Friday, September 30

Shifting To Social: How To Transition Into Social Media

How do you transition into social media as a profession? 

That was one of the questions a friend of mine asked me on Twitter a few weeks ago. But I couldn't answer on Twitter and have my answer make any sense in a 140 characters. It wouldn't work, not even with anecdotes, because the short answer isn't one most people would want to hear: You don't.

Keep in mind that I didn't say: You can't. You can. People do it all the time, and they come from a variety of backgrounds that range from accountant to zookeeper. Even in communication, a field that sometimes likes to claim ownership of the space, pros don't generally pursue social media as a career.

Even if they think they do, they don't. Not really. Most of them write about something other than social media. Relatively few set their sights on social media, and most of those that do are snake oil salespeople who peddle tips, tricks, and gimmicks. (There are very, very few exceptions.)

There is no path to social media; there are only paths to other places. 

Seth Godin writes about guerrilla marketing. Lee Odden writes about SEO. Brian Clark writes about copywriting, mostly from a direct mail viewpoint. Valeria Maltoni really writes about strategic communication. Any one of them could be called a social media pro, of sorts.

Even those that made up last year's list of social media blogs tend to have a bigger arch that far exceeds the social media sphere. One of the best examples of a bigger arch on that list is Danny Brown, who writes more about human business than social media. In fact, of all those listed, Jason Falls is probably the most hardcore about social media. (And he also happens to be one kind of exception, as I noted.)

They know, as do many people, a few things about social media. In fact, some of the best social media pros are so far removed from communication, you would never even think of them as social pros.

Jennifer Lawson is a great example. She writes about parenting, anecdotes, and sex, but usually not together. Serious Eats focuses on food. Perez Hilton centers on celebrity gossip (if you like that sort of thing). And even the people at Orabrush, covered earlier this week, prove that they have the mettle to get the job done.

They all understand social, even though AdAge wouldn't put them on a best marketing blogs list. Maybe they should. Almost all of them have better best practices than some of the people on the list. And the reason isn't always because they know social media as much as they have a passion for something.

The real challenge for public relations and social media pros. 

The hardest thing for many public relations and social media pros to grasp is that if the communicator doesn't have a passion for the subject, the program will fail or, at least, not be nearly as successful as it could be.

Managing a social media program, beyond the short term, requires a passion that is deeper than advertising, communication, or public relations. I even suspect this is the reason that most companies are not convinced social media deserves a significant portion of the marketing budget.

Most companies try to hire people who know how social media works, but never match those skill sets against a real passion for the company or product or topic. (Other companies, of course, hire interns.) But regardless of who they hire, they forget to put the emphasis on what matters most — passion.

I suspect there is another exception, but these people are increasingly rare. There are some communicators — writers, public relations pros, copywriters, etc. — who can find a passion for anything. Seriously. You could give them a stone off the street and they'll be inspired to write a sonnet.

I used to be one of them, before I started screening clients (especially those looking for social media help). Sure, in some cases, I can oversee a social media program and assign the work to a team member who has more long-term passion for a particular subject. But if no one can do it, then we have to pass.

You can even see it among people who used to write about social media or marketing daily. Many of them have dropped off or dropped back over the last year. There is no mystery. They didn't have the long-term passion for their own field. At least not the kind I'm talking about.

If they did have it, then it wouldn't matter how many people read their content on a daily basis. And ironically, if they didn't care how many people read their content, they might have had a following.

So to sum up this long answer, let's revisit the opening question. How do you transition into social media as a profession? You don't. You find things that you are passionate about and then build your social media experience around that subject, product, or company.

Wednesday, September 28

Automating Marketing: Customer Contradictions

According to the recent 2011 Mid-Year Marketing Trends Study by The Kern Organization, an Omnicom Agency, 48 percent of all marketers have implemented marketing automation this year.

The decision to automate likely lies in marketing's increased desire to capture a mega-avalanche of data about all online and offline sales activities. Simply put, more organizations are being held accountable to their budget and to demonstrate beneficial results of marketing initiatives.

"Today's best marketers have truly embraced the trend of marketing being pushed to drive measurable revenue results," Steven Woods, CTO of Eloqua and author of Digital Body Language. "By being tied to the delivery of qualified leads and new revenue, marketing begins to claim its seat at the strategic table."

But Woods might be wrong because there is an irony here, given what most organizations consider their priorities. Let's consider the other side of the coin (and pretend these companies have the right objectives).

According to Kern, organizational priories are: acquiring a large number of new customers, increasing retention rates and revenues among existing customers, and increasing the quality and and quantity of lead generation (which generally fulfills the first priority). And yet, few firms are asking if marketing automation truly delivers a return on investment. Maybe the hard return on investment is an illusion.

Does marketing automation make marketers smarter or dumber?

Some might argue, of course it does. You can tell by the numbers. You can tell by clicks, calls, and purchases. Effective campaigns are measurable because numbers, any numbers, go up and up and up.

But do they really? Maybe not. For example, there is a retailer that sends me periodic sales emails. It's obviously an automated system, and I have no doubt that someone is measuring the success of each e-mail based campaign. They may be making analytic decisions based on my clicks and purchases.

The truth is that they have no idea why I didn't make a purchase (and they would have no idea why I made a purchase if I had). In most cases, it has nothing to do with their campaign or the emails that arrived on 8-31, 9-2, 9-4, 9-12, and two on 9-25.

 Respectively, I didn't make a purchase because the first three ads arrived prior to my credit card statement, which carried incidental charges related to our last vacation. The middle one landed on a Monday, which always means a fuller inbox. And the last two? I was too busy to read the first; and I was thinking about how much paint I need for the family room when the second one arrived.

 Marketing analytics will never tell them this. But I am sure, somewhere, someone is racking their brain to guess why I (and all the other collective people like "me") didn't respond to their sale. I can almost see their guesswork in the later advertisements. They had brighter colors, bigger fonts, bolder messages with more urgency.

Except their message wasn't urgent. Frankly, their sales messages were among the least important things in my life (except for those other marketers whose ads have long since landed in my spam folder).

Anymore, the hardest thing for marketing to grasp is the long term.

The rush to automate marketing isn't the only tell. It's how many organizations view social media. According to the Kern study, only six percent of these companies see social media as very important. Only 32 percent said it was important.

In fact, most organizations (87 percent) said they will be investing 0-25 percent of their marketing budgets in social media. And not surprising, 77 percent were not satisfied or only somewhat satisfied with social media.

Mobile isn't much better. About 34 percent reported no mobile budget for the next twelve months. And even among those who see it as important, they are focusing mostly on mobile web and content delivery.

So why do social media and mobile take a back seat? The same reason so many of these firms have jumped on marketing automation. Numbers do not always favor social media in the short term. Any campaign that lives and dies by a tweet or klout counts tends to move in a reactionary direction.

And there is the irony of what is starting to shape up as modern marketing. There is growing propensity to measure everything to the point that the information obtained measures nothing of importance.

It's no wonder that the same study placed 38 percent of these organizations as only somewhat satisfied with their marketing and only 20 percent very satisfied or better. When your entire satisfaction is based on short-term lead generation, new customers, and repeat sales on the fly, it's hard to find happiness.

Of course, if the retailer that emailed me six times in a 30-day widow really knew me as a customer, they would know that they've already temporarily won the long-term marketing war.

Their jeans fit me better than other brands. So, all it takes for them to sell me jeans is my need to buy a new pair, whether or not they send me a sales email. In fact, if they sell four pairs at 40 percent off next week, I won't need any more for awhile.

In effect, one random sales purchase could make every subsequent campaign (even if they are better campaigns) look dismal in comparison based on nothing more than random chance. And that's the advent of automated marketing. Weird, isn't it? They could cause their own sales decline, thinking it was a success story.

If you are interested in the traditional white paper, you can find it on their Marketing Trend Study page. Requesting the white paper will require typical lead generation information: name, address, email, phone number, etc.

Monday, September 26

Making It Up: Orabrush Marketing

About a year ago, the Orabrush success story was all about social media and YouTube — the opportunity for a small company and marketing student to reach millions of people, one person at a time. But its latest success has nothing to do with the millions of viral views that resulted in one million sales.

Their latest success, recently profiled by AdAge, was turning a $28 Facebook advertising purchase into one order of 735,000. The $28 ad purchase, reaching only a few targeted Walmart employees who lived near their corporate headquarters, proved more effective than a previous $20,000 or more spent on retail trade print advertisements. Even the message was targeted.

"Walmart employees have bad breath. Walmart needs to carry Orabrush. It will sell better than anything in your store."

According to the article, the vice president of purchasing for Walmart had seen the Facebook ad and believed it was reaching employees nationwide. A buyer called within 48 hours to let them know they had seen the advertisement and they could stop running it.

Afterward, Orabrush sent a customized DVD and sales kits, and placed the 735,000 unit order. The order expands Orabrush's retail space from 20 Walmart stores to 3,500 nationwide. Listen to the story.

With Walmart distribution in place, the company attracted the attention of CVS. Other major retailers will likely follow suit. It had already been accepted by retail outlets in Canada, Japan, and the United Kingdom.

The story remains a remarkable one, especially because the company has never run consumer-targeted advertising trough traditional print and broadcast media. And yet, its success has been covered by the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and ABC's Nightline, not because of a formal public relations pitch, but because they are making news.

All the followers in the world cannot duplicate the success caused by a few hundred. 

Marketing success, especially online, is not contingent on numbers or influencers. It's contingent on finding the right people to produce a specific outcome. And each marketing effort might even have different outcomes.

For Orabrush, their entertaining YouTube videos have always been about about the truth — that 90 percent of all bad breath is caused by the tongue — that people feel compelled to share. Conversely, their $28 ad buy on Facebook (and sales presentation) was all about being distributed nationwide.

Both methods outproduced commonly clever advertisements that can be funny or viral, but never sell a single product. And why didn't those advertisements sell any product?

In some cases, the advertisements never gave people a reason to buy even if most loved the advertisement. In other cases, people worked hard to reach millions that have no interest in or intention of buying the product. Or worse, marketers pandered to "influencers" all for a sound bite that might have even distorted their message. And that's fine, especially for the marketers who know better.

Friday, September 23

Saying Sorry: Netflix Actions Still Speak Louder

When the Netflix fiasco started in July, we pointed out that Netflix doesn't want to be in the DVD shopping and shipping business anymore. Back then, the price increases alone were enough to convince anyone. But we pointed out CEO Reed Hastings had said as much, several times over.

We also mentioned that Netflix wasn't done surprising customers. The company's long-term goals include moving streaming subscribers from household accounts to individual accounts, thereby doubling or tripling or quadrupling their rates when it "feels more natural."

But CEO Reed Hastings doesn't want to talk about that. He wants to talk about Qwikster

Qwikster is the new business that Netflix is spinning off to handle the DVD shopping and shipping business. The companies will not be integrated. Qwikster will have a new website. Qwikster will have new reviews. Qwikster will be billed separately on your charge card.

The real oddity, however, is how the entire announcement is framed up. Hastings nearly apologizes for not communicating one change, and then goes on to share all the changes they haven't communicated, again. Even the ending he wrote was off the reservation: "Actions speak louder than words. But words help people understand actions."

Sometimes that is true. But there is another line of logic left out of the equation. You can understand the actions, but it doesn't make the actions right. Most people learn that in kindergarten, such as the first time they play a prank on a classmate. Understand or not, a second black eye is hard to forget.

Communicating change is easy. Hastings chooses to makes it hard. 

Given that the first fiasco cost the company about one million of its 25 million subscribers, one would think that Hastings would have rolled the split, perhaps reducing the subscription rate of one of them.

Some customers might have seen him as a hero. It would have also carried a "we heard you" statement,  which would have helped the company sell the split. Ergo, we found a way to reduce rates and that requires us to offer both services under two different companies. The fallout might have been minor. But instead, their communication with customers looks a little bit more like this ...

At minimum, any other approach would not have overshadowed the upcoming Neflix-Facebook integration. And one would assume that it would be the communication Netflix wants people to see. Certainly it would have been better than the nightmare someone dreamed up.

Companies don't have to listen to customers. Sure, that's true. 

Bruce Temkin takes a very even-handed approach on the Netflix affair (hat tip: Geoff Livingston), even if he might be wrong that the move won't cost more customers. At minimum, it will prompt what Hastings wants many of them to do anyway — drop DVD all together and split households into individual accounts (something the new Facebook service can help them do). And then what?

It's hard to say. Streaming services are not like the original Netflix model. It's an increasingly crowded space that promises more competitors than the space that used to be the core service of the company. And without DVD shipping, Netflix doesn't just lose its value proposition. It leaves the doors open.

Still, for now, it is Hastings' call. Much like the recent changes to Facebook, company owners call the shots. Customers do not have to be part of the equation. All they can do is vote with their feet. And sometimes other companies will jump all over the opportunity to help them along, right out the door.

I understand what Hastings wants to do. I really do. He could probably accomplish it too, even if some of it feels a bit sleazy. But as it stands today, delivering excuses and calling them explanations is undermining the company's ability to accomplish anything it wants to do. It might even bury it faster.

Related Articles. 

The Netflix Apology: Good Idea, Bad Execution  by Patricio Robles

Parsing Netflix's Apology by David Pogue

Netflix Says It's Sorry, Then Creates New Uproar by Michael Liedtke

Wednesday, September 21

Killing Awareness: Long Live The King

How much would you spend to send the wrong message? It's a question Burger King might be asking.

For years, Burger King has relied on gimmicks to game its awareness, going so far as delivering one of the least appetizing fast food commercials in history. Most of it, of course, featured the frozen stare of an oversized Burger King "King" head. That is, until Burger King decided to do something different.

The King Is Dead. Long Live The King.

When the first "Kingless" commercial broke, plenty of industry people had opinions. Most of them said it didn't distinguish itself in the marketplace place enough. But according to the BrandIndex, Burger King's "Kingless" advertisements are scoring higher than they have in recent history. People like the new ads.

The new ads, featuring a clean food-centric spot with fresh ingredients to introduce the new California Whopper, have given Burger King a huge perception boost among burger buyers. And while some skeptics suggest that Burger King needs more than positive perception to gain any ground against McDonald's (50 percent market share vs. 13.9 percent), the campaign is clearly off to a good start compared to the well-known but negative perception generating King.

Awareness Works. But Only With The Right Message.

There are plenty of advertising colleagues who think the ad is a bore. And there are some who argue that market research is paying off. And then there are those who say it doesn't matter until Burger King cleans up its stores. So who's right?

All of them. And none of them. Advertising is not a take-it-or-leave-it net sum game among advertising executives. It's a take-it-or-leave-it net sum game among consumers.

While the advertising is arguably boring, it seems to resonate among consumers much more than their former spots. As a first spot, McGarryBowen did the right thing. The contrast isn't between Burger King and other burger joints as much as it's a contrast between what was their marketing and what will be.

Instead of selling a clown-like king, Burger King wants to sell burgers. And for the first time in a long time, one of its commercials made me think of food instead of losing my appetite. That has to count for something.

It also counts toward how awareness really needs to be measured — as part of a more complete formula. It never did Burger King any good to be the most talked about quick service joint no one wanted to eat at. And, reflecting back on the King pole dancing, the brunt of their own joke.

Anybody Can Get A Webcam And Make Monkey Faces.

Webcam 101 for Seniors... captured 7.3 million views. I think that's great. It's a cute video.

However, that doesn't necessarily mean you want to make this video your advertisement. Or that this couple ought to head up your marketing team next week. Or that this video exemplifies a viral video.

More importantly, think of some of the decisions made by Burger King while it was supporting its long series of king/clown commercials. Every time a new advertisement launched, it temporarily moved the sales needle while quietly shrinking market share and inspiring hate groups. The King was creepy.

Monday, September 19

Looking Inside: A Developer's Marketing Confessional

Wow. That is the first word that comes to mind after reading Jeff Hangartner's indie gaming articles a.k.a. confessionals at Gamasutra. Hangartner recently launched his own indie game studio, Bulletproof Outlaws, to market his first iPhone game and the article shares some of his marketing experiences from the purview of business owner and not a marketer.

The series is a must-read for anyone in marketing, public relations, or social media because it's a rare opportunity to see an authentic, even transparent, client perspective. Even better, there is no throwing stones like the Bruce Buschel article because Hangartner is all DIY.

On Social Marketing. Hangartner gives high marks to social marketing, recognizing that it's one of the most important segments of any campaign today. He understands that social marketing might be "free," but not really free. There are hundreds of things a new indie game studio could do, and social media carries the one cost you never get back — time.

• One account on various networks is enough; it's too cumbersome to splinter your impact.
• Quality connections are more important than quantity; but weak follows can help early on for things like claiming your vanity url on Facebook.
• Social networks work better without spam; participation carries more leverage than broadcast.
• Blogs can be incredibly useful; but he recognizes that he loves to write more than most people.

Area For Improvement. From his own experience and admission, Hangartner gives some of the best advice early in the article: start early. The earlier, the better.

All too often, entrepreneurs think about social marketing (and all marketing) too late. People wait for the product, wait for the website, and wait for anything else they can think of. But the reality is that the last thing you want to do is work to develop a network at the same time you are launching a product.

On Traditional Marketing. Hangartner nails down the truth of traditional marketing in that for most startups it requires a balancing act. You neither want to blow your rent check to gain additional leverage nor can you afford to hang on to every cent you make.

• Know the rules of any advertising program, including promo codes; they have strings, including who can review your product.
• Alexa can sometimes point you in the right direction; but it's also a lot of "mumbo jumbo."
• Impressions and clicks and purchases are not the same; find your own formula that works and then test it.
• Be wary and double check anyone who asks developers to pay for reviews; consider the ethics of it more than justifying it.

Area For Improvement. Like most marketers today, Hangartner is learning that numbers are important but searchable numbers tend to lie. Even here. I run different stat programs like many marketers and all of them tell a different story. What none of them tells is who, even on the lowest read days, whom those readers might be. Rather than discount anyone, you carefully weigh who you could help make an influencer over night. Some of them only need a cause to champion and they haven't found the right one and all of them beat anyone you might pay for a positive review.

On Maintainence And Public Relations. Hangartner entitled the article Game Related and Maintenance, but mostly it's about public relations (and a recap of some other marketing and social media details). Incidentally, he even proves my point about blogs with his own. One day, his seldom read blog jumped from nothing to almost 6,000 visitors before tapering off.

• Press releases, press kits, and DIY trailers are easier than ever to make; no help needed (maybe).
• There is always an ask on the table for exclusive stuff; he suggests waiting but is tempted.
• Continually check banner advertisement outcomes and don't keep the ones that are under performing.
• Always keep some level of maintenance going because people drift off if you are not present.

Area For Improvement. Specific to what Hangartner calls a press kit: it's mostly a sales kit. That's okay. As a reviewer, some of the content can help clear things up quickly. In other areas, the sales copy gets in the way of any real story. It's also missing something else. One vertical screenshot is something I wish all developers (and bands) had on hand before I have to slice their pictures to fit.

More importantly, the public relations pro he doesn't want to hire for a release (maybe a good idea; maybe not) might help him wade through the exclusive content scenario (if they are any good). While everyone wants exclusive content, I'd be wary of what it might do to every other relationship he is trying to establish. Likewise, the time he invested looking for answers might have taken minutes had he had at least one professional worth more than $5 per hour to ask.

On Psychology. This was one of my favorites of the four articles he has written so far, and the one that convinced me to make it a must-read for communication students. It's powerful and insightful because not all entrepreneurs share this stuff with their marketing teams. As the collective articles allude, clients juggle much more than their marketing and communicator contracts. And that is the sharpest point for any marketing and public relations person to take away: you are important but not the most important part of any company puzzle.

• As a business owner, expect highs and lows; always keep your ego and attachment in check.
• Checking the stats daily is addictive; there is nothing wrong with it until it dictates your emotions.
• Everybody has an opinion, especially friends; listen, but don't think you have to act on advice.
• Handing out business cards is less important than collecting them; keep in touch with the people you collect cards from.

Area For Improvement. Hangartner does a good job outlining the psychology of being a developer and an entrepreneur. Having worked with so many, I've seen first hand what many of them go through — especially game developers, artists, and other creative types. It's hard not to take some things personally when you put so much of your person in the creation. There is no way to improve on his experience, with the exception of one thing — finding one or two people whose opinion you can value will go a long way. The only downside is that many developers and entrepreneurs find the wrong people to trust or shuffle through a deck of them based on nothing more than what their gut says today.

This post isn't advice for Hangartner. It's advice for marketing and public relations.

Of course, this post wasn't for Hangartner. It's for marketing and public relations students as well as practicing professionals, especially those who always see the world from their perspective and cannot understand why their opinions don't carry more weight with their clients or prospects.

The answer is simple enough. Marketing, public relations, and social media aren't the one-dimensional exercise that so many people in the profession like to pretend they are. This series of articles ought to go a long way in helping students and professionals see that, at least I hope so.

Clients have hundreds of things on their minds, hundreds of people with myopic suggestions, and the constant fear of failure (which sometimes carries the consequence of paying the rent). They can't be like the firm or agency that has worked with dozens of different clients, experience that eventually teaches us how to distance ourselves from the attachment of the client (but not the work) or else we might find ourselves heartbroken on a monthly basis.

For us, there might always be another client. For some of the people who hire us, there is nothing else. Treat them fairly. And, even when they are wrong on some points, always take the time to listen to their ideas. They know more than you think. You don't have to educate them about every detail, but always be open to dialogue because nowadays, especially, many of them are grasping at everything.

Advice for Hangartner? He's doing most of it right. I only wish he would expand his target audience. They aren't gamers and other developers, which is where most of his efforts have been. There are people, on the other hand, who never actively look for games but would be interested in his offering.

Friday, September 16

Influencing Editors: Public Relations

Years ago, as publisher of a hospitality trade publication (and earlier as a staff writer for several others), we were mildly amused by the volume of errant pitches and press releases. Public relations professionals would send anything.

Well, almost anything. News and relevant content were obviously in short supply. We didn't see much.

Nowadays, seven years later, we have a different kind of publication. I still consider it a side project as an online venture, even if the subscription base eclipsed the one we sold years ago. (Mostly, I only call it a side project because it's too much fun.) And public relations professionals still send almost anything. 

Well, not all of them. Some public relations professionals are different from others. Let's see how. 

A tale of two public relations professionals and their pitches. 

Once upon a time, there were two public relations firms: Jack Sprat and Joan. And as you might have guessed, Jack Sprat, much like his namesake, could eat no fat. But Joan, like his wife, could eat no lean. 

That made for a curiously different public relations practice, particularly in the area of pitches. For every one release Jack Sprat sent out, Joan would send 10. And while her clients thought that was impressive effort, something very different was happening under the table. 

All the Sprat pitches received coverage. But all the Joan pitches received none, except one. And that one, if everybody is being honest, was a fluke. Joan couldn't understand it. And finally she could not stand it. 

"How is it, Jack, that I do ten times the work and come up quite dry," she scolded. "But you, oh so lazy, come out quite well."

"My dear Joan, you might see it if you read," laughed Sprat with a shrug. "I never send fat, just the meat and some bones."

The meat and some bones will always do better than everything. 

To be clear, the first public relations firm sent three pitches. Of the three bands they pitched, one didn't fit. But the public relations firm knew it and included some information about the band's nonprofit affiliation. We do feature causes, and it was a good one that tied in with their music. We'll cover it soon.

On the other hand, the second public relations firm sends us pitches on everyone they represent, not only new album information but remixes and coverage by other pubs. But most fall so far away from our musical leanings that we have to laugh. Don't get me wrong. I don't really mind. Sometimes the pitches are entertaining, even if it's all too clear they don't know who we write about.

Over time, you have to wonder how an editor or publisher might develop an impression of the firm. While I don't mind the 10-1 pitch difference, it doesn't earn much respect. Neither did asking us to exchange a few facts for fluff the one time we did cover one of their clients. 

Conversely, the first public relations firm even gave us a head's up when they knew one of their bands  would avoid one topic. We asked anyway and the band didn't bite, but no one was worse for the wear.

But the main point is much simpler. Lean makes a publisher look forward to more. But even funny fat and gristle begin to convince them that emails from that sender can wait. Think about it.

Wednesday, September 14

Imagining Social Networks: The Futures Company

According to Alex Steer, writing for The Futures Company, social networks might be losing their way. He has an excellent point.

"'s a shame that so much of the conversation around the future of social networking focuses on technology. In the last few years we've heard that real-time access, mobile apps, geolocation, near-field communication and other innovations would transform social networking. To some extent they have: many of the changes over the last decade have been technology driven. But what's often missing is the simple, human question: how do we want to interact online, and how is this changing?" — Steer

He's right. The emphasis on technology sometimes forgets the real driver of the social networks, the very people who participate in them. In fact, one could argue that the failings of social networks often leads to the content generated about them.

Consider Mitch Joel's Myth of Reciprocity post. Or Anastasiya Goers' Tips for Social Media Time Famine post. Or Ian Chang's Google+ Circles: Inverted Personal Privacy Dilemma post. All three of them have an unlikely common ground.

While they all read like they are about the failings of people (shortcomings and solutions), the real failure is found within the network. And more than that, they indicate how people are so used to bending to networks (and telling other people how to bend) that we've forgotten technology is meant to serve and not make us subservient.

Six Critical Decisions That Consumers Are Making, From The Futures Company. 

1. Scale. The benefits of a large network or the intimacy of a small network.

2. Privacy. The convenience of use and access or safeguards of private data.

3. Specificity. The investment of time on some networks or divided time on many.

4. Pervasiveness. The choice between being always on or to access when we need them.

5. Utility. The perception of seeing networks as places to play or as a professional tools.

6. World view. The choice between reinforcing our habits or challenging our preconceptions.

The Futures Company is largely right in placing the focus on these apparently contradictory pivot points. Their brief, called Status Update: The Six Decisions Shaping The Future Of Online Social Networking, is worth checking out. It may even help some people see social media differently.

In fact, it isn't even until page 34 that it loses me a little. Almost immediately considering all the pivot points, it slips a bit backward for marketing purposes, suggesting marketers learn to bend better. There is nothing wrong with that per se, except that maybe nobody has to bend anything except the tools.

Isn't that the real usefulness of six critical decisions that consumers make? People do not want to accept that choosing this means losing that. They want both at the same time and not necessarily one or the other, subject to change. And that leads to the real question on my mind.

How do we build a social network flexible enough to change with the whim of consumers? 

Nobody has done it yet, not really. If they had, social media evangelists wouldn't have the need to rush and build a huge network only to eventually declare they miss the intimacy of having a small one. No one would worry about social media time famine because activity wouldn't feel like a necessity, scored and rated. And privacy wouldn't be as much of a concern, even if the latest effort really aims at convincing us to give up more of it.

Because these aren't the failings of participants. They are the failings of the technological design created with an addictive allure meant to keep us captive as long as possible. And in many ways, it's the traditional media model all over again. There must be a better way.

It seems to me that an on-demand network could consist of intimate, interconnected spheres existing in a larger environment, allowing us to slide back and forth between smaller personal connections and large public gatherings. It would certainly give us an opportunity to go out and challenge our preconceptions while still having a place to feel secure among like-minded people.

And in that regard The Futures Company is right. By paying more attention to people and less attention to technology, we start to see a more fulfilling future for social media, with less bending.

Monday, September 12

Marketing Shift: Consumers Want Experiences

Although conducted in the United Kingdom, a recent survey from Experian CreditExpert captures a sentiment in the United States too. When men and women in their 40s or 50s are asked what dream they want to fulfill, they aren't choosing extravagant purchases like sports cars, designer clothing, or cosmetic makeovers. They're giving answers more aligned with what the Futures Company called a Darwinian Gale.

• 70 percent said that they would like to travel the world
• 46 percent said that they would like to learn new things
• 29 percent said that they would like a full-time hobby

Only about one in ten confined their answers to the proverbial middle aged crisis stereotypical answers like cosmetic surgery (13 percent women; 3 percent men). No one listed purchasing a new sports car. And designer clothes were not part of the equation. In short, material possessions have fallen off the bucket list.

Consumers want life-changing and self-affirming experiences. Does your marketing measure up?

The study affirms consumer advertising observations from a week ago, at least in so far as the middle aged consumer is concerned. The survey reveals men place work-life balance as a top priority (to presumably seek new life experiences); women want new life experiences as a top priority.

That is not to say that having the monetary means to fulfill their goals is being discounted. About three-quarters of those surveyed felt that their financial situation was the only thing holding them from realizing their dreams. Sixty-nine percent said a sudden windfall is all it would take for them to begin making life changes, including making new friends or changing their careers.

But that is not the only change. It seems people are thinking of these dreams more often. A recent USA Today poll found more than 34 percent of the population is thinking of their goals on a daily basis; 26 percent weekly; 17 percent monthly. Only 21 percent are thinking of their goals rarely or never.

What's really holding consumers back from realizing life-changing and self-affirming experiences? It might be your marketing message.

Is it any wonder that software, books, and videos are among the highest selling products on the Internet (26 percent). Airline tickets and hotel reservations are second (21 percent). Consumer electronics and hardware are third (16 percent). Or that Kindles, iPads, acupressure mats, and two specific movies (Avatar and Inception) made up the top five best-selling products on Amazon. Or that SAS, Boston Consulting Group, Wegmans Food Markets, and NetApp (listed among the top five places to work) all have customer experience-centric offerings along with an equally strong internal brand alignment.

Not really. Don't sell lipstick, sell the places you can wear it. Don't sell apps, sell what they can do. Don't sell the price, sell the experience. Don't sell a network, sell the strength of the connections. Don't sell cars, sell where you can take them. Don't sell the salary, sell the vision, camaraderie, and security.

Friday, September 9

Exceeding Potential: What My Son Could Teach Yahoo!

There aren't many days that go by where someone doesn't ask what's up with Yahoo. It happens so often, the quip might even make a great tagline. Yahoo! What's up with us?

As a company, everybody there seems miserable. You can't really blame them. The next phone call you receive from the chairman of the board might be to fire you. Not that anyone was surprised. Plenty of people said Carol Bartz was the wrong captain to helm the sinking ship. And even when she did the right things, most people didn't notice.

They're looking to change the world, while longing to change themselves. But that's not the order in which things happen. If you want to change the world, change yourself. But before you can change yourself, you have to know where it is you want to go. You have to have to have a vision.

What my son could teach the next CEO of Yahoo. 

My son is 12. And like many 12-year-old boys he has limitless potential. He also has an aversion to working hard at something to reach or exceed that potential until he really has to work hard at something, which usually requires a vision and an incentive (the actualization of that vision).

That all changed recently. He has been meeting and exceeding his potential for weeks now, and he is happy to do it. So what changed?

I shared an observation with him during our recent trip to Denver. And the observation was the curiosity of the least likely source: two different Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents.

The first agent greeted us with a smile, checking our identification against boarding passes before (jokingly) asking him why he and his sister (age 5) didn't have IDs. I'm glad she did. All children tend to become impatient after waiting in a long line, especially when they know it's only going to be the first of many.

Her brief conversation with them broke up the monotony. Not just for them, but her too. You could tell. She wore her friendliness like a badge on her face. And her pleasantness was immediately infectious, even for the people directly behind us.

The second TSA agent my son interacted with wasn't as pleasant. Just as my son had walked through the metal detector, the agent's partner, who was feeding the bins into the X-ray machine, had stepped away. And because he did, my son's shoes and electronics waited patiently at the opening.

The TSA agent huffed at him and told him he had to go back and push his own tray through. (Why she didn't ask the people behind us to do it, I'll never know.) Her decision resulted in several awkward moments as my son traveled against the stream.

Meanwhile, the agent huffed and grumbled the entire time. And just like the infectious pleasantness that spread across rank and file passengers the last time, so did the apparent nastiness of the second agent.

The lesson here is much bigger than a communication tip. 

After we returned from vacation, I recanted the experience to my son on the same day he demonstrated little interest in meeting his potential (or our expectations as parents). The specifics don't matter, but the conversation does.

"Did the first TSA have to be nice to you?" I asked him, setting the stage.


"So if the first agent didn't have to be nice to you, why did you think she was?" I led, even as my wife conveyed an expression of bafflement.

"I dunno."

"She was exceeding her potential," I smiled. "She didn't have to be nice to you because her job description is only to check identification and file people through. But she set a higher bar. The other agent, on the other hand, was just meeting the status quo. So which one was happier?"

"Well," his eyes lit up. "The first one. She was really nice and made people happy."

"Exactly. People who are happy tend to work toward meeting or exceeding their potential because it feels good and helps other people feel good too. So the only question you have to ask yourself isn't whether or not you want to do something but if you want to be happy."

"Okay," he said. "Can I go on my computer now?"

Sometimes you have to have patience as a parent. I told him he could, and hoped for the best.

The next day, our conversation paid out in dividends. He did everything expected of him, without ever being asked, and a few other tasks as well. When he was done, I asked him how he felt and he was happy. We all were.

Of course, for my son, he already had an advantage over Yahoo. He already had a vision and knew what to do to get there. Some people, including Bartz, never do. Sure, they do a lot of things but never really have a destination that they can be proud of. Even her goodbye to employees said as much.

The choice of whether to get by or exceed expectations is always yours. But the real question to ask yourself, no matter the job or task at hand, is whether you want to be happy or a just another Yahoo.

Wednesday, September 7

Making Friends: Develop Empathy Online

After a relatively slow start, blogs (weblogs) started to gain popularity about 12 years ago. And the more generalized term — social media — came a few years later, incorporating several forms of interactive communication on the Internet. Generally, it includes forums, weblogs, social blogs, micro blogs, podcasts, photographs, videos, and virtually anything else you can find or dream up on the web.

Most communicators understand the tools. But a surprising few understand the connections they create.

And there is probably no greater area of confusion for them than what constitutes a "friend." Even those that have been in the space more than decade stumble over it, attempting to separate the meaning with artificial criteria, as if their definitions can somehow strip away all semblance of empathy.

Some might even argue that followers aren't friends, even if friends might follow. Others remain content to define them by proximity, with "friends" being reserved for those people you actually meet whereas "online friends" are merely slivers of relationships. Yet others manage to create distinctions between those they woo on behalf of their companies and those they don't.

Why marketers continue to struggle with friendship.

I understand the challenge many marketers face, especially those who eventually rack up followings six digits deep or more. It seems unlikely and improbable that all those people are friends. Indeed, they aren't.

But by the same token, maybe they are. Or, if they are not, maybe they could be. Friendship is a relatively loosely defined term. According to some definitions, it is a person attached to another by feelings of affection and personal regard. We can tighten it slightly, requiring it to be mutual for "true friendship," but the standard definition doesn't require it.

In the last couple of weeks, there have been events that have challenged communicators over the term "friendship." One is largely insignificant, but curiously relevant. The other is significant, with a potentially disastrous message despite some deep and well intended thought. (I truly appreciated the effort as well the progression of the latter post.)

I'm going to the avoid the stories behind either, except to say that both touch and don't touch people in remarkably different and profound ways. To me, both fall on either end of the spectrum of what constitutes online friendship and are tied together by how fragile humanity can be.

Individual communication demands empathy and the risk of friendship.

Blogging and social networking to some degree is an art form, I think, in that like music and art, it demands the creator to be equally comfortable speaking with people on a scale of one to one and one to many at the same time. It's undeniably dissimilar to journalism for this reason, which is often confined to a one-to-many medium. (Blogging and networking can be too, but I'm skewing to the nonprofessional majority who know better in this case.)

Any time you communicate with another individual — where there is an exchange of ideas, thoughts, and experiences — there is the risk of friendship. There is a risk of friendship, unless one of the individuals has preset their criteria: That they cannot be friends with someone until they meet other people close to that person, visit their home, or sit face to face. And there is a risk of friendship because our minds do not naturally distinguish the difference between online friends and real life friends unless we force it to do so.

I call it a "risk of friendship" because so many people start blogs and open social media accounts without any foresight that they might finds friends. Some are even dead set against it.

They want an audience, but not necessarily a collection of people that they might become attached to by feelings of affection and personal regard. Or maybe they are employed to make connections on behalf of companies, only to discover accidental connections that go beyond the scope of the work (much like they do in offices every day). Or maybe, well, there are infinite numbers of reasons, motives, and agendas.

Marketers tend to approach social media with reservations against personal connections. It's not all that dissimilar to 7-Eleven clerks ringing up Big Gulps for people. I know, because I did that job while finishing my degree and simultaneously working at an agency years ago. The hundreds of people who breeze in and out of a 7-Eleven aren't all that different from "followers" who carry with them short bursts of communication left at the register.

We smile. We wave. We move on. Well, not everyone.

Friendship doesn't consider proximity, presence, or circumstance.

Unless the clerk has a predisposition against making friends, sooner or later the regulars become familiar. You might talk about the news. You might talk about cultural differences. You might share something personal. You might swap music (cassettes back then). You might stumble into each other at the pub. You might have a meal together. And somewhere along the way, it becomes more difficult to distinguish them from those other people with whom you shared a history with since high school.

Now some people might insist that this plays out differently online. But it really doesn't. I've seen it happen within groups of people who set out to save cancelled television shows. I've seen it happen among professional colleagues. And I've seen it happen between consumers and marketers during a campaign. It happens exactly the same. It's not an illusion.

People become attached to another by feelings of affection and personal regard, even if the other person doesn't know it or expressively conveys the same in return. And it seems to me that it's expressly important for marketers working in social media to understand this as they attract more people than average, and accumulate many more people who perceive them as friends (even if they don't share the sentiment).

Oversimplified, there are two ways to approach friendship online. If you don't have empathy and want to limit who you are open to becoming friends with, you can convey it with a statement or demeanor. You know, just like real life, offline.

Conversely, if you are open to making friends in this space, then just be yourself while making sure every decision you make is checked against your sense of empathy. In other words, never discount someone as a friend just because they are online. Everyone perceives friendship differently, but kids do it better than adults. Give them a few hours around a campfire and someone will find a lifelong friend. They don't see any distinction between online and offline friends either, in case you were wondering. I know. I asked.

The worst thing you could do is play the middle, treating people like friends and then redefining the relationship by your actions no matter how insignificant it might seem to you. People tend to take it personally. And you're surprised when they do; it's a clear indication empathy needs to be a focus. Or maybe it's something else. Fear is a powerful motivator for some people.

Personally, I'm not keen on the alternative being proposed by others. They suggest we assume no one is a friend, especially online. And while there may be some validity in that approach, I think it requires us to sacrifice a little more of our humanity. When no one is "really" a friend, then everyone is lonely.

Monday, September 5

Revisiting PR Moments: From Mr. Media Training

Every month, Brad Phillips, president of Phillips Media Relations, picks five video media disasters and highlights them at Mr. Media Training. I've read his blog before (worth subscribing to), but was new to his media disaster series.

It's a great concept. And yet, his five worst video media disasters (all of which are political) merit deeper discussion, at least for the month of August.

Here's a recap of his picks and some additional commentary on what he might have hit and missed. And, I've included a few suggestions that could easily have bumped out some of his other contenders.

Brad Phillips' Five Worst Video Media Disasters: August 2011

5. Christine O’Donnell Walks Off Piers Morgan

O'DonnellChristine O’Donnell certainly deserved to be on the list. In fact, I had previously written some commentary about the walk off. While I agree with Phillips in his assessment that the interview was predictable and O’Donnell ought to have been more prepared, the entire event becomes a wash. Piers Morgan's line of questioning for every candidate has become boorish. And Phillips also missed the line of questioning that led up to the walk off. The sound bite that made the rounds was only part of the story.

4. Charlie Rangel’s “Pretty Girl”

RangelI agree with Phillips, and would probably move this up. While Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) was growing frustrated with the interruptions from Laura Ingraham, sitting in for Bill O’Reilly, he crossed the line with a quip that she was a just a "pretty girl." Like O’Donnell, Rangel ought to have better prepared for the format. Even when O’Reilly is on, it's not uncommon for hosts and interviewees to talk over the guest. And, for the life of me, I can't think of a single reason to elevate a gender comment.

3. Mitt Romney: Corporations are People, My Friend

RomneyThere has been plenty of discussion over Mitt Romney's recent response to hecklers. When Romney mentioned he didn't want to raise taxes on people, someone yelled out "corporations." Romney addressed it by saying corporations are people (meaning: corporations employ people, fund 401ks and pensions, and aren't all big business). It wasn't well received. Phillips might be right to include it on the list, but only as a bonus. Romney can overcome the quip as long as he can craft a more palatable way to explain the truth behind it. He also has to understand why people feel that way: big corporate executive bonuses and largely abused tax incentives.

2. Joe Biden Endorses China’s One Child Policy

BidenMost people know know that Vice President Joe Biden was sent abroad to placate China. It has led to several embarrassments, including one where journalists were literally forced out of a room before he had finished speaking. This off-script comment was another because Biden found common ground by comparing America's retirement challenges to those that China may face with their "one child" policy. This media moment is easily number one because it comes nowhere close to America's sentiment and further illustrates how agreeable this administration has become. Some things are better left unsaid.

1. Rick Perry Threatens a Public Official

PerryRick Perry's remarks about Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke were largely blown out of proportion, especially given there are plenty of respected people who said the best service Bernanke could do for our country is to resign. Steve Forbes even said Bernanke must go. Most reasonable people also know that Perry was just talking tough and not necessarily calling for acts of violence or charges of treason. More than that, I disagree with Phillips that we have entered a post-Giffords world. On the contrary, listening to Rep. Andre Carson (D-Ind.) and others, including the president at times, such rhetoric is alive and well (sadly).

Bonus. Al Sharpton Will Much About That Will Be Committed. Or Something.

Long story short, the bonus is amusing but hardly a worst media moment. While it might be worth a chuckle, Al Sharpton was obviously teleprompter tongue tied in the worst possible way. It's forgettable despite being funny. There were better picks.

For replacements, consider Al Gore's odd comparison of civil rights leaders and climate change proponents, especially because he prepared it. Look to Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) for several more prepared gaffes, including one that suggested the Soviet Union was rising along with China and India. And last but not least, Rep. Andre Carson being the newest citizen vilifier to make headlines.

All in all, Phillips did a fine job. From my perspective, he was three for five as long as we swap some rankings and recognize Morgan as boorish. Those three also have the best lessons of the bunch too: prepare for the obvious questions, trying to discredit someone over gender only discredits you, and sacrificing pride is forgettable as long as you stand firm on values.

Friday, September 2

Being Consumers: It's Not Us And Them, Stupid

"I was always more interested in being a woman first and an advertising person second." — Shirley Polykoff

This isn't the first time a quote from Shirley Polykoff resonated with me. It's not likely to be the last. The first woman copywriter for Foote Cone & Belding was as sharp as they come.

She was sharp because she didn't mind skipping the barriers between advertiser and consumer, and her advertisements had more impact because of it. There was no trick to convincing women that blondes had more fun. But she surely had fun telling the story.

Stop trying to move masses and try being a human being.

There are plenty of people who have taken to talking about human business. Most of them are full of it. One day they chat about how businesses do better when they are personal. And then the next day they talk up how it's all about target audience and sales. And then the next day it's back to being human, with hurt feelings because not everyone liked what they had to say.

Such sleight of hand is a marketing mistake. Sooner or later people will notice. But it's the same thing on a big scale too. When companies sit around in board meeting rooms talking about how they will move the sales needle or (groan) go viral, they begin to lose ground.

They're asking the wrong questions. Instead, they might ask better questions. Specifically, instead of asking "how can we sell more crap," they might ask something like Shirley did. "How can we help women feel more in control over their lives?" And then, she did it.

Women aren't necessarily asking that question today. They're asking other questions. So are men. And moms. And dads. And business people. And all sorts of other groups of people with special interests. And yet, it seems, there is a good amount of marketing today that is dazzled by its own ability to crunch numbers — consumer interest be damned.

If you want to write better copy or content, stop being a salesperson and start being a consumer.

couponThinking like a salesperson predisposes marketers to creating barriers because the initial premise is that there is an "us" and a "them," with the primary goal being that we want "them" to do something for "us." It's stupid talk, and not nearly as effective or as interesting as thinking like what you are anyway. Advertisers are consumers, albeit not very good ones because they start to believe that somehow making some clever or slick or sharable or sales pitch is more important than a product promise.

Have you been paying attention? Most people don't share silly pictures (cats and bacon) because they want attention (at least, not the majority who have no interest in becoming popular). Some do it because things seem a little tougher and uncertain in their lives and they need a diversion — 15 or 30 or 60 seconds where planet bacon or dancing cats can help them forget their mortgage is past due. Some do it because they want to feel like they're part of something. Only one percent consider it strategy.

In other words, that doesn't mean the question du jour ought to be how do we put cats and bacon into our video. It ought to be how can we make people feel more secure, more in control, more normal, more attuned to what is really important in life, or perhaps more likely to lighten up a little in the face of daily doses of fear TV a.k.a. the evening news. And how do you do it, applying it to whatever product you have (assuming it applies)?

If you're not thinking like the consumer, you're not thinking.

organic colorFacebook did it. People wanted an easier way to connect to friends, originally in college but then at every stage of life. Google did it by inventing a way to find the right information faster (something it will lose if it continues to socialize the Web). And in their own ways, Walmart, Target, and Best Buy all deliver on cheap convenience, creating the illusion that people are buying something of equal quality for less (even if it is not). It's their chance to feel normal on a tighter budget.

Sure, these examples all benefit from a foundational product or service development but existing products can capture similar success by asking and answering the right consumer questions. How does your product help fulfill the less obvious needs of the discriminating consumer? For example, Polykoff tapped into the feminist movement to be more fun than 1950s conservative but she might be more inclined to tie in home (consistency of color), health (good for your hair), and environment (eco-friendly) today.

Consider how much more effective that might be than the tactics employed by advertising-centric marketers: discounts, free samples, and sex appeal (celebrity worship). The reality is that advertisers targeting women with those tactics are competing much more aggressively in a crowded space for a thinning consumer base. Why? Because they aren't thinking like consumers.

*The trade advertisement shown would be better without the fear marketing, but they are on the right track. It's the right message, one off from in how to communicate it.

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