Monthly Archives: July 2007

Radical Transparency or Extreme Translucency?

One of the most powerful aspects of social media is radical transparency . Transparency is especially “radical” in the corporate arena where communication is increasingly open, honest and truly bi-directional between enterprises and the individual stakeholders who work at, buy from and trade with each other as interlocking networked communities.

For the companies who embrace and foster transparency it often plays out all the way to the office of the CEO. As a long-time blogger and chief executive posted on his company blog:

“The recent global technology and communications revolutions are allowing for ever-increasing interconnections and transparency in processes on every imaginable level in free societies. The need for the specialist intermediaries, such as professional journalists and lawyers, to interpret, inform, and communicate on behalf of other people is rapidly declining. I love the fact that I can now communicate my own opinions and interpretations directly to people instead of depending upon a journalist to both understand and accurately communicate what I’ve told him or her to other people. It is very frustrating to be continually misquoted and misinterpreted. Now I can speak directly for myself and that is very liberating.”

This new species of corporate communications – unwashed, shoot-from-the-hip, tell it like it is transparency has great appeal. When CEOs “speak directly” they build trust and confidence. Their teams can focus on tracking and monitoring conversations. Spin turns to engaging honestly with the constituent communities and building new communities to promote and defend one’s brand. In fact, we can learn to live without the spin doctors in radically transparent communities. Simply listen and share opinions. Let the most compelling rise to the top.

However, the statement above, in spite of its appearance of transparency, is perhaps more translucent than clear. You see, its author is none other than John Mackey, who has gained a lot of attention for his social-media-savvy communications as the CEO of Whole Foods, but who has also been posting messages for eight years as “Rahodeb” on Yahoo! Finance to promote Whole Foods and denounce a competitor he was setting his sights on for acquisition.

The chronology of events left open the possibility that Mr. Mackey had a conversion, and recognizing the power of transparency, chucked his Yahoo! Finance alter ego and joined the social media band wagon. After all, the Yahoo! Finance postings predate most of his blog entries. But prevailing opinion points in a decidedly different direction.

Mr. Mackey is a successful businessman, of a socially- and people-sensitive company to boot. That usually takes a modicum of smarts and ethics. For some reason success occasionally throws those attributes out the window. How many CEO’s, high government officials, and even highly-respected clergy have we heard of that can’t seem to keep their hands out of the cookie jar or their flies zipped up? The drug of power, the blinders of ego.
Evolving Excellence:Smart? Then act that way.

Credibility and authenticity are what builds trust between people. John Mackey has been inauthentic in posting anonymously on the Yahoo! Finance website. He boosted his own company and criticized his competition without revealing his own identity.
John Cass

So the news that Whole Foods CEO John Mackey posted regularly on Yahoo message boards under the name Rahodeb is shocking. This is a major ethical lapse, and I hope that the Whole Foods board is treating it very seriously indeed.
Felix Salmon:

The best barometer, however, of Mr. Mackey’s translucency is his “own” terse apology. It is ironic that that the man who relished speaking for himself (or about himself and his company) is relegated to a 35 word heavily polished statement with no opportunity for two-way dialogue other than the e-mail address of a company PR contact.

AUSTIN, Texas (July 17, 2007). Whole Foods Market today released the following statement from Co-founder, Chairman and CEO, John Mackey: “I sincerely apologize to all Whole Foods Market stakeholders for my error in judgment in anonymously participating on online financial message boards. I am very sorry and I ask our stakeholders to please forgive me.”

Now the question is, will Whole Foods take a step back from social media or will they use this as an opportunity to become fully transparent in engaging with all their stakeholders? Let us know what you think.


Bill O’Reilly Smears Social Media

In the years that I’ve been blogging and writing professionally about business and marketing, I almost never talk about politics–certainly not partisan politics. Sure, I’ll get involved in debate about regulation and policy issues, like do-not-call lists, marketing to children, and overseas outsourcing. But partisan politics and religion is something I like to save up for bars, dinner parties and long airplane trips.

But Bill O’Reilly launched a hit piece yesterday on JetBlue for its sponsorship of a political event, and at the same time took a dangerous swipe at social media. JetBlue is sponsoring a gathering hosted by a left-leaning political site called DailyKos. I’ve been tracking DailyKos for more than a year as one of the most successful examples of online community development. Like many online sites, political or not, DailyKos has it’s fair share of blowhards. In the annonymity of online debate, passionate arguments sometimes include vulgar insults, and yes, even hateful comments. Free speech can be a mosh pit.

But while sensational comments come from all sides of the political spectrum, O’Reilly has picked out just a few vulgarities from thousands of threads of more rational dialog to paint JetBlue as endorsing hate. Some anonymous idiot on DailyKos posted a nasty comment about the pope, and O’Reilly’s team ambushes the CEO of JetBlue demanding to know why he endorses such radical hatred.

Now, mainstream media doesn’t provide any kind of forum for open discussion. They pick and choose who has an opportunity to be heard. But if they did actually support public dialog, the analogy here would be to videotape two people angrily arguing over something sensational Bill O’Reilly said on his show, cutting out a soundbite of the worst insult hurled in the argument, and taking that to a FOX advertiser and demanding to know why they endorsed such hatred.

The reason I’m taking up this otherwise political argument, is because it’s a direct attack by mainstream media against social media. It’s a distortion of social dialog branded as "the worst kind of hate in America." If O’Reilly were standing up and calling for more civility in public forums, using his cherry-picked comments from DailyKos to shine a spotlight on crude and disrespectful debate, I wouldn’t writing this post. Instead, he’s entirely emasculating public dialog–neatly cutting out the outraged public responses to those crude remarks–and representing a social forum as a fascist pep rally.

This is one shining example of the ongoing struggle that we can expect as mainstream media continues to buckle under the weight of its own expense, lack of innovation, and desire for control. Mainstream media personalities like O’Reilly have long enjoyed a position as preists of our social dialog, telling us what to think and deciding who gets to have a voice. Imagine what will happen if we start to talk amongst ourselves!

Check out the analysis on DailyKos for yourself.

Jupiter’s New Report on Social Media Looks Fishy

Cross-posted on MotiveLab

Jupiter Research is touting a new study that purportedly shows Social Media has little impact on influencing online retail sales. But in the first paragraph of their press release, they betray a study bias that seems to contradict their own headline, and throws the relevance of the study into question.

…despite the growth of social networks and online communities, they have little effect on influencing online retail sales. … social and community sites are only driving about 12 percent of online shoppers to buy more than planned.

So “influence” in the report refers only to the ability to drive shoppers to buy *more* than they planned? And even with that narrow a definition of influence, they report that social media still drives *12%* of shoppers to increase the size of their online purchases? How does that translate into “little impact”? That seems like a substantial impact to me.

Later on in the same press release, although they talk in broad terms about “social media”, they lament that while 53% of shoppers go to directly to an online retailer to shop, only a paltry 3% go to ~blogs~. Who shops at a blog? If you’re researching a product purchase there are many social media sites more effective than blogs, including forums, consumer opinion sites, and product review sites. Blogs are much more about keeping up with new products, features and problems than providing substantive research to inform purchase decisions- -though there are certainly exceptions. And if a consumer goes to Google and comes across a well-positioned blog post that eviscerates the product they’re considering, you can bet that will have an impact. But in the context of Jupiter’s study that user would probably report that they first went to a search engine to research their purchase- -the blog just happened to be a relevant search engine result.

I’m *really* suspicious about the quality of this study. I’m trying to get my hands on a copy of the report to dig into it more deeply, but there’s no way I’m paying $1500 for it, based on what I’m seeing in the press release. Make no mistake–I’m interested in critical analysis of the impact of social media, and I’ve seen some good critical reporting at ClickZ, like this post from Sean Carton. But if Jupiter’s just getting on the bandwagon to slam social media, it’s going to show in their report.

Social Media Is Red Hot

I made a trip to Austin last week to get the ball rolling with my new co-founder and partner in MotiveLab, Joel Granoff. Joel is opening a MotiveLab office in Austin, and he took me on the grand tour of businesses, including a number of potential partners and clients. If you want to hear about a few cool businesses in Austin, I posted about the trip on the MotiveLab blog.

During the trip, we launched a big lead gen campaign for MotiveLab with Bulldog Solutions, an Austin-based lead generation specialist. We wrote an article for the Bulldog Solutions newsletter (registration required, but worth it) about social media as a lead generation channel, and offered a link to a Marketing Brief titled “12 Essential Tips for Success in Social Media”. Wow, what a response. We’re about to hit 350 registered downloads for the Marketing Brief, even though it requires qualified registration.

Our partner Netline, experts in content syndication, have handled the registration and syndication, and really hit the ball out of the park. They encouraged us to add a couple of survey-type questions to our registration form, and the high number of quality registrations has turned that into a nice piece of insight about the market that we’ll be analyzing and sharing in the near future. Our questions were about attitudes toward social media, its relevance to marketers, and who they expect to deliver social media services. Just looking through the responses has been surprising, but we won’t have a full analysis until next week.

If you’d like to download the MarketingBrief, which was sponsored by our friends at BuzzLogic, you can find it courtesy of Netline on their TradePub Web site.

While I’ve been away, Victor Cook has been stirring the waters with his ongoing analysis of a battle over the acquisition of the Chicago Board of Trade. His latest post sizes up the battle as a "Mexican Standoff", and continues to show the value of the Enterprise Marketing Framework for analyzing competitive advantage and market opportunity. What’s particularly interesting, for those of you who have been following our discussion of The Enterprise Marketing Framework, is a new and simple description of the EMF’s top-down approach to stock valuation. It’s well worth a read, both for the description of the battle over the Chicago Board of Trade, and for the new insight into the Enterprise Marketing Framework. By the way, Victor is now a certified poster for Seeking Alpha, a media site for professional stock analysis. Congratulations, Victor.