Showing posts with label utterz. Show all posts
Showing posts with label utterz. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 12

Closing Out Cows: Final Lessons From A Dead Network

Once upon a time there was an increasingly popular social media network that resembled Twitter. It had a memorable name. It had a lovable mascot. And its member base seemed to have a mission to make it a "Twitter killer."

Truth be told, very few network knock-offs, even with slightly enhanced services, ever have a chance of supplanting popularity. While it may change one day, numbers attract numbers. But even so, we had placed the network on a watch list because the application did have something that Twitter didn't. It had better multimedia functionality.

But then something happened. In September 2008, Utterz changed its name to Utterli. It traded in its mascot for something resembling a Sprite logo. And its members were surprised, and then disgusted, by the lack of communication about the change. It was a disaster and I had no problem calling it as such.

"As much as you might characterize it as a 'disaster,' our customer base has grown substantially since the change - and the growth rate is rising," said Michael Bayer, CEO of Utterli. "That's GREAT! I call that a success."

Bayer went on to say that I was fishing for attention. He said I insulted him. And he insisted that despite community feelings, it was his decision to make. Besides, he implied, my round-up of member feedback wasn't enough. I wasn't a member anyway.

After that, we tracked the steady visitation decline that followed in the six months after its claimed "successful" name change. We almost followed up on the post then too. But it didn't seem worthwhile to re-engage a defensive CEO. So I promptly forgot about it. So did everyone else.

In fact, I hadn't thought about Utterli again until reading Doug Haslam's post that Utterli was dead. In truth, it had died in September 2008. And, almost sadly, a short one-and-a-half years later, Utterli didn't even have time to say goodbye.

As for all those promises that Bayer made about enhancements that would carry the service forward? According to the ByteMonkey Chronicles (which is also credited with the image accompanying today's post), it was very much the opposite. ByteMonkey says even then there was an underlying feeling among the users that the company wasn't quite doing so well.

Lessons For Networks And Participants.

Networks. While seeing what could have been a successful service come and go is never pleasant, there are a few lessons that can be taken away. For network owners, it' simple. I've said it before. Unlike product companies, you are only as successful as your members. And without them, you're nothing.

So abrupt change is bad. Sure, Twitter and Facebook can get away with it nowadays because they've reached a critical mass of sorts with no clear alternatives that support the numbers. But in the case of a brand like Utterz, improper communication with the community is a killer. Never mind what Bayer said in response to my critique on his company's rebranding roll out, the truth was that they didn't do any of it (and if they did, then they did it all wrong).

Add to that knowledge that anything done for investment capital or with the hope of being sold is generally a bad idea until you have the cash in hand. And even then, the guidelines for operating a successful venture after a sale or infusion of cash doesn't replace the community commitment. There are scores of social networks that have failed. And, there are more that will eventually fail or fade away too.

Participants. If you continue to rely on network tactics alone, one day you may find yourself with nothing. As reported by ByteMonkey and Haslam, Utterli isn't just dead. All of the member content and contributions are dead too.

So too is any need for Utterz tips and Utterz tactics that are useless because that community is no more.

In other words, don't fall in love with any network unless you can back up your content. Case study closed.

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Tuesday, September 23

Communicating Change: Where Utterz Went Utterli Wrong

"The initial reaction to the name change is mixed. People don't generally like change, unless things are going really poorly. As a company and community, we've never been better, so I've expected push back on the identity change." — Aaron Burcell

It’s almost cliché to say that change is never easy, especially during an election year when change seems to be the synonymous mantra of every candidate and politician in the running. However, for the multi-media presence application Utterli, formerly Utterz, change — the recent identity change, not necessarily its new interface — is suffering more than push back. It’s a disaster.

Never mind the comments that keep popping up online; consider that any time I mentioned the Utterz identity change at BlogWorld, every communicator and blogger I spoke with rolled their eyes and expressed a complete dismissal of the idea.

Some even wondered who was paid to push that idea through, speculating that such an identity change would carry a mighty price tag. Others suggested it would take months or even years to undo the powerful brand they had established with Bessie, the lovable cow. A couple said they never heard of Utterz anyway.

In fairness to Utterz, while the name change might have been a surprise to most members, it was leaked the same time it started rubbing Aaron Burcell’s head for luck and made him CMO. The leak, however, never made it beyond the whisper stages. And that’s too bad. If it had, I don’t think they would face so much “push back” as they call it today.

How Utterz Could Have Better Communicated Change

• Utterz could have released its interface change without the identity change, ensuring the new features would have been the story. It would have also captured its audience’s attention, providing a better venue to suggest the identity change might be in the near future, opening dialogue.

• Utterz could have remembered that it would need to be responsive to the identity change. For all the claims they expected “push back,” the post communication comes across as dismissive. The “we’ve grown up” message is weak and distances the company from its community because maybe its customers don’t want to grow up.

• Before committing to the change, Utterz could have promoted the idea of a name change, providing a forum for feedback, allowing people who feel vested in the service an opportunity to share their questions, comments, and concerns.

• Open communication is critical during change, but most Utterz members seem to feel that there was no communication by the company until after the fact. The change has left them feeling that any feedback is futile.

• Utterz, like so many Web 2.0 companies, need to consider the length of the change initiative. Communicating change is actually very easy, provided a company can extend the change cycle and adjust during adoption. Steady will always win the race.

• Too many online companies rely exclusively on their blogs to communicate change. Considering how many companies employ push marketing at the wrong time, not enough use it at the right time. When communicating change, one communication vehicle, such as a blog post after the fact, is not enough.

Successfully communicating change, especially when it impacts an identity that customers feel vested in and a part of, requires a controlled pace and deep engagement. For all the praise Utterli has received on being responsive with the interface, it’s always buried under the name change that exemplifies the opposite.

For Utterz, communicating an identity change would have played better after the service changed, especially if it would have been rolled out in several phases.

1. Announcing that an identity change was being considered and clear reasons why the change was being considered.

2. Collecting community feedback on the name change.

3. Announcing decisions based on that feedback, such as keeping a significant portion of name as the brand.

4. Providing some sneak peeks to the spontaneous stakeholders that become interested in the process, which would certainly include the most vocal critics of any change.

5. Finalizing the identity change and revealing it from the inside out — employees, hard stakeholders, community stakeholders, the entire community, and then outside interests such as the media.

Instead, now they are playing catch up. As they do, it seems more likely the name change had less to do about this and more to do with the fact that Utterli, formerly Utterz, wants to be acquired.


Thursday, September 18

Uttering New Identity: Utterli

Utterz is dead. Long live Utterli.

Mashable called it an impression of Prince. And another member, Jason, who is bullish on the cross-posting service, says he’s utterly confused. Jason doesn’t seem to be alone. Confused is what most people seem to be.

According to their blog, Utterz has “outgrown” its identity, but Mashable offered a more plausible explanation. After conducting some market research, they learned that many people, especially females, did not like the name Utterz.

That might make sense to folks like Sheryl Altschuler, president of A-Strategies Marketing Consultants, who subscribes to the idea that the “the customer is in control from here on out …

This is also one of several places where I depart from the construct that the “customer is in control” of the identity and the brand. In fact, this thinking might be precisely the reason that Utterli has taken some people aback. What customers are they talking about? By some accounts, including their own, Utterli seems to be relying on input from some people who aren’t customers at all. And, the identity change is barely half and half.

They killed Bessie, but insist members can still “utter” and can continue to use meaningful references to “utterers” and “utts.” They put up the new logo, but any marketing and instructional videos will have to change; it will be a long time before all the directories and databases can be updated; and the new name will forever remind people of what it once was, perhaps using it when feeling sentimental much like they did after trying New Coke.

(I don’t even want to talk about the mark, a generic identity that looks something like a cross between a lemon-lime soda logo and a Partridge Family partridge, other than to say it's utterly unmemorable compared to the cow that pops up all over Flickr and elsewhere.)

Of course, even if everyone liked the new name, you have to wonder about the execution. Social media companies have a nasty tendency to spring change on their communities, which is the opposite of being responsive or responsible. Some customers, women included, are even wondering why they weren't asked and a few are considering a petition to change it back.

While it is too early to say in this case, the social media contract that proposes that the customers are in control, might have led Utterli, formally Utterz, astray. No, customers do not control the brand or the message. No one controls it.

“If you don’t manage the message, the message will manage you.”

Of course, none of this is to say that I don’t hope for their best outcome. I’ve met some of the folks behind Utterli, formally Utterz, and believe they were probably convinced it was the right thing to do. It's still a shame though. The name change keeps drowning out the more important message — they’ve enhanced some services.

Who did? Utterli, formally Utterz.


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