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3 posts from January 2012

01/30/2012 #BTVSMB Social Hack

This Friday, February 3rd, the Burlington Social Media Breakfast series takes a new twist. We’re still bringing in great, smart, national speakers, like R/GA’s social and mobile executive creative director Richard Ting, and Design for America founder Liz Gerber.  As with our past events, we want to inspire area marketers and digital folk. 

We also want to do something beside listening, learning and networking. While that’s good, it doesn’t feel like it’s enough. So on Friday, we’re combining the inspiration part with a Social Hack. We’re going to focus our collective brainpower on a key issue in Vermont and see if we can come up with a mobile or social technology solution to help.

You can’t do that without some smart, creative people around the table.  Luckily that’s what we have. Between 60 and 70 of us, with designers, developers and marketers from some of the most innovative companies in Vermont, will spend the day trying to hack a social issue. We have marketers and developers from My Web Grocer, Select Design, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters and Burton. We’re doing this event together with Champlain College’s emergent media center so we’ll have MFA and gaming students working with us as well.

Friday’s event is one of the smaller ones we’ve had, from a participant standpoint. But it should be the largest one from an idea standpoint. At the end of the day we’ll choose the best idea. Champlain College will look to fund and produce the idea so that we can give it to the people of Vermont to use.

My hope, though, is that there are a number of other ideas where people say, “screw it, this one was really the best, so I’m going to go create it on my own!”

Actually, that’s really the point of this #BTVSMB. We, like a lot of other organizations, want to make Vermont a better place for entrepreneurs and technical/creative people. We don’t have a lot of embedded industries here to drive that part of the economy. We also don’t have a natural feeder city for economic development, the way, say Boston supports southern New Hampshire, or the way Denver fed Boulder. The Montreal connection isn’t really working for us.

So we’re going to have to innovate and build our way out of this ourselves. I think the most exciting part of the event is the connections between all of these smart people; most have never met each other before. Typical Vermont! Hopefully we can sustain and support this day of creation and random connections with more events like this.

Actually, this event connects back to the first #BTVSMB. Back in June of 2009, Todd Defren and C.C. Chapman spoke to a packed house at Champlain College. Afterwards, we regrouped and worked at helping the non-profit Grounds for Health develop social media ideas. I think it’s important for those of us in the social marketing business to spend time using our ideas for people who need it, rather than those who just need us to help them sell things.

The idea for doing the hack came from a number of personal inspirations. Back in the summer I was one of the judges for My Web Grocer’s Vermont Hackathon. It was a very cool, odd collection of people and ideas. It was very different from what I’m used to seeing here in Vermont. I loved it.

The Cusp Conference in Chicago also inspired me around risk, design and social issues. It simply was the best conference I’ve ever been to. I left with the desire to have that same type of energy and passion at a Vermont event. I also met Liz Gerber there who turned out to have gone to the same high school and college as I did.

I also spent time talking to Edward Boches about the event. My goal was to get Edward to come up here but this time, #brandbowl got in the way. In any event, my brief, intermittent discussions with Edward helped me formulate the event both conceptually and practically. With a little luck, we’ll get him up here next time.

I’m glad to partner with Champlain College again. I think their Emergent Media and Gaming programs are some of the best-kept secrets in the industry. I believe that very soon, they’ll be on the level of Boulder Digital Works and Hyper Island. 

If you get a chance to come to this Friday’s #BTVSMB social hack, great. If not, keep your eyes open for more of these types of event throughout 2012, although various organizations will probably take turns hosting them.

01/24/2012 Kill Them With Kindness

It’s election season and in the U.S. we’re getting ready for a good solid year of negative advertising. It’s sad that it works so well. The negativity so easily spreads to the social channels. There we end up with a cacophony of anger and insults rather than any interesting interaction. As a result, one ends up disliking all of the candidates (which may be a good description of what’s happening with the GOP voters this year).

But what about brand and product advertising? Does negative advertising work there as well? Most of the negative advertising we see today is clearly aimed at young males. We usually see competing products or behavior painted as weak and mostly feminine (think car and beer commercials). 

One notable exception was the oft-discussed “I’m a Mac” campaign where Apple instead killed Microsoft with kindness. This unexpected, slightly patronizing but always empathetic spin probably did more to damage Microsoft’s reputation that all of it’s software bloat combined.

If you look at many of the smart brands that have integrated social media into their operations, you see the same thing. Rage, frustration and displeasure are met with patience, understanding and kindness. Most of the time, it works. There’s something about the social channel that brings out the complainer in all of us. Why that is would be great topic for a doctoral thesis.

So try this for a strategy: whether you’re arguing with someone about politics, sports or brands, or attempting to convince customers to use your products over your competitors, try killing them with kindness rather than with clubs and arrows. My guess is you’ll be both more successful and less frustrated.


01/19/2012 Sweden’s Social Experiment

For the last several weeks, the tourism and marketing arm of the Scandinavian country of Sweden has allowed various Swedish citizens to take over its Twitter account. Called “Curators of Sweden” The idea is:

“...that the curators, through their tweets, create interest and arouse curiosity for Sweden and the wide range the country has to offer. The expectation is that the curators will paint a picture of Sweden, different to that usually obtained through traditional media.”

The end goal, though unstated, is to attract more tourists to visit the country.

I’ve been following this experiment in social curation for a number of reasons. I’m always on the lookout for smart social marketing ideas. I also lived for many years in Sweden (and live with my half-Swedish family in Vermont). So I was very curious in how the curators would paint the picture of Sweden for the rest of us.

The first few weeks were disappointing. It seemed like @sweden started with a lot of check-ins at local bars and nightclubs, discussions about older American movies, and pictures of Sweden from the summer. There’s nothing wrong with those topics. What was missing, for me, was any sort of context.

I didn’t mind the bar hopping in Sweden (although I didn’t recognize any of the clubs from 15-20 years ago) but what I missed was any sort of description of the nightlife or the people in those places. There was no feel or texture. I liked the farmer tweeting from somewhere in the country but where was the story of what it was like to actually do that for a living in Sweden (did he get 5 weeks vacation, for example?). The discussion about watching American DVDs put me over the edge, though. How about talking about Swedish movies (yes, I’m biased, I used to work on them)?

More to the point, I wondered how any of those very topical tweets “painted a picture” or “aroused interest” for Sweden. They sounded just like very normal people from anywhere in the Western, industrialized world.

When a female Swedish priest took over, things started changing. She did a great job of describing different aspects and places in Sweden. Despite Twitter’s 140-character limitation, she allowed me to start recognizing places I’ve been, and imagine places I hadn’t been to. Leave it to a female Swedish priest. Everything about her set the bar high.

A Swedish female truck driver swiftly followed her. Another amazing opportunity, right? Again what followed lacked a story. I imagine that the truck driver gets to see more of the country of Sweden than 99% of Swedes. There’s very little of that here, yet. 

The big question for me is: Who curates the curators? We live in an era of citizen journalism and customer created content. The problem is that although we may be citizens, most of us are not journalists. Even though we are all customers, most of us have not developed our talents for content creation. 

Experiments and collaboration are great. But they need context. Social marketing will always trend to the banal and irrelevant without a story, structure or perspective to hold it together, and to hold our interest.

It’s as though social media has given rise to a corollary to Camus:

“I am, therefore I’m interesting.” Social has given us all a channel to prove it. But it still doesn’t make it true.

The biggest question is whether this campaign will increase tourism to Sweden or not. Based on the content to date, I would guess not. The uniqueness of the campaign, and even the publicity it generates, will probably not be enough to convince people, like Americans, to spend the big bucks to visit that beautiful country.

Marketing, social or not, needs to tell good stories. Perhaps the medium of Twitter is the culprit, limited as it is (sorry McLuhan). Perhaps Instagram was the way to go, since pictures always provide more context than words (although they’re not always better). I don’t really agree with either of those though.

Don’t get me wrong; I love the idea of Curators of Sweden. I just wished the execution lived up to the idea.  Johannes Karlsson, head of PR and Social Media at Visit Sweden tells me to give this experiment time. I will. 

I hope that @sweden can develop into a great social story telling platform that gives people the flavor of one of my favorite countries in the world.

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