Monthly Archives: January 2009

Do Social Media Laggards Suffer A Competitive Deficit?

Snail after the rain,  chiocciola dopo la pioggiaI need your insights. I do a lot of social media scanning in my business–literally hundreds of conversations per day across many different industries. I’ve noticed certain business sectors where a competitive advantage for social media adoption is apparent–consumer electronics, for example. But I’ve also noticed some surprising sectors where industry incumbents are not on the social media radar, and I haven’t been able yet to clearly define the competitive disadvantage that may, or may not, exist.

Some laggard sectors are obvious–does a cement producer serving a fairly non-technical market need to be active on social media to beat the competition? Not today. But other sectors are surprising. In marketing, for example, many of the traditional heavyweights in media and consulting are not on the social media radar for topics that define their market position. In some cases, the lack of presence is truly astounding–due to incredibly poor website optimization for SEO, no relevant content production, no participation in industry dialog. But it doesn’t appear to be hurting their business. At least not yet.

Now, let me state clearly that I personally believe it will hurt, enough to move the marketing industry inexorably toward social media integration. I know many, many examples of substantial projects going to social media boutique shops and consultants that in the past would have gone to some of these firms now lagging behind the social media curve. And yet, there’s still enough business to go around that the laggards haven’t been compelled to move faster to close the social media gap–and there’s a large enough market of buyers who are content with traditional approaches, and similarly unsure of how fast and how far they should step into social media. If it becomes enough of a compelling issue, the acquisition engines will surely heat up.

But. My question is about today. To what degree are companies that are lagging in the adoption of social media marketing techniques suffering any real competitive deficits. I’m not asking for an enumeration of competitive advantages for social media, but real examples of competitive disadvantage for laggards. Sales lost. Customer defections. Revenue declines. Do you have any first-hand anecdotes, examples or insights?

Why does this matter? I’m trying to step out of the echo chamber and get a sense of where we are on the social media adoption curve. Clearly social media offers many new market approach opportunities, and in some sectors a true competitive advantage. The question is whether those new opportunities replace existing opportunities in most sectors, or whether they are simply additive at this point. Simply stated, when lagging hurts, adoption will accelerate. So, where does it hurt?

Photocredit: pizzodisevo

How I Lost Everything in a NY Cab, And Regained More Than I Left Behind

cabI don’t know about you, but I have a mental ledger of the dumbest things I’ve ever done. It’s been under a layer of dust after I somehow survived my twenties: evading arrest on a motorcycle; walking into Kingston’s Trenchtown alone, white, and carrying a camera; stashing my emergency cash in the sole of my shoe, only to learn on the outskirts of Marrakesh that a few months of humidity and abrasion under foot will wipe the ink clean off the faces of twenties and hundreds, leaving them worthless.

Well, last week I had to dig up the ledger and add a new line. I left my backpack in a New York taxi. It was late, I was tired and in a rush, so when the cab pulled up to my hotel, I paid in cash and didn’t wait for a receipt. By the time I realized what had happened, the cab and my backpack were long gone. In horror, I inventoried everything that was lost. A laptop, a camera, a digital recorder. Costly but replaceable. The real losses could never be recovered. The pictures of our family Christmas that I hadn’t had time to download. A journal with years of writing, including poetry I wrote about watching my father die. A 1908 translation of the Bhagavad Gita that I treasured for its amazing lyricism. And of course, countless hours of work in the form of business documents and presentations created since my last backup.

I won’t belabor the anguish or self-loathing. Suffice to say I don’t need much help beating myself up, especially for something monumentally stupid. The real story is how I got everything back. Miracles happen.

The first mistake I made was assuming that I would never do something so idiotic. When my backup software started bugging out a few months ago, it wasn’t a top priority to get it fixed. I remember thinking before this trip that I should back everything up, but I was in too much of a rush setting up meetings and writing presentations. It’s amazing how much of the essentials of our lives we carry around with no safety net. If you travel with a laptop, backup should always be a top priority. In fact, my strategy now is to turn my laptop into a thin client, and avoid storing any permanent files on it.

The second mistake I made was failing to put a blindingly obvious tag on my pack with my contact information, including my contact while in New York. I had a big stack of business cards in the outside pocket, but they weren’t obvious, so they were useless. Tag your bag. Label your laptop. Put your name on anything you want back.

The third mistake I made was failing to get a receipt. A taxi receipt in New York carries important information, like the taxi medallion number, that will help you track down the taxi and driver if needed. If I had a dollar for all the people I called along the journey of tracking my stuff down who said “What? You don’t have a medallion number? [You poor fool!] I can’t help you.”

Okay, so I’ve lost a pack with thousands of dollars of electronics in a cab in New York, with no receipt, no cab number, no nothing. What are the odds of getting it back? Where do you even start? It took me a week to figure it out, but I’ll cut to the chase and tell you what to do if this happens to you.

  1. Immediately write down everything you can remember about your cab ride. It’s crucial to figure out exactly where you were picked up, where you were dropped off, the pick-up and drop-off times, and the amount of the fare with tip. Any other details are good, but you need times and locations within a block or two and a 10-minute window.
  2. Immediately Dial 311 to reach the Taxi and Limousine Commission of New York and file a report. The TLC is your best hope of recovering property, and you can’t do anything without a report.
  3. The TLC has a list of police precincts in NYC. Precincts are the drop-off point for property lost in cabs. Unfortunately, as I learned, many immigrant cabbies don’t want to deal with the police if they don’t have to. So this is hit and miss. Also, some cab companies collect lost property at their office, and only drop it off at the precincts once a week, so you have to call back daily.
  4. Get a list of the taxi brokers in New York City. There are 13,000 taxis in New York, but there only about 75 brokers that manage the vast majority of independent drivers. I called every one of them and got their fax number.
  5. Fax a reward sheet to every broker, with a picture, if possible, of what you lost, a description, and contact information. Many brokers will reflexively say they can’t help you without a medallion number, but when you offer to send a reward sheet, they’re always responsive.

That covers the bases, but it wasn’t enough to get my stuff back. The next step I took was to track down the vendors of GPS payment systems in the cabs. It turns out that every licensed cab in New York has a GPS system that tracks the basic details of each fare. I found out there are three main vendors of GPS systems for NY taxis. A company called DDS, a company called CMT, and Verifone.

They’re not set up to do customer searches, but I weaseled my way through the phone tree and operators to find a technician that could do a database search. And this is where having the details of your cab ride are crucial. I was able to pinpoint my pickup and drop-off locations to specific addresses. I was able to pinpoint my pick-up and drop-off times to within 5 minutes. I knew the fare and tip give or take a couple of dollars. The technician can look the data up, narrow down the hits to specific records with cab numbers. It can take hours to do one of these searches, so you have to be exceedingly nice when you connect with someone in a position to help. I struck out the first two times, but on the third try I hit gold. They found the fare, found the medallion number, and the TLC called the cabbie and connected me.

I was incredibly lucky. The cabbie had my backpack and everything in it. He was an independent driver, not a native English speaker, and it turns out he works two jobs back to back, and hadn’t had the time to track down my contact information in the pack. He put the pack in the trunk and figured I would find him. He was kind of enough to drop the pack off at a UPS store, where I’d arranged packing, shipment and payment with the manager. I’m sending a reward to the cabbie, and a letter of thanks to the supervisor of the technician who helped me recover the pack.

I’ve learned a lot from this experience, other than my capacity for doing dumb things and the tactics of navigating the taxi system in New York to access data. Even while diligently tracking my backpack down, mentally, I wrote it off, assuming I wouldn’t recover it. How was it even conceivable? In that process, I mourned for what I’d lost, but realized it didn’t define me as much as I thought. I’m a writer, but I’m not what I write. A mountain of writing can be a trap that’s hard to escape.

I also learned, again, that people are far more helpful and honest than we’re conditioned to believe. I made more than 200 phone calls to track my backpack down. I talked to cabbies, policemen, administrators, technicians. I remember only one person who was somewhat less than pleasant, but even this person provided the little information and help that they could. I’ve learned that far more people will help you than won’t.

Finally, I’ve learned that miracles happen. But sometimes you have to help them along.

Photo Credit: Fiat Luxe

Generating Leads With Social Media

christophe dune

As social media continues to mature, and as the economy continues to falter, interest is growing rapidly among businesses in how to leverage social media for lead generation. Lets look at some of the most basic aspects of understanding lead generation in the context of social media.

The Three C’s: Content, Conversation and Community
I’m sure you already know this by know, but it still bears repeating: social media signifies a shift in marketing that is no longer driven by your carefully crafted and broadcast message. It’s about content, conversation and community. It’s not about blasting messages relentlessly through a series of channels to gather your 1.5% response. It’s about listening to the conversation taking place in your market community and engaging. Your market is now a networked community of customers, and technology has amplified the conversation to the point where people see more value in learning about your product from others like themselves than from your marketing campaigns. That means instead of blasting the market with pick-up lines, you need to listen to, engage and catalyze your customer community. If you do it well, your market will spread your message for you.

Find Your Hot Spots
The best place to begin is by finding out where your customer community is already gathering to talk about your market, and who is influencing the conversation. You can begin the process online by using some of the many new tools focused on searching through social content. You can search for real time conversations on Twitter. You can search for keyword concepts related to your market on some of the many social bookmarking sites and indexes,, StumbleUpon or AllTop. You can search for news items related to your market that were highly rated by Web users at Reddit, Digg or Sphere. And when you’re ready to start seriously tracking the flow of conversation and the impact of key influencers, you can leverage Google Alerts, or one of the growing number of social media monitoring tools like Radian6 and Techrigy, or the system we use, SocialRep.

Listen Before You Launch
The point of all these tools is to find and track the influential hotspots where market conversations are percolating. Once you know who’s driving the conversation and where, you can start to participate more effectively by listening first. What are people talking about? What issues are driving the discussion? If you have something meaningful to say, then jump in. But get engaged as an interested participant, not as a product shill. Imagine yourself being at a dinner party with friends. How would you feel about a salesman butting into your conversation to promote a product, or defend his brand against something you said, and then walking away to butt into the next group?

Design Your Campaign to Fit Your Community
Once your team is engaged with one or more of your market communities, lead-generation programs can be a lot more focused. You’ll have a much better sense of which community hot spots are attracting traffic and driving conversations. A lead-gen campaign for a bike company at Facebook, for example, might focus on leveraging a big personality like Lance Armstrong to attract friends and drive links. A campaign at Mountain Bike Review Forum, with 60,000 dedicated cyclists, would be more product-focused, maybe organizing a demo ride. The program you put together should be designed to fit the community, and you’ll only know how to do that well if you’re engaged.

With any lead-generation campaign that engages an existing community, it’s also important to connect with the facilitators of that community before you do any serious program. You should understand and respect any policies they might have about commercial campaigns on their networks. Some communities will have additional opportunities for sponsorship, or co-branded content, which might help you create a more effective campaign. If you’re just interested in testing the waters to see how a community—particularly a large community—might pull in a broader campaign, you can often buy banner ads or adword campaigns that focus on particular sites so you can test the interest in program concepts.

Offer Opportunities for More Conversation
Finally, there’s always the potential to use community development as a lead-generation program, rather than tapping into an existing community. Starbucks, for example, has launched a number of word-of-mouth campaigns, including their “Let’s Meet At Starbucks: Invite a Friend” campaign, while Dell has pushed a lot of product through dedicated product profiles on Twitter, used to announce hot deals. Initiatives like this make the campaign offer a socializing opportunity, and the possibilities are endless, for both retail and B2B companies.

Once you are oriented to your market community, campaign execution will look surprisingly familiar. It’s still important as ever to have a compelling offer, a clear message and to test everything you can to continually improve effectiveness. The difference today is that you need to be much more transparent, honest and accountable in the ways you engage your market. Prospects aren’t just individual “targets” to pick off like sitting ducks. They’re members of a community where word travels fast.

The Resolution Effect

escala de cargol a Tivoli, Ferragosto 2008As many of you know, I’m running a startup in the social media intelligence space. I spend an inordinate amount of time scanning blogs, forums, social networks and such, studying trends in online conversation, both for my customers and my own company. December was an anomaly. In at least two completely separate non-retail industries, there was a measurable decline the number of posts as the holiday approached—not dramatic, but noticeable. I’d consider that pretty intuitive.

What was not intuitive is that the number of sources posting content and the quality of posts, as measured by relevance, went up noticeably. Many of the posts were part of a spike of 2009 predictions and 2008 in-review. But many were just good quality analytical posts on their respective industries. Which got me to thinking about the cause for this spike in quality. Not surprisingly, I have a hypothesis.

If you’re connected at all to your industry online–not only through social media, but through the Web sites of traditional media sources–you can’t help but be saturated with analysis of the year past and predictions for the year ahead. In psychological terms, this is induction. Reflective analysis of the environment and the systemic drivers of phenomena that govern your life. And it being the end of the year, we are naturally and culturally inclined to reflect on transition, on new beginnings, hopes and resolutions for change. Very reflective stuff, even if you hate it.

So. My hypothesis is that social media is amplifying the resolution effect. The traditional media channels post their reviews of the past and expectations for the future, bloggers add their own voice and their own opinions, which people comment on, post links to on Twitter and Facebook, and soon we’re saturated in ambient reflection. The increase in sources I mentioned–the suddenly rise in voices in the fray–I suspect are dormant bloggers gearing up for their own resolutions to start posting on their blog more diligently in 2009. Just like the thousands of people crowding into gyms right now to make the most of a new start. I’ll be interested to see if the trend continues much past January.

Photo credit: Perrimoon