Monthly Archives: December 2008

5 Meta Trends Shaping 2009 Social Media Predictions

GearsI‘ve been reading a bunch of the predictions for Social Media in 2009, including the Top Marketing Geek predictions at ReadWriteWeb. While the predictions are interesting, I find myself asking how we can know where we’re headed if we don’t take adequate stock of where are now? What’s driving social media today, and how does that help us better understand the direction we’re headed? I see five meta trends that are worth noting:

1. The Growth Curve: Size Does Matter

One of the biggest drivers behind behavior on social networks today is the imperative to generate quantity of connections over and above quality of relationships. Many people are focusing on activities that help drive up friends and followers, and while there’s some hand wringing among pundits about this emphasis on size over quality, I think we’re just seeing an important early stage of the social media phenomenon in which growth is critical to unlock the value of the network. There are real social and systemic drivers behind this growth-oriented behavior.

From a social standpoint, perception matters, and size is one of the easiest metrics for judging social standing. How many connections on LinkedIn do you need to be taken seriously as a job candidate? How many followers on Twitter do you need to be considered cool or influential? These are compelling social imperatives, however shallow we may think they are.

Now it’s true that the number of followers or friends is not a direct indication of the quality or influence of your network. But solely emphasizing  quality of relationships ignores a simple systemic truth: there is a critical mass you have to reach before your network provides value, through shared insights, connections and opportunities. It’s some variation on Metcalfe’s Law—which says  the value of a communications network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users to the system.

In order to build a high quality personal network, you have to have both size and quality. And it turns out it’s more efficient to generate volume, and then prune and tune your friends and followers when you see how individuals add value to your network. And in fact, this strategy is exemplified by gurus who worry more about quality than quantity when they talk about pruning back their friends and followers—they are operating from the luxury of a surplus that most users don’t yet have.

What does this mean for 2009? We’ll continue to see a proliferation of internet and affiliate marketing techniques focused on building social network volume. I’m often critical of these techniques, precisely because they run counter to the social media ideal of building relationships. But I believe these strategies are surging because they fit the evolutionary requirement of growing a network to unleash its value.

2. Data Overload: Managing Fragmentation

I don’t know about you, but I kind of breathed a sigh of relief when Pownce went dark. There are too many places to maintain a profile, and not enough ways to simplify the connections and bridge the gap. Why can’t I easily connect the groups I’m subscribed to on LinkedIn with Twitter so I can follow members of the group? Why can’t I merge my business blog with my Facebook business group? There are hundreds of little stumbling blocks that force us to be endlessly running around making updates and changes everywhere at once. Of the five metatrends I’m following, this easily the most obvious, and I think ReadWriteWeb summed it up better than I can in their own predictions for 2009. So I won’t belabor this one except to say that like others have predicted, I think we’ll see fewer new social networks launch next year, and a lot more tools to help manage the organization, convergence and optimization of data across distributed platforms.

3. Personal Branding: A Collective Identity Crisis

In my scanning of social media and marketing conversations for SocialRep, I’ve been amazed at the number of blog posts dedicated to personal branding. It’s not a new concept. But as emerging technology disrupts and transforms our social constructs, redefining our sense of self takes on new immediacy. We have old friends finding us on Classmates and Facebook. We have colleagues, co-workers, family and friends viewing the same profiles. We have potentially hundreds of new friends and employers who may be attracted or repelled by things we say online, and thanks to Google, it’s now a permanent record. Where we used to be able segment and contain our various selves, our identities are simultaneously converging in scope while expanding in reach, causing a collective sense of identity crisis.

How do we understand and define our role in an entirely new sense of community. Many of us just charge right ahead and go for broke, but look around and you’ll find many, many people avoiding the change social media represents. This is a big deal—far more substantial than the mid-90s Internet-driven turbulence that gave rise to the Change Management movement.

I suspect we’ll see the interest in personal branding grow into something more substantial and focused in 2009, leveraging all the uncertainty and disruption, possibly even the seeds of a new EST, or a new technology like Neuro-Linguistic Programming designed for online communication. Social media is already giving rise to its first, nascent cults of personality, but they’re only prototypes now, figuring out the mechanisms of growth and influence. I think we may see in 2009 a new Erik Erikson, or a new Carl Jung—someone who combines the reach of Scoble with a new and magnetic song of self, born and bred on the social graph.

4.  Self-Help 2.0

This is closely related to personal branding, but sharply distinct. Where personal branding is about understanding our new sense of self in a transformed social world, self-help promises specific techniques and behaviors that maximize our personal potential, and almost always, our wealth. I haven’t yet seen a cohesive program for Self-Help 2.0, but the concepts are everywhere, merging social media how-tos, with tips for building and monetizing networks, and of course, relentless affirmation. It’s the fuel that, perhaps unwittingly, drives many of the most popular social media pundits, even though it isn’t labeled and articulated as such. It’s a unique new generation of self help designed for the socially wired. You can almost see the bridge between the last generation, Getting Things Done concept of behavioral techniques for productivity, and the new, 4-Hour Work Week model, that leverages the social Web to merge personal objectives with internet business strategies. Think Gary Veynerchuk. Or Godin’s Tribes.

Like the emergence of personality gurus, I think we’ll see new programs and techniques that define specific behaviors for online success in an increasingly uncertain world. Self-help is a massive economy in its own right, and I’m betting that somewhere, right now, someone is writing the Self-Help 2.0 best-seller of 2009. Count on it.

5. Hope. The New Online Destination

I’m not going to mince words on this one. Our economy is screwed. You need a PhD in economics to see the tidal wave cresting over our heads, but when you can’t turn on the news without hearing another economist running for cover, you know it’s not good. Amid this biblical meltdown, where it’s increasingly hard to feel optimistic, much less to escape the grind and refresh your perspective, social engagement can easily be the brightest spot in the day. An easy online connection brings never-ending access to new friends,  new ideas and real opportunities. At any moment, you may find a long lost friend, or find the solution to a business problem that accelerates your career. And if you spend any time on social networks today, you know this isn’t hyperbole.

It’s no stretch to predict that social media adoption will accelerate in 2009, but I think the growth will drive new tools and technologies to more easily connect and build networks that deal with the challenges in the real world, from organizing charities to building new business networks and even new businesses. This is, of course, already happening in various places on the web, but the critical mass of people clamoring for new tools to connect and organize is already outstripping what Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn can, or are willing to deliver. I’m not savvy enough to see how this will play out, but I suspect we’ll see new initiatives to organize free agents and open source developers, and new interest in leveraging online networks to address offline challenges. I think we’ll see a surge in Web-driven meetups, especially those that address or reflect economic fallout, like career networking, or local seminars and workgroups replacing national conventions. But most of all, I think we’ll start to see the opportunity and optimism that flows from online social connections drive new credence for social media in the mainstream, beginning to displace some of the derision social media has faced in 2008.

What do you think? What drivers do you see shaping social media trends in 2009?
Photo credit: Luckee Dogg

But Is It a Burger King Campaign?

Either Burger King is enjoying some great fan promotion, or their agency is driving a savvy integrated media campaign. There’s a story unfolding that bridges traditional and emerging social media channels in a clever way–and a far more subtle way than the famous subservient chicken (which amazingly is still active after four years).

The latest campaign, if it is one, uses Twitter to pull together the threads of a number of recent commercials and announcements in a sort of media-driven narrative. There are at least two fairly new handles on Twitter. One is @thebklounge, started last month, and the other is @whoppervirgins, started five days ago. Both are commenting on recent Burger King commercials and announcements, and driving a sort of edgy banter with their tweets.

@thebklounge tweets about the latest BK announcement that they’re releasing a cologne that smells like a flame-broiled whopper:

smell like me and get the ladies. if they’re the ladies you actually want is another matter entirely
@homemakerbarbi I’m at the top of the food chain if you know what I mean… and I am served, just not in that sense

@whoppervirgins a handle obviously referencing the Whopper Virgins commercial, tweets about being a burger:

Got some Ketchup seepage. Wondering if I need a doctor.
marinating in my own juiciness

Over the last couple of days, an exchange between the two handles led to a sudden interest in Burger King, and a spike in online discussion about the brand. @whoppervirgins wrote a post with an oblique reference to the virgin whopper “documentary”:

Took a drink of well water. Neighboring hamlet poisoned it with dead mule. Feeling sick
@thebklounge responded with a tweet that sparked a small brushfire of comments.
@whoppervirgins CEASE AND DESIST. UNAUTHORIZED USE OF TRADEMARK. What is your motivation by the way…?

That led to a flurry of bemused comments that maybe the Internet had just seen the first Cease and Desist by Twitter. And now, a lot of marketers are scratching their heads trying to figure out where the campaign ends and parody begins. The tone of the banter is totally in line with the tone of the whopper virgins campaign and the flame broiled cologne. But is BK that far ahead of the game in leveraging social media? I mean, most marketers on twitter are still talking about internet marketing techniques for building a network of followers. BK seems to have connected the dots between a radio announcement for their flame-broiled cologne on NPR, a mainstream television commercial, and the buzz driving power of Twitter, and that buzz is building their network. I think we’re getting schooled by Crispin Porter or Barbarian.

Crisis Management Essentials for Social Media (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this primer we talked about laying the groundwork for a strong social media foundation, and understanding the basic social media tools that can help you manage a crisis effectively. In this second part, we’ll talk about some basic crisis management techniques for social media, some essential standard practices for crisis management, and some dos and don’ts to remember in the heat of a crisis.

These recommendations should dovetail with an established crisis management program. If you don’t have established crisis protocols, there’s a section on planning in Part 2 that will lay out the basics.

Management Techniques

A crisis can unfold in many different ways. Sometimes, you are aware of the crisis internally before anyone in the public knows, and you have the luxury of controlling the initial flow of information. In other cases–the nightmare scenario–you open your email to find your world has gone up in flames and it’s all over the blogosphere. If you’re actively engaged and tracking social media, you may see the seeds of crisis taking root, and have an opportunity to uproot controversy at the start. In any case, being prepared and learning some techniques for identifying and managing crises is essential.

  1. If you’re monitoring social media, and you suspect a crisis is emerging that you don’t already know about, take a deep breath and gather information before launching your rapid response team. Start by gathering information about the source and content of the crisis. Is it a customer complaint on a blog? Is it a post by an influential analyst getting picked up on Twitter? Is it one person shouting out to the universe, a percolating dialog, or a raging fire? Is it an opinion: someone hates your company, or a fact: your product blew up and hurt someone? You don’t want to go into crisis mode on every customer complaint that can be managed by engagement.
  2. If the emerging story is unclear, and you have the authority and opportunity to engage, take an approach of discovery. “Hey, I saw your post and wanted to find out what you can tell me.” Don’t offer any speculation or opinion, just gather information until you can find the original source of the problem.
  3. Customer complaints on blogs can often be defused by engaging early. If it’s a problem you can solve, say, by expediting a connection with customer service, than you can often stop the dialog from spreading. I once had the VP of Web Marketing at Lenovo post his phone number on my blog after I complained about an order problem. If it’s a problem you can’t solve–an opinion, or a bad experience that can’t be resolved–a note of regret can often have a defusing impact. But unless you’re specifically cleared to do so, don’t admit wrong-doing or discuss internal problems on a public forum in the heat of an emerging crisis. You may unleash unintended consequences you’ll regret. “I’m sorry you had that experience, I’ll do what I can to help,” is as far as you should go until the situation is fully vetted, even though an apology may indeed be warranted in the end.
  4. In some cases, telling the company’s side of the story can defuse a crisis, but this needs to be very carefully considered, and shouldn’t be done on the fly. Sprint handled a crisis like this very well, when a classic customer service debacle turned into a social media nightmare. Telling the full story mitigated some of the outrage, and Sprint handled it well. Boil your side of the story down to its essence, and tell it factually. Never cast blame on the customer, express regret for what went wrong, and explain how you’re addressing the situation to prevent it from happening again.
  5. Bashing in a forum is often more touchy, because the interaction of voices often includes people who want to incite conflict. The same approach can be taken as on a blog, but you should carefully craft your response as much possible to be a single post, ideally offering a link to resources of resolution if more than one customer might be affected. Do not get dragged into an argument, or a back-and-forth debate about who is right. In most cases, you won’t win an argument with a customer in terms of public perception.
  6. If the crisis is emerging on a fast moving network like Twitter or Facebook, your best option is to create a fact page that you can post either on your blog, or as a web page. Engage your employees who are on Twitter or Facebook to post a link to your fact page. Make sure the fact page is accurate and transparent, and follow standard crisis management procedures. If the crisis is emerging, don’t speculate on what you don’t know, simply communicate that you are aware of the problem and working to resolve it. If there are relevant resources and information you can provide to customers, list them on your fact page.
  7. If the crisis is spreading across multiple blogs and social media sites, you’ll need to manage your response more carefully. We worked last year with a consumer electronics company that experienced a market revolt over issues related to a new product. There were literally hundreds of blog posts and discussions going on. In this type of situation, social media and PR tactics need to merge, because you can’t put out every fire. Leverage your public relations team to define your position and your message, and carry it through traditional media channels. Then pick up the baton in social media circles by identifying a handful of influential blogs where you can put a human face on your response. Assign one executive who can engage directly with the authors of selected sites and answer questions openly–do not send press releases or canned statements to these blogs.
  8. If you have an internal crisis that has not yet become public, work with your PR team to craft a traditional pre-emptive disclosure. Then consider how social media can best be integrated into the approach. Social media channels may work best by proliferating a link to an announcement and resolution page, and providing a place for direct engagement with your team on a forum or message board.

Basic Crisis Management Planning

You might notice that in both parts of this piece, we put a notice at the top of the page that these recommendations should dovetail with an established crisis management plan. Good public relations firms offer crisis management training, and you should get up to speed on the basics and consider training for your core crisis team if they don’t already have it. Here are some of the very basics of effective crisis management, including some issues specific to social media.

  1. Assign a response team. The most important first step in a crisis is to have a team that can manage response and make decisions. At bare minimum you need a communications expert to gather, frame and distribute information, and a senior executive who is able to make and be accountable for decisions in real-time, but you should also have representatives from legal, HR and marketing on the core team. Don’t overload the team, or decisions will be difficult to make. Five or six people is enough.
  2. Assign a second-string. If a crisis unfolds and your CEO is on a 17-hour flight to Asia, who can stand in with the authority to make decisions? What if your communications expert is on vacation? Assign your second string so they’re ready to step in when needed.
  3. Designate representatives from each major line of business, ready to provide information and sit on the response team if their domain is affected.
  4. Assign a coordinator, responsible for establishing and maintaining response resources and protocols, and calling and managing the response team. It needs to be someone senior, but ideally not the CEO, who will have enough to manage in a crisis, and won’t have the bandwidth to maintain the resources and protocols outside of a crisis.
  5. Establish communications protocols for calling your rapid response team into action. Write a document that everyone on the team can access with permissions, containing every piece of contact information you can gather. It may sound cheesy, but have a code phrase, even it’s just “we have a crisis”. Time is everything in a crisis, and you don’t want to waste time explaining things before you have the team together. A code phrase is a powerful tool to snap your team into response mode.
  6. Create a resources list. Who’s your outside legal counsel, and what’s their number? Who’s your outside communications advisor? Who in your company is best connected with your customer community by Twitter? What Twitter handles does your business have? All of the resources you can imagine that might be useful to manage a crisis should be documented beforehand. You don’t want to waste time tracking down a contact or a resource in the middle of a crisis. If you need to get a video up on YouTube of your CEO making a statement, do you know where a camera is? Who manages your CMS system? Who can set up a Facebook group under fire?
  7. Get crisis communications training for your core team. Good PR firms can provide the essentials, including basic management protocols and media training for effectively controlling the flow of information in a crisis. Dealing with the media can be a minefield in a crisis, so it’s important to know the basics.
  8. War Games! As you’re getting your team geared up and ready to respond, run a few drills, and do so at least quarterly to ensure you still have the right protocols and resources put together. Your coordinator should own this process, and also make sure that response team contact details are all up to date. When you’re doing your war game, try to find a real scenario and run through the process as if it were happening to you. A customer was injured in a major product failure. An employee lost a laptop with all your customer financial data. A major software product has failed and no one yet knows why. A senior executive was caught impersonating someone else to bash your competition and pump your stock price. Use your imagination. Use the scenario to rehearse, as realistically as possible, all the steps you need to go through to get the situation under control.

Basic Dos and Donts

  • Do get engaged in social media early, and encourage engagement across all areas of your business. Having a strong social media presence will give you more resources and channels of communication in a crisis.
  • Do stick to the facts in a crisis. Always. Never speculate on the causes or resolution of a crisis when you don’t have the facts. Stick to what is known, and assure the public that you’re doing everything you can to understand the scope of the crisis and resolve it.
  • Do create a central news and resources page if the crisis is serious. Direct all traffic through various social networks, blogs and news sites back to your resource page, instead of trying to provide detailed information in many different places.
  • Do not get into an argument or a debate on a forum or a blog. Try to keep your response to an issue limited to a single post when you can, fully stating your position and providing a link to resources.
  • Do not get engaged in social media conversations if the crisis is unfolding on a public forum where investment and legal issues are discussed. Make sure any employees engaged in social media are aware of financial disclosure regulations.
  • Do express regret authentically when a crisis is unfolding, but do not admit wrong-doing before the full facts of a crisis are known. Sometimes employees will try to build rapport with angry customers by admitting fault, which can cause substantial unwarranted liabilities.
  • Do offer an apology if it’s warranted after the full facts of a crisis are known, and the immediate crisis is resolved.

There are obviously many, many more dos and don’ts, tips and techniques. This is just a start. But it should give you a sense of serious and complex crisis management can be. You don’t want to be thumbing through a manual when everything is melting down. It’s far more effective and expedient to be as prepared as you can be.

If you have additional ideas or criticisms, if you think there’s something I’ve missed, please don’t hesitate to comment.

Crisis Management Essentials for Social Media (Part 1)

PANIC!If you ask marketing executives what keeps them up at night in the age of social media, one of the most common responses is fear of a PR debacle lighting a brush fire on the web. Every marketer knows there are a hundred things that could go wrong on any given day–from product failures to employee indiscretions–and the fear of being caught flat-footed while the news lights up the social universe is a very real fear. In fact, one of the biggest market drivers for my company SocialRep is the need for businesses to have an ear to the ground and a way to effectively manage engagement.

Surprisingly few companies, however, have protocols in place to manage social media disasters as they unfold–even those that have sophisticated crisis management protocols in place for non-social media issues.The good news is, it’s not that hard to create a plan. In fact, the most important things you need to know were modeled for you in kindergarten. Remember those fire drills? The simple but critical idea was that everyone should know exactly what to do and where to go when a crisis happens, and to practice it even when the possibility of an actual crisis seems remote. Same idea applies to social media.

Why is this important? Think of social media as a massive global amplifier. Events that you used to be able to ignore until they went away can now become an overblown incident with a permanent record on Google. A trivial customer complaint magnified through social media can become an international embarrassment overnight. If you need graphic examples of disaster, Jeremiah Owyang offers a chronicle on his blog.

So here’s a primer on how to build your own crisis plan for social media, whether the crisis is an overblown customer complaint, or a true business disaster affecting many customers.

These recommendations should dovetail with an established crisis management program. If you don’t have established crisis protocols, there’s a section at the end of Part 2 that will lay out the basics.

Be Prepared

We put a lot of resources into maintaining resources like flood control systems and fire roads. Why? Because the cost of eventual disaster vastly outweighs the cost of being ready to respond. Social media is the same way. Facing down a crisis is not the time to wish you’d developed the resources to respond.

  1. Start getting engaged now. If you don’t already have people in your company building social relationships with your business communities, you won’t have the channels to deal with a crisis when it hits. When a crisis happens, you need to be able to communicate directly with your business communities through channels you’ve already established; you can’t borrow or buy them from your PR firm.
  2. Build your team. If you don’t already have a social media A-Team, you should. Social media should not be relegated to the PR team or the young people in your organization. It should be a distributed practice that helps your company develop relationships on every operational front. Your engineers should be engaged with the engineering community. Your customer service reps should be engaged with customers. Your legal team should be engaged and up to speed with the legal community. You get the idea. Fortunately, building an A-team isn’t hard, and I’ve written a primer for that too.
  3. Get your ears on. One of the big advantages of being socially connected is real-time intelligence. If you’re tracking social media–even using basic tools like Google alerts–you’re likely to get wind of a problem before it becomes a brush fire. The more sophisticated your tracking experience, the more you’ll be able to discern real threats from fire drills. This is something that should be distributed across your team, as explained in the A-team primer.
  4. If you don’t already have a news section for your website with a feed for the latest news on your homepage, you should think about establishing one. When a crisis hits, traffic to your site will spike with people looking for information. Provide updates people can find quickly. If the crisis is a fast-moving or emerging problem, use your CMS system or a blog to give updates with an RSS feed your market can subscribe to.
  5. If the crisis is substantial, create a dedicated response page, and do so quickly. This goes beyond providing information, and impacts search engine results. In time of a crisis, search engine requests for information about the crisis will grow, and you want to have a point of presence in the top organic results. If you have a blog, write posts that point to your news item and your dedicated page. If you have a Facebook group, and Twitter handles, do the same.
  6. Some SEO experts recommend buying search terms, and even domains, with generic crisis terms to ensure search engine positioning when something goes down. Like [your company] and “failure”. Or “breach”. Choose words that relate to the kinds of crises you would plan for in your line of business. Create landing pages with neutral and generic language to optimize search traffic. When a crisis hits and someone Googles it, you’ll already be ready with a page in the top results.

Know the Tools

While standard crisis communication tools like press releases, press conferences, and video press releases are still important, social media has its own resources that can help you get the word out in a crisis. In most cases, you’ll use social media channels to point people back to your response page on your own web site or blog, where information about the crisis is provided.

  1. Tracking. Staying on top of the daily stream of dialog is the best way to identify a crisis before it blows up. For basic tracking, set up Google alerts to track your corporate and product brands. You can use Twitter search to find discussions about your brand, and set up an RSS feed for monitoring. If you have more complex tracking needs, this is precisely what SocialRep does, but I don’t recommend jumping into technology adoption before you start with the basics laid out in the A-team primer. Your proven business processes should drive technology, not the other way around.
  2. Twitter has emerged as probably the fastest conduit of news in the world today. It’s ubiquitous and immediate. People were tweeting news of the Mumbai attacks in real time, and even news networks were following the threads. If you have a crisis, getting the word out with a link to your own response page is critical, and Twitter is one of the best ways to do it. Having an active Twitter presence is a good idea aside from crisis management, but having an existing network in the event of a crisis will ensure you’re able to get the word out far more quickly.
  3. FriendFeed is rapidly emerging as a channel for real-time threaded dialog, kind of like Twitter, but with more emphasis on dialog, as opposed to broadcast micro-posts. Like Twitter, there’s good reason to be engaged on FriendFeed aside from crisis preparedness, but having an active network will be invaluable when a crisis happens. In a crisis, post a one-sentence announcement with a link to your response page.
  4. Facebook is a great tool for managing the ongoing dialog with your community after the crisis initially unfolds. An existing corporate Facebook group may be fine for managing minor crises, but if there’s a major crisis that gains substantial attention, you’ll want to establish a dedicated group, with a reference to the crisis in the title. Others will create groups to talk about it, so you want a presence in Facebook’s Group search results, not buried in your corporate group among discussions about your Christmas party. You can post links to your response page, video, and discussions group threads. Ideally, you’ll want to point any traffic for dealing directly with the crisis back to your own Web site rather than have crisis response distributed over the Web. But you can use discussion threads on Facebook to talk about the broader issues that impact your brand, such as how you’ve dealt with the crisis and the aftermath.
  5. LinkedIn has far less utility for crisis management than the tools previously mentioned, but if you maintain links to professional or corporate groups relevant to your business, this could be a good channel of communication in a crisis. Especially to the extent that communications in this channel are managed primarily by email, so you may reach professionals who are not yet wired in to the other social networks.
  6. YouTube and Seesmic are potentially good channels for posting a video message from your CEO in response to a social media crisis. In most cases, this will be most effective for wrap-up information and framing of the whole event, rather than real-time management of the crisis. Though I’m sure someone will do a YouTube press conference one of these days.

In Part 2, we’ll look at crisis management techniques for social media, basic crisis management planning, and do’s and don’t’s of dealing with a social media crisis.

If you have your own ideas, tips or criticisms, feel free to comment.

Go on to Part 2

Photo credit: kryst£n

Social Media: You are the New Advertising Network

Heute schwarzer KanalAfter following the whole Kmart paid-blogging firestorm, a tweet from Guy Kawasaki last night stopped me in my tracks.

“Twitter spam is an oxymoron. Following is opting in.”

I had to stop and try to digest that, especially as I was one of the people who called the Kmart posts on twitter spam. The short story is that Kmart and Sears gave a bunch of bloggers $500 gift cards to shop at their stores and write about it. They provided an extra $500 gift card to be given away in a contest, which readers could enter by writing a comment about what they’d buy, and promoting the contest by tweeting it. What ensued was a flood of Kmart promotional tweets, which I, among others, referred to as spam.

Well, here was Guy Kawasaki saying that it wasn’t spam. And when I thought about it, I realized he was right. I choose to follow Chris Brogan’s updates. Chris decided to promote the contest. I can choose to either continue following him or not, but technically, his promotional tweet isn’t spam.

But that got me thinking about what this really means about networks like twitter, monetizing content, and the nature of social media.

In one incisive post, Kawasaki stripped the Utopian veil off social media and its commercial uses. If promotional posts from people in my network aren’t spam, because I choose to follow them or not, then guess what? Social media will just become the latest media vehicle to drive advertising. Instead of television networks, radio stations, or print publications, all of which cultivate followers to whom they can deliver ads, the new networks are you and me. Our readers, the followers and friends we cultivate, are just target audiences for which we are an efficient advertising conduit. That’s what Kawasaki’s simple and undeniable statement envisions.

Think about it. All of this talk about companies needing to listen to consumers, about consumers owning the brand, about building networks of trust, is really just a happy facade for consumers. Because according to Kawasaki,  your opinion about what a company is saying via social media is best expressed through the binary choice of choosing to follow or not follow. If you don’t like it, change the channel. Which is the same old paradigm it’s always been: the company crafts its message, blasts it through whatever medium is available, and measures success by the numbers of people that follow, or don’t follow. Listening and engaging in dialog is optional, and in fact, probably inefficient.

And Kawasaki certainly lives this. He is open about his strategy of aggressively building a large network of followers and broadcasting to them prolifically. While I may have viewed Kmart’s paying of bloggers to essentially bribe their readers via contests to promote Kmart to their own networks as spam, Kawasaki frames it as a simple advertising transaction. So much for the quaint notion among social media evangelists that the days of broadcast media were over. As Kawasaki demonstrates, we’ve just moved the network. And the trust you and I cultivate to build a network of friends is a far more elegant machine of transmission than television ever was. To you and me, it may be a communication platform of trust, but for business, it’s nothing more than the new channel. How else could networks like Twitter and Facebook remain free?

Meet the new boss.

Photo credit: Flicker (unknown)

Never Forget a Password Again

I‘ve seen a couple of posts recently with people discussing various password managers, and I’m a bit suprised. I’ve been using a simple system for years that I figured was pretty common. I have a unique password for every site I visit, and I never forget what it is. I don’t rely on a password manager, so if I jump on a friend’s machine to access the Web, I’m never stuck. Here’s how it works.

1. I start with a short string that I use as the basis for every password–a mix of numbers and letters, but not special characters, since some systems don’t allow them. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, my base string is r7sk9.

2. For every site for which I create a password, I add a unique string derived from the name of the site. If, for example, the site is WordPress, my site string might be “wor”. If you just added those together, you’d have “worr7sk9”. If the site were Bank of America, the password using the same code would be “banr7sk9”.

Simple. But not sufficient if you’re worried about someone unlocking your code, and gaining access to all your accounts. So, you may decide you need some scheme to mix up the code in a way that you still won’t ever forget the code. Fortunately, the choices are endless.

1. You can just mix the site code with your base code by interspersing the letters, so it’s not as obvious if someone ever got one of your passwords. “ban” for bank of america might be a dead giveway. But bra7nsk9 isn’t quite so obvious–I just interspersed the first three letters of the site code into the base code.

2. Instead of using the first few letters of the site for the code, you can use the last few letters backward. Or use the first and last characters. Or some other combination that is not so obvious, but that you can use consistently with every site.

3. Instead of using the actual characters of the site, you can use characters from words that are indicated by the first, or last, letter of the site. IE: A is for apple, B is for banana–so your site code for Amazon might be “app”.

4. If you’re worried about frequently changing your passwords, you can just add a date code into your password. Like “8” in a particular slot if you plan to change your passwords yearly. Or maybe a month code if you want to change it monthly. Whenever you want to change your password, just increment the number. If you’re in the middle of changing all your passwords, and forget what you’ve changed and what you haven’t, no worries, you’re only one number, or one code increment off. You’ll figure it out.

There’s an endless number of schemes you can use to make your code unique for every website you visit, and yet easy for you to never forget. All you have to remember is the formula. A couple of hints:

1. Don’t use special characters. Some sites don’t allow them, and the last thing you want is one scheme for some sites, and another scheme for others, unless of course, you can keep two schemes straight in your head.

2. Try your scheme out with a number of different sites before you commit to it. You may run into trouble if you don’t vet the scheme and then run into a site for which it doesn’t work. The first scheme I tried was tailored for sites with at least two syllables, like Facebook, MySpace, Google. After I commited to it, I started coming across sites with only one syllable, and then I got tripped up. So make a list of 5-10 of the sites you use most often, and make sure your code works consistently in different cases.

3. Come up with a code that has a minimum of 8 characters when you include your site code. While many sites only require six, an increasing number require eight, and again, you want a system that works across all sites.

If you have any additional ideas, I’d love to hear them. As I said, I have a unique password for every site I use, and I never forget it, and never need a reminder.

10 Steps to Build Your Own Social Media A-Team

Over the past few years I’ve been working with a lot of enterprise companies, engaging with marketing teams that want to understand and integrate social media into their marketing programs. One of the first recommendations I make is to develop a social media A-team–a cross-functional team that distributes social media responsibility throughout the organization.

Typically, social media marketing is not “owned” by anyone. In some companies, it’s loosely managed under corporate communications or PR, in others, it’s driven by product managers, research, or customer support. But in most companies, social media initiatives are ad hoc programs operated by whomever happens to have an interest in social media–sometimes it’s just the guy who happens to have a Twitter account.

The challenge, of course, is that social media far transcends one marketing group, or even one business group. Social media issues cut across many areas of operation and management, and the lack of a coordinated team prevents companies from effectively leveraging opportunities, and often paralyzes them in a crisis. When an irate customer is starting a flame-war over the failure of your latest product, it’s not just a PR issue–it’s an engineering issue, a legal issue, a customer service issue too.

So the best way to lay a foundation for managing social media–before you start a needs assessment, or an RFP, or a procurement order for some kind of community platform–is to start a social media A-Team. It’s simple and painless, and costs only the time of the players involved. Here it is in ____ easy steps:

  1. Invite members. Ideally you should have a representative from each major department, in marketing and beyond: PR, marketing, sales, customer service, product development, channel marketing, legal, etc.
  2. Assign a relevant topical domain to each member that they can track in social media. If you’re in sales, you should be tracking competitive dialog, or dialog about your customers. If you’re in legal, track the dialog about legal issues regarding corporate involvement in social media.
  3. Assign a basic list of tasks for each member. Where are people talking about your topic online? What blogs? What communities? What groups on Facebook? What are people saying? What are the issues and trends? What are the opportunities to get involved?
  4. Leverage solutions for tracking social media discussions in each domain online. You can start with Google Alerts and Twitter Search–which allows RSS subscriptions. Your Marketing Engineer will keep track of these tools and provide training on how to set them up during your A-Team meetings. (This, by the way, is exactly the kind of scenario for which we developed SocialRep, so if it’s a big team and a big challenge, ask about our beta. But don’t buy into technology until you’ve started a process.)
  5. Create a space where this information can be easily collected online and shared with your group. Like a Facebook group page, or a space on your Intranet. Make sure it’s secure.
  6. Establish a regular meeting time to gather and discuss what’s been collected. When you start out, weekly face-to-face meetings are ideal. Make it a lunch group. When you’ve established a groove, and everyone knows what they’re up to–maybe after one quarter–move it to monthly.
  7. Use the regular meetings to listen what your team is discovering in the dialog. Start out just by listening and cataloging trends. What’s changing week-to-week? What dialogs are not changing? Where do the memes seem to be starting, and how do they spread?
  8. As you gain a better sense for the dialog driving your market, start to discuss with your team the kinds of opportunities and business objectives that might drive engagement. What kinds of market dialog should you be engaged with? What’s a waste of time, or even a danger to engage with? What kinds of brand attributes do you want to amplify online? How do this relate to the development of specific initiatives or social media policies.
  9. As your A-Team matures, you should assign at least one “SocialRep” for each customer community in your market. The SocialRep’s role is to aggregate and track the issues and dialogs driving conversation in the market, and to manage and coordinate engagement. Who’s responsible for responding to issues in this community? What’s the status of any issue that’s come up? What should the company’s approach to engagement for that community include?
  10. Bring on a “Marketing Engineer” responsible for provisioning the tools that will help your team stay agile. You want someone attached to the marketing department with a strong background in technology. For example, when Google unveils Friend Connect, this is the person who can get it up and running in an hour on your product evangelist’s blog. This is your dedicated engineering voice on your A-team.

I’m sure there are some great, easy ideas I’ve missed. If you have other ways you’re creating a group effort for managing social media across departmental silos, let me know.

Kmart Sponsored Post: Petty Politics Buries Debate

Pelea..fightThis whole debacle doesn’t need another opinion, but just when the fire seemed to be dying down, someone tossed in another bucket of gasoline. And now I want to go meta. If you’ve already been following the whole drama, drop down to the next drop cap.

In case you’re not a Twitter junkie or social media hound, there was a big dustup over the weekend over a sponsored blog post social media guru Chris Brogan wrote for Kmart. Basically, Kmart engaged a company called Izea to contract a group of influential bloggers to create a $500 shopping spree contest for their readers. Chris was given a $500 gift card to shop at Kmart and blog about it, and then invite his readers into a contest for their own $500 gift card.

I saw the original post Brogan wrote for Kmart when he tweeted it, and I was a little bit surprised. It was clearly labeled as a “sponsored post”, and the content of the post also made it clear he was carefully avoiding writing an advertorial. What surprised me was simply that it wasn’t what I expected after reading Chris’ social media blog for so long. A sponsored post for Kmart just didn’t seem to fit with my sense of Chris Brogan’s brand. Oh well. I don’t think anything Brogan did was unethical–he clearly disclosed that the post was sponsored, and he donated his own $500 shopping spree to Toys for Tots.

But over the weekend, I saw some tweets with links to Izea, the company that had facilitated the whole sponsored post campaign. There was a big link on their site touting the Kmart campaign, and its coverage in the media. Shortly after, Jeremiah Owyang from Forrester tweeted a string about the campaign, and the volcano erupted.

Kmart paid Shoemoney $500 resulting in buzz from paid blog post 300+ comments “Buying” social media is effective 4:37 AM Dec 13th from web

This may not be a scalable model however, as buying placements could reduce credibility of bloggers, reducing marketing inventory. 4:38 AM Dec 13th from web

Bottom Line: Expect more brands to ‘buy’ bloggers and tweeters as the economy dips, this truly is cost effective marketing 4:39 AM Dec 13th from web

What ensued was a rapid-fire string of tweets, followed by blog posts, followed by tweets referencing blog posts, with lots of incindiary charges and defenses. One commentator charged that Chris had sold his integrity for $500, while others questioned Kmart’s savviness in trying to buy content. And on and on it went. Chris explained his position at length, as did Jeremiah.

What bothers me about this whole drama is not about Chris writing a paid post for Kmart–he was totally transparent about it, which is a lot more than we can say for a lot of other bloggers, and even mainstream media. What bothers me is the way the debate is being carried out. There is an important question at the heart of this debate that professional bloggers need to address.

  • How do we get paid for the value we deliver?
  • How do we maintain the value we’re delivering in ways that don’t compromise our brand?
  • How do maintain our relationship and credibility with our readers?

Unfortunately, Chris was the current case study for this question being asked. Believe me, I know how much that sucks. But as much as the whole debacle may seem personal, we can’t afford to let it stay mired there. A depressing amount of the commentary was focused on decrying critics as “jealous”, or “uninformed”, or even “morons”. Others claimed that the criticism was a thinly veiled attack against Izea and its owner, who launched the controversial a few years ago. And one blogger claimed that Jeremiah doesn’t even have the right to bring up the questions he posed, because as an industry analyst, he’s only supposed to comment on industry trends, not venture into editorial.

When I see people questioning the validity of debate and shooting down critics in personal attacks, I worry about the health of our profession. Sure, it’s all human, and all to be expected. But damn. The whole point about social media is the opportunity for many voices to be heard, for larger dialogs that catalyze the synthesis of ideas. And right here, in our own back yard, we the brave pioneers couldn’t even manage to get to the deeper, substantive questions–questions over the relationship of trust between companies and consumers, between influencers and their communities, between consumers and their peers–questions that mainstream media have been hammering on for generations. We short-circuited the whole debate and chose sides. What a shame.

Image Credit: Paulo Brandão

The “No Shit” List: Resolutions for the Rest of Us

Stating the ObviousHere we are, just a couple of weeks from New Years. Millions of people are diligently working on their resolutions for 2009, millions more will come up with something a few minutes before midnight on New Year’s Eve. As someone who has taken resolutions seriously, and also given up for years on the frustrations of constant goal setting, disappointment and readjustment, I’ve whittled my resolutions down to what I call the No Shit Principle.

No Shit is a double entendre. No shit as in “No Duh”, and No Shit as in “no BS”, or, no excuses. And that’s pretty much the long and the short of it. I whittle my resolutions down by two criteria, tasks so blindingly obvious and simple that any idiot could do them, and tasks so important that I can’t allow myself any excuses for not getting them done. Why those criteria? Because life is constantly dominated by Really Important Stuff—tasks that suck down all our energy every day before we crap out and go to bed. But guess what. Half the time the Really Important Stuff isn’t nearly as important as you think it is—it’s really just the stuff you’re comfortable doing because it’s a well-worn path, and it makes you feel productive. So steal a little time back to explore a new path with your own list. No shit. It’s easy.

The “No Duh” List
This list is for simple things that don’t need a lot of thought, either to figure out what needs to be done, or how to do it. This is the kind of stuff that stays on the bottom half of your to-do list forever because you’re always too busy taking care of Really Important Stuff. But everyone needs small victories, because successfully achieving small goals is a huge success factor in tackling and achieving big ones.

Samples from a “No Duh” Social Media List for Marketers

  1. Print out your Google Analytics report weekly and post it above your desk
  2. Set up a Google Alert on your name and your company
  3. Spend 10 minutes using Twitter search to find new people to follow
  4. Use Tweetdeck or PeopleBrowsr to organize your Tweeps
  5. Find an active Facebook Group you’re interested in and start a discussion thread
  6. Find an active forum focused on a hobby you love and post a thread
  7. Answer a question on LinkedIn
  8. Update your profile photo
  9. Find a local Tweetup and go meet real people
  10. Import your feeds into FriendFeed and start a thread

The “No Excuses” List
This is the opposite end of the spectrum, the complex things that take energy to figure out and execute, which is why they never get done. They’re ideals—things you know would make life better, but you never have the time to make them real. So you stay on the treadmill of Really Important Stuff. Now’s the time to figure out what game changers you shouldn’t let linger at any cost.

Samples from a “No Excuses” Social Media List for Marketers

  1. Write an Editorial Calendar for your blog
  2. Search Engine Optimize Your Website, even if you’re on a shoestring.
  3. Deploy a social media monitoring application (Hey, that’s SocialRep.)
  4. Map the social landscape for your business—top blogs, influencers, etc.
  5. Create a social media A-team at your company
  6. Develop a social media marketing plan for your company
  7. Write a strategic social media communications plan and policy
  8. Develop a customer advisory board
  9. Design a video marketing campaign, influencer interviews, or video how-to’s for your product
  10. Start a Tweetup or professional peer meetup

Look at that. A list of 10 blindingly simple things you can do and feel empowered on your way to tackling one or more of the hard things. Now here’s the trick. You’ve got the pump primed with easy things to do right out of the gate, and a daunting list of bigger, but critical challenges. When you’re halfway through the first list, pick an item from the “No BS” list and break it down into “No Duh” tasks that will start you toward the goal. Turns out, there’s a sure-fire “No Duh” routine to do that:

Step 1: Choose the daunting goal.
Step 2: Search the topic on Google
Step 3: Collect 5-10 articles and white papers on the topic
Step 4: Read them. Yeah. Really.
Step 5: Write a list of desired outcomes related to achieving the goal
Step 6: Write a basic plan and task list for getting started.
Step 7: Get started.

Yeah, I know. Rocket science. No shit. So, there’s pretty much no excuse for not tackling the new year with some new energy and interest. What’s your list?

Photo credit: Hryckowian

Countrywide’s Concept of Customer Service

A tribute to everything I hateI hate writing these kinds of posts. But I’m pulling my hair out and I simply can’t believe that companies in this day and age are so manifestly clueless about the impact of customer service on brand.

I’m a customer of Countrywide, who holds my home mortgage. A few months ago, Countrywide had a major security breach, in which whatever security protocols they follow to protect private customer data allowed an employee to make off with the social security numbers, names and financial data of many thousands of customers, including myself. The employee turned around and sold that data to a third party, setting up a nightmare scenario of identity theft for Countrywide’s customers.

Following California law, Countrywide disclosed the security breach and provided me with access to credit-monitoring services through Experian. Not an ideal situation, but at least the law’s got consumers covered and is working as expected. Except, when I go to Experian to sign up for the credit-monitoring services, after filling out a tedious application online that kept having to reload for some unknown reason, I get a sweet message saying “We’re Sorry… We are currently unable to process your request. If you need assistance please email us at Thank you- we appreciate your business!”

Really? If you appreciated my business, you’d provide a direct phone number to someone who could tell me why you can’t process my request. Oh well. So I call Countrywide’s customer service line, the one printed on the notification in which they told me Countrywide had lost my private financial data to a thief. After going through the phone tree, I get a Countrywide service rep who provides me with a phone number to call at Experian to get help. Great!

So. I call the Experian hotline. Five minutes of phone tree crap. Special offer! Press a number! Press another number! Wait while we transfer you! You know, you could do this faster on our website! Someone will be with you soon! Press a number! Press another number! Now hold! Five minutes of hold to the tune of some generic acoustic guitar riff in an endless 3-bar loop. Thank you for holding, someone will be with you soon! Did you know you could do this faster on our website?! More crappy acoustic guitar, and then the master stroke. Thank you for holding, no one is available to assist you now, please call back later! Click.

Now I’m really happy. And when I call Countrywide, they make me even happier. I get a helpful customer service rep who tells me, “I’m sorry, there’s nothing I can do to help you.” Really? Is that the best you can do after you lost the financial data of thousands of customers? You throw it in the lap of Experian, and when they drop the ball, you just throw up your arms and say, “Oh Well!” Except, I didn’t really want to hear that message. So I asked the service rep for her supervisor, and now it gets fun. “My supervisor can’t help you.” I had to ask: is this really customer service? I didn’t ask whether you thought your supervisor could help me, I asked to speak to your supervisor. Again: “My supervisor can’t help you.” And this was Countrywide’s position, putting up stone walls against the customers whose financial data was stolen and sold by their own employee.

What did I expect, you might ask? How about this, considering I’m a customer whose financial data you lost, considering I’m one of the tax payers bailing out your industry and saving your job: “I know that credit monitoring is really important in this situation, and I’m sorry our vendor is not fulfilling their obligation. Let me see if I can find out who is managing that business relationship and see if they know what’s going on.” Or, “Let me see if I can get someone from Experian on the line to help.” Or, “Let me get my supervisor.” My helpful suggestions were not well received by the customer rep, but she did finally relent and put me on hold for another 5 minutes to wait to speak to her supervisor. To her credit, the supervisor was more reasonable, but did nothing more than call the same Experian hotline to go through the same dead end process with me on the line.

I’m still waiting to get this resolved to find out what parting gifts I’ve received on my credit report from the Countrywide theft.

Hello! Countrywide. Anyone home? Why should a post like this ever need to be written?