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August 2012

What Should BIC Do Now?

51CqY3ULKDLBIC has become a punch line to the digital culture's joke.  The community has piled on, and BIC doesn't seem to be engaging.  What should they do now?

If I were at BIC, I would set this up as follows:

  • Assemble a SWAT team of people senior enough to make the tough calls but junior (at-heart) enough to roll up their sleeves and get work done.  Be sure to include a member of corp comms, marketing, product and at least one person who is a digital native and will appreciate the social culture.  It goes without saying that this team must include members of the female persuasion who can relate to those participating in this meme.
  • Identify someone who "gets" social and give them 12 hours to build a report detailing the history and scope of the meme.  This report should not be judgmental, but it needs to show the human side of the problem by showing the down and dirty quotes from the community and in context.
  • Be mindful of bringing in an outside consultancy.  The right solution is going to be one that embraces BIC for their corporate culture and operations.  Outsides with little previous experience should serve as coaches that can bring out the best in the organization, not leaders who will make the tough calls.
  • Develop a strategy that recognizes the vocal position of the community, monitors and reports on the community... and whatever you do, own it.  

2 Overall Approaches

  1. Ride It Out
    If the strategy is to quietly discontinue the product and rerelease a similar but better named product while hoping that the community will burn itself out, be sure to listen and monitor the community with an active response strategy available as-needed (if the community doesn't burn out).   
  2. Engage With Care
    If you decide to actively engage the community, prepare for a rough ride.  This is what you earn when you ignore your public.  Be mindful that actively engaging in the conversation may add fuel to the fire.  Don't try to get cutesy or stick to a PR talking point.  Develop a message that is real, that is honest and that comes from the heart.  

If you decide to engage, do not engage every blogger or every Facebook commenter.  Focus your efforts on doing big things that will matter to a lot of people and small things that will have a big impact on people's perception.  This is an area where engaging a knowledgeable outside party with proven experience makes all the sense in the world.  The message needs to be BIC, the words need to come from BIC, but the knowledge of how to best use each social platform can come from an outside coach.

Moving Forward

There is nothing like a good fire to get started on some remodeling.  If this is what social can do to BIC, imagine what the community can do for BIC.  And it’s going to start by embracing the community.  Embrace listening, embrace customer participation in product design and feedback and get a personality.  Your community clearly is showing theirs.  Make this an opportunity to transform the brand's community perception both online and offline.

Pens are an inherently expressive medium.  BIC's social opportunity is written all over the web.  And with the world's attention, there has never been a better time to get their act together and make it happen.


The Great Marketing Conspiracy that wasn't

Great Marketing Conspiracy
I recently came across this blog post.  While I understand that Christopher Elliott has solid media credentials, I am amazed at his suggestion that big brands are participating in a secretive conspiracy to buy fake twitter followers and are thereby "faking it" as he put it.  As Mr. Elliott recognizes, the numbers he shared "prove nothing".  I would like to show just how small that nothing is.  

I worked very closely with one of the airlines mentioned in this post.  I was at the table with this airline from day one of their active social marketing efforts, shaping much of their strategy and advising on media spend.  We never bought a single Twitter follower. This tactic was never mentioned and I highly doubt that anyone at the table other than myself even knew that this was an option.  

But before we get to all the reasons that this blogger is mistaken in his presumption that major airlines are buying twitter followers, I would like to address and dispel the Great Marketing Conspiracy that wasn't.

The Great Marketing Conspiracy that wasn't

One of my junior high school teachers was obsessed with pulling us away from consumerism and evil advertising.  He regularly lectured us about how Coca Cola used to replace one frame of a movie with their logo in order drive us all out to buy their product.  He honestly believed that Big marketers are manipulating your minds into buying things you don't want.  I can still hear his passionate voice pleading with us not to look for brand labels, as these were manipulations of our underdeveloped minds.  

And if he is up-to-date and still teaching today, I'm sure he would love Mr. Elliott's post.  Who doesn't love a good conspiracy?

This teacher may have been passionate, but he was mistaken on so many levels.  

Big consumer-facing brands aren't coordinated, secretive or devious enough to get away with unethical communications practices.  Much of the time, big brands and agencies can hardly keep their teaser campaigns under wraps while the public waits for the big reveal.  While many believe that there are secret scientists at ad agencies figuring out how to manipulate people into buying things they don't want, the reality is far less exciting.  Generally good natured people at decent brands are trying to ethically and effectively position and communicate their brands and products.  Agency people try to push the creative and technology envelope to help them get there.  Nobody is plotting an evil conspiracy.  Nobody has the time, interest, appetite for risk or budget.

Did Major Airlines Buy Twitter Followers?

Absolutely not.  

At least not one of the category leaders, my former client.

Here's what really happened: We went auto-follow crazy and spammers and bots took advantage of the auto-follow dynamic.  Big brands had (and generally still don't have) good tools for analyzing their Twitter followers, so most were unaware of the number of fake accounts following them.  

Let me explain:

In the early days of marketing on Twitter, there was a big debate over whether a brand should follow everyone who follows them.  Following every account that followed the brand was an accepted practice circa 2009.  A number of automated "follow-back" and "auto-DM" (direct message) tools popped up, allowing brands to automatically follow all accounts that followed them, as well as to send them an automated direct message.  A number of big marketers employed tools such as these, as did many thought leaders in social media.

Spammers and bots caught on.  By following a number of accounts that had an auto-follow tool enabled, the spammers and bots could easily create sizable followings of their own.  The spammers and bots occasionally unfollow many of these same accounts, creating a disproportionate and favorable ratio of following to followers.  However, many (I would guess, most) spammers and bots focused on following lots of brands as the brands would likely follow in kind, and did not bother to unfollow these accounts once they got their follow-back.  Once they had a sizable number of followers, these guys would get into all kinds of shenanigans.

I know of a number of brands that still employ auto-follow tools.  The airline I worked with never employed an auto-follow tool, and yet this report shows a good number of fake followers.  They never bought a single Twitter follower.  They have all of these "fake" accounts because spammers and bots are trying to get cheap follow-backs.

And to answer Mr. Elliot's final question, he only has 8% "fake" followers because he wasn't an airline in 2009.  I don't know why bots targeted airlines, but it's pretty odd to blame an airline for being targeted.  And let's not forget, this is a brand new, unproven, free tool.  While I'm sure they are great coders, I have come across dozens of similar tools that were wildly inaccurate in the real world.  If you doubt what I'm saying, ask anyone with real industry experience about the accuracy of any free "social sentiment scoring" or "social valuation" solutions.

There is no Great Marketing Conspiracy.  Not in social media, not in advertising, not in packaging and not at retail.  Not even on Twitter.  We've all been too busy working hard, earning our relationships, our sales and your loyalty.  And that is what will continue to make us successful. 



The Future Of Social Media Management Solutions

  Social Management Solutions Buddy Media, Involver, Vitrue, Wildfire... the big players may have been acquired by the bigger players in the digital industry, but their value is being misreported by the industry press.  Yes, they all offer social media advertising solutions.  But this is only half of the reason that brands engage their services.  Why are the press and even the educated punditry getting it so wrong?

I believe I have the answer.  First, let's look at the four core competencies offered by Social Management Solutions.  We will then take a look at where this space is going.  Along the way, I hope to offer the reader an understanding as to why the press is focusing so heavily on media.

Four Core Competencies of Social Management Solutions

1. Content Management

Big brands often have a dozen or more Facebook pages across business units.  Building and managing these pages without a centralized content management tool is both painful and expensive.  Rebuilding each experience for each brand page or a building localized version for each location is a headache and can be cost prohibitive.  Managing an editorial calendar across each of these pages or localized pages is a headache.  And as much as big brands have big budgets, marketers have seen the light and are realizing the there is no reason to build every element of every page or app from scratch.  Centralized, simple-to-skin libraries of core page engagement assets such as polls, video players and the like are offered by all of the major players in the space.  While all of these tools sound like nice-to-haves, the total experience offers a dashboard that large struggle to live without, and enable smaller marketers to look and act like the big players without spending a fortune.

2. Conversation Management

A good community manager should know every member of their community.  They should know what posts this person has engaged with in the past, who they are connected to, and what they like and dislike.  They should even remember every customer awaiting a response to a question they asked last week or even last month.  In reality, this is impossible at scale.  Conversation management software (ideally linked to a CRM suite) enables marketers to track engagements with individual fans.  While each platform offers varying degrees of competency in this space, this service is in incredible demand for service and conversation oriented marketers.  I would like to believe that this is why CRM platforms are investing so heavily in this space.

3. Ad Management

As platforms like Facebook and Twitter continue to develop their "sponsored posts" and "sponsored actions" ad units, it becomes increasingly important for media and page management teams to work in sync with one another.  

Integrating these solutions makes a lot of sense for the solutions providers.  Media is a low cost, high margin product with far more budget than creative or community management.  Media integration in a centralized system could yield strong organizational efficiencies when led by the right management team.  However, in practice this is not always the case.  Media is often managed by a different agency than creative; who may have little engagement with the community management teams (which as often as not sit at the brand or client).  I'm all for integration, but it’s not easy. Hopefully these integrated suites will push marketers to get serious about getting on the same page.  This is a very real area of very real waste in this space.

The right ad system will be one that can optimize against your needs.  There are many dedicated ad solutions that feature fuller Facebook API access and unique media packages with better performance metrics than those currently offered by the all-in-one suites.  Most agency people I have spoken with are still buying much of their Facebook media from players other than the all-in-one suites.

This is why I struggle to understand why the media keeps reporting on these platforms as if they were ad solutions. 

4. Analytics

Social analytics are the Wild West.  Facebook offers certain page analytics.  Twitter offers minimal page analytics.   Developers bake their own third party analytics into apps and other rich engagements.  And nobody is bringing every possible social input into a dashboard that provides clarity.  That is why smart people hire the right people to make sense of it all.  That said, the greater the one-touch access to multiple analytics solutions in a single dashboard, the easier your life should be.  Additional capabilities like rich the permissions sets will help ensure that your numbers guru doesn't accidentally talk about Game Of Thrones while logged into your PBS Kids Twitter account.  

The Future

The truly great solutions of tomorrow are going to be true all-in-one shops that offer competencies or at least relationships and APIs that make shopping around for bits and pieces of solutions a thing of the past.  Wildfire has a rich heritage and a great deal of experience managing the minefield of social promotions.  But is Google the right company in which to further develop that aspect of their business?  Here's to hoping that wherever they pivot and however strong they grow, that they never forget what made them great in the first place.

A truly great analytics solution is going to integrate an incredible number of social inputs.  In this instance, Wildfire could offer some truly instance Google Analytics integrations.  On that note, here's to hoping some newly-wed-companies like Buddy Media and Radian 6 have some really good looking children.

The future is also going to include a new suite of mobile-friendly tools and experiences, making use of platform-specific APIs that have-not-yet-been invented.  The future is going to look incredibly smooth and brilliant compared to today's generation of social media management solutions.

I hope and pray that the glamour and cash behind media and advertising do not stall the development of much needed, real solutions.  Media is only a small slice of the pie.  And I'm concerned over its centrality in the media coverage of this space.

Here's to the conversation.




When Sharing And Facebook Integrations Go VERY WRONG is a brilliant site.  And they are blowing years of solid brand value with a short-lived spamtastic Facebook stunt and a hit-your-head-against-the-wall social integration.  Years of goodwill are being flushed down the drain for the sake of "sharing" and "connecting". 

I first learned about Glassdoor a few years back.  The value proposition was simple, valuable and brilliant: rate your current and past employer on a broad array of topics to register and see the employee ratings and pay scales at other prospective employers.  This is every HR department's dream and nightmare.  Hundreds if not thousands of employees sharing their salary ranges, rating the corporate culture, their faith in the business leadership, etc.  

I Glassdoored prospective employers and had others ask me about reviews of places I had worked that they found on Glassdoor.  I met with HR departments across a number of large organizations to showcase the value of transparent bottom-up communications as seen through the eyes of their employees.  I fielded off-the-wall questions like "Why can't we create fake accounts and seed positive reviews?" to "There is no way other businesses pay at that level, people must be inflating their salaries by 40%." and "Can we really believe something we read on the internet?".  Glassdoor had the power to showcase culture as a core driver of overall total business success from recruiting and interviewing through salaries, management practices and talent retention.

It has been about a year since I was last on  Then suddenly I started getting app notifications from Facebook.  Suddenly Glassdoor was starting to feel like so many other spammy Facebook apps.  Ironically, much of Glassdoor's value stemmed from their diametric opposition to Facebook-like user transparency. Why on earth would I want to connect with Glassdoor, a platform I valued for my lack of identifiable information, with Facebook a network built around my entire life?!

Glassdoor's Facebook numbers may have spiked, but their reputation has nosedived.  As the go-to "social" guy in the neighborhood, I have heard dozens of complaints about this "spam" app.  And no less than the web powerhouse Conduit posted a scathing review of their recent Facebook efforts on their blog.

A while back I was talking to a lawyer about pharma and social media.  He advised his client that they could try out a new social media tactic, but shouldn't tell anyone about it because too much attention could draw regulatory criticism.  The whole point of mass-social marketing is to build relationships that scale into massive awareness.  This advice made no sense.  

Social value needs to fit into the context of the user-value.  Failure to recognize this will dilute both the social, and the traditional value offerings of the brand.  Failure to follow accepted codes of social conducting (over-zealous inviting and sharing) will also ruin a relationship users have with the brand.  Glassdoor looks to be doing both.

I don't know what went wrong at Glassdoor.  I don't know that led them to develop an app that over-saturated our feeds.  As a user, the very idea of a Facebook/Glassdoor integration makes little sense to me.  It's a damn shame to see a strong brand built on a brilliant platform fall from grace due to a desire to be social.

Sometimes it's ok to just be yourself.  Especially as a brand.  Even if it means not being on Facebook.