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12 posts from October 2009

10/29/2009 Jumping into Social Media? Time to answer these 3 questions.

Every business and organization now feels the pressure to have a social media presence. If it's not someone in the marketing department (easy to ignore), it's a C-Type who's been to a conference or has read articles and has made this a "priority."

There are a lot of "We need help setting up our Facebook page" requests floating around. While I love the fact that more marketing departments want to engage in dialogue marketing, I find that many of them focus on the wrong question. They ask "How?" and "Where?"

What they need to ask is: Why? Who? What?

Why will participating in social media help your business? Are you simply looking to increase sales or to get a better idea of what people say about you?  Are you looking at social media as a way to build stronger connections with current customers or for finding new prospects? The answer to Why will help you build a strategy to guide everything you do. Or you may find that what you want to do doesn't make any sense on social media. You can avoid wasting precious time on something that will most likely not work.

Who do you want to connect with? Are they current customers or new ones? Are they teens or are they retired? Do they even use social media and how? Big questions, to be sure, but thankfully there are tools like those from Forrester's Groundswell. Their Social Technology Profile Tool helps you understand whether the people you want to connect with are those that simply like consuming content or actually enjoy creating it. Knowing this will help you hone in on the tactical directions and channels your social media needs to focus on.

What will you measure to define success? The bean counters are giving social media the hairy eyeball since their not convinced of ROI. You should choose KPIs instead (key performance indicators). You can choose a number of items to measure, everything from activity on your Facebook page, to Twitter ReTweets, to number of times mentioned on blogs, to visits or purchases on your Web site. It's important to choose something. There are lots of tools and services to help you monitor activity. For example, here's one interesting list of Twitter analytics tools you can use to measure activity.

If you can answer Why, Who and What, you can fill in those other important question like How, Where and When. You'll have a social media strategy you can explain to your team and your bosses. Hopefully, you'll have a roadmap for social media success.

Because without a good roadmap, you could be going in circles for a long, long time.
10/27/2009 VT Brands Share Smart Social Media Practices

I had the pleasure of moderating a social media roundtable at the Vermont Technology Innovation Jam yesterday. My panel consisted of Steve Wright of Jay Peak, Sarah Byers of Leonardo's Pizza, and Rob Smart of Every Kitchen Table. Each of the panelists had very different situations but the commonalities and approaches of all of them were striking.

Jay Peak is what goes for a "big" company in Vermont. At least it has more complex marketing than other businesses and has a large local, regional and international reach. Leonardo's Pizza is a hyper-local business with two locations but a large "presence." Rob Smart has led a number of businesses and marketing departments in the state but he's recently gone out on his own building up his own personal brand from scratch in the sustainable food arena.

I liked how all three of them had a clear picture of whom they wanted to talk with. Leonardo's wanted a way to reach pizza hungry college kids, and local fans. Rob Smart wanted to engage some of the leading thinkers in the category. Jay Peak actually used social media to segment its audiences, from golf, to skiers to deal seekers. None of them spoke to "everyone." They each had an idea of WHO they wanted to build relationships with.

All of them bought into the concept of a generous social media strategy. They used the channels to "shine the light back on followers."  Leonardo's does this by publicizing content and feedback they get from its followers. Rob Smart does this by quoting and highlighting other bloggers on his blog. Jay Peak does this by promoting customer content created on Flickr and YouTube. They're each allowing customers to borrow some brand equity in order to increase it. Very sharp.

Most interestingly, big or small, each of them uses social media to make their product better. Leonardo's Pizza gets real time advice on new pizza creations they may not know much about, like Vegan pizza. Jay Peak uses social media to get brand advocate feedback on TV and print campaigns, letting crowdsourcing determine which creative they run. Rob Smart has used feedback from thought leaders and audience to help him stake out his own unique, and sometimes confrontational, position.

And Steve, Sarah and Rob have different ways of measuring their KPIs (Key performance indicators). Most importantly, in one way or another, they're actively measuring.

While these are smart successful people, the overall message to business people and marketers is this: If they can succeed, so can you. But like Steve, Sarah and Rob, you have to think about what you're doing, in order to get the most out of it.

What a fun afternoon that was.
10/25/2009 Blogging and Transparency

This originally broadcast on Vermont Public Radio, October 23, 2009.

The Federal Trade Commission recently created new rules about endorsing products and that got the blogosphere in a tizzy. Basically the FTC said that if bloggers receive free products from companies, and then blog about those products, they have to let people know about it. The FTC views this as a type of paid endorsement.

A lot of people reacted negatively. For the most part they didn't want any rules at all. And they certainly didn't want more rules than anybody else.

As a medium that prides itself on openness and transparency, though, it was a little odd to see these reactions about making people actually accountable for openness and transparency. That's one of the best things about the online space: sooner or later the truth surfaces. Even if it sometimes has to slog through a lot of noise to get there.

For example, a few years ago Walmart launched a blog "Wal-Marting Across America" featuring a married couple traveling across the U.S. writing about happy Walmarts and happy Walmart employees. Problem was, it turned out that it was all a public relations ploy. The tour came to a screeching halt and Walmart's PR firm turned from blogging to crisis management.

But the reality is that brands now recognize the power that word of mouth plays online. Most of us go online to research everything we buy. We look for personal opinions on things like baby strollers, travel destinations, and cars. So companies decided to see if they could influence the influencers. They sent them free products and asked them to write about them.

Trouble is, when we get something for free, we tend to look at it more favorably. The good bloggers fess up immediately but more than a few don't. Now, the FTC has made it a rule that you HAVE to tell when you get a product for free, or else.

You know, I like this FTC idea so much I'd like to see it in more places. Like when a politician in Washington debates health care or some other issue, I'd like to see them start their speeches with "I've received thousands of dollars from the insurance lobby, but I'd still like to say this about health care." Or how about some of the news "analysts" who show up on lots of talk shows but who actually work for the companies they're talking about.  The only thing we'd need to do is to think up some good punishments!

Or maybe this is just sour grape since I've yet to receive anything for free in return for blogging about something. Companies do ask me to write about them and when I do, I always tell people that they've asked me to do so. In fact sometimes I end up paying for what I write about!

But even then, I still have a line I just won't cross. Like the time I received a request to review  a an, ahem, Flatulence App for the iPhone. I couldn't figure out what would've been worse: paying three-ninety-nine for the app itself, or admitting that someone actually asked me to write about it.
10/22/2009 What If the IAB Ran the Government?

IAB CEO Randall Rothenberg didn't like government intrusion into the blogosphere. He didn't like them placing guidelines with teeth on the Internet. His organization makes guidelines without teeth. The FTC guidelines focus on content and intent. IAB guidelines focus on size, shape and weight.

And it got me thinking: What if the IAB ran things instead of the Fed?

Imaginary Issue 1: Hate Crimes
The Fed plans to strengthen current hate crime laws, with clearer guidelines and stronger sentencing for crimes targeting those of other gender, religion, race ethnicity or political belief.

In response to the new hate crime laws the IAB has instead released its guidelines and recommendations to curb violence against those with different gender, religion, race ethnicity or political belief. The IAB is recommending clothing guidelines so each group can recognize each other to either join them or stay away from them.

"If gays wear purple, tea baggers brown, anti-abortionists stripes and socialists pink, we all know who to avoid. If we see a spot of pink in sea of brown, we'll know something's wrong," said one spokesman. "We may not know what to do about it, but we'll know."

Imaginary Issue 2: Seat Belts

The federal government plans to make wearing seatbelts mandatory in both the front and back seats, in all 50 states and territories. It points to research showing that seatbelt use significantly reduces traffic death and plans to increase penalties for non-use.

In response to the new seat belt laws, the IAB has released alternative guidelines for car safety. From now on it recommends that all cars come in three standard sizes: Big, medium and small.

"We don't think someone should make us strap in," said one spokesman. "The problem is that the cars crashing are of all different sizes. Crashes between similarly sized vehicles result in less damage than those between odd sized vehicles." The IAB's guidelines aim to have big cars crash only with other big cars, while the small cars can avoid them completely.

"As long as you know what to look out for, things will be alright," said the spokesman.

Now back to reality: this was a fun fantasy. But sometimes, maybe oftentimes, real regulation with real consequences can be a good thing. And not something to fear.

And I want to thank the IAB for letting me have so much fun with them. I have not received anything free from them or any other traditional media that has influenced this blog. (See, that was easy)
The FTC, the IAB, and Me

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently announced guidelines on blogging and testimonials. Basically, the FTC is trying to get ahead of the curve by setting guidelines on product endorsements and testimonials. They want bloggers to come clean if they've received free products in exchange for reviews. They believe, correctly for the most part, that the simple act of receiving something for free might influence what people write. The part that has everyone up in arms is that the FTC reserves the right to prosecute those who don't follow the rules.

Personally, I have no problem with honesty guidelines. They're very easy to follow. I believe that online should be BETTER than other media: more open, transparent and honest. The FTC guidelines are a challenge to us online marketers to walk the walk. I think we should take the challenge to do more than the FTC asks.

Of all the reactions online against the FTC guidelines (and there were a ton), the one that got the most play was from Randall Rothenberg, president and CEO of the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB). What most irritated Mr. Rothenberg was that the FTC had put more stringent guidelines on bloggers than it has on most other media. "Unfair," cried Rothenberg! "Beware Big Brother," wailed the head of the IAB on a site with direct links to IAB guidelines!

Why, I thought, would an organization whose main output consists of online advertising guidelines be so opposed to blogger guidelines? Is it because IAB can't really prosecute anyone itself?

So I dug in a little and found:

The IAB's number one objective is to "fend off adverse legislation and regulation." That's right, it's not to make online advertising better, it's to keep the Feds out. It sounds like something straight from Wall Street. Just let the market take care of itself, and everything will be fine.

It's last objective is to create a force to "balance power of other media..." which is kind of funny, since the IAB's executive board consists of people from the NYT, CBS, NBC, and Conde Nast. Foxes in the hen house (where is FOX, by the way?).

My real bone with the IAB is that they seem to think that the real problem with online advertising is sizing standards. The real problem with online advertising is that it stinks, from a creative and interactive standpoint. It doesn't matter if it's 30K or 40K, if its 336x280 or 120x160. It's what's inside that counts.

That's why the FTC guidelines are a good thing. They may have got it wrong in Old Media, but they're trying to get it right in New Media. It's not the format of the blog; it's how we show up on them. The FTC says, "be honest, or else." I say "there's nothing easier." Too bad the IAB has a problem with that.

And it got me thinking: What if the IAB ran things instead of the Fed?

Stay Tuned.
10/20/2009 The Quality of Your Work is Up To You

I often hear people complain that "I'm not working on anything fun" or that "our clients won't let us do great work." Whenever I hear that, I know that the people saying and feeling those things are in a rut. The one thing to remember in those situations is that you can't control what other people think and do, but you can control what you think and do.

Honestly, if I simply did everything the clients (or my bosses) wanted, I'd never have done any interesting work.

Here's a mantra for the week: Clients depend on you to give them unexpected ideas and great work (it's a little long, sorry Maharishi!).

That's right, they depend on you. They may not articulate it and you may not be able to sell the on it.  But you owe it to yourself and your clients to take those inert metals in front of you and start changing it into gold. Simply put, you can do that with everything you work on.

In the long run, this benefits everyone. You'll get in the practice of adding unexpected creativity to your work. More importantly, you'll get the crucial practice of SELLING your wonderful ideas. Ultimately, the idea doesn't matter unless you can sell it in.

You'll also train your clients to start expecting surprises and extra ideas. They'll love it.

So stop complaining and get creative.
10/15/2009 Great Hybrid Marketing Example

Earlier this week I talked about hybrid marketing and the next day I found a great example. I also found a not-so-great example within the same category. Looking at these two marketing pushes, I think it's pretty clear who the winner will be.

Nordstrom, working with Zeus Jones (one of the most innovative digital shops), basically reengineered its BP fitting rooms into a Social Media Photobooth. Zeus Jones uncovered some key insights into customer behavior, including the fact that most women took their phones with them to snap pictures of themselves trying on new clothes. They then shared these photos, and others, on Facebook for some "crowdsourcing" fashion advice.

Rather than trying to force Nordstrom into this equation, Zeus Jones and Co. basically speeded up the process by providing tools to let people do this more easily. They introduced technology into the fitting room process. They've ultimately blurred the lines between the in-store and the Facebook experiences. Check out the video below.

bp. Photobooth Walkthrough from Zeus Jones on Vimeo.

I think this is great hybrid thinking and the initiative has must-win written all over it.

Compare that to a campaign Estee Lauder launches this week. Estee Lauder will start offering free makeovers and photo shoots at major stores across the country. The idea is that women will take these pictures with them and use them as Facebook profile pages. Estee Lauder hopes that its background branding doesn't disappear when people start editing the pictures. All I can say is "Good luck with that!"

While both approaches deal with pictures and fashion, Nordstrom's approach clearly relinquishes control to its customers, realizing that they can be part of the conversation but they can't control it. Estee Lauder tries to control everything from the taking of the pictures to the branding.

Most telling though, is that Nordstrom has made social media a part of the experience, not an extension. It's hybrid approach. Estee Lauder hopes to extend a promotion. It's an integrated approach.

Keep your eyes on Zeus Jones and their partner VaryWell. Hopefully we'll see a lot more of this.
10/12/2009 Make Your Media Hybrid

PappaFranks1I wrote a post earlier this year about how we (marketers) need to become hybrids. I've been thinking about hybrids a lot lately, and not only because I'm in the market for a Prius. I think it's time to declare Integrated Marketing dead. We're entering into the age of hybrid media. I'll have more on that later this week, but here's an example of what I'm talking about.

 This weekend I took my family out to a local, old-style family restaurant in Winooski. Right away, this card (leaning against the Parmesan cheese) grabbed my attention. At one point in my career, I would have loved to see this. The restaurant, Papa Frank's, has not only embraced online, it's using its table space to promote it. I like how this shows Papa Frank's thinking around building its database.

Only, it's not enough any more. The problem isn't the idea; the problem is that the card is not a hybrid. It's not interactive or actionable, except to ask someone for yet another piece of paper. At its most basic, Papa Frank's could've put the e-mail address right on the card. But in this day and age of smart phones and iPhones, they missed an opportunity to make this into a hybrid. Such as:
  • Facebook - Rather than an entry ticket, Papa Frank's could've asked people to Fan it on Facebook, along with comments about their experiences. Its Facebook page would become, de facto, the rewards mechanism for its fans. Not only is that easy, but if they have a computer on the premise, they could make a big deal right in the restaurant. That would connect the experience to online back to the restaurant in real time.
  • Yelp - Names are great. Online reviews are better. Papa Frank's might have made the entry a review on Yelp. The database would come from reviewers and they could reward people who wrote. More importantly, the call to action on the card not only helps the writer, it impacts the business through important word-of-mouth. Right now they have 9 reviews. They should shoot for 99 or 199. The contest becomes the action driven right from the table.
  • Twitter - Again, an easy way to let people sign up is to allow them to follow Papa Frank's on Twitter. As an added hybridization, ask people to take a picture of themselves and their meal and post it as a Tweet for entry. Papa Frank's could make the photos into a Flickr gallery, which would increase search results.
Each of those ideas takes a broadcast media and connects it with a dialogue media. The bigger point is that the actions themselves go beyond signing up: they extend the campaign and, potentially, impact others.

It's not integrated; it's hybrid. Just like the gas engine powers the electric engine in the Prius, the hybrid marketing part power completely separate parts and makes them better. Integration depends on silos. Hybridization depends on breaking down the silos.

Hybrid marketing touches everything. More on that later. 
10/08/2009 Social Media, like Rust, Never Sleeps. Neither should your brand.

I read a great post by Armando Alves last week about the rise of social zombies. He talked about the detritus of old microsites (they're like space debris, just waiting to smash something) and how he's seeing the same thing with social media initiatives. They probably look like some houseplants I used to have: good ideas at the time, but lacking the nurturing they deserved and ending up as withered vines in the garbage.

In one of his blog posts last week, Inaki Escudero captured a talk by R/GA's Bob Greenberg and Barry Wackman about the need to stop thinking about campaigns and to start thinking about platforms. They pointed specifically to agencies about the need for them to adapt and get rid of short-term thinking.

Both of these great blogs illustrate one of the key changes social media brings to the table: It never stops.

Campaigns have a beginning and an end. They're very much connected to sales initiatives inside of companies. Time to ramp up back to school or holiday, they say. We have a new product and we need to promote it. Agencies are only too happy to oblige. A new campaign usually means a lot of fresh money to create fresh ideas. That keeps everyone happy, from the bean counters to the rookie designers.

I recognize the ebbs and flows of the business seasons. What's changed, though, is a matter of control. Used to be that advertisers had control: they bought media to turn on the message and stopped it to turn it off. They can still do this, but the conversations and comments about the products and businesses don't stop once the radio spot is off the air. Brands and advertisers need to keep paying attention even though they might want to think instead about the next new, shiny campaign.

It's actually more challenging, and sometimes more rewarding to look at extending existing campaigns or platforms and allowing them to develop like true relationships. That's one of the big issues with social media and brands - you can't ignore someone and then expect them to come running back to you.

Look at a "campaign" that didn't quite stop: Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty. Not only was this a well-integrated effort with a heavy Web focus at the time, but also Dove continued to evolve it. They realized that if they let this drop, people would see this as blatant falsehood and as an attempt at manipulation. If you visit the site today, you'll see a site focused on raising young girls self-esteem. It's now part of the Dove site itself. They now extend the site into a Facebook Fan page with 45,000 fans.

So here's today's challenge:
Take a campaign you're working on now, or one that just ended, and rather than pitch something entirely different, pitch extensions. Social media can help.
10/05/2009 An Evening of Annarchy

This Thursday October 8, Ann Handley, the chief content officer of MarketingProfs is coming to Burlington to schmooze with social media peeps. We're having a Tweetup at 156 Bistro from 5 PM to 8 PM. You can RSVP here.

Why should you come to this Tweetup? Well, all of our VT Tweetups have been a blast, from hanging out by the waterfront at Splash, the amazing Round Barn localvore extravaganza, to trying out the new bakery at August First.

Annheadshotsmall But if that's not enough, we're fortunate to have Ann with us on Thursday. For those of you who don't know who Ann is, she writes the Marketing Profs Daily Fix blog, which right now is number 11(!) at the AdAge Power 150 rankings. She also contributes to the Huffington Post.

MarketingProfs is one of those great collections of smart people all working to make us digital people smarter. For example, they just hired Beth Harte, a social media heavyweight, as its community manager

Before that, Anne was a co-founder of ClickZ, a great resource for online marketing.

So mark your calendars and we'll hope to see you on Thursday.

A couple of notes:

Big thanks to Andrea Learned for helping to pull this together. Andrea's got some serious juice.

Dave Winslow, the CEO of EpikOne, owns 156 Bistro. It's always good to support the digital community and even better when we can do so by drinking. Apparently, it's martini night at 156, so it should be a fun evening.

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