68 posts categorized "Social Media"

01/28/2013 A View From the Tweet Seats

This weekend I was part of an experiment conducted at the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts. Marketing Director Leigh Chandler invited a group of local “Tweeters” to attend a concert in order to share live reactions through social media. Using the hashtag #FlynnTweets, we sat in the first row of the otherwise closed off balcony and watched a show with guitarists David Hidalgo and Marc Ribot.

As I walked into the theater, I met a colleague of mine. Her husband was one of the sponsors. The first thing he said to me was that he hoped we weren’t going to disturb the performance.

I can understand that. No one wants to pay money to see a concert only to have someone in the next seat tapping into their (bright) smart phone and giggling when reading responses. That did happen up in the Tweet seats. But since we were far away from the paying guests, no one seemed to mind.

Watching and tweeting simultaneously is a tough balancing act. It’s a common challenge even at social media conferences, where people spend more time tweeting out key quotes from speakers than they do sitting back, listening and reflecting. It was an issue at the Flynn as well; several Tweeters lamented that they felt “split” between trying to enjoy the concert and providing social commentary. 

Another challenge is that we who tweet love to see what kind of response we get. After all, that is the whole idea of “social” media; not just broadcast but response and conversation. It was a little too tempting to check your smart phone to see who responded or retweeted you. More often than not, it was the person sitting next to you in the balcony. So there was this strange but fun conversation happening between us as almost a secret layer to the concert.

The tweets, though, did get great feedback outside of the building. A number of people on Facebook or Twitter responded that they wished they were there at the concert. It certainly spread the word about Hidalgo and Ribot to people who might not have known who they were. It definitely got good PR play in the local media (it helped that the major newspaper had a person in the Tweet seats).

Will it have a long lasting effect, or will it be sustainable? According to Leigh Chandler, she wants to do this again. She certainly pulled together a fun group of people for the inaugural event. I’m sure there are others who would love to have a great, free seat in exchange for tweeting.

Will it sell tickets? Well, that’s the real question. It’s not feasible to do this for a sold out concert, nor does the Flynn need to. I wonder, though, if it’s possible to always have a few Tweet Seats way in the back, so they don’t disturb anyone.

One idea might be to not focus so much on the concert or event itself, but to reward people who’ve already purchased tickets backstage access before and after a concert so that they can tweet and post pictures. That would be a great, social reward to paying and loyal customers. It’s certainly something tweeters and others would brag about on social media. The content from those interactions could provide a sustainable fodder for Flynn’s ongoing marketing. 

What the Flynn Center really did during #FlynnTweets was to firm up its position as a very innovative organization in Burlington and to firm up established relationships with key influencers. Whether the tweets themselves provided great value might not be the point. I would love to see them continue to integrate social into their core business beyond the occasional social event.

I hope that’s the case, mostly because I love what they do, in our community and in our schools.

Check out my Storify stream of #FlynnTweets.

09/24/2012 Are you buying what Facebook is selling?

My favorite social media profile these days is one called Condescending Corporate Branding. It satires how major brands manage their Facebook pages. The philosophy is simple: In social media, brands treat people like they’re idiots, and most people don’t seem to mind. 

The beauty of Condescending Corporate Brand is how they share photos posted by major multinational brands. Of course none of these posts has anything remotely in common with what the the brand sells. Which is why they’re so absurd.


The bigger question in all of this is: why are brands doing this? The reason is simple. Brands on social media have chosen to measure their success through metrics that have nothing to do with the brand or its business.

Brands on Facebook focus on “engagement.” That means that you want as many people responding to your posts as possible. The solution for doing that is formulaic

  1. Get as many followers on Facebook by any means possible.
  2. Post anything that will get likes or comments. Pictures of cats, for example.

Now, this strategy might be smart if you’re Pet Food Warehouse. But for anything else, it seems like a complete waste of energy. I’m waiting for the data that shows that liking stupid stock photography increases sales. 

I think brands do this for a number of reasons. Truly integrating your business into social media is hard. It takes work and internal change is very difficult. Finding pictures of cats or waterfalls on Shutterstock is easy (and cheaper).  Getting lots of likes and interactions looks good on monthly reports. When you show the marketing director and senior management those numbers, they fell pleased, even proud, that they’ve been so smart to approve the social initiative.

Smarter brands, though, are looking more closely at how social impacts the business. For example, American Eagle added a Like button next to every product on its site and found that Facebook referred visitors spent and average of 57% more money than non-Facebook referred visitors. I’m betting the referral wasn’t a cute picture of a Mom and a kid.

One of the biggest drivers for brands missing the focus and opportunity here is that Facebook itself is the biggest influencer in promoting Likes and Engagement. That’s really the main currency Facebook has; when it sells itself to brands, it’s selling Likes and Engagement metrics. Unsophisticated consumers that they are, brands and marketers snap this up faster than TV viewers snap up Sham Wows.


The other big driver, in my opinion, is the reliance on social media agencies to run big brands social presences. The outside agency will never have the internal, on the ground intelligence that you get from working within a company. The relationship itself makes it impossible for the vendor to push for meaningful social business inside the company. Instead, social agencies take the easy way out, getting clients hooked on Likes and Engagement and then feeding that habit through fill in the blank posts and word puzzles.

Someone once said: to change your vision of success, change what you measure.

That’s why every social marketer should be watching Condescending Corporate Branding Facebook page. All social marketers should pledge to do the opposite of what you're seeing there.

03/28/2012 Vermont's First Social Media Election

Earlier this month, Vermont's largest city, Burlington, held a mayoral election that featured two non-incumbents vying for the top municipal job in the state. Voters went to the polls on March 6 to choose between Democrat Miro Weinberger and Republican Kurt Wright. When Weinberger won a decisive 57 percent to 37 percent victory, that ended a campaign that had run for six months and what should be described as Vermont's first social media election.

Just to be clear, other campaigns had used social media before in Vermont. And social media wasn't the only media: Classics like print and database marketing played a huge role in the campaign. No, what was different this time was the focus, engagement and the amount of activity. It's a role that will only grow over the coming years.

Social media has had a foothold in Burlington politics for three years. In early 2009, three city councilors Karen Paul (I), Nancy Kaplan (D) and Ed Adrian (D) set up Twitter accounts and started tweeting from city council meetings. It was a successful experiment. Since most of us here in town don't want to spend hours at those meetings, it gave residents a way to follow what was actually happening at these meetings from the comfort of their homes. More importantly, it gave people a chance to reach out or ask one of those councilors a question, in real time. From a democracy standpoint, it looked like a good way to increase citizen participation in municipal issues.

The act of using social media caused conflict within the city council itself. Some councilors didn't like the fact that their peers were sending social updates on their phones or computers. They felt that the social councilors were not showing proper respect to people who had actually shown up for the meetings. A number of the non-social councilors put forth a resolution banning electronics (and thus social media) from city council meetings. The resolution lost. One of sponsors of the resolution was Mayoral candidate Kurt Wright.

The mayoral social campaign started in earnest at one of the first Democratic primary debates in September 2011 when area journalists and tweeters agreed on using a singular hash tag, #btvmayor, for the campaign. What followed was a combination of reporting, campaigning, connections and tussles.

Of the six mayoral candidates (four Democrat primary contenders, one Republican, one Independent) only one had a credible presence in social media beforehand: Jason Lorber (D) who had set up and used his Twitter account as state representative (@VTJason) several years before. Once the others got into the race they, or their campaigns, quickly followed suit. For the primary months, most of the #btvmayor chatter was descriptions from the many public debates held between Democratic contenders.

Then at the Democratic caucus everything changed. The four round, single elimination primary battle between the contenders came down to the third round where, mano-a-mano, Miro Weinberger faced off with Tim Ashe. And the result was tie! The problem was that a ton of people had already left the premises, which meant that they couldn't vote in the unprecedented tie-breaking round.

Twitter and Facebook went wild. Those still in the building called out on social media, on email and on the phone to bring everyone back. Outside the building, traffic chaos ensued. In the end, the pols decided to reschedule the final round for another day. But that one, short crazy hour showed everyone that they ignored social in campaigns at their own risk.

As the two-man Weinberger/Wright campaign kicked in the social media activity ramped up (Wanda Hines was also a candidate, but she did very little campaigning, no social media work, and wound up with a very small percentage of the vote).

Weinberger's team was quick to start using and promoting its social channels. They made a big push into Facebook and used Twitter aggressively in order to dominate the #btvmayor stream. The Wright campaign jumped in too, finally setting up profiles for their candidate, although he had been an established politician on the state (representative) and local (city council) level for over a dozen years. They also started producing YouTube videos. On Twitter, the battle for hashtag dominance had begun.

The most interesting part of the #btvmayor hashtag was that it brought in people who normally weren't active or connected to the Burlington social media world. This included journalists, politically active citizen, and just regular Joes and Janes. To be clear, the political teams dominated the stream but that obscures a broader picture.

Another difference this time around was that we introduced social media as a key part to live debates. For the past three years, my organization #BTVSMB has hosted social media breakfast events here in Burlington. Now, we partnered with debate hosts to open up the social channels to increase debate participation. In the first debate we worked with the Burlington Business Association to take candidate questions from social media. In the penultimate debate, we helped the Burlington Free Press as the local paper hosted a complete social media debate where ALL of the questions came from social. That had never been done in Vermont before. I think it was the most interesting debate of the entire six-month campaign.

In the end, the candidate with the best social team won. Weinberger had surrounded himself with Internet professionals from the get-go as he realized how important online could be in his campaign. As he moved through the campaign, his staff beefed up participation from people with a strong social presence. Wright relied on a few young Web developers and interns. They faced an uphill battle online and never caught up.

Both teams desire to dominate the stream often led to pitched political battles. Most ended with personal insults and attacks. Which maybe proves the point that Twitter streams, like online message boards, are not always the best place for detailed, nuanced discussions. What the social streams did have was the political passion and engagement that was often lacking on both the street and in the candidate debates themselves.

One thing that's clear from the #btvmayor social campaign is that it did a great job in solidifying relationships within political teams. Whether it brought in any new votes is another question.

For once, though, the social media activity in the mayoral election accurately reflected the final Burlington vote tally. Perhaps that clearly points to social media moving away from early adopters and more solidly into the mainstream. At least in this little corner of Vermont. One thing is clear though: social media as a part of major Vermont political campaigns is here to stay. And that is a very good thing.

02/22/2012 Social Media Training is the Secret Ingredient

One thing that always strikes me at social media training and certification is seeing the reactions of experienced social marketers. Even though these people have spent months, some years, working on social channels, most of them have little opportunity to discuss what they do and even to ask some really basic questions.

For the newbies, I usually see a huge sigh of relief at the end of the trainings as if to recognize “I can do this. I know what’s expected of me.”

I’ve come to realize that ongoing social media training is the missing secret ingredient in most brands social efforts. Despite all of the buzz of “social business” most businesses are not. They are still siloed and focused. Social marketing is a key, growing part of their marketing, but it’s still not so well integrated.

Social training and certification serves two purposes. First, it sets the groundwork for the dos and don’ts for the brands social marketing. We talk about best practices and we talk about the company social policies. We look at case studies including a lot of negative ones. Most importantly, we give people on the team a chance to ask questions to each other or to internal company representatives, like the legal team.

For some clients we create an online test to make sure they’ve read through the materials. But I find the unscripted part of the training critical to a brands social success. We talk about the need of company integration for social media. But often there’s little integration among the social team itself or between the social team and other key parts of the business.

The training is in essence modeling a behavior we want social marketers to continue with once they go back to their “real jobs.”


Image from VariationsOnNormal.com

It doesn’t always work, though. I’ve had clients who did the exact opposite of what they were trained to do. I’ve had clients who almost copied to a T one of the negative case studies we reviewed.

Most succeed though. And they are able to also make personal connection that make the brands social marketing more successful. It helps when ongoing training brings these people back together to reinforce the in-person connections.

Social media isn’t rocket science. Social media training can fill a critical role if a brand is looking to have social play a key role in business success.

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?

12/05/2011 Social Gift Shopping

Every year, we are continually challenged to find good gifts for our spouses/kids/parents/friends for the December holidays. I had one friend who kept a running list of things she wanted throughout the year. Every time she went shopping she made sure to add one or two things to her list. Whenever someone asked her what she wanted for Christmas/birthday/anniversary, she had a good answer! Most of us, unfortunately, aren’t like that. 

So I was interested to check out some of the new social gift finders this year, in the hope that they would make my life easier over the next few weeks. The two that caught my attention were Etsy's and Amazon’s Facebook integrated gift finders.

Both tap into your Facebook profile with the (as yet unmet) promise that they will scan your friends’ profiles and come up with unique gifts for them. Of the two, Etsy does a better job, since it looks like it’s more focused on keywords than actual products.

Etsy though looks at what you’ve said you’re interested in, rather than what you’re actually talking about on Facebook. So if you’ve loaded up your profile with lots of things you identify with, Etsy will search its catalogue for those keywords. Sometimes it gets a little funny. 

My wife Bella, for example, has only chose Sweden as a topic of interest. So when the Etsy gift finder cranks out its suggestion, guess what I get? Lots of Swedish, not much else.


Another friend, for some reason, has indicated she’s a fan of Red Bull (maybe because her two little boys are wearing her out). So the only thing she gets are Etsy products tagged with Red Bull!


I have to admit that while neither of the recommendations are perfect nor even close to being personal, the gift selection is certainly odd and entertaining, which is not always a bad thing when giving gifts. 

Amazon, on the other hand, looks to see what type of media you’ve liked in your profile, such as records, movies or books. It also searches its own site to see if you have a wish list. 

Unfortunately, it only works if you’re talking about specific titles. Which most of my family is not. It’s why the results can be somewhat absurd, since the last thing my wife would want for Christmas is the Steve Jobs book. 


One thing Amazon does have going for it is that it focuses primarily on birthdays! I’ve never understood why Facebook hasn’t trie to monetize this feature more. I think it’s the single most valuable tool Facebook (or any other social network, for that matter) offers. Remembering birthdays is something that Facebook has moved from my memory to its Web pages, a vast improvement. All they need to implement now is a one-click purchasing option.


While these are pretty good, they’re not perfect. I’ve created interactive gift finders for clients as well and all of these seem to make the mistake of looking for gifts based on expected or canned criteria. I’d like to see a more intelligent social tool that analyzes what you talk about with the most passion, in order to recommend GREAT presents. Maybe we’ll get there.

Or maybe that’s my next project. Happy Holidays.

UPDATE 12:30 PM:
Apparently I missed Shopycat, a gift finder created by Walmart Labs. It's actually be worse than the other two for personalized gifts. As for non-personalized, it suggested the George Foreman Grill to everyone (who wouldn't like that, right?).  While the app says it scans your updates, it's apparent from the list that it doesn't. And as for the suggestions for Bella? I think I'll stick with Etsy.

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11/10/2011 Social Metrics

This was the presentation I gave at the Vermont Web Summit on November 3, 2011 on Social Metrics. As expected, I talked more about having something important to measure, like things that impact your business than the nuts and bolts of social analytics and tools.

A number of people have requested that I post this, so here it is:

11/02/2011 The Rise of the Socially Empowered Consumer

There’s been a lot of talk about empowering consumers over the past few years. But the events of the past few months show that we’ve passed an inflection point. The actions and reactions around Bank of America and Netflix show that the power has shifted from an unbalanced company/consumer relationship to a much more balanced one.

Bank of America announced yesterday it was dropping plans to raise its debit card fees by $5. When it revealed its plans in September, BOA caused an outcry of protest on Twitter and Facebook. “Debit card fees” was a trending topic on Google.

Social media enabled consumers to not only show their discontent with the new plan, it allowed them to spur and encourage people to do something about it: switch banks. Apparently that threat of customer loss and negative publicity helped BOA change course.

This summer Netflix bumbled through an organizational and operational change that increased customer costs while decreasing what they received for it. Despite numerous attempts to explain what it was doing, Netflix only succeeded in enraging millions of people. Those people then used social media to tell each other how mad they were.

Not only that. They acted and encouraged others to act. The result: Netflix lost almost 1 million customers in a very short time. 

Both of these results would have been unthinkable back in the day when companies had a near monopoly on communications. In the broadcast or propaganda age, companies controlled the message and the means to distribute them. Consumers, who lacked any organizing principle or mechanisms, let alone the combined resources to act as a counterweight to those messages, had little power to counteract company actions.

Social media has disrupted that. Our digital revolution has delivered the means of production and distribution into the hands of consumers. Social media has created a channel to match and overwhelm the broadcast channel. With that, we’re seeing a very significant power shift. 

And it’s not only in consumer markets. The same thing happened in Tunisia and Egypt.


Companies best take note. It’s one thing if people make you change back your logo, like Gap. It’s another when they stop doing business with you.

Imagine instead if all of these same companies had used social media to help test and form the business decisions. Perhaps they wouldn’t have always produced the most popular results, but the companies would have been more prepared, and created more consumer friendly decisions than otherwise.

For those companies who don’t really like paying attention to what’s happening on social media, I can only say one thing: You deserve everything you get.

Today’s consumer is empowered thanks to social media and that empowerment is going to grow stronger. People will no longer simply accept decisions and messages that affect them. What a great time to be a consumer!

10/27/2011 What If You Don’t Have What Customers Want?

FacebookLikesGraphic From Marketing Profs

A recent Exact Target study on Facebook Likes revealed that most people who like brands on Facebook want something tangible in return. For the majority, they want payback in terms of product discounts or sales. That makes sense. Just like brands, people are looking out for Number One.

But what about all of the companies that don’t sell products? What do all of the service brands do where discounting is, well, odd. Ever see a sale or a coupon for a lawyer, doctor or accountant? If so, post them here.

How about banks, electric utilities or even, ahem, ad agencies? Nope, nope, nope. No sales or discounts there. If most people want deals, and service organizations don’t offer deals, should they even be on Facebook or social media?

When I look at that top line (and I’m not even bothering with the data below those two top lines) the word “exclusive” jumps out at me. People don’t say they want sales; they want exclusive sales. They want to feel special. They want companies to treat them specially.

Now that sounds pretty smart and very doable. Most companies should treat their customers as special people. The challenge is creating something exclusive for them. Although when I think of exclusive, it means that you can give someone access first, before anyone else.

The service industry can do that. They can offer special reports or insights to their customers, first, to help them get smarter. They can invite them to special customer only events to meet with industry experts. They can simply throw parties or give away branded shwag.

The problem with that: It’s extra work. Creating a sale or a coupon isn’t that much work compared with creating content or events. So most companies balk at doing so. I ran across this statistic a few months back that puts this extra work into perspective, though:

Increasing your customer satisfaction by 5% can increase profits by as much as 95%. 

So the question for the service industry becomes: Is it worth the effort to increase your profits by up to 95%?

If you answer no, maybe it’s time to shut down your Facebook page. For the rest of you, it may not seem like you can offer customers what they really want, but you can. You just need to treat them a little better than everyone else.

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