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7 posts from August 2010

08/31/2010 Social Sinatra

I read a blog post by Mack Collier the other day that got me thinking. His post pointed out that having a social strategy and execution plan, while good, isn't enough. The post outlines a few bad backlash examples that resulted in companies not acting socially (or acting socially too late).

While you can help a company DO things in social media, can you help or train them to act socially? Can you help them BE social? It reminds me of the old joke:

Descartes: To Do is to Be
Sartre: To Be is to Do
Sinatra: DoBeDoBeDo

I'm with Sinatra this time, as it relates to social media. Here's why:

Some companies with a social strategy and execution end up worrying endlessly about follower counts, editorial calendars and metrics dashboards. Don't get me wrong; all of those are good things to pay attention to. The challenge is that having social checklists and Doing things doesn't always get companies what they want: loyal and engaged customers. That's because, ultimately, people want to engage socially with other people, not editorial calendars or timed tweets.

Acting socially isn't overly difficult for real people. It's doing all those things our parents and teachers tried to teach us when we were growing up. Things like:

  • Pay attention and listen to what other people are saying
  • Be polite, but stand up for what you believe
  • Say something nice
  • Don't just stand there; do something!
  • And, act toward others the way you'd like people to act toward you

The problem is that most organizations don't act that way. Even if the Supreme Court thinks corporations are individual people, I don't. So how do you help companies BE social?

I'll go back to my favorite quote of the year: You can't change beliefs, but you can change behavior.

Start by helping the groups responsible for social within a company to act socially internally. Help them set up systems and processes for listening to each other, and to listen to their fellow employees. Whether your doing this through regular meetings or virtual workspaces, it's not a difficult task to accomplish.

Make sure they spend lots of time listening and connecting with customer service people, who actually spend their day talking with real customers! I know; it's an amazing concept, but you can't be social without your customers.

Help different groups (or one group) figure out what they really stand for. I don't mean profits and business growth, I mean help them figure out what they can provide that actually helps other people. This is a great exercise and if done correctly gives your social Being a raison d'àtre (nod to Sartre).

Practice your niceness by highlighting employees who've gone above and beyond. It's a little easier to be nice to people you know. So start with email shout outs, or something that shows the company that it's a good thing to spread the love. Moving this over to social and customers will feel natural after this.

Finally, have each employee keep track of every time they've helped either another employee or customer. I don't know if you can teach helping, but you can make people aware of when they are, or are not, doing it. The whole point is to get people thinking: when in doubt, help someone. When you can translate that into your social media being, you win.

If companies can start acting that way internally, and then bring that to social media, they will BE social. They will treat their customers and other people in a way they hope to be treated themselves by other companies. Most importantly, they will act as people, working for a company, rather than as a company, staffed by people.

And that's social.



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08/18/2010 Can We Stop Growing?

This month's news about Magic Hat Brewery's sale to North American Breweries was a shock to us Vermonters. Magic Hat is one of my favorite brands, favorite beers and employs some of my favorite people. Now this original and quirky company risks losing its local control and connection, through its sale to an (to me) unknown entity. I don't really know any of the details of the how and why of the sale, but from what I've read online and off, it seems that Magic Hat's purchase of Pyramid Breweries on the West Coast had something to do with this.

If that's so, then the need for growth may have resulted in loss of control.

This isn't unique: Ben & Jerry's faced a similar issue almost a decade ago which led to their sale to Unilever. I hope that Magic Hat retains some of the same cultural control and freedom that Ben & Jerry's was able to keep.

But this episode and the relentless pursuit of corporate growth witnessed in quarterly earnings reports has me wondering:

When is enough enough? Does business size and growth matter more than quality and innovation? On the consumer side, do we have to keep on spending more and more so that our whole capitalist economy doesn't collapse?

I'm not sure this is really a marketing question, unless it pertains to a strategy of customer satisfaction vs. customer acquisition. It does tie into sustainability and business issues, though.

In today's economy, we should focus on quick, smart and connected rather than large, unwieldy, and generic. Just as major league baseball is trying to end its shameful steroids era, businesses should look to wean themselves from their adulation of unrestricted business growth hormones.

Smaller and even medium is sometimes better than big.


08/17/2010 Why Did You Start Your Business?

Mitch Joel gave a great talk at our Burlington Social Media Breakfast club lunch the other day. He emphasized how companies and individuals who want to engage in social media should focus less on what they want and more on what they're customers want. The businesses should try to provide worthwhile content and information so that people seek them out, rather than the other way around.

It reminded me of Adrian Ho's #btvsmb talk in February where he talked about how people want value from brands not relationships. 

In business, we have wants, needs, goals and budgets. We want people to X in Y amount of time, in order to hit our sales numbers. It's a very inward looking process. And it made me remember an old question I used to ask both for-profit and non-profits clients:

"Why did you start your business or organization? What was it you were looking to provide people with, that they didn't already have?"

Usually, it started with some thing to make people's lives easier, or to help out a community, or to provide support for a group of people. Usually, the product or service the entrepreneur developed sprang from fulfilling that need. And it's what drove the early entrepreneurs and non-profits to put so much of their energies into the business.

Later on, after the organizations developed the products and services that actually helped people, the focus shifted completely to selling these things. It's how organizations stay in business. But in shifting the focus from the people it's helping to the product they're selling, can the business can lose the value that once inspired them.

When I hear the Mitch Joels or Adrian Hos of the world speak, I think its time for companies to go back to their essences and to start talking about, creating content about and providing the value about why they exist. They exist to make our lives somewhat easier or somewhat better in a particular way. So talk about that and expand on that. 

I worked with a woman who invented the first federally approved airplane seatbelt for toddlers and lap kids. She started her company because she wanted her grandchildren to fly safely. There's a great story how Bob Stiller of Green Mountain Coffee drank a cup of coffee in Waitsfield and decided that everyone should have the pleasure of drinking great java.  The business came after the desire to change something for the better.

When a business has its roots in making things better, there should be stories and values to share. Some of those might be about your product but some might not be. Alcohol companies seem to have an unfair advantage here, since they're mostly about people relaxing and having fun, and there are lots of ways to create and share interesting content about fun with other people.

But what about businesses that have started from a strictly financial standpoint? When someone goes into business because they know how to make widgets cheaper or they simply see a market opportunity, do they really have any value to share? Maybe. I'd like to see Walmart provide content on how to do and buy EVERYTHING more cheaply, since that's seems to be why they went into business. A blog called The Frugal Bugle? I know people in the marketing business who have no interest in marketing; they're just good business people. I'm not sure what they have to share is of much interest to others, though.

Another question is whether brand agencies help or hurt this process. If you really don't have anything of value, brand agencies try to create one, however tenuous. That might be a good, if somewhat inauthentic tactic. Other times brand agencies but so much stuff on top of the original business value that the original focus is unrecognizable, or they boil the original value down to a generic and meaningless emotion that goes no where.

If you're struggling with what to share, go back to your beginnings. Ask yourself why your organization exists and how it was supposed to help people.  Don't think about your products or services; think about one group of people helping another group of people. Once you get to that place, you'll probably find that you can provide and share lots of valuable content with interested people.


08/14/2010 BTVSMB - Mitch Joel Video

My friend Seamus Walsh from VAZT has done it again and recorded another BTVSMB for us. He's recorded all of the #BTVSMB events I've put on, including C.C. Chapman & Todd Defren, Adrian Ho, and now Mitch Joel. I'm still digesting the event and will have a blog post in a day or two with some thoughts.

In the mean time, enjoy the show, especially those of you who couldn't make it.


08/09/2010 Mitch Joel - BTVSMB Social Media Lunch 2

Great article today in the Burlington Free Press on the Mitch Joel Social Media lunch.

You can register directly on the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce page (a co-sponsor of the event) by visiting this page.


08/04/2010 The Microsite Strikes Back!

There are a lot of words online talking about the death of the microsite and the need to move away from big, splashy campaign sites with a short shelf life. Well rumors of its demise have been greatly exaggerated. The other day I ran into two of them that made me feel like its 2007 all over again.

Vibram Five Fingers makes a very interesting, very buzz worthy product: A shoe or a foot cover (I'm not really sure how to describe it, they call it footwear) to run and exercise in. Their theory, backed up by many authors and scientists, is that the human body evolved to run barefoot and that all of these fancy running shoes with their super-duper technology actually make our legs and knees hurt more. For them, it's about running bare (foot).

Vibram recently launched a microsite called You Are The Technology. It features two attractive, nude models with text written all over their body. You can zoom in to read the slogan-tattoos (sloganoos?) that supposedly reinforce Vibram's message. There's really not much more to do here. The only real challenge with this site is to see if you can sneak peaks at hidden body parts, but I'm not sure the aim of the footwear is to bring out the voyeur in us.


There's not even a link back to the site, or anything interactive here aside from scrolling and zooming. There's no social media connection, even though Vibram is socially active. This microsite might not be dead, but it has a pretty low pulse. I have to admit; I'm surprised people still make things like this.

What did Vibram's Facebook fans think? They barely talked about it, because they're too busy telling Vibram how much they love their product. So, does this help, or just not hurt?

Crispin Porter also launched a microsite for Old Navy, The Old Navy Booty Reader. Again, it's throwback time. CP&B (can I still call them B?) looks to combine old hits using funky horoscopish personalization (CP&B's and Method's Come Clean or The Profiler) with the old product recommender. Very 2006.

Maybe the biggest difference is the use of the Web cam to take pictures of your butt. Seriously, it may sound exciting to some, but it's really not. Maybe if they asked us to take our clothes off like the Vibram models, it would add a little edge (although that would be off brand, right?).

The recommendations are pretty straightforward. Old Navy is asking you to create a proportional map of your derriere (hips, butt, thighs) to create a shape. It then matches the shape to a product line of jeans, and they have a lot of options. I wonder if there was an easier way to get there, or if the idea is that taking the pictures makes the recommendations more "real."

It's too bad they're not doing something like this in store as well, where you can have the mirror measure you and "measure" your shape, while recommending product.

But they did get a discussion going on Facebook that was all over the place.

Maybe the microsite isn't dead. But I'm looking for the evolution and I'm not seeing much here. I'm sure these sites were fun to concept and create. They just feel a little out of step with the times. Maybe I'm looking at these too early in the cycle and they'll connect with subsequent pieces. I hope so.

08/02/2010 What Can't You Give Up?

Every once in a while I pass by my old friend David on the bike path while out for a daily run. David's an avid runner and even though he's almost 80 now, he still runs every day and still runs a leg of the relay in the Vermont Marathon.

Now running while you're almost 80 might be enough for a blog post, but that's not the real story. 

Several years ago, while running the full marathon, David collapsed and almost died. At about mile 8, his heart stopped beating and he fell to the ground amidst a crowd of runners. Lucky for David, a number of doctors and residents where also running near him, and they stopped and got his heart beating again.

Notice I didn't say "saved his life?" That's because he was still touch and go while he was in the hospital over the next several days. Actually, I think that his wife, an amazing person, willed him back to life. 

After all of that drama, intensity and near death experience what did David do? He signed up to run 1/2 the marathon the next year. His family did everything they could to talk him out of it, but David insisted and he's continued to run ever since.

Even though it came close to killing him, running is something David obviously can't live without. I guess he feels that if he stops, he gives up something that's makes his life worth living.

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