Monthly Archives: January 2007

What Does Social Media Mean?

I’ve just published a post on the meaning and sigificance of social media at the Unica blog. Without rehashing the whole discussion here, I’ll post one paragraph that to me cuts to the core of all the hand wringing over the implications of social media.

I know no one does this anymore, but it’s interesting at this point to
crack open a dictionary. It turns out that media, the plural of medium,
means “that which lies between things”. It’s “a substance through which
a force acts or an effect is transmitted”. When we talk about media
communications, the substance is typically newspapers, television,
magazines, radio, books and now of course the Internet. In business,
media might also include brochures, direct mail, web sites, press
releases, presentations and demos. The force or effect that is
transmitted is information—information about people, events and ideas.
But the kicker is that media lies between “things”, and transmits a
force and effect.  The “things” have traditionally been the public on
one side, and the owners of media on the other. The force and effect
transmitted is not just information, but the shaping of knowledge. And
because traditional media—created with expensive and monolithic
tools—is controlled by its owners, the shaping of knowledge by
transmitting selected information has been very one-sided. And that’s
where the full contextual meaning of “social media” starts drawing its

It’s amazing to me how much value you can find hidden in the meanings of words. I’m sure no one sat around searching through the dictionary trying to come up with just the right definitions to wrap around blogs and wikis. A label like "social media" in one sense is just the victor in a natural selection of terms that also at one time included "user generated content". It fits, it makes sense. But at the same time, once that label sticks, and you dig down into what those words signifies, it’s really pretty damn fascinating to see the deeper layers that just pop right out. I mean, User Generated Content? How far can you dig with that? It’s almost as if the unstructured process that led to the rise of the term Social Media somehow accounted for the depth of meaning of the term.         

The Power of Social Media

Big day today.

First, today marks the launch of, a news blog covering technology for marketers. This is an evolutionary step in the development of the Value Added Marketing Association, whose mission is to accelerate the development of marketing technologies, and the advancement of a marketing technology community. MarketingRev assists that goal by providing news and insight into marketing technology and the industry at large, drawing together and informing marketers who understand the critical role technology plays in the evolution of marketing as a corporate function. If you’re a technology provider, please submit your company profile and news directly to MarketingRev for coverage.

Second, today is my first day as a guest blogger for Unica’s Marketing Consortium. I’ll be blogging for the month of February on the topic "The Power of Social Media", exploring the meaning, the origins, the hype, and of course, the relevance of Social Marketing to marketing practitioners. I’m opening today with an invitation to weigh in on the meaning of Social Media, and how you experience it as a marketer and as a consumer. There’s a lot of good dialog that’s been happening on the Unica blog, so please join the fray.

Finally, I’ve finally made the decision to relaunch MotiveLab as an agency focusing on Social Marketing. I’ve pulled down the MotiveLab site for a couple of weeks to reshape the content and position the company. I’ll be announcing some exciting partnerships after the relaunch in a few weeks. In the meantime, I’ll be digging deeper into the social media trend, both in concept at the Unica blog and in practice with MarketingRev.

The Anarchy of Truth

There’s a big flap continuing over Microsoft’s attempt to hire someone to edit a Wikipedia article they felt was slanted against them. There’s a good overview of the debate at, which I don’t want to rehash. The important point is that Wikipedia has become, rightfully or not, an important resource for information–not only the kind of dusty information that helps your kid write a report for school, but the kind of immediate and important information that affects business decisions and markets. To me, having read and contributed to the editing of the painful section on Marketing, the creation and vetting of that information seems like a sausage factory. I don’t see a lot of people digging into the implications of the whole Wikipedia experiment for Social Media, but it’s poignant.

The idea behind Wikipedia is that it serves as an encyclopedia written by ordinary unpaid people with an interest and expertise in a relevant topic and a Neutral Point of View, which among other things, is supposed to mean a lack of bias. That’s all very utopian and everything, but really, how many people with enough passion and expertise to provide authoritative and encyclopedic knowledge are also free from bias? My former business partner tells the story of a friend who spent his career as a librarian for Boeing, and who was blocked from editing articles on jet engines because he continually disagreed with the facts as presented by a designated editor.

The problem with Wikipedia is that eventually someone has to make up the rules that define how content is shaped into "fact". And to paraphrase an old saw, the reality with Wikipedia is that "Fact is determined by the rulemaker."

This, to me, is one of the defining challenges of social media. The whole point of social media is the democratization of content–differing points of view, differing beliefs and opinions, different versions of "truth"–all equally accepted as a counter measure to the controlling rules of a central authority. It works wonderfully when we’re dealing with politics, and culture–things we already accept as fluid and open to interpretation. But how does it work when it comes to things we want to be universal–like the facts you read in an encyclopedia?  I’m not saying it can’t work, but clearly Wikipedia’s rules aren’t working. 

Consumer Disgust as Social Media Driver

There’s quite a lot of discussion these days about social media, the, um, New Big Revolution in marketing. In reality, it’s more like a stepping stone on the evolutionary path that continues to define and redefine the relationship between businesses and markets. It wasn’t too long ago that we were talking frothily about "Customer Centricity", and before that personalization, one-to-one marketing, and on the trail leads into the misty past. What’s changed today is that technologies have emerged that allow market participants to network–to share ideas and opinions that in ways that blunt the prepackaged and broadcast messages marketers have relied on since the development of mass media to position and sell products.

I’ll be digging into a lot of these issues over the next few weeks, but for the moment, I want to draw attention to the market drivers that are making social media so important. There’s a lot of focus on the mechanics of social media, the fear that companies have of "losing control" of their message, and how businesses and marketers can change strategies to cope. That’s all well and good. But as we so often do, we leave out of the equation the fat elephant sitting in the corner that explains why businesses are being dragged into this transformational step. In a word, the driver of change is Marketing–as in, spin. As in, hype. As in, manipulation of the truth and exploitation of people’s fears and needs to drive short term profits.

The simple truth of the matter is that people are sick and tired of being sold a bill of goods, and marketing as a profession only has itself to blame, because it has consistently failed to stand up and demand ethics, accountability and transparency–all concepts now fundamentally tied to the buzz of Social Media. Instead of flogging this idea ad nauseum, I just want to put in front of you Exhibit A.

This is an outtake of the movie The Corporation, which came out a couple of years ago. You have to watch it to believe it. This is where we’ve arrived at the pinnacle of professional marketing. No sense of what’s right and wrong, no accountability for horrific decisions to exploit the weakest members of society, and precious little discussion about this issue until the government decides to step up and impose regulations, at which point we cry foul.

This second clip is from the DVD extras. More incredible insights into why consumers want to block marketers out of their lives altogether. It’s such a surprise, this social media groundswell.

What’s interesting is that in the later part of this clip, you can see they finally realized the potential backlash of these interviews, and start backpeddling and rationalizing their behavior. And even then, the rationalizations are patently disturbing.

Now, I don’t want to jump all over Lucy Hughes. Okay, strike that, I do. This is a *parent* for cripes sakes. But I do want to point out that this is not at all unusual, though it is particularly graphic. This is a prominant attitude in business and media–mainstream media are, after all, not only totally complicit in this "game", they exploit it by creating specialty programming to suck kids in.

This is what social media is really about. It’s an early sign of consumers shutting out the spin and exploitation. The question every marketer has to ask himself and herself, is whether their response to the trend of social media is to find new ways to escalate the "game", or to recognize that they are members of a community, and that there are markets to build and profits to be made by engaging responsibly with their markets, and ethicly. 

Falling off the Bandwagon

My wife is
a librarian. If you don’t know a librarian, you should. They remind us of two critical
things in life: we don’t know nearly as much as we think we know, or should,
and the sources we rely on these days for truth are not nearly as reliable as
we’d like to believe. I met my wife when we were both just starting out. She
was on her first gig as a reference librarian at a public library, and I was on
my first gig as a journalist. I was searching for truth, and she new where to
look it up.

In the
seventeen years that we’ve been together, I’ve developed a profound respect for
the library profession. Librarians as individuals are smart,
inquisitive and very well informed. But as a profession, they transcend. They
know the origins of their profession and its evolution over centuries. They
understand their role in society and their value to the community they serve. They
work hard to face the tremendous challenges that technology brings, and to
constantly maintain relevance in a society that often, perilously, forgets
their worth. 

When I look
at the library profession, exemplified at large by the American Library
Association, I see a profession that is fully engaged with society and with
their peers. They don’t always get everything right, but they’re on the ball. And
when I look around, I see other professions and professional associations that
are similarly dialed in, like the American Medical Association. Again, they’re
not perfect, but they’re fully engaged, with a strong vision of the challenges
and opportunities they face as a group.

I don’t see
the same image with marketers, or with the American Marketing Association. We
are a profession that is fragmented and in disarray. Most
marketers have little or no understanding of our professional history. We don’t
fully understand, or admit, our role in society, or the value we offer to our
community. We do work hard to face new challenges, but almost never as a
cohesive group. Instead, we elevate gurus and trade in buzzwords until a
dominant theme emerges, often simply trading one trend for another.

At the
figurative head of this chaos, the American Marketing Association serves less
as a professional body of leadership, than as the leading beneficiary of our
ignorance. Rather than driving dialog and debate over the right path into the
future, the AMA feeds off the marketing community with endless seminars and classes
promising to enlighten us about the latest buzz trend. I get spam from the AMA
that is indistinguishable from any other guru garage, promising to teach me how
to stay one step ahead of impending doom.

Register Now! Don’t Miss Out on the Hottest Topic in Marketing

Hot Topic

Mobile Marketing: Embrace It Now or Be Left Behind

With all of
the significant challenges marketers face in redefining their role in the
corporation, and their relevance to corporate strategy, you would think an
organization like the AMA would find its voice in leading the way forward. Instead,
they are always leading the bandwagon to the top of the bell curve. That’s not
to say the AMA doesn’t have good people or informative programs. But what
marketing needs today in a professional organization is leadership, not
fast-following. I wish we could find that leadership in the AMA.

Differentiation vs. Development

I’ve gotten some great comments from Jens that started on the iPhone thread, but have now delved into some interesting questions about what is truly changing about marketing and business today. His post started by rightfully supporting Apple’s product development prowess:

lots of contemporary product strategy can be summed up in three factors: develop products with passion, introduce them with entrepreneurial guts and always have a portfolio diverse enough not to risk your whole substance in one field.

corporations in our new century need two key abilities: whole-hearted product development and gutsy investing.

When I asked how this is different from the past, the conversation got interesting.

i think one difference between yesterday and tomorrow is the difference between "product differentiation" and "product development". product differentiation = economics of scale + styling (surface variations)
product development = entrepreneurial guts + design (as in smart solution that pay respect to a number of constrains) ((+ portfolio strategy))
the former tries to keep the risk outside of the organisation the latter invites risk into the heart of the organization.

This is a good conversation to have, as it gets to the heart of how companies define marketing. As Jens points out:

every discipline, every operation needs a starting point. marketing’s starting point is a given product or a given service or a given corporation or brand.
you take that order, look at the markets, come up with a strategy and make all the styling adjustments and communication campaigns that it might take. and like mickey mouse as the little wizzard you create some magic around it.

So, let’s pull on a few threads here and expand the discussion. My first response is that Jens’ characterization of marketing is accurate, but the notion that marketers *begin* with a given product is only one of at least two dominant corporate strategies. The other is that marketers *begin* by understanding the needs of the market, and developing products to fit. This isn’t splitting hairs–there have been very strenuous debates and deep divides over whether it’s smarter for companies to be "market driven" followers, or "market driving" innovators. The truth is, the former is much less risky, and leads to a marketing paradigm driven by surface differentiation, and far more companies follow that path–it’s the corporate strategy that enshrines "core competencies" and relies on production efficiency and quality, and has given us TQM, six sigma, balanced scorecard, Porters 5 forces, lean production and a whole host of derivatives.

The problem is, market driven companies tend not to innovate outside the lines of production, and competition from startups who have the flexibility and drive to be market driving often disrupt the status quo.

Where this gets interesting to me is that market driven philosophies, popularized by TQM, Porter and all their derivatives–philosophies that marginalize marketing’s role to demand generation and messaging fluffery–have been so dominant for the past few decades, that businesses are finding themselves boxed into an efficiency corner. Look at the tremendous popularity of the Innovation meme, and the desperation companies are feeling trying to get their product development teams to think outside the box.

I think Jens is right, there is a major difference between yesterday and tomorrow, and it may well have to do with a shift from the corporate strategist’s relentless focus on market driven efficiencies, to more of an embracing of market driving innovations. If that’s true, it’s one more signal of a major change in course for marketing–ironically, just as marketers are catching up to the efficiency mentality.

Social Media and the Scheme Meme

I’m ramping up for my gig as a guest blogger for Unica next month, and I’ve settled on the topic "The Power of Social Media". I’m immersing myself in various discussions on the Web, and there are two memes that immediately emerge when you dig into it. The first is that Social Media is the new panacea for marketing, resetting the balance of power between businesses and consumers, and forcing marketers to be more transparent and accountable. The second is that Social Media is just the new Smoke and Mirrors marketing game, that nothing has really changed but the buzz words.

I’ll be digging into these ideas a lot over the next month, but I just wanted to explore the emptiness of this dichotomy. There is no question that we have new communications tools and technologies, and that these tools put more power in the hands of consumers to share information that signficantly impacts brand image and purchasing decisions. From that standpoint, we are in the midst of a major transformation, and no company that wants to remain competitive can ignore this fact. But how companies deploy these tools to attract, influence and even manipulate prospects and customers is a different story, and snake oil strategies as old as trade itself will continue to evolve as well. Just because new tools make it possible for consumers to see increasingly behind the curtain, does not mean that the only plausible strategies for success will be tactics of transparency and integrity. Would that it would be so.

Already, we have some shining examples of how a company can embrace the function of Social Media, while completely negating the form. Edelman, one of the world’s largest and most influential public relations agencies has fully and conspicuously embraced the Social Media concept, remaking the image of the company as an enlightened practitioner. And yet, in just over a year, they have repeatedly demonstrated their reliance on their time-tested stock of manipulative communications strategies. The most famous was last fall’s fake blog "Wal-Marting Across America", a promotional scheme engineered by Edelman, sponsored by "Working Families for Wal-Mart", which is just another old-school PR trick, the supposedly independent organization fronting for the client.

So while Social Media holds tremendous promise for empowering consumers, I wouldn’t swallow the hype that businesses will "lose control" of their marketing. Sure, there’s a lot of disruption as the rules change, but the fundamental game hasn’t changed. The real dichotomy is the difference between those businesses that see customers as a resource to be mercilously mined, and those that see themselves as part of a market community. That dichotomy has always existed, and the new technology doesn’t change it. It just provides new tools and new challenges for both kinds of businesses to pursue their objectives.

Party Like it’s 1997

I’ve just dropped into one of the busiest stretches of business I’ve had in a long time, and a lot of changes are looming on the horizon that may affect Marketonomy. It feels like 1997 all over again. For starters, I’ve been invited to guest blog for Unica for the month of February–which will actually start next week. Given the roster of previous guest bloggers, I’m taking this as a big honor and I’m quite excited to get started. I’ll be focusing on The Power of Social Media, and drawing together insights and opinions from across the marketing and media landscape. I’m not sure yet how I’m going to resolve my posts there with Marketonomy, but it’ll work itself out.

Additionally, I’m launching a new blog tied into the Value Added Marketing Association. I’m not going to say much about it before it launches, except to say that it’s brought me the opportunity to work with a lot of exceptional marketing veterans and newcomers, and I have a strange uncanny feeling that this will prove to be a much bigger step than it has seemed in constructing it.

I’m also in the middle of a major decision about MotiveLab. I didn’t set out to start another agency–I’ve been far down that road before with a lot of great successes and failures, the kind that make you pause before you do it all over again. But the work I’m being asked to do is leading more and more in that direction, and I’ve arrived at the point where I need to make a clear decision about whether to keep it a loosely defined consulting banner, where I can do whatever kind of work I want in marketing and tech, or whether to put a stake in the ground and launch an agency. The truth is, I’ve already made the decision–I just haven’t been honest with myself yet that I’ve made it. Isn’t life fun?

Finally, I’m doing some interesting and challenging work in podcasting and videocasting that I’ll be able to show soon. You don’t realize how much of a shift this medium is–it’s just audio and video over the web, right?–until you get down in the trenches and try to make a program that works. I’ve been working with a team at Informatica developing a series of vidcasts spotlighting some of their c-level executives, and we just wrapped the shoot yesterday, in preparation for syndication beginning the first week of February. I’m working on an analysis of videocasting and its impact on the evolution of social media, which I’ll be able to post when the series goes live.

So, here’s to being busy. And here’s to life on the near side of the next bubble.

iSolar is iPower for iPhone


One of the biggest concerns people have been pointing out about the iPhone is battery life. Apple’s track record with batteries has been a little spotty, and when the iPhone is also an MP3 player as well as a PIM, skeptics are saying we might only expect 2-5 hours of battery life. Not exactly the kind of device you can rely on during those 18-hour days of working life, which is hard to swallow with a $500+ price tag.


So little faith, people. Steve knew the cynics needed something to complain about, and their public griping formed the perfect frame for a solution he already had well in hand. With his trademark flair for showmanship, Steve unveiled the true revolutionary power of the iPhone to a select group of industry analysts at MacWorld yesterday. The iSolar personal energy array, shipping with each new iPhone. Fashion. Sustainability. Pure genius.


iPhone = iRrelevant

SorcererI was hoping to make it over to Moscone today to breathe a little of whatever is in the air at MacWorld. In the past few days, I’ve had numerous people tell me with great excitement how great the new iPhone is. I’ve heard people referring to Steve Jobs as a marketing god. I’ve watched the Apple, Inc. stock jump, just as it does almost every January when Jobs throws back the curtain on the latest revolution. Give me some of that kool-aid, because I’m not seeing all the bright colors today.

To be sure, Jobs is certainly a genius. He’s hit more out-the-park home runs in marketing, in more arenas, driving more revenue, than almost anyone. But he also has a fair share of duds, which is only natural, but which everyone seems to forget in January. The latest, before the iPhone, was the MacMini, which was supposed to drive a revolution in small desktop machines.

I still remember back in, what was it, 1999, when the 5-color iMacs were unveiled. I remember seeing the great creative ads, and thinking, what?, the great revolution here is colored computers? And then it hit me like a ton of bricks how mind-numbingly brilliant that was. Yes. Color, style in computing. We all had clunky beige boxes with no pinache, and Jobs made computers cool. And the iPod. Jobs took those clunky MP3 players with no memory and turned them into a simple, powerful and cool device for bringing more music into your day. Phenomenal.

But what does the iPhone bring to mobile phones? Everything the iPhone does, I can already do on my Treo. Sure, the UI looks streamlined and the package is pure Apple sex, but the mobile phone industry isn’t exactly lacking in revolutionary spark–a hot new design from Motorola, Samsung or Nokia comes out, what, every Tuesday? The iPhone won’t even be available until June.

Everyone on the planet with an ounce of interest in this space has been waiting for Apple to merge the iPod with a phone for generations (product, not human) so this wasn’t exactly unexpected. And yet everyone gasped when the iPhone was unveiled. That is Jobs’ true genius. But if Apple was really on its game, they would have had the iPhone ready to ship today. In six months time, it may prove to be the next MacMini instead of the next iPod.