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8 posts from July 2009

07/29/2009 The Social Media Guy

Locally, when I run into people at business functions, I'm starting to get the "Oh, you're the social media guy!" On the one hand, it's good that people pay attention to what they read and hear. On the other hand, what I'm finding is that a lot of business people keep removing the word "marketing" from social media.

Yes, I do social media marketing. It's a small but growing part of what I do. The biggest reaction I get is when I talk about how social media marketing is a small but interesting part of online and offline marketing. Once that conversation revs up I notice something changes in the business people.

What changes? They're all looking for the digital silver bullet. I've seen this at it relates to online for the last 13 years, when the new "new thing" hits the streets. First banners, then things like search, forums, flash microsites, mobile and now, social media all blipped on and off the radar.

Boy.can.small I'm sensing a desire from marketers, as they search for the digital silver bullet, to have the same type of relationship with online media that marketers had with offline media - distance. When you made a TV ad, the agency took care of making it and placing it in the media. It was a very hands off relationship.

But online is all about dialogue. You can't have a hands off dialogue (well you can, it just won't work) in online marketing. A good dialogue, as any good marriage counselor will tell you, means showing up and working at it.

Social media is bright, shiny and a lot of fun! But it's not a silver bullet. It works best when you connect it with other online and offline marketing initiatives, if you have them. You need to connect to your customer service. While you won't have to spend big money on media dollars or creative, you'll have to spend time listening, responding, sharing and informing.

Marketers and companies have to personally invest in it, and they still need to keep doing other online marketing.

Really, I'm the online marketing guy. All of the tools I use aim to recognize the promise of digital - two-way, real people communication. Social media just happens to be the newest, and one of the most effective ways yet to do this.

07/24/2009 Using Twitter for Advertising

With marketers sold on Twitter's impact and business's interest in testing the Twitter waters, it's only been a matter of time before we'd start seeing online advertising campaigns using Twitter. Since Twitter is still working on its own advertising model, marketers have been creating their own variations.

Volvo and Intuit have used Twitter in their banner ads. VW had a good campaign analyzing your Tweets to recommend a car. Some are trying to show those Tweets in the banners themselves, allowing people to create the content themselves (after someone screens it, of course).

Yesterday I stumbled across another variation from the Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince U.K. site. The entire site focuses on getting you to perform some magic on one of your followers' Twitter page, while it sends out a Tweet that you're doing so.


Here's what I found interesting:
  • The site takes some proven technology (page takeovers) and performs them on your personal page.
  • While it taps into Twitter to broadcast the message that you're using the campaign, only one person at a time can actually SEE what you've done.
It's kind of a mishmash between social media and microsite advertising, between broadcast and one-to-one advertising. While I think this is cool, it didn't really spread that quickly online, from what I could see. And that, after all, has to be the goal of a campaign like this.

We're still in the infancy of Twitter advertising. Although, really, the best Twitter advertising happens in the Tweets themselves: reviews, recommendations, rants and shout outs.


07/21/2009 LendingTree: Rebranding vs. Change

LendingTree is in the news today. It's rebranded itself, with the help of Boston advertising firm Mullen. LendingTree, described as a mortgage Web site operator, saw its fortunes dip in our mortgage-backed melt down. But, with Mullen's help, it's rising again, with its call of "You to the rescue." And, of course, central to all of this are TV commercials with actors dressed up like super heroes.

Which raises the biggest question: How has LendingTree truly changed?


Apparently the Web site changed. It's a good Web site with lots of financial tools that walks you step-by-step through different scenarios. And then leads you to apply. The site has a friendly design and is easy to use. So far so good.

LendingTree is on Twitter. Not that much on, to be honest, and they seem to talk mostly about the Web site, the TV commercials and the articles written about Mullen. Hmmm.

If consumers don't have as much trust in financial institutions because many of them have acted irresponsibly and perhaps criminally, is rebranding with a big TV campaign, a new Web site and a Twitter account enough? Should the tag line change from "You to the rescue" to "Ag Agency to the rescue?" http://twitter.com/lendingtree

Actually, it's not even the first time in the last few years LendingTree switched from it's old tag line "When banks compete, you win" in a new ad campaign. Back in September 2007, it saw the writing on the wall and started running ads about "smart borrowing."

Where I'm going with all of this is that the way LendingTree works or connects with its customers doesn't seem to have changed at all. The façade has changed. The "message" has changed. But what I can't see are any substantial operational or customer service changes, things that would tell a consumer that this financial institution is not one of the bad guys, that it doesn't say it's on your side, it proves it.

Tools are great and the ads are cute but what are they really doing to improve their customer engagement with personal connections? Not much, from what I can see. Not in social media and barely on its own site. For example, whereas financial institutions such as Bank of America make Live Chat a big part of their online experience, the chat on LendingTree is pretty hard to find. Something that simple sends a message.

With Mullen founder Edward Boches  so active on Twitter, I somehow expected a place like Mullen to lead with connections to real people and using the medium to build relationships. Maybe that's phase 2. Or maybe it's too difficult to pull off, so ads and a new Web site were the way to go.

Whether it increases trust in LendingTree is the big question. Hopefully, new TV ads won't be enough.
07/20/2009 Tuning Out, Dropping In

I promised myself that I wouldn't use social media all last week on my vacation. It was harder than I thought, but I made it easily. I found that it was not only a refreshing freedom, but that it gave me some insights into the social media phenomenon itself.

Why was it so hard? One thing social media does to me (and others whom I've observed) is that it makes me a little less participatory. It adds distance, since I'm not only looking at things as I see them, but also trying to put things into perspective for others. I become a reporter or even a commentator. Sometimes even anthropologist. As my old history thesis advisor always said, "What you see depends on where you're standing."

So rather than look at my vacation experience and try to break it down into Tweets or blog post, I threw myself in with nary a social media care. I didn't have to worry about the people who weren't present. I could, instead, embrace the people who were.


I enjoyed myself immensely. And now, having lived fully through it, I can reflect on it afterwards. So one question I have for us social media nuts is:

Does participating in social media make us less present?

It's something I'll be much more aware of, moving forward.

The other thing that struck me was that, having been active in social media for some time now, I took that same feeling of connection, generosity and curiosity and made sure I was doing the same offline, as I was online.

So instead of connecting with new people who's names all begin with @, I was meeting Stina, another ex-pat Swede who had her own clothing store in Vineyard Haven, or Anya, from Minsk, who was studying at the American University in Bucharest and working summers in the U.S., or Pat, who's Mom grew up on the island and who'd spent every summer of his 65 years there.

It made my trip much more interesting. And what I took away from that is that it's not enough to be social on the networks, you need to be social in person, in your stores, through your customer service and elsewhere.

We always tell brands to apply the same people skills they use offline to social media, but maybe the opposite is true. Maybe it's easier for brands to practice acting personable through social media and then bring that back into the organization.

In any case, I had a great vacation, even without social media, and I'm glad to be back.
07/10/2009 Can You Fake Social Media?

Some things I keep hearing (and saying as well) about social media is that:

  • It’s a conversation
  • You need to be generous
  • You should act nice
  • You should be a good listener
  • You should share things that have value

Well what if you, your business or the employees at your business aren’t like this? If social media is all about authenticity, what if this isn’t your authentic self? Can you make your employees do it even though they don’t mean it?

Can you fake social media? And if you can, is it okay, as long as no one finds out and every one is happy?

Actually, I think you can. It’s not that much difference from teaching sales people in retail or customer service people on the phone to act one way with customer even if they’re some of the biggest assholes in the world. The danger is that at one time or another, especially under stress, the asshole part will ultimately come out.


One thing that strikes me is how I hear people in and out of business say it doesn’t feel natural to use Twitter or LinkedIn. They’re not comfortable sharing, they don’t know what to say so it’s easy for them to find other things to do instead, even though it’s part of their business outreach.

I say to them, my kids don’t feel it’s natural to say Thank You. I have friends who don’t feel comfortable at parties with lots of other people they don’t know. I have relatives who hate having official conversations on the phone.

There are lots of strategies and tactics for dealing with things you don’t feel comfortable with, or that are new or that are just downright strange. My old boss kept saying “Fake it ‘till you make it!” He never made it, unfortunately, but his clients never could see the difference.

I think you can fake social media. You can make your checklists, or you can pretend you’re an actor and assume another role. As long as your consistent and follow the list above, do we really care that you, or your brand isn’t really like that? I don’t think so.

A friend of mine told me how she had met a famous writer. We oohed and aahed, until she said that he was kind of a nebbish in person. We realized that you don’t really want to see some people in person. They work better from afar.

That’s why faking social media might work for you and your employees in the end.

07/08/2009 Why Agency Sites are NOT the Future of the Web

When Crispin Porters Web site went beta last week, the digital world was atwitter. What started as a rumble with Zeus Jones, shot forward with Modernista, awed us with Skittles suddenly went super prime time with http://beta.cpbgroup.com/. Finally, proof that all that we online marketers had talked about over the past year or so was starting to come true. The future of the Web had arrived via the hottest ad shop in the world.

Amidst all the gushing, by people who I think are some of the smartest people around, I couldn't help but thinking about how the gushers reminded me of Sally Field accepting her Oscar Award.  The very fact of Crispin following our flow instead of leading it made it sound like a collective gasp of "Alex, you like us. You really like us!"


The Crispin site is a good site for them. Just like the EVB site is good for those great digital marketers and the Barbarian Group's site is a sharp picture of who they are. Personally I love good agency sites, mostly because there are so few of them. But they're not the future of the Web. Not even close. Here's why:

  1. Agencies use their sites to show that they get it - First it was cool flash sites, and now its user generated, social media connected sites. Why? Because agencies need to use the medium itself to prove to prospects that they have command of the latest digital trends. For this subset of service providers, the medium IS really the message. For most businesses that's not the case. They don't have to show that they're flashy or hooked into social media to prove anything. It might help in some cases, but they're not selling the medium itself.
  2. People don't make purchase decisions on agency sites - While I've heard anecdotes I've never heard real stories of people who visited an agency site and hired them right there and then. Never. I can imagine some very small clients doing this but none of any significant business size. Has anyone else? People visit agency sites in a longer process. They've heard about the agency, they've seen some of its work; they're planning on visiting or asking them to respond to an RFP. They look at the agency site to confirm what they're thinking or to fill in some holes (and hopefully not create others). E-commerce sites (agency clients) need to sell something. Service businesses need to prove their competence and personality in areas that have nothing to do with the Web. Can you really take a look at a law firm's site design and technology and conclude they're very good lawyers? Probably not.
  3. Size matters - Many businesses have far more information to organize than do agency sites. Especially when you get into deep e-commerce sites. I love sites like EVB's and the Barbarian Group's because of their simplicity. It's much harder to do this with multi-layered, multi-national companies. Or maybe its not that much harder. It's just harder to convince those clients to go simple. While aggregation might seem to be the wave of the future even for these corporate giants, how the heck are you going to find out about the group you're really trying to contact through the company's Web site if everything is aggregation? Maybe the evolution of the semantic Web will solve this, but social media aggregation probably will not.

I think the new Crispin Porter & Bogusky site is great. But I liked their old site a lot too, with its simple, visual layout, where the work was front and center. I loved how they put their handbook right where everyone could read it.

There are a lot of businesses for whom this makes a lot of sense. Brands whose sites look to entertain and that thrive on conversations and image more than commerce. Starbucks, for example, or BMW. For   those brands, they can look at CPB and learn and aspire.

But many brands still look to the Web as one of their leading sales channel instead.

The new site, like EVB's, isn't necessarily a harbinger of the greater Web world. It's just a bunch of super smart people showing clients that they get how the digital world changes, and that they can master those changes. Rather than taking the execution as the model of the future, business should look at the concept behind what these firms are trying to achieve. Proof of their abilities.

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07/07/2009 Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places

We've heard over and over how social media is like a relationship: you have to nurture and sustain it. You need to be generous and forgiving. You need to listen and be nice. You should be honest yet loyal.

Romance.small It sounds like we're saying that we want brands to fall in love with its customers in the same way that customers fall in love with brands.

Well, what if brands aren't looking for love? What if they're looking for one-night stands or maybe even friends with benefits? What if, like roaming gigolos, brands are incapable of love and simply doing what they do best: quick moments of pleasure?

Over the past month, I've heard marketing directors lavish kind words on social marketing. They want to use it for their brands and recognize that something is afoot with customers. The marketers look over plans, give the go ahead to initiatives but within a few weeks, inevitably ask: "How is this going to raise sales in the next two months?"

When you start with a social media following of zero, using social media to raise sales in the next month or two is a huge, and sometimes unreasonable challenge. It is not a short-term tactic, turned on and off at will and whim. You need to be in it for the long haul, for the relationship.

Marketing Lotharios want to look at social media as the roses they take to dinner to seduce their dates. Look great, smell great, big impact and dead after a week. No, social media is like a rose bush, not a single rose. It takes lots of care, pruning and attention.

Are customers and social media advocates just plain unrealistic? Maybe we won't find this love in brand relationships and maybe we should just settle for quickies.

As a marketer who uses social media, I think the best course is to build the short term sales promotions in parallel with social media and be very clear with clients that they need to commit to social media for six to twelve months, at least, unless they have some larger push or event to connect to. This two-track approach gives everyone a chance to get what he or she wants.

Most of all, it shows the impatient marketers that, in the end, love is really worth the wait.

Of course, some brands will never get this. They'll come on to the scene, dashing and exciting. After a few years, they'll need a Logo tuck, and then later a Brand augmentation. They'll evolve into a stretched out image of their former selves.

While, hopefully, the brands in love will have a long, two-way relationship despite all of their wrinkles.

07/01/2009 Where’s Your Energy?

Social Media Question #1: “What should we do? What should we talk about?”

Every time I speak with people about social media, this is the question I get. Since I speak to marketing people most of the time, they answer the question, usually, with
“Sales promotions.”

Here’s what I try to answer:

Where’s the energy in your company right now? What are people most excited about? It doesn’t have to be big or even new, but if they’re talking about it inside, chances are it’s something people on the outside will find interesting.

Virgin Radio is Energy EfficientImage by adambowie via Flickr

A funny thing happens then. Everyone stops, takes a breath, and start talking all at once about the fun and interesting things going on. It’s like someone flipped a switch. Instead of talking about what they think they have to talk about, they start talking about things they like. With passion and energy and engagement.

That’s a great start in social media. Yes, we’ll get to those sales promotions; we have to, to keep the lights on at night. But we’ll be talking about them in a different way. And the energy inside can come from anywhere, from any employee.

New things inside don’t have to be big. Remember, it’s not a marketing campaign. Marketing campaigns start slowly, usually have a big promotion and rely on splash and media. Social media can start quickly, cover multiple promotions, and rely on personal connections and conversations.

And no one wants to hear the same old thing from you every time, either. When we have friends like that, we tire of them quickly.

Your energy will change over the months. Be aware of where it is inside your company, tap into it, and share it with the rest of us. It’s a great way to start a conversation.

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