earnings calls, more scrutiny and less tolerance for missteps. The platform continues to evolve as do the people who use it regularly. I’ve been pretty strict about who I follow and I am unfollowing more than ever.

Some still miss the basics after all these years and numerous resources to help do it well. Some of the duh’s are; no profile description, no photo, no location, and on and on. I have begun to use a new measure for who to follow. Their photos and videos. These are the visuals of their feed. I find the selection of what images people share reveals perhaps even more of who they are. If the images are lame, I think twice. If I’m on the following fence after reading a sampling of their Tweets, a compelling image footprint can nudge me to click the follow button. Is it varied? Humorous? Interesting? Numerous? The eye matters as much as the hand.

Today I see less spam on the service and have grown new friends. I’m noticing a cycling of connections. There’s a group of people one engages with for a period of time, then they fall out of the river of characters. You check back and find they’ve unfollowed you. I don’t’ take it personal. Chalk it up to the natural flow of life.

The parody accounts are becoming more interesting. There’s a whole cast of Mad Men accounts that are hilarious to engage with. They take it seriously. I haven’t gotten into following celebrity or sports figures. Most of the people I’m interested in wouldn’t follow back or engage. Many may have their PR teams reply.

I have engaged in dialog with Tom Peters, the business genius who wrote “In Search of Excellence” and invented the term MBWA, Managing by Wandering Around. I’ve heard him speak and have learned so much from him about many things. He followed me back years ago and we connected from time to time. In one exchange he gave me real mentoring advice and challenged me to get better. That would have never occurred without Twitter. Mr. Peters continues to follow me.

I’m keen on film. Have you noticed? I became hooked in the 1970’s and ’80’s, which were the best decades for movies during my lifetime. One of the producers I admired was Robert Evans. He was the real Hollywood in my book. He ran Paramount Pictures and turned it into a profit machine for the then parent company Gulf+Western. During his tenure the studio turned out an impressive list of pictures including; Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple, Rosemary’s Baby, The Italian Job, True Grit, Love Story, Harold and Maude, The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, Serpico, Save the Tiger, The Conversation and The Great Gatsby.

I responded to a random Tweet from someone that had attached a photo of Mr. Evans in his prime, sitting by the pool reading a stack of scripts. My response to that Tweet was followed up a few days later by a follow from Mr. Evans. He followed me! Another Twitter moment. Having that brush with history was a thrill. As of the writing of this post Mr. Evans continues to follow me.

Robert EvansThe longer one is on Twitter and maintains connections, the more of a view one gets into life’s passages. People get fired, start businesses, become ill, get married, grow older. You name it they express it on Twitter in 140 characters. I love the spontaneity. One’s true self comes front and center when they commit to Twitter.

I don’t spend much time thinking about how long I’ll stay engaged on Twitter. I’ll know when it’s time to fade away.

The Department of if You Care: Previous blog posts on my Twitter adventure: 2013, 2011, 2008.

Photo Credit: The New York Times

Improving the Customer Experience with Social Media

I have been thinking lately about how customers form their perceptions of brands and what we can do about influencing those memories. Brands and products can easily become look alike commodities, which makes gaining mind and wallet share more difficult. Brands want to be distinctive, stand out among the crowd and be noticed by consumers. The rise of social media has, in my opinion, provided more insight into consumer’s perceptions as well as opportunities to use listening tools and pay attention to one’s own social networks for a rich data set of clues. If done correctly, a brand can address issues and show gratitude to customers and create connective memories to that experience and ultimately the brand.

In my direct experience customers either start their conversation with a company using social media or turn to it as a last resort. Regardless, brands need to be watching these spaces closely and jumping in as soon as possible. It goes without saying that when I say jumping in I mean with trained professionals.

There’s a fascinating behavior economics principle called the peak-end rule. It was first suggested by Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Prize winner for Economic Sciences in 2002.

According to the peek-end rule we judge our experiences almost entirely on how they were at their peak (pleasant or unpleasant) and how they ended. Other information is not lost, but it is not used.

It could be fair to say that consumers who post on social media streams are at a peak with a brand. Skilled companies who engage these customers quickly, acknowledge their emotions and work to solve the problem will deliver an end that can leave the customer with a better perception. Ending on a high note means you have won half the battle.

Social media is potentially a new customer experience tool that can be employed to improve interactions on both sides and perhaps nudge the perceptions customers have of a brand. If your customer truly is at a peak, then we should do everything we can to end the event on a high note – if it has been unpleasant – or propel a good experience even further up the scale. Social, has the power to leverage immediacy, intimacy and interaction into a powerful generator of memories.

Image re-drawn from Greg Ness’s graphic

The Role of the Persona is Shifting

I have been a proponent of using Personas to assist in the design of digital interfaces since 2003. I still believe in them, but I think their role has shifted and has perhaps become a bit diminished. Personas are user archetypes, models of groups of users that help define features, requirements and messaging choices. They are invaluable. If you develop digital interfaces and you don’t use Personas, you are seriously behind most everyone.

The Persona’s rival has taken the stage and it’s the real customer. Voice of the customer tools have improved over the last few years and companies pay more attention to what customers say thanks to the rise of social media. Everyday I sit at the breakfast table and read yesterday’s voice of the customer stream that was written by customers directly on our web site. It’s sent to me via email unfiltered, except for blocking out any characters that appear to be account numbers or personal information. Then I navigate to our Facebook brand page and read that, then over to our Twitter stream and read that.

We have done a lot to shape and enrich our Personas over the years, by enhancing their stories and adding other attributes in an attempt to bring them to life and therefore more approachable for business partners. But still they are cardboard cutouts. It’s much more powerful to read words from your customer or see someone’s Avatar adjacent to their feedback.

Reading customer comments evokes a roller coaster of emotions. One comment is glowing with praise that brings a smile to my face and a sense of pride. The next one calls out something that is just, well, stupid of us. We take all these comments seriously, logging them, and then trying to evaluate where in the priority fix queue they should fall. It’s a real time customer focus group and it’s beginning to influence how I design and shape project work almost as much as Personas have done in the past.

Curious if others are having the same experience or have other opinions.

Images from Avizor and Meetin’Bytes

Social Media: It’s Déjà vu All Over Again

From about 1995 to 2003 the departments inside firms who were responsible for establishing and maintaining the enterprise online presence had to do most everything themselves. Jack of all trades if you will. IT of course helped, and eventually agency partners were hired, but for the most part it was a one area show. Those teams had to create content, design functionality, manage the email program, tag the assets, track, report, analyze, even market the sites to customers and prospects. I get exhausted just thinking about those years.

Over time it simply got too big for one team to do it all on their own. And so, tasks were transferred to other areas and assimilated into their everyday work. In most cases those other departments didn’t have digital experience or training, but they did the best they could with what they knew. Now as we are well into the 2010’s, specialists have emerged all over the enterprise and digital is being nicely integrated in many areas. Although we still have more ground to cover, there is progress and more importantly, momentum.

Social Media today is exactly where the web was in the late 1990’s. One team took the initiative to start, learn, stumble and love doing it. Others mostly sat outside the action, despite being intrigued and in wonder at what it may be ale to do for their business.

Learn from the past. Apply it today in social.

It is important to educate as many people as possible across the organization about social. I mean really educate. Not just recite the words Facebook and Twitter. Enlist their talent for creativity and business savvy and get them excited to experiment and learn. Do it now. Things are moving much faster in social than the web moved in the last decade. You won’t have nearly as much time this time around. The sooner you can accomplish this the better it will be for you, your team, your business and most importantly your customers.

Photo: Steve Furman

eMetrics Marketing Summit 2011 – Data Storytelling

SF Museum of Modern Art

This was my first eMetrics Summit, and I must say I was quite impressed all around. I was asked to present and sit on a panel about social media metrics and so I arranged my schedule to specifically attend that Monday session. Fly in late Sunday and back out early Tuesday. I soon discovered that was a mistake as I would miss two more days of great content, speakers and networking opportunities. Lesson learned.

If you are a metrics enthusiast, and who isn’t, this is the place to be. They cover technology, strategy, practice and case studies. Everyone there is focused on one thing; doing metrics better. It’s a never ending topic of debate. How much data is too much? How do you divine insights from the data? What is important vs. noise? How can it be made more actionable? I picked up some nuggets of knowledge and met some very interesting professionals who are solving real world business problems with the data they uncover.

The opening keynote was given by Jim Sterne, Founder of the eMetrics Summit 10 years ago. He reminded us to not be so seduced by the puzzle of the data that we forget to tell the story we find inside that puzzle. He said, “Data=Calculation while Story=Empathy.” Most C level execs and everyday business partners want to hear a story. Granted they prefer non-fiction to fiction, but everyone loves a good story. Tell one. Mr. Sterne kept bringing his message back to how one would use it on the job. Extremely practical. Another presentation I caught in it’s entirety was given by Larry Freed, President and CEO of Foresee Results. He spoke nonstop for 30 minutes about consumers, channels and information. His key takeaways:

  • Consumers are multi-channel and your metrics need to be multi-channel
  • Success should be looked at through the eyes of the Consumer
  • Often metrics are misunderstood, misinterpreted and misleading
  • Satisfaction drives loyalty, retention and word of mouth, which drive financial success
  • You cannot manage what you do not measure

I sent emails out to my analytics partners back at the home office during the summit to encourage them to put the next summit on their calendars.

My session was entitled Social Media Metrics Management. Myself, John Lovett of Web Analytics Demystified and Scott Calise of MTV Networks each presented about 10 minutes on varying perspectives of how we approach social media metrics. The moderator Michele Honojosa got the audience engaged with questions. The questions were great and some very tough to answer, making us think hard. As I went back through the Tweets of the session afterwards I found that it was a grateful but tough crowd. Some comments and questions were still rolling in and I was responding to them via Twitter the next day. Whenever I do these things I am always amazed at how we all struggle with the same things, but each one of has solved a different problem better than the rest of us. Some problems never go away while new ones pop-up all the time. The panel compared notes closely, picked-up tips and learned more best practices. My brief talk focused on building stakeholder alignment around social media in the organization.

Despite all those approving words, I still came away empty handed on my quest to find the perfect web analytics tool. That would be a tool that could capture granular data for the geeks, but also had a web site form factor display with the data masquerading as the user. It would be a tool for the analysts, web designers, information architects and business partners looking to solve a problem. It would be fast, near time, have a user-friendly interface and didn’t require world of site tags to enable it. If you come across that, let me know.

There is No Social Media Playbook

As the calendar has turned to 2011, we have been inundated with an endless barrage of Social Media predictions compiled by experts and dabblers alike. Some of what I have read are excellent and well informed perspectives backed by data and research, while others appear to be, well, nil-informed. As Yogi Berra once said, “Prediction is very hard, especially about the future.” No predictions here, just some observations about Social Media based on 3 years of experience working inside a large firm.

There is No Playbook

This medium or channel, or whatever you wish to call it, is way too new to have a reliable playbook. What works for some brands will not work for others. I would go so far as to say that Social Media does not have any common marketing ground. Direct mail and basic advertising principles are largely transferrable across brands and verticals even though retail is very different from financial services which is different from manufacturing. Social lacks such helpful fundamental truths.

Outcomes are Slippery

Save one or two examples (Dell Computer coupon codes on Twitter comes to mind), there is low confidence that a marketer could reliably forecast results from activity in the social sphere. Your CMO wants to know what she/he can book if your Social Media team is given $500,000. The CMO isn’t getting good answers to that challenge.

Mobile Adds Complexity

Social and mobile are matching luggage. They just naturally go together. A very different beast from the early web days of the late 1990’s. Back then the channel was confined to the desktop computer, a narrow pipe and a basic interface. We were able to make progress with a measured development roadmap. But with today’s always on, high speed connections and smart phones, there’s so many more variables to consider. Location, screen size, gestures, cameras, text messages, etc.

You Will Always be Outnumbered

One of the things that raises the possibility that there may never be a Social Media playbook is the injection of the consumer into the mix at every turn. They chime in when you least expect it and on topics that are completely unpredictable. When they called you had a private conversation. Today it takes place in public. Consumers sometimes comment because they just don’t understand, or have unrealistic expectations, or forget (don’t care) that we run a business and need to make a profit, or are just plain angry over something. We need to respect the fact that employees in a firm will always be outnumbered by consumers. People will just keep coming at you.

Fail Fast and Often

We can’t take our own sweet time. Social years will make online years look like we were standing still. Remember 2000 when we joked about “Online Years?” One year online was equal to five years off line. If you thought that ratio spun your head, try “Social Years” where one month might equal five Online Years! Social Media is not about what we’ve been doing all along. It’s about what we’ve never done before. We will need to learn faster than any previous time. It’s not just a new language, it’s an entirely new world and the wheel has yet to be invented.

My best advice. Do lots of things and count on failure. In fact welcome failure so you can rule things out. The list will grow quickly, but so will your knowledge. Make Social Media everybody’s business in your firm and eventually you’ll develop an edge over the competition and who knows. You may be able to walk into the CMO’s office and say. Give me this and I’ll give you that.

The Soul of a Brand

What’s your soul worth? Bart Simpson sold his to Milhouse for $5.00. I would say he may have left some money on the table. Not to worry, this post is not about any particular spiritual compass, but it is the longest post I’ve ever written, 1,486 words.

Let’s say that a soul, for the sake of argument, is the core of one’s being. It’s how you act and what you say when you’re alone. It’s how you react when you face a crucial moment in your life, in public. It’s not planned behavior. It’s a spontaneous response to your environment. It’s the real you. Your brand.

Indulge me for a moment. Think about the brand you work for or a brand you enjoy. Each one likely has carefully crafted mission and vision statements that in turn spawn carefully crafted marketing and advertising messages. This is not a bad thing. It is in fact necessary to help employees of a company understand the brand, stay focused and perhaps work better together as an integrated team. Now if brands would just go the next step and let their employees inhabit the soul of the brand, things would get interesting.

Prior to Social Media tools, this was almost impossible and never seriously contemplated. Customer Service people were the first ones to take the keys to the brand’s soul. They had to answer the phones and talk in real time to customers. Their first priority was to solve problems. Eventually service was co-mingled with selling. Running a service department is a very tough job. Once upon a time customer service reps spoke from their hearts. Now they need to wrap their personality around canned scripts generated by CRM systems that display pop-ups on screens. Nevertheless, these people are on the front lines of a brand’s soul.

Public relations departments also help embody the brand’s soul. But they are often reigned in by the law department and that nagging “worst case scenario” syndrome. Their role is essentially the same as when they were formed, but their constituents go beyond customers. They speak with/to investors, journalists, career seekers and politicians. The biggest change they face now is the growing number of personal zealots who have a blog, the tool sets they need to learn and the speed at which they must react.

If you’re a pure play brand it’s much harder to be soulful because people interact with your site and not your people. Banks with branches have a distinct advantage over online only banks. Branches are full of people who can easily embody the soul of the brand in a familiar form factor; live humans in person. Apple and Microsoft were fierce rivals, even though Microsoft led market share from day one. But when Apple opened retail stores around the country they immediately gained a distinct advantage. Apple has a face and a body and a voice in the local mall. The Genius bar was Genius.

Not all brands can or should have physical locations. But they darn well better start manning public real estate on the web. By that I mean social networks on and off their own web properties. Some brands have come a long way in figuring out how to use these outposts well, others are learning; still others, the laggards, and are being lapped on the information superhighway. This is NOT a case of ,”I’ll sit by the side of the river and watch the bodies of my enemies float by.” News flash: no one’s floating by.

The British IT services and technology firm, Morse, released a study earlier this year that claim UK companies lose £ 1.3 Billion each year in worker productivity because employees shift their time to Social Media during business hours. They estimate about one week per year per employee. Taken at face value and absent of other thinking this may seem high. CEO’s around the world can now be heard screaming, “Shut down Facebook. Block Twitter.” Not so fast there college. There’s a good reason workers drift off into the social realm during the day. The old school ways of engaging are no longer as effective as they once were. Oh, one more thing. Have you explored the thought process of a Gen X or Y? I love the Brits, but why so negative?

The Meeting is Dead

Corporations have created a meeting-centric culture. From 8 to 5 it’s meetings, meetings, meetings. There’s a reason the meeting has become a staple; it encourages collaboration, it’s often face-to face-which means you can have a rich, quality communication experience, and it can help push for decisions. All this is good and it’s definitely social, but it falls short. Only those in the meeting get to participate and many of the words spoken are quickly forgotten. Whole paragraphs are never even heard because of the side conversations. By the way, if you do publish meeting notes, no one will read them.

The corporate meeting paradigm needs to be completely retooled. Administrative assistants schedule and reschedule meetings all day everyday. They select a physical space where the meeting will be held. That space is reserved exclusively for meetings and needs to be lighted, cleaned, heated/cooled, stocked with white boards, tables, chairs and a phone, at the very least. The meeting space can only be used between Monday and Friday during normal business hours. If you actually attend the meeting in person, sometimes you can call in, you physically have to find your way to the meeting place, taking you away from doing anything else. Someone always leaves an important document behind or forgets to bring enough copies for everyone, but it’s alright because, “We can share.”

Does this sound like something you would design from scratch? Unlikely. But how do we get off this meeting hampster wheel? There have been many attempts to stop the meeting madness. No meeting Fridays, no meeting mornings or afternoons, or no meetings over 30 minutes. Some meeting rooms actually have guidelines on the wall. There they are, the meeting rules in 90 point font neatly framed; create an agenda, arrive on time, be prepared, anyone can contribute, no idea is bad, etc. I’ve even heard of firms removing the chairs from meeting rooms, leaving workers to stand around the table in hopes it would speed things up.

Employee 2.0

People (employees) change faster than companies. Great companies figure out how to keep people passionate about their work, and understand the importance of retaining their most passionate people. In today’s economic environment, firms need as many people as possible engaged, because:

The number of people willing to start something is smaller, much smaller than the number of people who are willing to contribute once someone starts something. — Clay Shirky  Here Comes Everybody

Increasing employee engagement is critical to creating differentiation. Many firms conduct employee opinion surveys to measure the engagement of their employees. The Gallup Survey does just that and they have years of data that shows engaged employees drive company success. According to the The Wharton School, a highly engaged culture:

  • Has respect for individuals – Employees participate in decision making
  • Practices transparency – Employees have access to the same information as everyone else (within reason and the law), and exposure to senor executives
  • Empowers employees – Team members feel a sense of purpose, authority and responsibility
  • Promotes team building – A sense of identity, culture and values, feeling of equality emerges

First and perhaps most important, it allows people to glean knowledge and solutions from the largest team available; the entire company. This is important for large firms. There are smart people all over the place in big companies, but anyone of us probably only engages with not more than 25 of them at any one time. In a firm with 10,000 employees that’s .0025% of the workforce!

Kill the Physical Meeting

Give birth to the Social Meeting. Use social technologies and the social graph to give and get information, and exchange ideas that solve problems. It’s not a replacement for face-to-face meetings, we will still need those. But let’s not spontaneously call a meeting when we can use simple web tools to accomplish that and more.

Setting up an internal social network is a great way to train employees on how to be social in a corporate setting. Don’t worry that someone may say something that’s rude or boring. They already do that using e-mail today. Turn it on and turn them loose; behind the firewall of course. You will see who your social stars are in very short order. Recruit those people, point them to the public social properties and you are well on your way to giving your brand a soul.

Brands that will survive and thrive in this brave new social world will be viewed by consumers as having a soul and not selling it. Don’t end up like Bart Simpson.

Artwork from the Simpsons  – Matt Groening & Fox

Dilbert Cartoon – Scott Adams

A Social Org Chart – Steve Furman

Three Years of Blogging. Really.

Breaking news! Today marks the third anniversary of my first blog post, and you probably don’t care. But that’s the beauty of a blog. People post even if no one cares. The past 1,095 days as a blogger will be remembered by me as both an enriching and challenging experience. One has to face the blank page (screen; I still miss typewriters) and the clock, and try to produce something that is not only readable, but informative and occasionally entertaining. For me, someone who likes to roam free, it has been helpful in forging a more formalized approach to my hobby of watching society and technology become one.

I like to watch things merge and converge, but most of all I like to watch things collide. You can call it a guy thing if you want. When I was a boy I would build model cars and then stage elaborate collisions. I would use flame to melt fenders and doors to make it look more realistic. I wish there had been digital cameras then. No one was harmed in the making of those scenes.

When something tries to occupy the same time and space as something else, it usually results in a release of energy. The result is always interesting and occasionally dangerous. And if you watch closely enough, perhaps even play it back in slow motion, it can reveal the mysteries of the past and open a window to the future.

So what have I learned these last three years? It’s hard to blog. Blogging is writing on deadline. More akin to journalism than manuscript writing. But it’s not who, what, when, where and why. It needs to be perspective, perhaps even controversial, but not insulting (so sensitive these humans). It’s humbling because there are so damn many great bloggers out there. But above all, it’s social.

Comments on my blog keep me going. Occasionally I’ll run into someone at an event or conference and they say, “Hey, I read your blog post about…” That’s like lighting up your synapses with extra epinephrine. No re-uptake inhibitors allowed. I’ve also co-blogged or cross-blogged with some friends, and although it’s more work, it is the best of all blogging experiences. Blogging, despite the fact it is done almost exclusively on your own, in a quiet, empty room, is actually one of the most social things you can do.

There is a very simple and true force of nature at work when you blog that gives credibility to the principle of the Oneness of LIfe and it’s Environment.

If you give freely on your blog, you will receive 10x in return.

Not everyone gets this yet. Especially people steeped in their business as it’s been in the past. For example, yesterday I was in a brainstorming meeting (yes another one) with some very smart people. On a flip chart someone wrote the following words, “What do you want to get out of Social Media?” That’s the wrong question. The right question is:

What are you prepared to share with your community through Social Media?

Give, share, be open, reveal yourself. If you do that, YOU will be happier about this blogging stuff. Forget everything else. Blow it up. Remember, technology is boring, information is useful and people are interesting. But relationships are fascinating. Oh, one more thing. When you blog, collide.

Image by: OnyxBlackman

Finally Succumbed to foursquare

When it comes to trying Social Media applications I’ll be the first to admit I don’t exercise much restraint. Normally I jump in. Frequently I abandon for various (and good) reasons, but it doesn’t take much arm twisting to get me to try. Foursquare was for some reason different. Yes I read all the Tweets and blog posts about how it was going to be the next Twitter; blah, blah, blah. It mattered not, my willpower was strong on this one and successfully held off until last weekend. I’m sorry I did.

Once I loaded the app on my iPhone I quickly found myself checking in all over the place, one after another, after another; watching myself climb the leaderboard, envious of all those mayors. I got it now. Travel around, tell people where you are, play a game and collect badges. Nice, but is there value here?

The concept is pretty simple and they have done a very nice job at resisting making the interface complex. The design is very straightforward and doesn’t have all that fancy grey out stuff all over it. Means a bit more clicking, but it really doesn’t matter, pages load fast. I like how it allows you to shout your location to everyone, or not to if you happen to be be in stealth mode, simply check in (that’s how you earn points) on the QT. The more places you visit the more points you get. Over time you unlock badges from Newbie to Adventurer up to Superstar. Then the badges get funky; School Night, Animal House, Gym Rat, Overshare, you get the picture.

You tap the application and it gives you back a list of places near where you are. You select it and check in; points earned. If your stop is not listed you can add it. You can add tips for others to pick up along the way. Tips and To Dos are combined, which confused me. To Do is really where you want To Go, but the service can only understand locations. I typed in Chicago Auto Show, but since it’s not a place it didn’t pick it up. The whole lists thing needs to be reworked. Another thing that was perplexing was their blog entries on tumblr. The only place I could get to it from the foursquare site was by clicking the huh link on “We changed the way our badges work.”

So is it going to be as big as Twitter. I searched for Wrigley Field where the Cubs play. Results: 312 check ins and 212 unique visitors. Similar low numbers for the United Center home of the Bulls and Blackhawks. Only 320 check ins and 215 unique visitors. So where’s the swarm?

Value could be found in building tourism. Lots of visitors, tips, to do’s with a promotion and prizes could boost visits and activity for a city , festival or museum. Might also be a useful tool for those wonderful corporate scavenger hunts we all love to participate in. Interface is devoid of advertising right now, so that’s potentially a big opportunity since mobile location based is at the strength of the application. Personally it’s kind of nice having a history of your activities. “When was I there?” Pull it up. This is made easier by private feeds of your check-ins you can access via RSS. You can even import them into you iCal.

Gotta stop now. Must seek world dominance with the most Mayorships possible.

Create a Social Network Inside your Company to Succeed

Large corporations are beginning to give Social Media more face time, but it’s still well down the food chain for resources and attention in most C-Suites. There are good reasons for this; no reliable ROI, potential risk, medium not fully understood, don’t see how it can scale. It’s popular to say, “They just don’t get it.” I’ve heard that a dozen times. But these people wouldn’t be in the C-Suite if they didn’t get what business was about. Playing the “don’t get it” card puts the burden on the senior managers. It doesn’t belong there. It belongs with the the Social Media advocates inside the firm. Senior executives ask the same questions of all new ideas or concepts, “Where’s the value? How much can I get? How fast can I get it?” If you are championing Social Media in your firm then it’s you that has to “get it.” Whew, that’s out of the way. A single champion or interested parties sprinkled around the company may not be enough. So get organized.

To succeed in executing an Enterprise Social Media strategy outside the organization you must have a strong Social Network inside the company.

People who excel at E-Business truly love the digital world. It changes constantly and requires one to work hard at keeping up on what’s going on. It’s not a 9 to 5 job. Social Media is the same way. Finding the social media enthusiasts in your firm and inviting them to join a Social Network inside your company will pay dividends later.

Uncover the Value

No doubt your company has a pre-approved set of drivers and metrics that lead straight to the money. That’s where you should start. It’s somewhat easier for retailers and manufacturers to show results with Social Media in familiar ways; leads, response rates, conversions. Other verticals like health care and financial services measure things over longer sales and engagement cycles making it harder to show the value.

Just because there isn’t an obvious ROI today doesn’t mean you shouldn’t nurture this medium. I was recently in a meeting with some pretty senior folks who were debating whether or not to invest in an internal social community platform. I heard these comments. “What happens if somebody says something bad? Won’t it just be a waste of time?” No doubt those same things were uttered 20 years ago as people discussed enabling e-mail across the enterprise. I am continually shocked by how previously covered ground is so quickly forgotten.

One should never tire of tagging, tracking and cracking the attribution code of Social Media efforts to determine value. Without demonstrating value, resources will not flow into the Social Media cost center. But a fresh angle can jump start passive executives into becoming willing accomplices. That’s where this post comes in.

Resources devoted to more established channels like direct mail, phone and broad media, are not going to be drastically reduced any time soon because executives can get a predictable return on investment. So you either have to get incremental money or carve out a slice from other channels to fund Social Media. Here’s potentially a new way to get senior managers to lean in.

Companies want strategic advantage and a way to differentiate themselves that can’t be easily replicated by competitors. Brand battles are at a peak. AT&T and Verizon, Wal-Mart and Amazon. “Our product is better than the other product. It keeps you drier than… Whitens your teeth better than…” The soundtrack for today’s marketing strategy should be “Step Right Up” by Tom Waits. How effective is this? Brands complain to the advertising governing bodies and then claims need to be either changed or watered down. Marketing teams then spend time looking for ways to push the envelope on copy points. Frequently without consulting the customer. Not sure this is good use of resources. Certainly it’s not sustainable and does not advance the brand in meaningful ways as these tactics have a short shelf life.

Brands are trying to win on consumer perceptions. The thinking is if people perceive your brand is better they will buy it over another one. This only works until the competition comes out with a more compelling message. Believe me, they are working on it right now.

Go Big or Go Home

Social Media is a once in a lifetime opportunity for businesses to create value by energizing and mobilizing their customer base. It’s cheaper, faster, far-reaching and most importantly, more trusted by consumers. Social Media is an Interactive Customer Engagement Marketing Tool. It works to influence consumer perceptions about a brand, as told by other consumers, not by marketing departments.

Create Leverage For Less – CPSM (Cost Per Social Message)

Direct mail tactics are one-to-one. The thinking is when you sharpen targeting and refine champion creative your response and conversion rates will rise. But the company is still operating on a per piece and per customer paradigm. Social Media can scale very quickly once a large enough social graph is created; followers, fans, readers, etc. This is a new level of scalability. It’s transformative. CPM (cost per thousand- variable) can become CPSM (cost per social message – fixed). CPSM is significantly more powerful than CPM because the message finds the consumer where they hang out (personal social networking spaces) and then pass it along within their network and across other networks.

Be a Perception Influencer

Hyundai is not perceived to be a premium auto brand in the US car market. But the company has worked very hard on their products and the Genesis was named North American Car of the Year in 2009. What would executives at Hyundai give to be able to align consumer perceptions with product reality? You can bet lots of time is spent on trying to crack that nut. All businesses have key profit drivers that have associated consumer perceptions. When a firm executes well on these drivers they experience higher business outcomes and therefore better brand outcomes (consideration and recommend to a friend). Marketing wars and dot points are fleeting. Consumer advocates are worth their weight in gold.

The Social Media Molecule – SM²

The graphic below is an attempt to demonstrate how a well executed Social Media strategy is linked to activities and outcomes within the organization, Direct mail is a tactical campaign, and such has a defined set of metrics. But the form factor is static and it’s pushed. Social Media is an Interactive  Customer Experience Marketing Tool. It greets brand advocates and invites and empowers them to take the ball and run with it. Contrived marketing dot points are expected and frequently fall flat. Social Media conversations can surge with momentum and are re-energized along the way by consumers who are trusted more than brands.

I have defined the Social Media Molecule SM² as follows.

People within a company who have organized themselves in a self-selected arrangement, held tightly together by strong, common bonds to impact business results.

I specifically chose the word molecule to set it apart from other marketing channels and evoke the unbreakable connectivity of molecular chemistry. This idea seems highly transportable to the social world of human relationships both within and beyond company walls. It’s a framework to build on.

Here’s how I can see it unfolding. Social bonds are formed by members in three areas of the company; Marketing, Customers Service and Public Relations. Each one contributes unique skills to defining and growing the social network inside the company. They use best practices and customize them to meet their own needs. Each team establishes their own metrics but all work to achieve the higher level business results of the company. Once these things are established they unleash it into the wild world of Social Media. The Social Media Molecule’s objective is to influence consumer perceptions and increase customer engagement.

  • Consumer perceptions – What people gleam from other consumers is more trusted than from companies themselves. Getting validation from other consumers influences what consumers buy and use. The Social Media team can listen to what consumers are saying and reinforce it or correct inaccuracies. What consumers say is then fed back to the Marketing team.
  • Customer engagement – Customers who have an opportunity to interact with a brand vs. being acted upon will be more engaged and become repeat buyers and loyal customers

Frameworks are always easier on paper (or pixels) than in real life. I realize that getting it off the ground is more complex. Frameworks are also just that. A model that can be followed and adjusted to better snap into a companies’ culture. Would love to hear thoughts on this.

In the works:  The Evolution of Corporate Communications.

Consumers Wield New Found Power – Is it Being Abused?

Power1I have always been an advocate for listening to the voice of the customer. In the eighties I was the GM for a bookstore chain. From time to time I would receive letters from customers who had an unpleasant experience with a staff member, or felt our practices, or title selection, was not acceptable. I would answer those letters personally and would spend time with the store manager discussing how an associate could be coached to ensure a better customer experience was waiting around the corner.

On one occasion someone went so far as to write a letter to the local newspaper to complain about certain magazine titles that were on display. The paper published the letter on their opinion page. I was a businessman and those magazines sold well so I didn’t want to give up that revenue. But the community got behind this person which meant I had to find a solution that worked for consumer as well as commerce. I instructed the store to remove the magazines from the rack and put up a sign that listed the titles available and informed the customers they could be purchased by asking any clerk at checkout. We did lose some sales, but I think that was more than made up in political capital with the community for seriously listening and taking action.

While in that store a short time later I overheard customers talking about the incident and noted what we had done in response. Their reaction was very positive. I immediately went back to my office and took it a step further by adopting this policy across the chain. Certainly many people did not have an issue, but it was a public store and as such, part of my job was to create an environment that was comfortable for as many people as possible. That was how community played out in the 1980’s. You wrote letters; yes on paper with envelopes and stamps. My customers taught me an invaluable lesson early on in my career; listen to them. A side note. That year we set a sales record and crushed the competitor, Walden Books, who had a much better location in the mall.

Fast forward to the digital age

One of the first things I do every morning these days is read customer comments submitted through the web site. I read them on my Blackberry at home while eating breakfast. I want to know what my customers are saying before I get to the office. It’s a sobering, enlightening, humbling, frustrating, humorous and an interesting experience. The Customer is Always Right is the classic phrase. Perhaps a more appropriate modern take is The Customer is the Customer. No ridiculous notions here. Businesses need customers, but consumers need and desire the products and services brands offer.

Enter Social Media

It has been perceived, in my opinion, that brands have enjoyed an advantage in the relationship with a consumer. Social media has for some consumers been a way to level that playing field. All well and good, but I have been observing some interesting data over the past few months directly related to all the talk about customers controlling brands and using social media as a bully pulpit to right the wrongs that businesses foist upon them. Just click on customer threads from almost any industry and you will see it. Customers want to tell the brand when they feel they’ve been wronged. Getting in touch with company people, not just the call center reps, is difficult and time consuming. Thanks to social media technology it’s much easier to write a blog post, comment on a conversation some one else has started or upload a photo. Consumers have expectations they expect brands to meet. I’m also a customer and couldn’t agree more. But if consumers decide to go public they need to exercise the same amount of care and honesty that they expected from the brand. If you don’t want your son to turn out like Bart Simpson, don’t parent like Homer. The visual below depicts how consumers move through the expectations / perceptions cycle in the world of social media, as well as what socially aware brands are doing in this new era.


Recent observations

Much of what I read from my customers is anonymous, but sometimes they identify themselves because they are looking for help. It’s fascinating what you find when you tie back detailed customer comments to their actual business records. What consumers write in public does not always reflect what’s on the private record. It’s not surprising. Anger and emotion can frequently  overwhelm calm, fact-based thinking. Especially when there have been repeated attempts to solve the problem. This puts the brand in a difficult position. They can’t call out the customer, or argue. The best they can do is apologize for problems and take the conversation off line. My point is that if you find yourself with a new power, use it wisely. Exercise the same honesty and genuineness that you expect from your brand.

How Many Agencies Does it Take to Screw in a Light Bulb?

Low_Energy_Saving_Spiral_Light_Bulb.jpg.gifI recently sat on a panel called Managing Multichannel Agency Relationships at last week’s Forrester Consumer Forum in Chicago. Sean Corcoran the panel moderator and Forrester Analyst took an interesting approach. He passed across a short list of questions for us to ponder a week ahead of time, but did little else to help us prepare. It was a pre-mediated strategy to spur more spontaneous dialogue. The two clients on the panel were myself and Tracy Benson, Senior Director of Interactive Marketing and Emerging Media at Best Buy, The two agency representatives were Chris Miller, Senior VP, Group Management Director, Digital with Draftfcb and Ian Wolfman, CMO at imc². It was quite an honor to be on the same stage as these accomplished professionals. The teams were even with Tracy and me sandwiched in between the agency guys.

What is a digital agency’s role in today’s multi-dimensional landscape? Is it more important or roughly the same as it’s been?

Putting advertising aside, there are more digital channels used by consumers than analog channels today (see graphic below). And the digital channels are newer, richer, more interactive and can be easily shared. This means your digital agency’s role is increasingly more important than ever before. The fact that technology powers the new digital channels has actually hindered exploration and adoption among the big firms. That’s because traditional marketers don’t fully understand these new channels and can easily become infatuated with the technology. Suddenly their cry becomes about the technology and that drowns out strategic conversations. “We need a Twitter stream! Get me an iPhone app, now!” Oftentimes these take the form of demands of traditional agencies or even interactive agencies who have no real depth of experience in either mobile or social.


Marketers should be engaging in proactive discussions with their current interactive agencies about emerging trends, and ask the tough questions about their on-staff talent, capabilities and experiences beyond standard web development. If they don’t have much, but you are not doing much, maybe it doesn’t matter. But I can guarantee you that some day someone in the C-Suite will be sending you an e-mail or dropping by asking you what your plans are in new areas of mobile and social. If you don’t know and your agency doesn’t know you are officially behind and your job and your business may be at risk.

The role of a digital agency in this ever-changing landscape should be a shifting from single threaded projects to multidimensional marketing ecosystems. Here is a list I think great digital agencies must be doing to meet this new challenge.

  • Expand the use of Personas, layering on mobile and social attributes
  • Move away from single-threaded design projects into a marketing and communication ecosystem
  • Fold in analytics and data more deeply and earlier on in the process
  • Use more iterative design, not an assembly line approach. More sketches before the formal design process begins
  • Help the client do something, not just say something
  • Constantly seek to get closer to the client’s marketing and brand strategy
  • Build out new skills within the agency team

Push your current agency to further educate and expand their staff skills. But you have to be committed to this new world as well. Learning and growing together can be a very good thing. If you are about to change digital agencies, include the topics of mobile and social skills, as well as channel integration experience and the points above high on your discussion list.


What makes a successful interactive agency-marketer relationship?

The same thing that makes any relationship successful; working hard at it. I had my first encounter with an agency when I was running a chain of bookstores in the 1980’s. I have always viewed my agency as an extension of my own staff. That mindset alone puts everyone on a better path. Make them a partner. Bring them into your strategic discussions and connect them with other key players around the company. Some feel that if others around the firm are going directly to the agency, then somehow control is being lost. Not true. It probably means overall that more is getting done. If you have interactive agency responsibility at your firm you need to provide guidelines and standards to both the agency and your company peers. Use the agency as outside validation to help elevate the digital IQ in your own company.

Have relationship reviews twice a year and make them frank discussions. I have three big buckets; efficiency, style and vision. Most things will fit nicely into one of those. Identify issues, but bring solutions yourself, and keep an open mind.

What are the pros and cons of working with one consolidated agency vs. several specialist agencies?

If you are a big brand you will absolutely have multiple agency relationships, no doubt about that. There is a need for big firms to get lots of things done in many areas, and the communication across departments is still sorely lacking (yes, as shocking as it may seem, silos still exist). People will go to all the trouble and work to get a new agency before they go around the company to see if an incumbent can do the job; amazing. It’s about the number of agencies, although I think fewer is better, it is about who you select.

  • Choose agencies that compliment your business and other agency models and cultures
  • Provide guidelines to everyone and be crystal clear who is leading
  • Have them present together so no one over reaches on credit
  • Connect agency personnel up and down levels and across disciplines

One thing I would steer away from are very small, specialist agencies that will struggle to hold their own in the C-Suite or with high-powered talent from the big guys. If you are hiring an agency for one small, unique initiative and don’t plan on introducing them to other external partners, think again. The interactive marketing world is highly integrated today, so if your project isn’t connected it will probably fail. Don’t create more silos, we have enough thank you.

How has social media changed the landscape and what is the role of agencies in this space?

So much has been written and said about Social Media the past year or so that I am not going to address any of that here. If you are reading this you are fully aware of how Social Media is changing things. Whether or not your company is taking is another matter entirely. When it comes to the digital agency and Social Media my position is that they should be learning and doing side by side with you. Social is about being transparent and genuine, it is intimately linked to your brand. There is no better way to get started than with the agency that knows your brand, understands digital and can execute on technology (See the answer to the first question above). I would give your current digital agency a try before looking for a specialist.

Social Media is not a project, it’s an interactive marketing tool that can influence brand perceptions, and it’s too new for anyone to claim deep expertise. I know many will disagree with me on that point, and that’s fine. In fact I would argue that the most effective Social Media can only be done by the brands themselves. Think about it. Would you offshore the essence of your brand? Wouldn’t you want to be the ones talking about your brand? But first we have got to get the silos talking.

So, how many agencies does it take to screw in a light bulb? Probably not as many as you think. More on this later.

Please chime in on this topic.

Read my summary of the 2009 Forrester Consumer Forum here.

Multichannel Mania at the 2009 Forrester Consumer Forum

BeanJust back from the Forrester Consumer Forum. I say just back, but actually it took place in my hometown, Chicago. There was a great turn out and some very engaging keynotes. One of the major benefits of attending a Forrester event is the quality of presenters and attendees. I had lunch with Brad Brooks, VP of Consumer Windows Marketing at Microsoft and got to question him on their new retail store strategy. He was very engaging and open, and if this is a harbinger of things to come from Microsoft, it will be interesting to watch them. The forum theme was The Three Dimensional Consumer: Creating Breakthrough Multichannel relationships. Forrester defines the three dimensions through the lens of the consumer; their needs, interests and questions. Not a groundbreaking thought by itself, but the way in which Forrester shaped the content with context and examples was very effective and useful.

Consumers are becoming more digital, more mobile and more social. These stats were presented in an opening day Keynote by Henry Harteveldt, a VP and Principal Analyst with Forrester.

  • 79% of US consumers are online and 75% of that number have high speed Internet access
  • 18 – 43 year olds spent 20% more time online in 2009 than they did in 2007
  • 62% of US online consumers who purchased a financial product in 2009 researched it on the web first
  • 46% more people belong to social networking sites compared to a year ago
  • Twitter grew 1,382% year over year, registering 7 million new users in February of 2009 alone
  • 97% of phones are data devices
  • 36% of smart phone users and 63% of iPhone users access the web every day from their device

At Forrester everything comes in threes, so Mr. Harteveldt laid out a framework depicting the three things digital consumers expect from brands; information, transactions and help. Information = engagement, transaction = interaction and help = deliver great service.

Multi Model
Information, Transactions, Help

He offered some great advice on how to excel in satisfying the needs of the digital consumer across all channels.

  • Offer channel appropriate communications
  • Match the task with the channel/device
  • Use social media (if relevant to your customers)
  • Replicate off line processes online
  • Extend digital channels into the off line world
  • Provide relevant tools, forms, payment options, etc.
  • Excel at service (make it easy, channel-agnostic and utilize social media for immediacy)

Harvey was humorous, bright and on target. Right out of the textbook for Forrester; a balanced mix of facts and vision.

One of the most entertaining and genuine presenters of the forum was Virginia Suliman, VP of Digital Design and Development for Hilton Worldwide with Hospitality is All Around You: How Hilton Delivers Consistently Good Multichannel Guest Experiences. I’m a Hilton Honors member and have been for a while. It’s a brand on my personal watch list. She began with a nod to a world gone by, a nostalgic look at Conrad Hilton’s original vision for the hotel chain. Mr. Hilton wanted there to be a Hilton on the moon. Connie, have you taken leave of your senses? it’s location, location, location. The moon is not on the way to any place.

Hilton Nostalga
A look back

Ms. Suliman observed that the hotel experience and the home experience have begun to converge. Hotel furniture, bedding, beds and flat screens are easily attainable and affordable for millions of consumers. The cocooning of the early 2000’s and the current economic downturn have caused personal and business travel to slow. She spoke of how her biggest challenge is getting staff to be genuine to customers across all their brands, even the limited service properties. She said, “Hilton is not a technology company, it’s a hotel company.” I really respected her approach to solving the multichannel, multidimensional problem. She attacked the customer experience with a framework that is essentially a usability model.

Hilton Usability Framework
Hilton's framework for delivering a great customer experience

But the real solution was in fact technology, despite her downplaying this aspect of the firm. Hilton built an integrated infrastructure platform connecting consumers to all properties so employees at any of the hotels would have access to the same master database. It’s called OnQ and provides a 360 degree view of the customer, including preferences, but is optimized for profitability. This is a reminder that if you are a big brand (like mine) with lots of customers, outlets and channels, you can be as genuine as pie, but you won’t fully excel without strong technology skills.

Hilton has realized positive business impact as a result of the OnQ effort. They track revenue per available room as a key metric and grew it by 6.2% after OnQ was installed. They have also extended this platform into Hilton University for training.

Virginia Suliman, VP Web Design, Hilton Hotels

CMO of Best Buy, Barry Judge gave a talk a talk called Blurring the Lines Between Customer Service and Marketing. Barry and Best Buy really get the social media concept. I had the privilege of sitting on a panel with another Best Buy executive, Tracy Benson, Senior Director of Digital, also of Best Buy. She told me they set up a monitor in Barry’s office years ago that was tuned to the social media channel. A rolling screen of direct customer conversations; irresistible. Soon he was asking for it to be available on his mobile device and then began responding to customers directly. He also started a blog

Key messages in Mr. Judge’s presentation were:

  • Talk with customers, not at them
  • It’s about customer 2.0 – not just keeping the doors and phone lines open, but proactively going out to look for customers to serve
  • The best marketing is when the consumer doesn’t even know it’s marketing (candidate for best forum quote)
  • Their mission – Buyer be Happy

Their Twelpforce (Twitterers) are licensed to help customers. Best Buy employees who want to Tweet for customer support have to take a test and receive a badge, official deputies of Twelpforce. Best Buy’s experience and learnings in this arena have led them to create a Social Shopping Facebook page with over 1 million fans. It will be followed up with a new web site premiering on Christmas day that has the objective of helping consumers get the most out of their electronics purchase. Tips, tricks, user-generated content and experiences.

Their mobile iPhone application allows consumers to see products, reviews and prices; full transparency. This shows that Best Buy has moved beyond the fears of Social Media that paralyze most firms, and into a brave new frontier. This kind of courage will pay handsome dividends. One more note on their mobile efforts. You can text a short code related to products and immediately be sent all the reviews.

No consumer forum would be complete without Harley Manning making a plea, a begging plea in fact on one knee for marketers to embrace the multichannel customer with his presentation Designing a Multichannel Customer Experience in the Real World. His presentation was a mash-up of personal experiences, stories, Forrester frameworks and very sharp new ideas. Hard to keep up with him sometimes, but therein lies the fun. Here are some of his insights.

  • Design with channel pairs in mind. Most projects are single design projects, but channel transition is likely in almost any interaction, so plan for it
  • Pay attention to the most connected channel. Where will the consumer learn about the message first?
  • Solve the small problems first and build allies in the organization. This will enable you to bridge the the channels in bigger projects later on
  • Use research, especially ethnographic research
  • Create multichannel customer experience maps and multichannel management platforms

Getting executive buy-in is compulsory, so Mr. Manning provided a test sheet you can self-administer that will help you determine which category your executives fall in related to digital and multichannel design. You will find out if they are passive, willing or engaged. Once you type the executive you can tailor your discussions and presentations to that style with the objective of moving them along the path to engaged.

If you attended the forum, I’d love to hear your reaction to this post and get your own observations.

User Generated Content Disrupts Brand Search Results

In a June 8, 2009 article from Marketing Vox and Nielsen BuzzMetrics SES Magazine entitled Turning Blogs and user-Generated Content Into Search Engine Results, Chris Aarons, Andru Edwards and Xavier Lanier state:

25% of search results for the world’s Top 20 brands link to user generated content

This is probably at once exciting and frightening for companies. Frightening for CMOs and CEOs who are not connected, and exciting for the pockets of social mavens emerging inside their organizations. Prior to Social Media conversations, brand-posted content dominated search results. But we are in a new world. A world where consumers can express their experiences immediately through social media technology. These customers far outnumber the employees of even the largest brands, and so, their self-generated content will dwarf what firms can create and they will do so at a staggering pace. When you couple this with the fact that consumers trust their friends recommendations at a 90% rate and other consumer opinion postings at 70% (Nielsen Study on Global Advertising), we may now be at the tipping point for who influences whom. Consumers still trust brand sites at a 70% level, but if user generated content continues to hijack search traffic, the brand site will likely not be the first place consumers visit after they have entered their search terms on Google or Bing.

Here’s a sobering thought for you advertising types out there. What if just prior to every TV commercial you spent millions of dollars on was aired, two consumer made commercials about your brand where shown first. But you have no idea of the content nor any clue who made them. I’ve just struck fear into the hearts of thousands.

What does this mean?

The carefully orchestrated messages brands weave and broadcast in the traditional mediums will have less influence on business results because consumers will get consumer perspectives first. Since consumers surround brands (sorry brand stewards it’s not the other way around) there is no way to stop this landslide of content.

What to do about it?

Influence the user generated content. If consumers see what others say about your brand, then take steps to improve the odds that what is said is positive. More effort will be needed to reach out into the community and demonstrate that brands genuinely think and feel what their customers think and feel. Brands that humanize their messages and practice empathy at key customer touch points will influence user-generated content. No customer experience occurs in a vacuum or inside the clinical environment of a marketing campaign, so don’t pretend it does. I’m beginning to shape a concept I am tentatively calling Customer Context. More to come on that.

Inspiration for this post came from the Socialnomics blog entry Statistics Show Social Media is Bigger than you Think.  Thanks for compiling a great list of stats.

Is Twitter Losing its Value Exchange Power for the Individual?


It’s only 3 years old, but Twitter seems to be transforming faster than it’s adding users. Two years under the radar, one year in steady growth; the fourth year (over 14 million members) is shaping up to possibly be  “thee” year it will flirt with the mainstream. And that’s when I will have to completely re-evaluate the time I invest in it. I just don’t know if it will be up or down.

I’ve been carefully observing usage patterns to Twitter over time. There are the  “I don’t get it” people but they Tweet anyway (annoying).  There are those who join, become infatuated and after a while the shine wears off so they slow down or stop. Some are so generous with their thinking and ideas. For others it’s about collecting mass quantities of followers, no matter what (you know who you are).

If you have 50,000 followers and 50,000 people that you follow you we know you can’t keep up, so what do you do? Well, you start missing lots of Tweets and quite possibly retreat to a smaller group for regular communication. Some of my fellow Tweeters I connected with regularly a year ago have grown their base so much that I can barely break into the stream anymore. It’s like we’ve dropped off each others radar screen.  Sure there is the direct message, but that gets lost like a Nigerian Prince financial plea buried in between two Viagra offers.

I am beginning to think that the more Twitter grows the less worth it will have for the individual. Value transfer is one of the big benefits of Social Media and nothing was more simple,  pure or immediate than the Tweet. I once described it in an earlier post, Why I’m on Twitter and How I Use it, as being a spectrum of individual radio stations. That spectrum has now grown so fast that the value for the individual is at risk of being left behind.

It seems we are in a”star” phase. Celebrities are getting on board more and more and using it as twitter3another weapon in their PR arsenal. I have heard some celebs talk about how they are making more connections with fans, and use it as a way to do an end around the media. I like that. Direct, to the point, personal. Social Media at it’s best. But it will only have value as long as it’s sincere, which will of course vary.

Big brands continue to get on board and some are finding it to be an effective channel to communicate with prospects and customers on a personal level. The cost for a brand to be on Twitter is very low and worth the effort right now. The more followers a brand has the better, But it’s an inverse relationship for individuals. The more they have, the harder it is to extract value.

It’s good for Twitter that high profile people and brands jump in, but I wonder just how good it will be for everyone else. We don’t need Twitter to communicate with our friends, e-mail, text and oh yeah, the phone work great. So if you can’t break through to the interesting people for value exchange, then it just may end up not being as useful.

Still evolving, but you may want to set up an informal value-tracking mechanism of your own.

Take Social Media Stealth, At Least for Now

I’ve been following interesting discussions lately about the use of the word Media in Social Media. Josh Bernoff of Forrester Research takes his usual professorial approach (that’s a compliment Josh). He points out that media evokes advertising which is one way, but all social web sites/technologies are two way. He offers a number of other insights and ways to refer to Social Media in his blog post Why Social Media Sucks here. Reading the conversations brought to mind some other concerns some of my peers are facing.

Much of the debate stems from the attention Social Media is beginning to receive from senior managers inside large companies. We have been spending the better part of a year trying to get their attention and trumpeting the value of Social Media and the need to enter this space. Of course when you ask for attention you will ultimately receive it. A favorite quote comes to mind, Goodness by the inch invites evil by the yard. Getting the mind share of execs in your firm is a double-edged sword for sure. They will want to know more…

  • Because they have heard about the missteps made by some brands and want to see if they might be next
  • Which means they will have ideas and perhaps, dare I say it, tinker
  • So they can understand the expense dollars and staff time being placed against it
  • Give their personal perspective thumbs up or down sign

radarscreenAll of these things are completely fine, especially the financial curiosity; after all they have a business to run. But as was pointed out in a recent Forrester report, three-fourths of firms polled said their Social Media budget is less than $100,000 annually. That’s small by most large company standards, but in this economic climate nothing escapes scrutiny. Those reported expenses are services purchased dollars and does not include FTE. Now that we’ve got the C’s leaning in it’s time to reduce altitude and fly under the radar.

  • Get your modest budget approved and protected through the rest of the year (important safety tip: stick to it)
  • Ring fence your people resources to as few as possible
  • Carefully choose who else you engage, don’t overburden other stretched teams (especially IT)
  • Leverage everything you’ve already built over the last year
  • Develop your established properties; you’ve probably got lots of opportunity there
  • Report progress and milestones only to your department head, letting her decide how and when to pass it on
  • As I’ve said in previous posts, think and act like a start-up. Be scrappy and lean

We’ve been exploring alternate terminology to the Social Media handle in my company. Don’t do this in a vacuum, as the choice should largely depend on your organization’s structure and how they think about channels. Look for successful case studies within your own firm where groups have changed their name and it has been viewed as positive. Avoid being seduced by the latest buzzwords. This is one you need to work on from the inside out. I could reel off a laundry list of labels but you probably have already thought of them and could add 10 more.

My potential best advice is to not name it at all. More of an exercise in subtraction vs. adding other terms you have to explain. If you are called E-Commerce today in your firm, then you’ve already got your name. Social Media is just another thing you take care of.

I believe this is a temporary state for Social Media. As the economy begins to rebound you will be able to pull back on the stick and ascend to cruising altitude. When you’re back on the radar screen the C’s will say, “Well done.”

Sizing your Social Media Audience

vacuum-tubeForrester Research publishes and tracks a social engagement “Ladder of Participation.”  It’s a framework, based on consumer research, for categorizing users of Social Media by activity and age. This construct has some longevity and I would recommend you spend some time with it. But companies already have their own ways to segment customers or identify prospects. Introducing new thinking on this front will be confusing and getting traction will be slow. Marketing teams have their own sacred segments and chances are your E-Business team has created design Personas. How will the marketing teams make sense of all these segments? This is typical in large firms that have sophisticated marketing departments.

The bottom line is that all marketers need to have a clear picture in their minds of the customer. Not just a cold, calculates segment, but a real person. Here is one approach to solving that problem.

  • Field a comprehensive research study for both your customers and prospects to learn your brand drivers – what consumers deem as most important and what they are aware of
  • Create segments from that data as a singular exercise
  • Overlay your design Personas on that segmentation. If you’ve done a good job creating your Personas this will probably be a 75% match
  • Tweak the Persona descriptions to fill in the gaps and arrive at a one for one match. By the way if your Personas are over 3 years old, you have to start all over. Having Social Media and online brand attributes written into your Persona biographies is critical. Also things like what handset they use and how they use phone app technology, etc.
  • The research segments should be the base, but the Personas will bring it to life for the marketing teams. The E-Business and Research teams should collaborate closely on this
  • Overlay the Forrester participation ladder label to each of these segments
  • Run the numbers for all these overlays and you’ve got the population/opportunity for all your segments for customers on book
  • Define and set flags for each of these segments that you can use for your CRM, online, IVR, call center, e-mail, web targeting, etc. This will help with consistency
  • Inform your reporting and analysis teams of this shift
  • Your prospect population is also critical. Find a way to use this scheme to reach potential customers. Paid search targeted ad networks, etc.
  • Create a strategy/approach for how to engage each of these (include social tools) and you’re on your way
  • Before you finish with this “churn and burn” revisit your Social Media strategy. It’s about the objectives, not the technology.

Business Week has an innovative data section on their site. This one takes the Forrester ladder of social participation and makes it look like a Wired Magazine chart.

Would love to hear from anyone who is doing or has done this, or has a variation on the theme. Thanks Business Week magazine.

Will the Next Agency be the Client?

I’ve worked with agencies nearly all my professional life. Big, small, east coast, west coast, midwest, south, you name the region, I’ve worked with a company based there. Always thought I should switch sides at least once in my career and work for one, but so far the opportunity hasn’t presented itself. Perhaps someday it will.

As the Internet emerged the Interactive Agency was born. Traditional advertising firms tried to set-up digital shop to compete but it took them years to catch-up, many of them never succeeding. Interactive companies tried an end around play to capture advertising business. That had equally mixed results. As technology became more and more embedded in marketing efforts, numerous specialized firms sprung up. The client had to choose carefully so as to not become overwhelmed, swarmed or outnumbered with external services and experts.

The growth of Social Media led to yet another specialty group of agencies. But social will be done best and most effective by the people who are in the company. A successful social strategy will be supported by three pillars.

Service and commerce already exist inside the corporate walls. Once firms establish and sharpen their social media skills they will be well positioned to execute on all three of these pillars.

Three pillars of Social Media
Three pillars of Social Media

Social Media

The Social Media express has lifted-off with rocket ship thrust and settled into solid orbit. It will be the hardest of the three pillars for companies to understand, learn and practice. As we know it’s about people, communication and relationships, not polished marketing, campaigns and sound bytes. The brands employing authentic people will get this right very quickly, providing senior management steps-up and legitimizes Social Media along side the likes of direct marketing, advertising and others.

Social Service

Brands known for great service and placing appropriate focus on the customer experience will naturally gravitate toward social tools to service their customers. Phone, IVR, e-mail, online chat and SMS are staples of the mature service department today. That evolution will simply continue through the use of social tools and technology. It will also allow other, more expensive channels to be reduced.

Social Commerce

We’ve only just begun to scratch the surface on this one but mastery will be required or the entire social revolution will fizzle out in the C-suites, then cost centers; relegated to road kill. Selling inside the social graph is inevitable and it will be effective. Consumers will sell brands and products without even knowing it or stopping to think about it. Enabling this will require an unprecedented level of collaboration between Marketing, advertising, customer service and IT, and it will be entirely digital.


Arguably, no agency can do this better than a brand or company. Social Media is not services purchased. It’s in the DNA of a brand. The mission, vision, practice, philosophy and most of all people who show up everyday because they enjoy it. That last part is crucial. You don’t have to love your brand to churn out marketing collateral or pick up the phone and answer inquiries. You can’t write a purchase order for passion. It’s table stakes in the social graph.

Despite the fact that agencies are working hard to crack the code on where they need to go to cash in on this next curve, it might be a futile attempt. The top CEO’s will soon see how all these orbiting customer touchpoints (online, phone, mobile, social networks, blogging etc.) are shaping how consumers consider and choose products and services. However, there will be a cost. Either through expansion of staff and resources or a measured replacement of existing “traditional” personnel and cost centers. My opinion is we are long overdue for a complete re-imagining and re-structuring of the marketing organization.

Am I saying the next agency will emerge from within the walls company? Not an agency in the way we know it today. Instead a new corporate classification of marketing. A new way doing business that can only be accomplished by people who work for the brand.

All the News That’s Fit to Digitize

Photo from Google images

There is a precipitous drop in printed newspaper readership. Digital media delivers the same information more quickly, more efficiently and of course in an interactive manner that paper can’t touch. But touch is an important distinction. You can touch a newspaper. How many of us love to wake up Sunday morning and reach for a cup of coffee, the paper and settle into a comfy chair? It’s been a ritual for decades for people all over the world.

There’s something tactile and tangible about opening a newspaper and hearing that familiar crinkle sound, and folding it again and again to find the most interesting articles. A form of cerebral origami. It takes hundreds of people to create, print and deliver a newspaper to your home everyday. Holding a paper reminds us of that collective toil and helps give more weight to the difficult task of writing to inform and entertain.

Making a great paper is expensive and requires great skill. Creating a blog or obtaining a web address and then merrily type on your keyboard (just like I’m doing now) is easy. We came to rely on journalism ethics and reporting. There was a confidence when you “read it in the paper.” Much more so than when you type a term into Google and out pours 9,000 results. Who wrote all that stuff? Can I trust it?

Growing up we actually got the paper twice a day. The morning version and then an evening edition. That’s almost unbelievable to me now and I lived through it. When The New York Times began their online version of the paper, they held a reader’s contest to select their online news tag line. Off line it was “All the News That’s Fit to Print.” The prize was the same nominal amount that was awarded when they held the identical contest for the newspaper. The winning entry urged the Times to keep the same tag line, and they did. It was an important nod to preserving integrity and a high level of quality.

Photo by Steve A Furman

As any reader of this blog knows, I get The New York Times delivered to my driveway each and everyday. And I never let even one edition find its way to the recycle bin until I’ve gone through it page by page. Sometimes I have two or three weeks worth piled up. It doesn’t matter. I simply stage a reading marathon until I’m finished. It was a habit that I learned from my parents, and I am hoping to pass it down to my children. But the fact that many cities are losing their papers, means that storied tradition could be lost. No more clipping articles and pasting them in a scrapbook as memories for future generations to leaf through down the road.

Newspapers have been deeply embedded in our society for so long, but it seems inevitable that it will be transformed into digital files on a hard drive. So if that’s what is coming, then we should focus on the future. The obvious place to start is with the interactive nature of online newspapers. Web 2.0 advances have taken this to new levels observed last year in this space here. Digital mediums are much more easily searched, don’t require trees to make them, don’t need to be physically delivered, take up almost no physical storage space and perhaps most importantly are becoming social networks.

These social aspects may have the most profound effect on this media transformation. We can read an article online and post our own personal reaction. They can be social bookmarked to dozens of sites and converted to tiny URLs and proliferated through Twitter. You can even get email responses from the journalist if your timing is right and your question compelling. If an error is made in a story, it can be corrected on the fly and the next reader will see the proper version. This has already become a standard practice at the Times.

A typical online correction from

So what is to come of the traditional paper? It might find itself fitting into a format that is more like a Sunday magazine to ease people away from the daily edition. But this will most likely be a short lived phase, followed by complete extinction for most of the country. I do believe that in large metropolitan cities the paper will still be printed and remain a viable medium. But don’t be surprised to open the door of your hotel room and not find a copy of the USA Today at your feet.