11 posts categorized "social marketing"

02/07/2012 #btvsmb Social Hack Recap

What a day: 72 talented and creative people spent a Friday together at Champlain College’s Emergent Media Center trying to reimagine Vermont’s localvore world through the lens of mobile and social technology. With little or no preparation six teams of twelve people each had less than four hours to come up with an idea. And what ideas they came up with!

We started the day listening and watching Richard Ting of R/GA and Liz Gerber of Design for America. Richard took us through some amazing examples he and his team have worked on, such as USAID’s FWD or Nike+ GPS. It was heady stuff but it made us start thinking of raising the bar on our own ideas. Liz talked about the idea of design thinking and the approach to start reimagining, well, everything. It’s just amazing to see what her students are up to. And that laid down a challenge to all of us “professionals”: If her students could do it, shouldn’t we be able to?


After that, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture laid out some of the basic goals of the Farm to Plate initiative. A recurring theme was how far ahead we were in Vermont (Liz even claimed that Vermont was “perfect”) but that it still wasn’t good enough.

We then broke into groups and, using a design thinking process, had to come up with one group idea in less than four hours. Each group was a combination of designers, developers, businesspeople, students, social marketers and well, anyone else who got their ticket in time. Very few were Localvore experts (there were one or two in all). 


When the groups worked in small teams of two, the energy was through the roof. When they had to come to consensus and all work together, well some did better than others. It was interesting to see the effect of group dynamics on people and ideas. There was a LOT of learning moments all through this experiment, to be honest. One group actually splintered into two when they refused to agree on a common approach.

At the end of the day, we had some clear favorites. Team Arugula created a new business model, Beet Route, for delivering CSA farmshares to people too busy to prepare meals during the week. They reimagined the milkman, gave it a modern twist, and enabled it through mobile and social apps. The back end used the data to provide larger customer trends and preferences back to the farmers and producers. Don’t be surprised to see this one come to life in one form or another as a startup.

Team Kale went the gamification route, turning support of local farmers and consumption of local produced into a mobile and social game Ate02 (a play on our ONE Vermont area code 802). The idea was to allow people to compete (and brag) through their phone and to increase consumption of healthy, locally produced food.  There’s a good chance that we might see Champlain College produce that for the Agency of Agriculture.


Team Beet created a system called The Core Card. It turned healthy eating habits into points. The points then led to both rewards for consumers and data for employers and insurance companies. Our one representative from the insurance industry was on this team and you could feel his influence on this one.The idea was that the card would lead to better health and lower insurance costs through the use of mobile and social technology. 

There were LOTS of other great ideas. Right now we’re going through them and working on prioritizing the ideas with the Agency of Agriculture and Champlain College. We may end up extending this to some of the Startup Vermont initiatives. At least one break out group told me that they were so pissed that their idea wasn’t chosen by their group that they’re going to pitch it to the Agency of Ag themselves (Yay!) 


Liz Gerber told me before the event that in an experiment, 50% of what you do will fail, you just don’t know which 50%. I think our percentage of success was a lot higher. This was a great experiment and it showed:

  1. We have a lot of cool people in Vermont
  2. You can do great things when you get out of your own way
  3. There should be enough smarts and energy to innovate our way into business growth. The big question is whether we have the structure for it.
  4. Sometimes you have to plan randomness.

My plan is to figure out a way to do more of these. We asked a lot for all of these talented people to take the day off and think with each other. Most, but not all of course, had a blast.

My biggest regret? It was that I didn’t really get to participate in the actual ideation and work, since I was running the day. That’s where I spent my energy. And it was worth it.

01/30/2012 #BTVSMB Social Hack

This Friday, February 3rd, the Burlington Social Media Breakfast series takes a new twist. We’re still bringing in great, smart, national speakers, like R/GA’s social and mobile executive creative director Richard Ting, and Design for America founder Liz Gerber.  As with our past events, we want to inspire area marketers and digital folk. 

We also want to do something beside listening, learning and networking. While that’s good, it doesn’t feel like it’s enough. So on Friday, we’re combining the inspiration part with a Social Hack. We’re going to focus our collective brainpower on a key issue in Vermont and see if we can come up with a mobile or social technology solution to help.

You can’t do that without some smart, creative people around the table.  Luckily that’s what we have. Between 60 and 70 of us, with designers, developers and marketers from some of the most innovative companies in Vermont, will spend the day trying to hack a social issue. We have marketers and developers from My Web Grocer, Select Design, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters and Burton. We’re doing this event together with Champlain College’s emergent media center so we’ll have MFA and gaming students working with us as well.

Friday’s event is one of the smaller ones we’ve had, from a participant standpoint. But it should be the largest one from an idea standpoint. At the end of the day we’ll choose the best idea. Champlain College will look to fund and produce the idea so that we can give it to the people of Vermont to use.

My hope, though, is that there are a number of other ideas where people say, “screw it, this one was really the best, so I’m going to go create it on my own!”

Actually, that’s really the point of this #BTVSMB. We, like a lot of other organizations, want to make Vermont a better place for entrepreneurs and technical/creative people. We don’t have a lot of embedded industries here to drive that part of the economy. We also don’t have a natural feeder city for economic development, the way, say Boston supports southern New Hampshire, or the way Denver fed Boulder. The Montreal connection isn’t really working for us.

So we’re going to have to innovate and build our way out of this ourselves. I think the most exciting part of the event is the connections between all of these smart people; most have never met each other before. Typical Vermont! Hopefully we can sustain and support this day of creation and random connections with more events like this.

Actually, this event connects back to the first #BTVSMB. Back in June of 2009, Todd Defren and C.C. Chapman spoke to a packed house at Champlain College. Afterwards, we regrouped and worked at helping the non-profit Grounds for Health develop social media ideas. I think it’s important for those of us in the social marketing business to spend time using our ideas for people who need it, rather than those who just need us to help them sell things.

The idea for doing the hack came from a number of personal inspirations. Back in the summer I was one of the judges for My Web Grocer’s Vermont Hackathon. It was a very cool, odd collection of people and ideas. It was very different from what I’m used to seeing here in Vermont. I loved it.

The Cusp Conference in Chicago also inspired me around risk, design and social issues. It simply was the best conference I’ve ever been to. I left with the desire to have that same type of energy and passion at a Vermont event. I also met Liz Gerber there who turned out to have gone to the same high school and college as I did.

I also spent time talking to Edward Boches about the event. My goal was to get Edward to come up here but this time, #brandbowl got in the way. In any event, my brief, intermittent discussions with Edward helped me formulate the event both conceptually and practically. With a little luck, we’ll get him up here next time.

I’m glad to partner with Champlain College again. I think their Emergent Media and Gaming programs are some of the best-kept secrets in the industry. I believe that very soon, they’ll be on the level of Boulder Digital Works and Hyper Island. 

If you get a chance to come to this Friday’s #BTVSMB social hack, great. If not, keep your eyes open for more of these types of event throughout 2012, although various organizations will probably take turns hosting them.

01/19/2012 Sweden’s Social Experiment

For the last several weeks, the tourism and marketing arm of the Scandinavian country of Sweden has allowed various Swedish citizens to take over its Twitter account. Called “Curators of Sweden” The idea is:

“...that the curators, through their tweets, create interest and arouse curiosity for Sweden and the wide range the country has to offer. The expectation is that the curators will paint a picture of Sweden, different to that usually obtained through traditional media.”

The end goal, though unstated, is to attract more tourists to visit the country.

I’ve been following this experiment in social curation for a number of reasons. I’m always on the lookout for smart social marketing ideas. I also lived for many years in Sweden (and live with my half-Swedish family in Vermont). So I was very curious in how the curators would paint the picture of Sweden for the rest of us.

The first few weeks were disappointing. It seemed like @sweden started with a lot of check-ins at local bars and nightclubs, discussions about older American movies, and pictures of Sweden from the summer. There’s nothing wrong with those topics. What was missing, for me, was any sort of context.

I didn’t mind the bar hopping in Sweden (although I didn’t recognize any of the clubs from 15-20 years ago) but what I missed was any sort of description of the nightlife or the people in those places. There was no feel or texture. I liked the farmer tweeting from somewhere in the country but where was the story of what it was like to actually do that for a living in Sweden (did he get 5 weeks vacation, for example?). The discussion about watching American DVDs put me over the edge, though. How about talking about Swedish movies (yes, I’m biased, I used to work on them)?

More to the point, I wondered how any of those very topical tweets “painted a picture” or “aroused interest” for Sweden. They sounded just like very normal people from anywhere in the Western, industrialized world.

When a female Swedish priest took over, things started changing. She did a great job of describing different aspects and places in Sweden. Despite Twitter’s 140-character limitation, she allowed me to start recognizing places I’ve been, and imagine places I hadn’t been to. Leave it to a female Swedish priest. Everything about her set the bar high.

A Swedish female truck driver swiftly followed her. Another amazing opportunity, right? Again what followed lacked a story. I imagine that the truck driver gets to see more of the country of Sweden than 99% of Swedes. There’s very little of that here, yet. 

The big question for me is: Who curates the curators? We live in an era of citizen journalism and customer created content. The problem is that although we may be citizens, most of us are not journalists. Even though we are all customers, most of us have not developed our talents for content creation. 

Experiments and collaboration are great. But they need context. Social marketing will always trend to the banal and irrelevant without a story, structure or perspective to hold it together, and to hold our interest.

It’s as though social media has given rise to a corollary to Camus:

“I am, therefore I’m interesting.” Social has given us all a channel to prove it. But it still doesn’t make it true.

The biggest question is whether this campaign will increase tourism to Sweden or not. Based on the content to date, I would guess not. The uniqueness of the campaign, and even the publicity it generates, will probably not be enough to convince people, like Americans, to spend the big bucks to visit that beautiful country.

Marketing, social or not, needs to tell good stories. Perhaps the medium of Twitter is the culprit, limited as it is (sorry McLuhan). Perhaps Instagram was the way to go, since pictures always provide more context than words (although they’re not always better). I don’t really agree with either of those though.

Don’t get me wrong; I love the idea of Curators of Sweden. I just wished the execution lived up to the idea.  Johannes Karlsson, head of PR and Social Media at Visit Sweden tells me to give this experiment time. I will. 

I hope that @sweden can develop into a great social story telling platform that gives people the flavor of one of my favorite countries in the world.

12/13/2011 Use Social Media to Connect Friends and Family

Brands want people to connect with them through social channels. Social media usage among U.S. Internet users has more than doubled in the last three years (28% to 65% between 2008 and 2011). So brands are increasing the time and money they spend in these channels with the hope of attracting people through deals, content and, in some cases, customer support. 

That’s what brands want. What do most people using social media want? They want to connect with family. They want to connect with their current friends. They want to find old friends. Only a small group of people wants to use social media to connect with other like-minded people around a common interest. 

If you only looked at the marketing efforts online, you might assume that most brands and marketers believe that last group to be bigger than it is. But you would be wrong.

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I think a key question for brands in the next few years is this: What value or utility can they provide that makes it easier or better for people to connect with their friends or family?

A challenge for most is to refocus the gaze from internal needs to external, customer needs. And many times those external needs don’t necessarily have a direct connection to internal “goals” or “plans.” It means moving out of your internal business meetings into a state of empathy.

Here’s an example, imperfectly executed but with a clear value proposition behind it: ShopyCat scans your Facebook friends to recommend gift ideas. Right now the gift ideas aren’t very good, in my opinion. But they have started sending emails to remind me of upcoming birthdays, with those poor gift ideas. While ShopyCat is in the business of selling stuff, they’re doing it by tapping into something that’s very important to me: Remembering my family’s and my friend’s birthdays. They’re attempting to add a layer of utility to keep me connected (and make me look good).

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There aren’t a lot of other good examples, to be honest, although I believe that the ones that support community and charity help will resonate with peoples’ close networks (think Patagonia’s Common Threads initiative). I think there’s a much bigger opportunity for any brand that deals with any kind of food, since that’s a stronger connective tissue between people than we understand.

So when your brand is evaluating your next social initiative, try asking yourself: How can your brand help friends and family connect?

02/21/2011 Where Does Your People Meter Point To?

Do you expect the worst of people? Or do you expect people to do good? When you deal with customers or people from other divisions in your company, do you expect them to block your way and act negatively? Or do you expect them to help you and act openly?

Today when I went to the gym, I forgot my pass card that unlocks the door. I was early,  the location had no personnel present, so the door was locked. Luckily, the gym had lots of early morning exercisers. I knocked on the door, caught someone’s attention, and asked them to open the door. I yelled through the glass that I had forgotten my passcode.

They looked at me and shook their head “No.” No? All I had to do was wait until they opened the door to leave, which they did a minute later. As soon as they opened up, I said again, that I had forgotten my card, and offered my thanks. Unbelievably, they actually tried to block my way in!

For whatever reason, the people at the gym acted as if they expected the worst. Otherwise I wouldn’t have forgotten my card, would I? There wasn’t that much of a logical reason for them to act that way; that was simply their world view.

In today’s world of social marketing, it’s worth asking yourself whether you expect the worst or best from people. Technology might exacerbate the problem. According to Daniel Goldman, there’s a negativity bias to email at the neural level. We automatically expect the content to be negative.

This is one of the initial challenges with social marketing: most higher ups routinely expect that people will react negatively about a brand or organization when given a chance.

I think that this is actually a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you expect people to act like jerks, they probably will. If you expect good things from people, you’ll probably see that they do. I think Daniel Goldman offers some guidance here: your expectations play a role in how you show up, online and offline. Your expectations of positivity or negativity will produce subtle cues in your writing, tone and content choice. People will react to those cues.

This post isn’t meant to encourage people to act naively. Yes, there are people who are negative and will act that way, without any help from you. And good-hearted people do exist and don’t feel turned off by your own standoffishness. But if we marketers plan to embrace social marketing as a way of growing business, we should shift our view of our people to expect, if not the best, then at least a lot of good.

I remember reading a quote by the director Wim Wenders a while back. He explained that he had changed himself from a pessimist to an optimist because he was tired of expecting the worst. It turned out that he was surprised that when he did so, more good things started happening to him.

Social marketers should learn from that. We should act like we expect good things from the people around us.


02/09/2011 The More Things Change

Has anyone missed the role social media, specifically Facebook, played in igniting the revolts in Northern Africa to overturn the status quo? In the U.S., on the other hand, 115 million of us were stuck glued to the Super Bowl waiting for those new TV ads that would connect the traditional to the social. At least, that’s what we were told. What we saw was the same old, same old commercials. It was as if the growth of social marketing over the past few years never happened.

What we got, instead, were the ads posted on YouTube. We got a lot of Twitter chatter about the ads. We got Brand Bowl, which measured the Twitter chatter about the ads on TV (and YouTube).

Meaningful social connection? Nope.

Something for people to do, once they finished watching? Nope (except buying of course).

Some problem to solve, some cause to engage in? Nope (not even Tibet!).

Any type of personal connection to be made? Nope.

Few even tried telling stories. It’s kind of amazing that Chrysler, with its story of Detroit, never connected the ad with all of the things actually going on in Detroit. Or a co-plug for Lemonade Detroit, at least.

Last year’s news was that Pepsi wasn’t running Super Bowl ads when it decided to put its money into social media instead. We expected that trend to amplify, not diminish. So what happened?

What happened is that things aren’t changing as fast as many of us want to. What’s happening is that traditional brands and agencies haven’t cracked the social nut on delivering expected results (whatever those are). They’ve tried some social media but still think that transforming the way we communicate with people is too hard and demands too much change.

My one prediction for 2011 was that we have the really hard work in front of us this year for social marketing. Brands have dabbled without committing. That was the easy part. Imbuing social into a brands DNA is extremely hard.

Looking at this year’s Super Bowl ads it feels like a lot of people gave up and took the easy way out.  One might imagine a medium that can help overturn calcified oligarchs in Tunisia and, hopefully, Egypt would inspire U.S. businesses to think differently about how they operate.

This year things stayed the same. Luckily, I grew up in the household of an old Brooklyn Dodger’s fan. There’s hard work ahead, but wait until next year!


11/12/2010 Treat Social Marketing as a Constant Learning Opportunity

You’ve identified your need to participate in social media. Check.
You’ve developed goals and created a social strategy. Check.
You’ve chosen a few members to run the initiative. Check.
You’ve launched your social channels. Check.

Time to site back, watch what happens, and put that in your list of marketing goals accomplished for the year, right?


One of the mistakes I see around me is the misconception that there’s a clear playbook for social marketing. There’s not. There’s an assumption that you do what you’ve set out to do and if it works, great, but if it doesn’t, you can turn it off.

The problem with this, somewhat linear thinking is that social is a new channel and constantly changing. Even if you have a dialed-in content strategy that feeds it, your social marketing deals with unpredictable individuals and, sometimes, platforms every day. Successful social marketing involves a high degree of iteration and improvisation.

A smart approach is to treat social marketing as a constant learning opportunity. From a process standpoint, it makes the work a lot easier and more understandable to the people doing it. From a marketing standpoint, it’s what you should be doing anyway!

Your social team needs training, discussion, and more training.

Here are some things you can do to make your team more effective:

Start with Training – Before your team gets too far down the road, or even if they’re just starting, invest in some training. The training could include best practices, reviewing your social policy and strategy, training on the tools and scenario based training. The idea with initial training is to make sure people are both prepared for the unexpected and that they know where to turn when they have questions. If you’re sending your front line employees to do battle, make sure they’re armed.

Keep Talking – One of the reasons companies put together inter-disciplinary social teams is to keep a discussion alive about what people experience when they’re managing your social marketing. Every person can provide new teachable moments to the others, based on her or his own experience. This support group helps build consensus and aligns your social voice. More importantly, it gives your social team a needed safety valve for problems, or sounding board for new ideas.

Ongoing Training – As noted before, new things keep popping up in social media. It’s a good idea to provide new training at regular intervals to the team. You can’t learn everything at once; so multiple training allows the team to learn new tools and to help develop newer, evolved strategies, once you’ve tested your initial strategies. It’s also critical to offer newer team members who might have joined the group. 

The “one and done” model is old thinking, still prevalent in a lot of marketing departments and agencies. For a fluid medium as social marketing, every day is an opportunity to learn something new. If you want your social team to perform to their optimal ability, you should build in formal learning opportunities along the way.


10/20/2010 Don't Be A Social Media Kvetch

When I was younger our family knew an older couple that couldn’t have been more different. The wife was a classic; at the slightest opportunity, she’d corner you and either 

  • Complain about her aches and pains
  • Tell you stories about her kids, grandchildren, nieces or nephews, none of whom you knew in the slightest; or
  • Talk about how successful someone else your age was.

We used to avoid her like the plague. She was a nice older woman, but once she got going, watch out. But since our families were social with one another, you knew at some time or another, you’d get caught in her net. We called her the Kvetch.

Her husband was the exact opposite. He was a short slightly overweight man who loved a good time. He was always

  • Telling jokes
  • Sharing funny stories about someone in the community, usually embarrassing ones; or
  • Asking you to tell him a joke or a funny story.

I don’t know how I started thinking about this couple but they popped up when I was discussing social media strategies. I realized that the advice was simple:

Don’t be a social media kvetch.

Even if people connect with you socially, that doesn’t put them in your power to tell them anything you like, especially if what you say is self-centered and disconnected to the person you converse with. Lots of brands act this way, with an endless stream of chest-pounding and internally focused communications.

Even if we were your friend, fan or follower, most of us would rather hear a funny story, a surprising tale (even of another customer or employee) or some other type of enjoyable entertainment. When brands do social marketing this way, people want to hang out with them. That’s why the Will It Blend was so popular. It’s why the Old Spice Guy was such a huge hit.

Now that doesn’t sound so hard, does it?

02/01/2010 A Morning with Adrian Ho

The February 1st  Burlington Social Media Breakfast featured Adrian Ho from Zeus Jones. Aside from a very last minute cancellation from Alice.com, the event was one of the more interesting talks I've been to. We had a good turnout of about 175 people who came to network, eat the yummy breakfast by Sugarsnap, and to hear Adrian challenge a lot of our marketing and social media assumptions.

He started off by saying that people aren't really interested in a relationship with a brand; they're interested in relationships with other people. If I had a penny for every time I've heard the phrase "we're building relationships" I'd have retired already.  Okay, so if social media isn't about relationships, what is it about? According to Adrian it's about delivering more value. The more value you deliver, the more social you'll be and the more buzz you'll create. It sounds almost too easy.

But that was my big take away from what Adrian talked about. Traditional marketing is about making things harder: We have to come up with the grand insight and then we have to create an expensive and complex campaign. Social marketing (a term he uses more than the term social media) is a lot about looking at how your organization provides current value between real employees and real people, and amplifying that through social media. Of course, Adrian says it much better, and with a better accent to boot, but it boils down to this:

Social marketing is a way to do something for people.

One of the most powerful things about social marketing is that you don't have to spend gobs of money on focus groups to find you what customers want to do. You either have to listen to what they say online, or listen to your customer facing employees. The knowledge exists in the system or in social media; the question is whether you have an organization that can act on that information.

As Adrian says, in almost every category you can figure out what people want.

Here's the tough part for us marketers: we love tools and new things. We want a Facebook strategy or a Twitter strategy. Taking the time to figure out what customers say and want is sometimes messy and unglamorous. Implementing a listening culture internally takes a lot of effort to break through ingrained habits.

But its possible by simply using the same approach inside that you would outside. The quote of the day may be: "If you want to change the way someone thinks, change their behavior first" rather than the other way around.

I think Adrian made a lot of people stop and think. I think a few of people in the audience still just wanted a tool guide to tell them what to do.

But for me, these breakfasts have two purposes: To network with other digital marketing professionals around Burlington, and to challenge us to get better at what we do by bringing new ideas and ways of thinking to the table.

The social media breakfast event with Adrian Ho did both.

And it was colossal fun to see everyone there and to follow the Twitter stream on #btvsmb. What a great way to start February.

P.S. This was the first time Adrian and his family had been to Vermont. It sounded like they were impressed. Big thanks to Trapp Family Lodge for sponsoring.

01/11/2010 It's Not About The Tools

Twitter is a blast. Facebook keeps me connected. Who can stop watching YouTube?

Face it, social media tools and channels are fun and numerous. Who can blame marketers who want to focus on them?

The problem is that many businesses start building this digital marketing channel by focusing too much on the tools and not enough on the strategy. Do you know why you're venturing into social media? Do you know what you're trying to achieve? Do you know how you'll act when you start getting into real dialog?

Sometimes marketers get lucky. They start something and somehow they figure it out down the line. The ones that do are curious risk-takers willing to invest time in a new adventure.

Most marketing departments aren't like this though. Everyone is extremely busy; there are numerous pressures from above and below. One new pressure, they find, is the push to get into social media. There's so much buzz that everyone, from the CEO down to the cleaning crew, knows about it. So why, they all ask, isn't our business using social media.

That's when you get the push toward the tools. I hear this more than you can imagine. We need TwitterNingFacebookBlog. Previously it was Widgets and Flash sites. But if you don't ask the why, what and how, chances or you won't be very successful.

Jeremiah Owyang had a great line in a recent blog:
Social marketing strategy "should be focused first on socialgraphics (how your customers use these tools) and business goals -not reacting to the latest technology."

Think about it. It's not how your business uses the tools; it's how your customers use the tools.

I completely understand why marketers want to try new channels. The difference is that if you try a test in the cable TV channel and it doesn't work, nobody notices. (If a TV ad runs on cable, and no one sees it, is it still an ad?) Social media and the Web are not so forgiving. If you jump into social media, and don't give it the proper attention, people may notice for a long time.

Marketers, resist the temptation and allure of the tools for your business. Build your digital strategy by answering the why, what and how. It will make you much more successful.

And if you can't resist, create those channels and tools for yourself, individually, and work them hard. You'll probably learn so much that when you bring this knowledge back into your business, you can act as a true social media leader.

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