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March 2009

why we fail : and what we can do about it

IgniteEven if we use all the right words,
Even if we put them all in the right order,
Even if we say them in the right place,
Even if we say them to the right people,
Even if we say them at the right time,
Even if we where the right clothes to the party,
Are we socially communicating correctly?

There is something distinctly human about social interactions.  Scaling and formalizing these human interactions in traditional business or marketing structures without losing the conversational momentum is difficult.  Moving from framework to success in social is not just about overviews and opinions, it is about the art of translation.

  • Many businesses find success by empowering their employees to interpret guidelines and best practices.
  • Others are waiting for a more formal infrastructure and engagement model before letting loose lips sink their ships.

I don't know that either solution is THE answer.  But I know that silence ISN'T the answer.

We need engagements that work with the best possible hybrid.  That celebrate our employees, solutions providers and communicators in an organized and stimulating manner.  We speak so much about compelling engagements.  But we shouldn't be seeding or forcing conversation, and we can do better than compelling it.  We can be stimulating.  We can incite.  We can inspire. 

I not convinced that we as an industry, have yet determined how. 

Inspired by the video below.  All the right words, but somehow, I think they missed the train.

Disclaimer: this post is not about how any individual company, agency, brand or consultant has failed, but about how we as an industry need to adapt for future success.

writing responsibly : would you miss the NY Times?

We have a freedom of speech, but that doesn't negate our social responsibility to speak with reason and purpose.

Bloggers have the option to write scandalous stories, scathing reviews and dismissive copy.
Newspapers have the right to publish ridiculous editorial, to focus on negativity and to build irrational fear. 

But in an age when print media's strongest claim to the throne of journalism, to a future as a paid media outlet, is integrity, one can't help but question the print media's indiscretion over the past few months.

First the NY Post published a highly insensitive and irrational cartoon that have portrayed our president as a monkey.  Then the NY Times published a cartoon equating Israel, the US's strongest democratic ally in a volatile region, to Nazis.  Time and Newsweek regularly report on hype and speculation... on their front covers. 

When the printed word loses it's integrity as a news outlet, what future do they have?

And as we begin to place on additional emphasis on socially centric reporting, on user generated editorial and perspective, how will we police ourselves?  Will we keep ourselves honest?  Can we trust the community to continue an honest dialogue in the absence of a professional moderator?

On that note, should we ever have trusted the professional media with this responsibility in the first place?
 - - - - - - - -
On a side note, doesn't the NY Times, as a Western, liberal outlet, have a responsibility to create a culture of conversation?  Is a cartoon depicting anyone as a Nazi, a group of monsters dedicated solely to genocide, ever truly warranted (aside from instances ethnic cleansing)?  Is this the "responsible" media we are being asked to PAY for?

Have some class.  Apoligize for the Oliphant cartoon.  State your position on dismissive conversation.  Or stay the course.  Just don't go asking for a bailout.

exectweets : it's not the golden ticket

Exec tweets I have no clue how will Twitter turn a profit.  But I can tell you one thing: ExecTweets is not Twitter's golden ticket.

What is it?

ExecTweets is a site built by Federated Media and endorsed by Twitter.  It offers a simple value proposition: find influencers by topic, view their conversation and engage with them, all within a single evironment. 

While this looks like an afterthought, ExecTweets' Twitter 101 page is fairly well written (though clearly not part of the core value prop, at least at present).

Why does it work?

Twitter has long needed a directory of their leading personalities.  And advertisers have long sought out a solution to capture the momentum of the Twitter phenonmina. 

Why isn't this THE answer?

Advertisers pay for three things: position/placement (attention), relevance, and engagement.

ExecTweets offers tangential access to the Twitter audience.  It suppliments the twitter user journey.  It builds on Fed Media's value proposition.  But it does not solve for Twitter overall. It does not integrate with the Twitter experience, with 99% of the twitter activity.

 ExecTweet advertising is equivalent to advertising in an interactive yellow pages.  Yellow pages do not define the phone experience, they suppliment it.   I strongly doubt that there is enough interest in advertising in a suppliment, to support the core Twitter experience.

Why Federated Media?

Federated Media has established their value as a business and within the social community by bringing all these three advertising attributes (attention, relevance, engagement) to brands in a deeply social manner.  They accomplish this by bringing compelling social personalities and their social audiences (blogs, twitter etc) to brands in nicely packaged formats, such as sponsored blogging from an influencer on a brand site.

Why will it work?

Advertisers few alternatives for reaching the Twitter audience.  Fed Media has credibility all around.  Twitter is gaining a valueable resource.  Everyone wins.

Image representing Alltop as depicted in Crunc...

Why can't this be the long term solution? is ExecTweets for blogging.  Alltop aggregates all of the leading social voices by topic and features their latest posts.  While Alltop is a great resource, it has not changed the way we publish, interact with or engage with blogs.  It hasn't changed the blogging experience, it has supplimented the blog discovery process.

The same is true of ExecTweets.  It's a great resource.  But it isn't part of the Twitter experience.
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social support : is it a solution or a stopgap?

2767676288_07b714e339_o 2008 and 2009 have seen the growth of social product support. 

  • Experiencing a problem with Comcast?  You can reach them on Twitter
  • Have a problem with Dell?  Just write a blog post or shoot them a tweet, they are there to help. 
  • Need advice on a home repair?  Just shoot The Home Depot a tweet.  disclaimer: THD is a client.

But what happens when there is a disconnect?  What happens when traditional product support is far from satisfactory?  Are we telling customers that they are better off going through Twitter than through our traditional channels?  Is this a scalable or sound solution in the long run?  Is this the future of customer support?

Case Study : Comcast
My grandmother was overseas on vacation for 6 weeks.  Her apartment was empty.  When she returned, her Comcast bill stated that three adult films had been purchased on her account.  A handful of phone calls later, Comcast still refused to remove these films from her bill.  Rather, their only solution was to offer her a $10 a month discount for the next 3 months.  I would bet that this wouldn't have happened had this conversation happened on Twitter.  This wouldn't have required repeat phone calls, demands to speak with supervisors, hours of frustration or the offensive accusation that a woman with strongly traditional values ordered pornogaphy.  It would have been solved.

Case Study : at&t wireless
I have had a similar experience with at&t wireless.  Their retail location sold me a phone with claims of features it simply didn't have.  Their phone support was frustrating to the point of hanging up.  Their retail employee asked me if I spoke English, and the manager told me I was wasting my time by even looking for a solution.  Yet their agency (via Twitter) was able to connect me with a representative who was far more personal, professional and solution-oriented (though I still can't get that iPhone).

Is this the future of customer service?
Is social support easier, more scalable, or more effecient?  Are we really better off offering mediocre traditional support and fantastic social support? 

  • Is social support preffered because of the obvious social advocacy potential?
  • Or would it just be easier to solve people's issues the first time around? 

who owns social? everyone...

Agency adaptation The past hundred years have challenged the status quo with remarkable frequency and speed.  New technologies have impacted the way we live and communicate, disrupting markets in motion and forcing adaptation, innovation and change. 

The introduction of the empowered and connected web surfer brought increased prominence to the voice of the individual and the power of the community.  While nearly everyone now recognizes the power of social engagement, an intense debate has raged over where this discipline should live.  While some have suggested that PR and Digital Agencies are poorly positioned or equipped to address this new communications dynamic (and in many cases they are right), I believe that this is more than a discipline, it is an actionable philosophy that lives across all marketing and communications streams.  Oh yeah, and some agencies have proven more than capable at adapting to and activating in the social dynamic as well.

Point #1 - This isn't one size fit's all
Nobody truly owns social.  Not a single division within a brand, not a PR agency, not a digital agency, not a word of mouth agency, not an unagency.  Social is owned by a team, not by any individual person.  Because no one person or agency represents all aspects of the marketing discipline.

  • CRM would never own product ideation discussions on their own.
  • Engineers would never own customer service discussions on their own.
  • Marketers would never own design discussions on their own.

So why would one suggest that social listening, activation or cultivation would live in any single agency?

Point #2 - Agencies are Evolving
Clearly the face of the agency world is evolving.  It always has.  And successful agencies will continue to evolve.  To suggest that digital agencies can only focus on banners and PR folks can only focus on journalists is ridiculous.  New competencies are emerging within agencies of all stripes.  New structures are being introduced regularly. 

This is not an all-or-nothing world.  Just because a capability wasn't embedded in an agency 10 years ago doesn't mean that it can't be there today or in 6 months from now.  All it takes is a commitment to learn, to build and to optimize for success.

Point #3 - Good relationships often drive budgets
Agencies with good relationships with their clients are being asked by their clients to bring social expertise to the table.  Smart agencies are proposing these solutions, bringing this expertise in house in advance of these requests, proactively proposing social marketing efforts and when appropriate, are even restructuring their teams to better meet social demands.  There are relationships in place, and these should not be tossed out with the wind.

That being said, when agencies fall short of expectations or fail to deliver beyond expectations, smart brands look elsewhere for solutions.  And these solutions may come from a "new media shop" or a "social consultant".  But even the strongest social solutions should not live in a vacuum.  Everyone who impacts the brand and their communications belongs at the table (not necessarily at every meeting, but at least in the loop).

Point #4 - We all started somewhere

Even the smartest, most savvy marketer was once a child learning to walk.  Part of this process involves falling down. 

While some of us are not falling down as often as some others, we are all listening to one another.  We are all engaging in the same industry conversations, reading the same blogs, participating in many of the same twitter conversations, attending the same events and having many of the same behind closed doors conversations with our peers about what has worked and what hasn't.  We may not have the same perspectives, frameworks or operating infrastructure, but one has to believe that anyone with a brain, two ears and eyes, a will and the drive to build successfully can and will do so. 

Key Takeaway

Change has challenged the establishment.  But that doesn't mean that an industry built on survival of the fittest can't evolve.

the right to speculate : Mzinga and Jeremiah

2462463982_fafe858e88_b Do industry leading bloggers have the moral right to speculate or to report on speculation?  Do we hold them to a higher standard?  Should we? 

Is it irresponsible for an industry leading blogger not to share important relevant rumors with their constituency? 

Jeremiah Owyang is one the most respected names in the social media industry.  So when Jeremiah writes, people pay attention.  Just a few hours ago, Jeremiah posted a few questions related to rumors circulating about Mzinga, a company that may be on the verge of something drastic.  He stated the facts.  He shared a high level overview of some of the rumors circulating about this company while seeking to distance himself from a world of rumor and speculation.

As with all potentially controversial posts, the comments lit up.  As did Twitter.  I have the utmost respect for both CK and Jeremiah (as I'm sure they do for each other), and this post is not meant to call out one or the other.

But the question remains: should a blogger share an important or compelling rumor?

Mzinga Twitter Conversation as of 8:20ish PM EST
Note: the opinions expressed in the conversation below do not necessarily reflect those cited or @messaged. These are individual's thoughts, captured as a snapshot in time and may not accurately reflect current sentiment. This is not the original image that was included in this post.  This visual has been updated at the request of those featured.  My sincerest apologies for any confusion. 
Mzinga buzz  

product innovation doesn't equal success

Featuring the newest, coolest, most capable shiny object doesn't guarantee that your company will be a success.

Delivering innovative products sets up an opportunity for success. But true success will come from your customer advocates, from those who love to share their love for your offering.  And this will only come with outstanding fulfillment.

Advocacy Funnel
Advocacy funnel

Case Study : Archos

Archos Jukebox Recorder 2Image via Wikipedia

Archos, a French portable media hardware manufacturer, has been one step ahead of the game when it comes to portable media functionality for nearly a decade.  Their devices are remarkably cool, exceptionally capable and generally the most advanced on the market.  My first three hard drive based mp3 players were Archos products.  But I no longer purchase Archos products.  Because while all these products worked well out of the box, none of them lasted more than 18 months.  When calling product support, my average wait time was approximatley 20 minutes.  And their answer was always Your warranty is no longer valid.  My answer was Neither is your company

Key Takeaway: We don't care about warranties, we just want functioning solutions.

Case Study in Action: Twitter

Twitter is one of the hottest growing tools/communities/destinations on the web.  But complaints around their customer support are growing at an alarming rate.  When heavy hitters like Orli Yakuel and Allen Stern are not receiving satisfactory service, one can't help but wonder where Twitter's priorities are.  Twitter is offering an innovative product, with strong out of the box satisfaction.  But if they want to maintain their appeal in the longer term, they need to think beyond the honeymoon, they need to build for success.  Twitter has an opportunity get social bigwigs to sing their praises.  All they need to do is pick up the phone.

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I'm inspired - Purim in a Recession

Purim There is a running joke in the Orthodox Jewish Community in NY.  It goes something like this:

Guy #1: So are you in Real Estate, Medical, Diamonds, Finance or Mortgages?
Guy #2: None.  I'm a lawyer representing all of them.

Sure, marketing doesn't fall into the traditional career trajectory.  But with Wall Street and the mortgage industries in the tank, real estate and luxury goods aren't exactly booming.

One would think that dire financial times would sour the festivities of the holiday of Purim, a holiday of giving and community celebration.  But my expectations were shattered and I am proud to say that I have been proven wrong.

My 15 year old nephew went around with a group of friends singing and dancing in homes across the community, kind of like Jewish caroling for charity.  In one day he raised nearly FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS.

While I can assure you that I was not writing massive checks today, I can honestly say that I did not see a single person turned away empty handed.  With less money to spent on frivolous amenities like outlandish costumes, I saw an entire community pull together to celebrate with one another.  Whereas in years past, teenagers were often partying all across the neighborhood, this year they brought their energy to the streets, raising massive sums for charity.

Purim is a holiday that challenges us to ignore our external differences and "costumes", focusing instead on what is on the inside, what really matters.

Today I learned that in the face of difficulty, there are two directions one can take.  One can "get by" or one can "pull together".  Today I learned a valuable lesson around what it means to be a community.

Happy Purim!