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May 2012

The Rewards And Challenges Of Social Suites

Buddy_media_salesforce-380x285 SalesForce bought Radian6.  Then Oracle bought Vitrue.  Then SalesForce bought Buddy Media.  The rise of the Social Suite is undeniable.  And it's changing the game.  But how big?  And how fast?

The Need For Social Suites

Social never lived in a vacuum.  We've long known that a rising tide lifts all boats and that social strength was the result of actions within and beyond social.  Our customers live cross platform lives.  But we were never able to connect all of ours dots.  We always tried to, but were never able to track one-on-one or aggregate customer engagement across ads, conversations, communities, support, loyalty, CRM etc.  Building the needed bridges across these solutions require too much work and too much manual duct tape, only to create a frustratingly limited and fickle output.

A unified platform offers incredible promise for consumer engagement and far better metrics.  

About one year ago I was at a social industry event where someone shared a fantastic story.  They believed that their engagement with the brand's social customer service arm on Twitter resulted in their getting upgrades across the brand's many offerings.  The brand in question was my client.  We tried to set up a system that would have this capability.  We found that there was no good way to bridge their social engagement system with their dated customer service system, and both of these solutions were incompatible with their multiple CRM systems powering their loyalty database.

The new SalesForce just may have all the right pieces in place to power this fantastical social user experience.  If that is, my client had been willing to invest heavily in migrating all of the above mentioned systems over to or a compatible database.  

The Challenges of Unification

The rise of the integrated Social Suite is going to pose multiple political and logistical challenges for agencies and social teams who are used to sitting in the driver's seat.   Social teams have long been able to choose their page management, social listening and conversational engagement solutions based on their own needs and tastes.  Many large brands continue to switch solutions providers every 18 months or so, and most are using more than one solutions provider at a time.  Most CRM teams have been working on their existing infrastructure and solutions for decades.  Migrating all of this data and merging all of these workstreams onto a single solution will not be cheap or easy.   

Getting a Social Suite to work for you will require finesse, investment and at times compromise.  Marketers who want the benefit of a unified system are going to need to be ready to clear their internal and partner/agency hurdles in order to get everyone on the same page.  

The potential benefits to a Social Suite are clear.  It is less clear however, if the potential benefits will be enough to entice big players to migrate away from their entrenched solution.

My Prediction

  • Social Suites will take time to build and develop.  Version 1 of these integrations will not be as robust or as meaningful as version 4.  Early adopters will want to play in the sandbox, but most of the market will take a more phased or wait and see approach.
  • Social Business consultancies are going to try to leverage these suites as a foot in the door on broader agency business, and agencies are going to start taking Social Business as a concept more seriously.
  • A limited integration will be found to be better than no integration at all.  There will still be value in a Social Suite even if the entire organization does not get on-board.  SalesForce has a very low cost of entry and there is value in integrating all social customer relationships, even if this system is not being scaled up to the broader organization.

Today's news is great news for all my friends over at Buddy Media, Radian 6 and SalesForce and I wish them well.  This was a brilliant move for SalesForce, and I look forward to seeing the many fruits of this integration.  While agencies and consultants are going to revel in the hype, change takes longer than talk.  The change will come, but it's not going to be as fast or as awesome as many in the "industry" would like to have you believe.



What Was Business Insider Thinking?


 Bias does not belong in business and it does not belong in the workplace.  I don't care what your feelings are on anyone else's faith, lifestyle or hair color, keep it to yourself.  Bigotry is not news and business journalism is not the place to explore or discuss rationalizations for bigotry.

I was never the biggest fan of Business Insider, but it was nothing against their site, their content just wasn't to my liking.  Today they actually offended me.  They actually posted a nearly contentless post entitled "Why Do People Hate Jews" and invited people to leave their thoughts in the comments.  UPDATE: they later revised their title to What are the sources of antisemitism.  But on the web, there is no delete button - just look at the URL for the original title!  Let me repeat, this was an empty post inviting a rationalization of antisemitism in blog comments.  This discussion has no place in business.  And blog comments are far from the ideal platform for this discussion.  This is appalling.  And it has no place in business, let alone in life.

My first response was to walk away and never read their site again.  I believe that Henry Blodget (the CEO at Business Insider) made a serious mistake and it is important that we raise our concerns.  Let the world know how offensive this post is.  Let the world know how big a mistake this was, and how much this impacts our perception of their site.  

Share this post, share your disgust.  And let's hope we never have to do this again.




Succeeding Through Social Media's Trough Of Disillusionment

UntitledIn Gartner's Hype Cycle, the Peak of Inflated Expectations is followed by the Trough of Disillusionment.  While Social Media as a business practice is hitting that crest, I don't believe this spells doom for the industry.  And it's all going to come down to one word: value.

How Did We Get Inflated Expectations?

Social Media is regularly being misunderstood and misreported.  The digital social dynamic is in it's formative young teen years, and in the interest of growing business and driving investment we as a society may have over-promised.  And as an industry, I cannot say that we have not over-hyped. The market now has unrealistic expectations of social marketing, social media advertising, the impact of privacy, the dangers of youth engagement, etc.  And because of all the promises of results and postulations that implied maturity, we are now being put it on trial as an adult.

And the stakes are only getting higher.  With an estimated 21% growth rate reaching over $10B by 2016, this is a sizeable ad business.  But is social marketing good only as an ad business, or is this real business?  Is this business model here to stay?

The Trough Of Disillusionment 

The press is awash in stories like GM pulling their advertising from Facebook, and half of Facebook users don't trust Facebook or think it's a fad.  This is the usual media hype leading up to an IPO.  But are they right?  And is this a broader trend?  Is Facebook at its peak or is it just getting started?  And what does this mean to marketers?  What does this mean to the social marketing industry?

Let's put this into perspective.  Facebook is far more profitable today than Google was when they went for their IPO.  Investment is not just about present returns, it's about the future of the business.  Facebook is a fast evolving business in a rapidly evolving sector.  Facebook is still regularly evolving their business solutions as well as their platform.  They have demonstrated that they can drive media investment, and there have been hints at additional revenue streams.  Let's not forget, their revenue models need not be limited to on-site media.  Off-site media targeted based on Facebook data could be a huge revenue generator.  Richer API access and big data are also significant potential streams for Facebook, particularly as their user base transitions into mobile.

But this isn't just about Facebook, it's about our industry.  Facebook is the biggest player in our space, and while social is far larger than Facebook, Facebook is also the most central player in the social marketing industry.  Let's be honest for a moment.  How many brands can show the dollars and cents impact of their social marketing?  How many brands can demonstrate the long term value of a fan?  We sold the idea that millions of fans equals the lifetime engagement of millions of constituents, but few pages have higher than a 1-2% read rate on their posts.  Other than promotions and customer support, how many studies have shown that social changes consumer shopping behavior at scale?  Most importantly, how many brands can say that they have truly provided VALUE to their users, to their community and to their business through their social marketing?  

And from a user perspective, what is Facebook's long term value?  As one of my good friends wrote today on Facebook,

I spend plenty of time on FB... but that's simply because it's an easy, mindless, moderately interesting site for me. I also find it to be a huge waste of time, I don't find that I get much from it, and I consistently debate deleting my account altogether (and would if more people were on G+ :P ). Most of all, when I don't use it for a few days, I don't find that I miss it whatsoever.

 I can't say that I disagree.  But I don't know that this means that we won't still be using Facebook to do these same or similar activities in three to five years from now.  Facebook has long been a relationship respirator, and particularly when coupled with a better email product, Facebook is positioned to maintain this value for years to come.  

Facebook is losing the excitement of being new, but this doesn't mean that it's dead.  Much like a new car, once the initial "love affair" stage is over, we look to the car for the value it provides us.  Facebook, and our industry are now at this stage, at the value justification crossroads.

Riding Into the Slope Of Enlightenment

There are businesses driving their growth through social media marketing and Facebook is part of that equation.  All strong social businesses share one common attribute, and this attribute separates them from all failing social businesses.  All social businesses provide VALUE.  Value to their community, value to their users, and value to their business.  They have used the interpersonal social dynamic to foster a meaningful social brand equity statement.  Being on Facebook doesn't make ones value to the community social-value, and advertising without this value-offering is a poor excuse for a band-aid.  Social must be engineered to create a virtuous circle, to create a new market around their social equity statement.

Facebook and Google+ and Twitter and all of the other platforms are in the same position.  Once the excitement of the platform's newness wears off, these platforms must begin to operate like utilities, providing us with real value.  Whether it's value in the connections (Ala LinkedIn), value in conversations (Ala Twitter) or value in content and commenting (Ala Facebook and G+), the user value is what is going to keep us coming back.

Agencies, consultants and solutions providers that deliver business value by engineering a market of social value exchange with their users and community will ride out the waves of hype by demonstrating continued improvement and success.  The good news is that I strongly believe that there are more people getting this than ever before.  



Are Marketers Evil Scumbags?

Before you read this post, please read The Verge's investigational peice on internet scammers.  It's a great peice and the driver of this post.

The Verge ScamDear Popular Culture and The General Public,

Marketers are not evil.  Internet marketers are not evil.  TV advertising as an industry is not evil.  Bad people do bad things, and unscrupulous people do unscrupulous things.  But they aren't marketing and they aren’t marketers, they are scammers.

If a fraudster poses as a physician and harms an unsuspecting community, we do not blame doctors.  We do not blame the broader practice of medicine.  We do not blame the industry.  We do not point fingers other than at the fraudster.

Yet the general media, and in particular the tech industry has no problem calling out scammers as "marketers" or "internet marketers" without any distinction from the thousands of legitimate marketers around the world.  Tone-deaf messaging is blamed on "ad industries" while few notice the massive impact the ad industry has had on their buying behavior.

This weekend's incredibly well researched and thorough investigational piece on The Verge covers all of the dirty tricks of internet scammers.  Yet The Verge editors felt no need to distinguish between ethical marketers and scammers who pose as marketers.  This is a fantastic article highlighting the woes of an underappreciated danger.  But they point the finger at the wrong people and offend an entire industry.

On this Friday's episode of The Vergecast the Verge editorial staff defended their mislabeling of scammers as marketers utilizing a number of invalid defenses, and later admitted that they could have and possibly should have said things differently.  Below are their points, and my proposed counter-points.

  1. They said that the scammers called themselves Internet Marketers.  And they asked, what else should they call them?  

    What about calling them scammers?

  2. The editorial team questioned the overall industry - why isn't the industry calling out these scammers?  

    As someone who has spent a good deal of time in this industry, I can tell you that (a) there are countless posers with no creds claiming to be experts (throw a rock and you hit a social media guru) and (b) nobody has the time or interest to out the many scammers.

    If we were to flip this back to The Verge's technology industry, I could easily name a handful of technology bloggers who take substantial gifts with little disclosure.  They call themselves experts on all things technology related, with little to no expertise beyond the consumer perspective.  

    Is The Verge going after unethical bloggers in their own industry?

Marketing Isn’t Evil, It’s Good

Marketing is the practice of building and developing markets.  In the digital age, this is increasingly about forming valued and trusted relationships.  Marketing has nothing to do with scamming.

TV Ads Don't Work On Me, What A Waste Of Money

If marketing and advertising in particular didn't work, marketers wouldn't invest in it.  The numbers don't lie.  Brands that spend money on TV usually see an uptick in sales.  Brands that form valued relationships with their constituents see increased loyalty and strong sales.  Marketing is real business, it's legitimate business and it's big business.

Marketers that rely on misstatements don't succeed.  They are bad at their practice, even if they call themselves gurus.

Marketers are not snake oil salesmen.  Marketers are not selling scams.  That's why we have the terms "snake oil salesmen" and "scam."  Great marketers deliver exceptional business outcomes using ethical and meaningful communications and market dynamics.

It's time mainstream, responsible properties like The Verge right their wrong.  I've been a reader since their inception.  And I don't appreciate their slap in our face. 

What Are We REALLY Looking For In A CEO?

4258728238_feb914668e_z      Is the purpose of a CEO to lead a company or to lead investors?  Is the purpose of a CEO to manage public perception or lead internal direction?  Must a high level position like CEO demand a deep technical knowledge of the details of the worker-bee side of the business?  Must the CEO of Kraft Foods be able to bake?  Can the CEO of Brooks Brothers wear Levis jeans on vacation?  Would it ever be acceptable for the CEO of Baskin Robbins to be lactose intolerant?  

Over the past week Yahoo! and Facebook have both been called out by the press for their CEO-related dramas.  And both of these dramas are frankly, ridiculous.


I was always told that my BA degree was just a piece of paper.  After that first few years on the job, we are measured by our performance and capability.

Yet Yahoo!'s board looks to be crying holy hell over a mix-up regarding what their CEO's declared major college major.  This strikes me as ridiculous for two reasons.  Firstly, it doesn't take a highly technical person to run a tech company.  It takes a leader who understands the business to run the business side of the shop. And secondly, a CEO should not be qualified or disqualified by their bachelors degree.  If someone was the right man for the job last week, why would it matter whether or not he learned to code in the 1980s?


Mark Zuckerberg has always marched to the beat of an informal drummer.  The Facebook corporate persona is laid back in dress and dead serious about hard work and great code.  With this corporate persona, Zuckerberg has used his vision and commitment to build the world's largest owned-and-operated social network boasting almost 1 in 6 people on the planet as users. 

Yet Zuckerbeg and Facebook have taken some serious heat regarding their approach to investors as they ramp up to their IPO.  After all, why would investors really want to invest in a company whose CEO shows up in a hoodie?

Better yet, why not?

Why must a CEO look and feel like he belongs on Wall Street to have a successful business?  In a business driven by user adoption and commitment, why are so many investors and media focusing on short term revenues and dress code superficialities?  

If Facebook walked and talked like an investment bank, they wouldn't have become Facebook.  So why do investment bankers take to the press over Facebook's breach of Wall Street etiquette?  

The Role Of The CEO

The role of the CEO is to lead the company.  Apple's CEO should first and foremost be a leader and in Apple's world, he should be a dynamic presenter.  He must also have an appreciation for manufacturing, design and technology, but he need not be an expert in all of the above.

Kraft's CEO must be a great leader and have an appreciation for the corporate culture, for providing great food experiences.  He must appreciate all of the various components that drive the business, but he need not be a great cook.

Yahoo! is not in the 1980s code business.  They are a legacy company seeking engineer a product and marketing transformation in a very different market.  They need a CEO with a different perspective, a real product focus and a very inspiring personality.  Public swipes at the CEO over items in his resume going back 30 years do nothing for share price and they do little for the long term success of the company.

Facebook is in the business of transformation through human connections and communications.  Facebook needs a CEO who is driven by this goal, and appreciates all of the other components of the business (such as investment).  If they got this far with a corporate culture that clashes in wardrobe with Wall Street, why would anyone want to change it?