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10 posts from April 2010

04/28/2010 Social is a Hybrid

I had the pleasure of spending time with Mitch Lieberman of SugarCRM yesterday. Mitch was back from his SugarCon conference and we were sharing notes on the state of Social. We soon realized that Mitch, coming at social from the CRM/IT side and I, coming at social from the marketing/digital side faced the same issues. The main hurdle with getting companies to go social was a tug of war between groups of who"'owned" social media. Is it IT, which traditionally led technology initiatives, or marketing, which focused on outbound customer communications, or PR, which had experience developing relationships with the media?

We both ended up saying the same thing: It's either everyone, or it's no one. Social can't function as a silo. It's a hybrid. It's ItMarketingPrCostumerserviceOperations. When you develop a social strategy, whether you start from the CRM side or the Marketing, you have to realize that no one group has the knowledge or experience to successfully lead social initiatives alone.

The challenge for most businesses is that people don't operate as hybrids. They operate within silos, with clear role definitions and even clearer budgets. Mitch thought that a lot of the 'who owns' tug of war was really about money, and he's probably right.

One thing I've found in developing social strategies for companies is that the most important strategy might be creating a hybrid structure to lead and manage the social media initiative. This means that people from around the enterprise need to meet, talk and act together, all the while they practice hybrid skills that move them out of their silos. When IT thinks like PR and marketing thinks like customer service, both businesses and consumers win.

Whether or not you or your company can develop into hybrids might depend on which game theory philosophy you follow. In a Zero-sum game theory, someone always wins and someone always loses. The sum is always zero. If you're a Zero-summer, then there's no incentive for you to work with anyone or to become a hybrid.

If you believe in non-Zero-sum game theory, then your gain doesn't always end up as someone else's loss. A Non-Zero-summer can work with others because the sum can end up greater by cooperating. Hybrids work in non-zero sum scenarios because a helping someone else win means the enterprise (and you) win as well.

Hybrids connect things. They develop communications that blend different tactics into one experience. Social media is, I think, a placeholder for hybrid marketing and operations since it doesn't fit cleanly into any one discipline. But it isn't the only place where businesses need hybrids. But to develop into a hybrid means people may have to take some personal risks. I've spoken to a few hybrids who, while providing invaluable services to their companies, lost their jobs when new bosses couldn't understand their function or value.

When you're starting to put your social strategy in place
  • Identify key departments that need to play together
  • Choose a champion from each department and place them on the social/hybrid team
  • Make sure you choose people who will play well together. This might be more important than skill levels, in some instances
  • The team will need a leader to report to upper management. But play around with shifting functional leadership between team members at regular intervals. Think of the UN Security Council as an example.
  • Make sure members evangelize the work of the team back to their individual group. They should also identify people from their group who express interest in playing with the hybrid team
  • When presenting results and successes back to senior management, show how the non-Zero Sum approach has worked
  • Talk about yourselves as hybrids

The bigger question for businesses today is whether they accept hybrid structures and if they support the growth of hybrid individuals. Putting together a social media team with representatives from various groups and funding that group as a separate structure is a good, and necessary, place to start.


04/23/2010 Social Strategy: Plan a Catastrophe

While more and more brands embrace social media as part of their marketing or operational strategy, many of them do so with great fear in their hearts. They craft social policies aimed less at behavioral guidance and more toward legal safeguards. While most marketers understand the need to participate and connect with people in this free-flowing arena, it goes against what most have them have learned about marketing over the years.

Thus the fear. In certain businesses, you can feel the fear from the marketing director right on up through the C-Level suite. Almost all of the fear is about losing control of the message and the conversation. People delve into social media with the fear that they'll meet overwhelming negativity and won't no how to handle it.

You can't blame them. When you read the news, a lot of the social media talk is about catastrophe. Nestle's debacle on Facebook, Domino's land mine on YouTube, Motrin miscalculation with Twitter; we accept the plethora of negative stories while we discount positive stories as exceptions.

If fear is part of the social media mix for most companies, why not embrace it? Instead of sitting around worrying for disaster to strike, why not plan one? Rather than creating a social media strategy still based on broadcasting information and responding if anyone notices, how about building conflict into your plan and directing your resources to respond to it? I know many businesses living with the fear, but I don't know of anyone who's leaning into the fear and disarming it.

The social media fear reminded me of something I saw in Sweden, when I was living there. The Swedes planned a catastrophe to happen on a huge, live TV broadcast in front of 300 million people.  In 1984 the Swedish Herrey brothers won the Eurovision contest with the pop tune "Diggi-Loo Diggi-Ley." It was the first time Sweden won since Abba's "Waterloo." It was a big deal.

For Sweden, the biggest deal was that they got to host the 1985 Eurovision Song Contest, broadcast live to Europe and the rest of the world, in Gothenburg. Sweden chose performer Lil Lindfors to host the show. After the first intermission, Lil walked out on stage, her skirt caught on some staging and fell off. We watched in horror as she stood, live, in her panties and we thought "Unbelievable!" Then Lil unsnapped two buttons on her shoulders and a full-length dress covered her up.

Afterward she explained that when they were planning the show, they sat around discussing the worst thing that could happen. They agreed that a huge wardrobe malfunction would be a disaster. So instead of worrying about it, they built it right into the show. Disaster solved.

Brands in social media would do well to think about this. If you're afraid of what might happen, build it into your plan instead of waiting for it to happen. Once you're on social media with a following, consider:

  • Product/Service complaints - If people complain about your product or service, think about directing some of the complainer to Twitter or Facebook. Ask if anyone else is experiencing the problem. Solve the problem in spades, in front of everyone. You address the fear of product negativity with a plan to solve it.
  • Labor/Employee disputes - Rather than shutting them down, how about inviting some of this discussion to your social media stream? You might no solve all of the problems, but you could use the engagement to strengthen employee ties to your brand in a public place. It meets the fear of the out-of-control employee hijacking your social media.
  • Environmental/Operational practices - Rather than hoping these will never come out, make sure they show up and address them head on. Even if you can only show that you're listening and making progress, it will show you that you're not a Brand Ostrich.

I'm sure there each business has disasters and catastrophes specific to them that can cause veteran marketers and C-Levels to wake up sweating in the middle of the night at the thought of these becoming fodder on social media. Rather than hoping for the best, why not plan for them so you know what to do and have people ready to act?

Remember, if you see a bomb or grenade lying on the ground, it's better to explode it in a controlled manner than have it go off when you're not ready.  That might be your best strategy if fear of social media ends up driving a lot of your decision making.
04/22/2010 Opacity and Disinformation as Brand Pillars

We see so many articles today on the need for transparency and honesty in brands that we almost believe that most businesses actually act that way now. With that in mind, it's amazing to witness a brand up close whose brand pillars seem to include the opposite. The brand I'm thinking about is Entergy and it's company Vermont Yankee.

Vermont Yankee, the only nuclear power plant in the area, is up for relicensing. It's a touchy subject here in environmentally focused (that's crunchy and green to some) Vermont. On the one hand, nuclear power has always been the bane of the environmentalists, although even Greenpeace is rethinking that one. On the other hand, reducing the amount of fossil fuels we use to reduce global warming is THE burning issue today.  Talk about being stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Enter Entergy. Last fall it launched a campaign titled IAmVY.com where it showcased some of its people, including a number of very talented and articulate engineers.  They talked about the great jobs Vermont Yankee provided and how safe they believed nuclear power was. One woman in particular stated that Vermont Yankee would tell people the "facts." If people wanted to believe the facts was up to them. The message was clear: You could believe what Vermont Yankee told you, or you were a dope.

Within a month of the campaign launch, it turned out that Vermont Yankee had hidden information from the legislature and had a serious Tritium leak on its hands. Entergy quickly replaced the site with another, removing the most offensive videos. So much for facts and openness.

Then, in the last few weeks, the Vermont Yankee PR person wrote Op-Ed pieces for all of the local papers without identifying himself as a Vermont Yankee employee. He may have thought he was speaking as a private person, but when he's talking about his job and his employer, he'd have to assume everyone else is an idiot to believe there was no conflict of interest.

The pace of information these days should preclude brands acting in this way.  It's one thing to think you can get away with opacity and disinformation. It's another to keep doing it after you've been exposed again and again. But somehow, that's what Entergy and Vermont Yankee keep on doing.

It's too bad they don't have a communications policy like the social media policies developed by brands like Intel or Coca Cola. It might not stop the lies and subterfuge, but it might make employees think twice.

The bigger question for us when we see brands acting in a consistently dishonest manner is: If they're doing this for the little stuff, what big stuff are they not telling us about or blatantly lying about? Once we head down that road, the sky's the limit.

Brands, like people, are only as good as their word. And for Entergy's Vermont Yankee, its word is MUD.
04/15/2010 Foursquare Day - A Crazy Idea Becomes Reality

I met a few days ago with Lara Dickson of Deep Dish Creative. She had tweeted me the day before, dangling before me a vague project concerning Foursquare. And of course, I jumped at the opportunity. Lara, who works with a lot of the local restaurants and businesses in Burlington, wanted to do something for Foursquare day and she wanted a little help in figuring out what.

It didn't take us long to sketch out a little plan and to figure out who else we needed to connect with. With help from Mike Hayes at Magic Hat and Nicole Ravlin from People Making Good, Foursquare Day in Burlington started coming together.

FoursquareDayLara pounded the pavement to line up businesses to participate.  Businesses like New Moon Café, August First, Handy's Lunch, Burlington Wine Shop and The Bobbin agreed to provide discounts or donations for people who check in on Foursquare. She set up landing pages on her site and created a Facebook group with all of the specials listed.

Mike Hayes was already planning to re-launch my favorite beer of all time, Wacko, at the Scuffer that day, and he's been trying to work with Magic Hat partners to use Foursquare for a while. He agreed to give away free t-shirts if you check in on Foursquare at The Scuffer between 4-6 on 4/16.

Nicole Ravlin jumped in and got Boloco and Small Dog Electronics on board as well, with $2 smoothies and free Small Dog pint glasses and discounts respectively.

What we really want to happen is for area businesses to understand how they might use location based social media tools. For Foursquare Day, it's pretty simple:

  • Get Foursquare on your mobile device.
  • Check in at one of the participating venues.
  • Show the staff you've checked in (show them the screen on your phone).
  • When you do, you get something in return.

This has been a crazy, last minute idea that's coming together. I can't wait for tomorrow.

I really would love to get a Foursquare Swarm badge out of this. See you at The Scuffer at 4 on Friday.

When you tweet on Friday, use #btv4sq as the hashtag.

04/14/2010 Is iAd the Savior of Mobile Advertising?

Mobile advertising, the long expected messiah of the ad business, might be about to grow up. Every January the pundits spin "this is the year of mobile advertising" only to leave the rest of us disappointed come December. It's probably because mobile ads are only slightly more interesting than bad banner ads. But that may change with Apple's new iAd platform.

While information is still slight about the workings of the platform, it looks like Steve Jobs and friends have embraced a rich media strategy for iAds. If that's true, I think we have a lot to look forward to.

The first iAd examples show something very similar to good rich media banners. They function almost as a microsite within a site. The benefit for the viewer is that they can take short break from what they're really trying to do, engage with informative and interactive content and, without losing their place, go right back to what they were doing.

The implicit promise in rich media advertising is that the risk of ending up in the wrong place (site) is lower. You roll over the ad (or click in the iAd) and if you don't like it you can close it quickly and get back to the task at hand. In reality, people spend time playing around in those banners, when they have great content to offer.

It's a really smart idea to offer this functionality on mobile devices, like the iPhone or the iPad. The bigger challenge is going to be whether people will engage on the ads on the bottoms of their screens now that we've learned to ignore them. Again, I think the answer is yes, based on my own rich media experiences.

Online banner ads are usually pretty bad. In the last 12+ years, we've learned to ignore most of them. According to some larger ad networks, click through rates, the most popular measure of success, will trend toward 0.03% if you run your ad long enough or reach a lot of people. That's a very low rate.

But while we're used to not clicking on banners, we will roll over rich media banners. Anywhere between 3% and 10%. Compare that with banner CTRs. More importantly, we spend time playing around with the content. I'm running one rich media campaign right now where the average time spent inside the banner is 80 seconds per user. And there is absolutely no video running in it. It's all because the content is valuable and engaging.

Mobile rich media advertising could be the force that pushes mobile ads over the hump and finally makes it the winner everyone predicted it would become.

I think Apple is on the right track providing this technology. The rest is up to us digital creatives. We can use this to do good or to do evil. Let's hope we make this great.

04/12/2010 The Digital Lobby?

Yes, lobbyists sully American politics; those paid mercenaries who affect legislation at the behest of their powerful clients. Of course trying to influence politicians is part of politics. Each person or group wants to ensure that elected officials stand up for their constituents.

While I'm not sure we constitute a lobby yet, I'm personally interested in making sure all of us who make our living in the digital world (artists, agencies, PR, social media and programmers, to name a few) can impact our policies here in Vermont. All of us seem convinced that we provide a picture of a future, successful Vermont. Our challenge is getting politicians to listen to us.

On April 22, I'm helping put together a TweetUp with Chittenden County Senate hopeful Philip Baruth. Philip is a friend of mine, so I'd help him even if I didn't have this angle. But one of Philip's campaign issues is broadband accessibility, something that us digital folk live or die on.

More importantly, I think it's a great opportunity for us Tweeps to stop just talking about how we're the next best thing since maple syrup and to try and start influencing policies to make Vermont a great state for digital companies and practitioners.

So join me in hanging out with Philip at New Moon in Burlington, from 4-6 on Thursday, April 22, 2010. Philip will buy the cookies, you buy the coffee. It's a great chance for our social media group to start influencing local politics.

I hope to see you there. Maybe this will be the start a powerful digital or social media lobby in Vermont.

Click here for more info and to RSVP.
Nike: Brand of Cheats?

It was hard to miss the buzz about Nike's new Tiger Woods commercial, with a close up of a contrite Tiger "listening" to his father Earl ask him questions from on high. Nike obviously thinks it's time to bring their big guy back. But rather than sticking to something Tiger's good at, golf, they wanted to address something he's really bad at, moral character.

Watching this ad, it made me wonder: Is Nike becoming the brand of cheaters? And if they are, why aren't they doing ads with a more sympathetic cheater, like Marion Jones. After all, Nike had a great run commercial run with Marion.

If you compare these two cheaters, you have one who abused his celebrity and showed people that his outward appearance was a sham. Tiger's hasn't really paid any price for his cheating and it certainly didn't affect his golf or his sports career. His cheating had nothing to do with his sport and everything to do with his image.

Marion Jones cheated on her sports by taking performance-enhancing drugs. How much that affected her success we'll never know. But she paid a HUGE price for her cheating. Or rather, she paid a huge price for her lying, since she was convicted not for her drug use but by lying to a grand jury.

Anyone watching her during the ordeal knew that she understood how badly she betrayed our trust. And after spending time in jail (6 months) she picks herself up and is trying a comeback at basketball.

So why isn't Nike making a Marion Jones commercial? If Nike asked Marion Jones the same questions Tiger got in his commercial, you know the answers would be completely different.

Marion learned the hard way that decisions have consequences, morally and financially.

What has Tiger learned? My imagined dialogue goes like this:

Earl: "Did you learn anything?"
Tiger: "Yes Dad. I learned that when I get out of control, it's hard to keep things quiet."
Earl: "Anything else?"
Tiger: "Yes Dad. You and Agent Mulder were right. Trust no one. I left myself exposed to too many people I didn't trust."
Earl: "Tiger, seriously, what did you learn."
Tiger: "I learned that no woman will ever love me as much as my Mother."
Earl: "Good boy, Tiger."

[That last part I nabbed from a quote by brilliant author and famed womanizer Norman Mailer]

Nike, the brand of cheats? They just do it, after all.

04/06/2010 Preparing for the Last Disaster

Over the last 6 or 7 years, we've destroyed two great digital cameras while we were on vacation. The first was a missed hand off between my wife and I at the San Diego Zoo, causing our beloved Nikon to smash on the ground, rendering it useless (who missed the baton is still a matter of contention!). Then, last month, some great "playing in the surf" pictures played it a little too close. One Caribbean wave later, and our trusted Casio became unusable for the rest of the trip (and this happened on day 1, no less).

Two cameras down, I did what any logical consumer would do: I bought a waterproof, shockproof camera. My family would no longer tremble at dropping cameras or quake at the sight of water. We had actually bought a disposable camera on our last vacation to take pictures underwater, but now we can use our digital camera instead! Visions of yearly snorkeling vacations danced in our head.

Until the smartest person in the family, my 7-year-old son, asked, "Dad, is the camera lightening proof?"

I realized that I was acting like most companies do; preparing for last year's disaster, trying to immunize myself from things I knew could go wrong. My son, instead, was imagining things we'd never encountered before. He was preparing for the next thing, not the last thing.

It's a good challenge for a company. I don't know of many who are trying to imagine future disasters. I remember I once recommended that in a company I worked in, and everyone labeled me "negative."

Social media, though, has brought a new urgency to crisis communication. Just look at what happened to NestlÇ, Southwest, United, etc., etc., ad nauseum (which is Latin for "it makes you sick"). Contingency planning, and imagining all of the negative possibilities, has huge economic upsides for companies. If you're prepared for one of these catastrophes, you'll come out of it quicker, looking better and saving your company money.

While it's good to cover yourself with different types of insurance for what you know, take some time thinking about what you don't know.

In the mean time, does anyone know of a lightening proof digital camera?


04/03/2010 When is a Community not a Community?

From the American Heritage Dictionary
com˙mu˙ni˙ty  (kə-myōō'nĭ-tē)  n.
a. A group of people having common interests: the scientific community; the international business community.
b. A group viewed as forming a distinct segment of society: the gay community; the community of color.
c. Similarity or identity: a community of interests.
d. Sharing, participation, and fellowship.
Social media touts itself on the ability to bring together communities. When this is people driven, people creating and populating the online community themselves with a vested interest in the survival and growth of the community, it tends to succeed. When a brand or organization builds a community (of customers, fans or groups which it might serve) the bigger question for me is: is this really a community?

I'm struggling with this question as I see groups of people with common interests and fairly common goals but who I don't see acting as a "community." As I put this through the lens of social media, my problem is that I define community as a combination of the definitions above, with the last (sharing) being critical. If people aren't really interested in interacting with each other, can we really call them a community?

The first definition of a community (not listed above) is people living in close proximity to each other. However, community comes from the Latin communitatem, meaning fellowship. The Fellowship of the Ring was about a common bond and goal.

As we talk about community today, we have that same meaning in mind. We want to bring people together in a fellowship, where they can help each other, and themselves. Just because I live next to someone doesn't mean I feel a bond of community with him or her.

Some brands and organization find that creating communities online to allow people to interact can lead to some very empty spaces. The intent is good, and the information they provide is valuable. But what many struggle with is to show how active participation in the community helps both the individual and the organization. If the organization provides valuable material to individuals, but doesn't depend on individual participation to make that material better, what's the incentive to participate? Obviously there needs to be a much clearer value transaction that being part of the community benefits the individual.

Take Apple or Dell's support forums, for example. The organization has a clear interest in solving peoples' problems. However, they've incentivized computer pros to participate by rewarding them with points and anointing them as gurus. The individual benefits personally from participation and the organization benefits by having customers help each other. It's a true support community.


Let me put it another way: In any relationship, one-way transactions don't build lasting bonds. If someone always gives and another always receives, it's not a healthy relationship.

Instead of rushing to build brand communities and hoping that everyone will participate with lots of energy, brands need to ponder whether they have a community or what kind it really is. If it's just people who live close to each other, brands shouldn't expect a lot in return.

If, on the other hand, they want sharing and fellowship, brands need to take the time to understand and deliver on the needs of its community members to make sure participation has its rewards. And it's not clear that a Foursquare badge or a Facebook fan listing is enough.
04/01/2010 Miracle on Digital Street?

I've enjoyed reading Trendwatching's latest report "Brand Butlers: Why serving is the new selling." For those of you who haven't read it yet, do so. It puts forward a good customer focused perspective on marketing. In short, Brand Butlers provide valuable services aimed at helping make their customers' lives simpler. Rather than trying to cross-promote goods, brands, with their wealth of knowledge, can provide an array of services that may or may not have anything to do with what they sell.

As I read it, it reminded me of an old, favorite movie of mine "Miracle on 34th Street." It's the one where Natalie Wood plays the little girl. Macy's Department Store hires a holiday Santa to boost its toy sales, only to find out that they've hired the "real" Santa Claus. The kicker comes when Santa brazenly tells a child that Macy's doesn't have the toy he wants, but that archrival Gimbels does.

The boss is aghast! As he tries to fire Santa for sending customers away, he sees that customers actually like Macy's more because of the service Santa provides. He's helping them have a successful holiday. Is Santa a Brand Butler?

I think you'd have to say he's the first Brand Butler. He speaks from a position of generosity and he always puts the customers' needs ahead of his own (or his bosses). Santa realizes that, in the end, this strategy always pass off. It may take time, but it pays off.

The problem is that most of us, at work, have short-term goals our bosses measure us by. And it continues up the food chain, all the way up to a short-term perspective on profit and stock prices.

Brand Butlers prove their value over time. While some may take a short time to prove their  value, other services may take a lot longer to do so. Unless we take a longer-term perspective on customer service and interactions, providing value in services may go the way of any of the latest fads.

I wonder, though, has any brand really gone out of business by having a long-range view and providing great service without reducing the quality of their products? I'm having a hard time thinking of one.

Brand Butler or Brand Santa. It sounds like a winning strategy to me.

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