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9 posts from July 2010

07/29/2010 It's the People, Stupid

I've been reading the latest 360i whitepaper "Twitter & the Consumer" this week. It's a study about how people use Twitter and what they talk about. The part of the report that seems to interest most people is the data showing that people aren't using Twitter to talk about brands, they use it instead to talk to each other.

I'm wondering: Is this really news?

Marketers and brands tend to be incredibly self-centered. I'm not sure if it's due to the power of the late broadcast era, or whether it's due to the type of people who tend to work in the industry. Whatever the reason, the era of the self-centered marketer is over, that's what I see as the true message of this study.

It's too bad we've already labeled this next era as Social Media. It's really People Media. Of the people, by the people, for the people. 

This doesn't mean that marketers have no role to play here. It means that marketers and brands have to show up as people. The ones who do it best are the ones who have either put themselves out front as a person first and a marketer second (Scotty Monty, Frank Eliason), or those brands who identify quickly who's actually doing the talking and tweeting (Zappos, Best Buy). The ones who do it well act like people too, which means they listen and converse, rather than spout.

I must have quoted Adrian Ho a dozen times here in the last six months, but he nailed it: "People don't want relationships with brands, they want relationships with other people."

The 360i Twitter study puts numbers behind this. We might be tweeting about the silliest, inane or personal topic, but we're tweeting for us and our friends and acquaintances, not for brands.

If brands and marketers want to succeed, they'll have to remember: It's the People, Stupid.

07/26/2010 5 Reasons You Shouldn't Have a Facebook Contest

I talk with a lot of brands, companies and organizations that have just started a social media program.  It seems as if every one who's just launched its Facebook page wants to immediately have a Facebook contest. Somehow the idea of the contest carries this glorious idea of a huge rush of passionate fans that will participate and then keep hanging around. 

Facebook contests can be fun and successful, but they're not a panacea. Here are some reasons why you shouldn't hold a Facebook contest, at least not right away.

1. It's not a good way to build fans - Most of the time, new brands on Facebook want to rush to a contest as a way of building up a fan base on Facebook. The intrinsic problem is that most of them use their social media channels, all of which have low volume, to drive traffic to the contest. Usually, these contests don't see a lot of activity.

Having a contest on social media usually won't get people to line up to your Facebook page. If you have a big email list, or generate lots of traffic to your site, you could use those to promote the contest. But if you have those, you've probably used those to announce that you have a Facebook page in the first place. And if that hasn't worked to drive traffic, a contest gimmick usually won't either.

If you can convince someone to come and fan you just because of the contest, you need to ask yourself if that's the right type of fan you want.

2. The contest itself isn't that fun - There are a ton of "send us your picture" contests out there today. While that might be easy, it's not very interesting. Yes, you've created a low barrier for participation, but the content you've gathered isn't really worth talking about. Remember, popular contests gain attention when the user-generated content gets talked about or passed around. One of the driving ideas about contests is that people will spread the word about them, allowing you to grow your fan base.

If you're not asking for something interesting or even a little odd, chances are people will be less inclined to talk about it and perhaps less inclined to actually participate in the contest itself.

A contest is not a substitute for a good idea. 

 3. The payoff is insignificant - If the contest isn't fun, let's hope there's a big prize. Usually there isn't one. Remember, if you're using this to build your fan base, then a big honking prize might go a long way. If your prize is nice, but not that great, or if winning it requires you to spend money on something else (I'm thinking travel here), there's not much of an incentive to play. Again, it gets to the idea of word of mouth as well. If you can have a cool prize that people will talk about, you could have a winner on your hand.

Usually, though, the prize isn't really something special. Instead it's something that's easy for the brand to procure. 

 4. You're not talking to people who are passionate - Holding a contest for the large group of people who are passionate about your brand could be a good thing. Most Facebook contests, especially for new brands, hope to attract people who either know little about them or who haven't moved into the loyal customer fold. Without the emotional connection to you, a contest is just another thing and it's difficult to ask people to use your brand in their user-generated content. 

The other mistake is not talking about something people are actually passionate about. People are passionate about their pets, their cars (sometimes) and lots of other things. At least some people are. Most aren't though. If you're talking about cars to people who aren't passionate about theirs, you're wasting your time.

But finding out what people are passionate about, and who those people are takes time. And contests are usually shortcuts.

5. The cost/benefit is too high - A number of Facebook contests now use apps that ask for access to your personal information. Most of these are fairly benign - they want you to be able to use your Facebook photos, to tell your friends when you've participated in the contest, and to be able to update you regularly.

The problem is that if someone doesn't already have a trusted relationship with your brand, you're asking a lot of them upfront before you've delivered anything. Remember that your Facebook contest is supposed to feel as if it's a benefit to them, even if you get more out of it. Once you step over that invisible line, people will flee.

It's the same with the information you ask for from your participants. If you ask for too much, and the gain is too little, people will back off. Asking for access to people's Facebook information is a little like asking them if you can read a few pages of their diaries.

When you come right down to it, a contest is not a substitute for hard work. If you're looking to build a loyal base of Facebook fans, you still need to prove your value to the people you want to communicate with. Once you've created that value, that's when you could start thinking about a contest.

Want a good example of a Facebook contest? When Starbucks launched its Via instant coffee, they let people create a coffee mug with a photo from Facebook. When they entered into the contest, they received a $1 coupon to try the new product. It was fun (creating a mug with your mug on it), easy, and had an instant reward. It helped that Starbucks already had a huge group of passionate fans too.

You don't have to be Starbucks, though, to be successful. You just need to think through why you're doing the contest in the first place.

07/22/2010 #BTVSMB: Social Media Lunch with Mitch Joel

On August 12th, join us for a #BTVSMB event:  Lunch and a Conversation with Mitch Joel, author of the book Six Pixels of Separation, a business and marketing best seller. Mitch will lead a discussion as he unravels this fascinating world of new media--but does so with a brand new perspective that is driven by compelling results.

Mitchjoel Each attendee will receive a copy of Mitch’s book Six Pixels of Separation.

Mitch Joel is President of Twist Image in Montreal. In 2008, Mitch was named Canada's Most Influential Male in Social Media, and has shared the stage with former President of the United States, Bill Clinton, Anthony Robbins, Tom Peters and Dr. Phil.

This #BTVSMB event is sponsored by Digalicious, Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce, PMG, and the Burlington Free Press.

This #BTVSMB event will be held at the Hilton Hotel in Burlington, Vermont from 12 -1:30 PM. We’ll serve a buffet lunch. Join us for this summers social media event! 

Attendance is $55/person including lunch and a book.
Where: Hilton Hotel in Burlington
When: 12 PM - 1:30 PM on August 12th

Click here to register for the event.

Praise for Six Pixels of Separation:

“A first-rate debut by Mitch Joel, Six Pixels of Separation shows us how our world of commerce has changed, using real-world business examples and written with the entrepreneur and business person in mind.”
 Chris Anderson, author of The Long Tail

 “Mitch takes you on a detailed, fun tour of what it means to connect online – with your customers, your colleagues and even your competitors. If you’ve been waiting to catch up on what’s been going on, here’s your chance.”
 Seth Godin, author of Linchpin

 “For anyone looking to understand the new media landscape, Six Pixels of Separation is the ultimate guidebook.”
 Daniel Pink, author of A Whole New Mind.

07/20/2010 Is Broadband Important to Your Business?

Several months ago, the FCC announced that it was formulating a national broadband policy. The U.S. was the last industrialized nation to do so, showing itself as a surprising laggard for our technically innovative country. Personally, I was encouraged that we had finally taken this step.

This week Wall Street Journalist Walter Mossberg on the blog The Hill commented that, while he was glad we were moving forward with a broadband policy, he felt it was too vague and too focused on rural areas. 

Here's the money quote:
"There are plans and services that are sold in this country as broadband which wouldn't even be allowed to be labeled broadband in a lot of other countries they're so slow," Mossberg said. "And yet, at the very same time we pay more per unit of broadband speed than anyone else. So there's something wrong in my opinion."

We're behind in broadband. We're falling behind in mobile web (read Jeff Jarvis' great rant at AT&T and mobile). With every business more and more dependent on connectivity, you'd think that we'd see a more concerted effort to build a better infrastructure. With so many social media influencers gaining power, you'd think we'd see some type of movement to make better broadband in the U.S. into a reality.

But I'm not seeing any of that. Businesses are having a tough time and are turning more anti-government. Social media influencers are dizzy with the smell of Old Spice.

I'm not sure this is the most important issue of the day but it's a critical one for our country's economic development and innovation. As we're approaching election season, how many of the politicians running for office and asking for your votes have spoken about the national broadband policy even once? 

I think it's time for us "influencers" to mobilize about something that's critical for our businesses and our clients' businesses. 

Who's in?

07/16/2010 When Lots of Customers = Bad

I had a strange experience in Dulles Airport two weeks ago on my re-entry to the US. No not Homeland Security. We arrived from Spain, filled with World Cup fervor, and wearing our Spanish soccer shirts just in time for the quarterfinal match between Spain and Paraguay. We couldn't have planned it better.

We stumbled out of customs in Terminal C and made a beeline for the nearest bar or restaurant with a TV. We hit Tidwater Landing with three flat screens showing sports. Jackpot! Well, not quite. Two of the TVs showed bowling while the third showed golf. When I asked if we could turn one of them to the live World Cup match, the waiter told me that the next bar was showing the game and encouraged me to go there.

We scooted over to Firkin & Fox. They also had three flat screens, but this time two showed golf and one showed bowling. Again, I asked the bartender if he could turn on the game. The bartender looked at me and told me the bar didn't get ABC. When I questioned that, he said that the cable package in the airport didn't include ABC. He was clearly lying; as he backed away, face turning red he said that they wouldn't turn the game on.

Seriously, at this point I was wondering whether workers at Dulles were suffering from some mass dementia or something. The family raced back to Tidewater Landing where I did what anyone would do in that situation: I tried to bribe the bartender to turn one of the bowling TVs to soccer. Turning down $25, he told me that management had informed them not to turn on the World Cup.

"You have to realize," he informed me "that 9,000 people are coming through this terminal. 1,000, mostly Americans, don't care about the World Cup. The other 8,000 are going to crowd into this restaurant and drive away business. Every time we turn on a World Cup game, business goes down. People crowd around and keep customers away."

Scratching my head, I upgraded my ESPN app on my iPad so we could at least listen to the game while we left terminal C and headed down terminal D. About 2/3 of the way through the first half, we found Gordon Biersch Brewery. They had three TVs on, all showing the game. The placed was packed. There was a crowd standing outside watching and waiting to grab a table or a bar seat. At half time, we nabbed a table, ordered a bunch of food and beverages and watched the rest of the game. 

The place was doing a huge amount of business. More people were stopping by to see what was going on. The beer was flowing (as were the profits).

I had to wonder what kind of restaurant has 8,000 hungry or thirsty people standing around and yet can't make any money. Even if you sold the loiterers 2 cokes each, you'd be doing pretty well. Why is it that these places couldn't adapt to something out of the ordinary? I saw local bars in Burlington trying to draw people to World Cup games for that exact reason.

Maybe one of the reasons is that airport bars and restaurants are one of the least responsive business models out there. They're used to captive customers with little choice who have to pay exorbitant prices. The businesses aren't interested in adapting to changing customer demands because they're the only games in town.

I look at this and think: If you can't make money on 8,000 potential customers using a little innovation, you don't deserve to survive as a business.

At least Spain won.


07/13/2010 Digalicious - 2 Years of Independence

This week marks the second anniversary of going out on my own and the start of my firm Digalicious. I left my agency job, where I had worked for 9 years and where I was partner, for something new, something unknown. Two years ago, I had started no clients and no immediate prospects. I had a nervous wife who wondered how we would pay our mortgage. And two months later, the entire economy crashed. It was one of the best decisions I've ever made. These two years have been two of the happiest, most successful years I've had.

Going out on your own is a tough decision. It's one I, and others, agonized over making. Here are some of the things I've learned along the way: 


Only work for generous people - When you work for generous people, you grow and learn. This makes you more valuable to your company and better at what you do. Generous people make you better. Everyone else keeps you the same or makes you worse. Who are you working for? I think you know the score pretty quickly. Remember, this is all about your career.

For most of us, there's never a perfect time to leave - When we start feeling ready for something new, most of us envision the dream job showing up and sweeping us off our feet, where we live happily ever after. It's probably the same fantasy most people have about meeting a partner. In reality, that almost never happens. You might find another job, but the idea of triumphaly marching in and proclaiming your success as you leave is mostly that; a fantasy. For those of us leaving to go out on our own, it's usually worse. We have to take a leap, and our safety net is usually not as big as we'd like it to be. If that's what's holding you back, you probably will never leave.

People want to help - One of the stunning revelations I found once I had gone out on my own was that people are happy to help you out. You have to reach out, connect and ask for help, but once you do, it's surprising how helpful people can be. I found that connecting with people, even ones I hadn't seen in a year, resulted in further contacts, some of which resulted in work. It pointed out to me the power of connections and ricochets. If you keep things moving and connected, results usually follow. Which lead me to my next insight:

Connect other people - When I went out on my own, I was looking to tap into opportunities through my network. What I found, though, was that more often than not, I was helping the people I reached out to. I was either putting them in touch with people who could further their career or business, or I was advising them on ideas around one of their clients. It was one of those situations where I realized that there wasn't any business in it for me and that was okay. I became the connector instead. I'm a big believer in what comes around, goes around. Connecting people also got me out of my own world a bit and made my network more valuable.

Bring people together - Workplaces have one big, built in advantage: there are people around you, daily, interested in the same things you are (well, sometimes that's true).  When you're an Indy, that time to connect in real life and bounce ideas and idle banter around isn't free anymore. I always complained that Burlington didn't have a vibrant digital community. But now that I was on my own, the lack of community impacted me more. So, I set out to do my bit to pull that community together. I set up informal idea sharing evenings with a wide range of people, and ultimately launched the Burlington Social Media Breakfast series. Both of those helped connect me to others, and connect everyone with each other. There was no one telling me that this wasn't billable time when I was working on this. It was simply the right thing to do.

Social Media is my water cooler - I was lucky in the sense that when I left, social media was just starting to explode. I ended up using Twitter, primarily, as a way to connect with some of the smartest people in the world. Social media has expanded my professional network both inside of and outside of Vermont, in a way that would have been impossible previously.

Get your name out there - Self-promotion and PR are a good thing. I used to do a lot of it for my interactive work at my old agency, but on my own I had to think of different angles. I started actively blogging and was lucky enough to get a slot as a commentator on our local NPR station, VPR (I had done interactive work for them over the years, so they knew who I was). The publicity and positioning has helped me pick up some interesting clients over the last two years.

Create opportunities with past colleagues - From a work perspective, the most rewarding effort was connecting with my past colleagues and work mates. Since I had signed a rather egregious NDA with a very litigious employer, picking up past clients was out of the question. Instead, I connected with former colleagues who were out on their own, or working for someone else. We've ended up supporting each other with work opportunities, some of the best I have. We have somewhat of a virtual agency among a few of us. I only wish this was a larger network. Soon, it will be.

Be careful with employer NDAs - As above, the NDA I signed was stupid. Even if I wasn't the only one, it's still limited some opportunity. Make sure the NDA limits your liability to intellectual property, rather than non-competes. Within a month of leaving, my former employer was threatening me with a frivolous lawsuit. As an independent starting out, we don't want to waste our time on money on lawyers, even if we're in the right. My advice is this: If an employer wants you to sign an NDA, make them pay for it. Ask the question: How much is this going to reduce my income if I sign and then leave?  When you've figured that out, that's the price the NDA is worth. Otherwise you lose.

Educate, educate, educate - When you go out on your own, chances are that you're going to have more time on your hands in the beginning when you're trying to build the business. That's your opportunity to learn as many new things as you can and to get on top of emerging trends. It's something that you usually never have enough time to do in a workplace. Make sure you take advantage of your open times to get smarter. If you can turn this into a habit, it will benefit you even when you're busy. Remember, as an independent, you can stay a step ahead of the bigger slower organizations by being on top of new opportunities. It's one of the reasons people will hire you.

Most of all stay optimistic. I love where I am right now, but I'm sure things will change over the next few years. I doubt I'll ever endure a "boss" again; I know I only want to work with people who are as focused and motivated as I am; I want to work with people from a wide range of geographic locations; and I want do work that pushes me and my clients.

Two years of my own business have taught me that there are huge opportunities available today, even in a time of economic downturn. The things that really matters are how determined and motivated you are individually.


07/09/2010 Digital Sustainability

At yesterday's BBA Mobile discussion, a number of companies impressed me by how they were building their mobile presence with pretty limited resources. What jumped out at me was how they re-used existing content or data by putting a mobile layer on top of it. Not only is that smart, it speeds up launching mobile marketing initiatives.

Russ Scully who owns the restaurant The Spot as well as a Web development firm (a handy combination) showed how he adapted his restaurants online ordering to a mobile Web site. While customers can now pre-order their breakfasts or lunch from their iPhone or Droid (and it even saves your previous orders), Russ and the staff can review orders and inventories mobily as well. He's simply taken the existing data structure from the Web and connected it to a mobile Web site.

Mike Hayes from Magic Hat Brewing (my favorite) showed how they were using mobile Web addresses and QR codes to connect packaging and labels (which they produce all the time) to existing Web or social media content (videos, Twitter, etc.). For Magic Hat it's a way to provide immediacy of connection to people consuming the product in the moment of consumption, through their mobile phone.

What struck me in these discussions was how both businesses weren't trying to build an array of new mobile "stuff." Instead, mobile was the device to connect to existing content. They re-used what they had already built. This seemed like a very sustainable strategy and one that we can learn from.

Old garbage now fills a lot of our digital atmosphere: zombied microsites, old blogs, vacant social media accounts. I wouldn't call it a dump (yet) but it reminds me of our Earth's orbit, now littered with remains of satellites and space ships. As this debris keeps rotating the earth, it poses a threat to new spacecraft.

While everyone pays attention to the idea of mobile apps, start thinking instead about your own digital sustainability. What material could you reuse to grow your mobile presence? How could you adapt some current materials (even shwag) to make it mobile? Right now, everything has the chance to become an interactive object, now that we have a networked mobile device in our hands. Signs, hats, shirts, labels, hangtags, and billboards, to name a few. Could you connect that to content, conversations or contests?

Although this discussion is about mobile, it applies to social media as well. Try to re-use, re-connect, and re-new what you already have, rather than building everything with new material. 

Perhaps you'll build a sustainable Web of engagement through digital technologies.

07/07/2010 How Good is Tweet Level at Predicting Influence?

MTV is apparently using the Edelman Digital tool Tweet Level to choose one of its next DJs. Their competition is using Tweet Level (TweetLevel) to gauge which contestant should have the greatest impact if chosen. While the tool is one of the elements used to gauge popularity, it's interesting that MTV is trying to get beyond things like number of followers (even if Tweet Level itself uses that measurement as one of its criteria).

TweetLevel isn't something new; there have been a number of different online tools to gauge Twitter power, such as Twitter Grader.  Actually, I'm not entirely sure why one is better than the other since in the tests I've done the results are actually quite close.

In any case, I decided to put Tweet Level to the test and compare its results with the voting on Social Media Day in Burlington. And no, I'm not doing this because I didn't win (as you'll see there was an unanticipated sleeper that was missed), but because I wanted to see if TweetLevel's automated system matched up with what people in Burlington actually said.

Here was the Burlington voting for Social Media Day:

King - Shay Totten
Throne pretenders - Rich Nadworny, Joe Mescher

Queen - Nicole Ravlin
Throne pretenders - Bridget Butler, Dana Freeman

Business - Small Dog Electronics
Throne pretenders - August First, Handy's Lunch

Non Profit - VPR
Throne pretenders - Echo Center, Cots

Here's who Tweet Level says has the most juice (higher is better)

@shaytotten 57
@rnadworny 54
@joemescher 47

@PMGNicole 55
@missmagpiefgs 51
@birddiva 49

@hellosmalldog 50
@augustfirst 49
@handyslunch 43

@vprnet 51
@voicesvt 45
@cotsvt 32

If you look at that, Tweet Level predicted who should have won, and they actually did! So far so good. It worked.

What did Burlington Tweeps miss? On the King side, both Michael Martine and Mitch Lieberman scored 60, higher than any of the King finalists. On the Queen side Lara Dickson matched Nicole with a score of 55, a tie. On the business side, Magic Hat scored a Burlington high of 66 (!) but that may not be fair since they're a big brand, at least by Vermont standards.

In looking at this, maybe TweetLevel is a good indicator of influence. It's certainly something I'll keep my eye on and look to use in various clients' social media marketing

07/06/2010 A Tale of Two Talkers

I have two good friends both of whom are going through different crises right now. The two have completely different approaches when it comes to talking about what they're going through. As I watch my friends deal with their issues, it seems to me that they represent two completely different social strategies. The results, not surprisingly, are very different.

One of my friends, let's call him J, is going through what I consider a very serious crisis. It's the kind that can turn your world upside down. We're talking big, big issues and decisions that are about to affect J and his entire family in real and tangible ways. And not always for the better.

J's approach is to not talk about it. He doesn't talk about it to us, and I get the impression that he talks only sparingly to his family. As J's friends watch this from afar, we're interested and concerned. We may not be able to do much, but we want to offer help. But when J hears that we're talking about his situation, he goes to great lengths to shut off our discussions.

J's social strategy, it seems, is to completely control the conversation on his terms. The key term here is control. He tries to cut off leaks and avoids discussions. In short, he's acting like a lot of companies when it comes to social media. You know the kind; the ones that communicate only through official channels, who try to tamp down employee leaks, and who rigidly control the conversation.

The problem is that J, right now, feels he has no support. He's actually voiced this on a number of occasions. He's right because he's never developed his network to support him. He's never asked anything and never encouraged participation. It's too bad, because J deserves support and if he'd played his cards differently, he'd have a lot of it. It's a lot like brands that find themselves in a crisis that's made worse because they haven't nurtured an online community to help them out when they need it.

My other friend T is also going through a crisis. T's crisis is serious for T, but it's nowhere on the level of J's crisis. It's a fairly normal crisis with some limited outcomes and choices. However, for T, this is a MAJOR crisis, one that means that T is talking about his crisis with everyone and every chance he gets. T has engaged his entire circle of friends to discuss this crisis non-stop and to pore over every detail and choice over and over again.

T's social strategy (talk often to everyone, then repeat) reminds me of many of the brands I listen to. Those are the brands that fill up our Facebook and Twitter streams with endless comments, so that by the end of the day we just want to turn them off. Which is unfortunate because every once in a while we want and need those comments.

T feels like he has the support of all of his friends. In the dispute T finds himself in, he feels confident that everyone agrees with his ideas. In reality, many of T's friends either don't agree with him or can't stand hearing about this issue anymore. From a social strategy standpoint, T's over-communication has given him far greater support than he might deserve, but has also turned off many friends so that when the "real" crisis hits, they won't be there.

It's often hard to find the right social balance between too much and too little. One way to look at finding it might be to examine where someone else might be able to help or contribute. In J's case there was a lot of missed opportunity due to little talk. In T's case there was a lot of opportunity in the beginning, but once that had passed, there was little anyone could add to a tired discussion. It was time to move on.

If you put it into the perspective of the listener and think about what you'd like them to do based on your discussion, you could find that sweet spot of how much you should talk. Because, at the end of the day, none of us want to be a T or a J.

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