Tag Archives: social media

Is Social Media is Making Gender Roles Obsolete?

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The best thing about staring at web data all day is that I get to see trends as they emerge. Usually it’s just little shifts in the drift and flow of online dialog. But sometimes I get a front-row seat to a tectonic change that points toward some unexpected and emerging truth. A clear view of a reality that’s just beginning to unfold.

I had one of those experiences recently working on a project for Creative Labs. Creative is doing a lot of exploration in social marketing, and one of the areas of interest was digging into the phenomenon of Mommy Bloggers. If you’re not familiar with the trend, blogs written by moms reached a tipping point a couple of years ago and have grown to be such a market influence that the FCC cited them in a new regulatory review process.

As part of our research into online dialog and influence, we spent a lot of time looking at mommy blogs and daddy blogs, and variations on the content they create, the audiences they attract and the communities they develop. All very interesting stuff that would fill a good marketing brief. But the most interesting insight was a simple observation about the nature of mommy and daddy blogs. Moms are writing a lot about consumer gadgets, Web 2.0 and tech, while dads are writing a lot about changing diapers and teething. It’s a striking role reversal that’s fascinating to observe.

It’s not hard to speculate about what’s going on. Men have had hundreds of sources to learn about gadgets and tech for decades, but few to share about how to be a good dad, while the opposite is true for women. Women have unlimited opportunities to compare notes with their peers about parenting, but where can they connect with other moms about new technology? In the world of mainstream media, we accepted these cultural boundaries for which there was apparently little interest in crossing. But the mommy and daddy blogs demonstrate there is a huge pent-up audience for gadget moms and diaper dads that mainstream media never found a reason to serve. Traffic on these blogs is now a full blown phenomena.

Beyond any commercial fascination, there’s a profound social implication. The phenomenon puts a stark lie to the notion that mainstream media simply reflects social values and expectations, and suggests instead that mainstream media has played a central role in sustaining traditional values and expectations–if through no other means than projecting the world view of the tiny minority that has controlled media for the past 100 years, or whatever world view they could exploit for advertising dollars. Clearly they never conceived of the kind of content that would emerge when you unleash media and let ordinary moms and dads, or any other constituency, loose on the world to talk about whatever really interests them.

It’s equally clear that mainstream media is not only coming apart at the seams as a financial model, but its peculiar power over the stories we accept about our lives is quickly being rendered impotent. As media is democratized, ordinary people are gravitating to the stories that resonate with their lives–and those stories emerge in a more authentic and compelling way when they emerge from a shared interest among a group of like-minded people rather than being projected from a board room focused on a demographic chart.

In a very real sense, we’re returning to stories told around a fire after a lifetime of only listening to stories told from a stage. And if the content driving traffic on mommy and daddy blogs is any indication, it’s going to be a radical shift in the way we see ourselves.

Livestreaming Bioneers Social Media Panel

I’ll be moderating a panel on Sustainable Social Media at the Bioneers Conference in San Rafael. We’ll be streaming the session live, tying in more than 20 remote conference locations. If you have questions during the panel, feel free to post them on Twitter, tagged as “#bioneers” and I’ll pick them up and weave them into the Q&A.

Is Cision Accountable for PR Spam?

Is Cision accountable for spam?

As a blogger, I receive a fair amount of PR spam–5-10 emails every day pitching crap I would never write about. And 9 times out of 10 this spam is illegal. It’s unsolicited commercial email in blatant violation of numerous provisions of the CAN-SPAM act. Day after day, week after week, the crap just rolls in, and frankly it pisses me off. Most of the time I just delete it and forget it. Recently, however, I started receiving spam at an email address I created specifically to keep “clean”, meaning I’ve never registered it anywhere or opted in for any list, though I have it posted as an “at dot com” address on my personal blog About page. So I started responding to the spam by asking where my name was sourced so I can get off the list. No one has ever responded to my request. Until today. Today, one spammer apologized and told me my clean email address was sourced from Cision and a product they call the Media Map. Interesting.

After Tweeting about this discovery, I connected with a Vice President at Cision by email. I’m not going to publish her name or emails without permission, because I didn’t open the communication with the intent of entrapping her. But I will publish the gist of the email, because she’s a senior executive with Cision and a communications professional. I’m sure she can take care of herself, and I told her I would let her know when I posted this. My intent in writing this post is not to throw a bomb at Cision, but to open a public dialog about the practice of social media relations, and the behavior of Cision specifically. The executive assured me her intent was to be open and accountable and I take her at her word.

Cision bills itself as “the leading global provider of media relations software services and solutions for public relations professionals.” Their homepage is full of social media products and services, and they offer a steady stream of webinars and whitepapers helping PR professionals navigate the brave new world of social media. So. To cut to the chase. Why is Cision harvesting my email from the web without permission, and providing it to PR agencies as part of a paid service to allow them to spam me with social media pitches? Call me crazy, but that doesn’t exactly jive with any notion of responsible social media marketing I’m familiar with. In fact, it sounds like Mercenary Marketing 1.0 cynically repackaged with a shiny Web 2.0 wrapper.

When I asked these questions of Cision, the very polite response was, yes, they did “recruit” my email address from the web “prior to opt-in”, but they just hadn’t “gotten to the point” of asking me to opt in. They were, however, able to sell my address to PR agencies for the purpose of pitching me. At this point, by my reading of the CAN-SPAM act, this is illegal spam, although it’s a bit of a grey area. Cision is not emailing me, so they’re not sending spam. The PR agency is indeed spamming me–sending an unsolicited commercial email–but in all likelihood since they’re buying a professional service they’re under the impression it’s legit. One question I neglected to ask is whether Cision is representing the list I’m on as opt-in. I’ll let them answer for themselves.

The Cision exec was also very polite in saying she’d be happy to note the names of any repeat offenders, but I told her that was unacceptable. Part of my annoyance with Cision is that it took me this long to figure out where my name had been sourced–which, if I were less charitable, I’d suggest was by design. The spam laws are clear that commercial emails must contain contact information and a way for recipients to unsubscribe. In none of the PR spam that I’ve received has there ever been an unsubcribe link or any mention of Cision. The only contact is the PR flack who wants to book an interview. This is not a transparent or accountable business practice on Cision’s part–and frankly, the responsibility cannot be pawned off on the poor naive agencies. Cision bills itself as “Helping Communications Professionals Navigate the Evolving Media Landscape”, and they are proud of the numerous webinars and whitepapers through which they educate PR professionals about the practical requirements of social media. But not one of their clients is following the most basic guidelines of responsible email marketing, not to mention the law? What does that say about Cision’s effectiveness as a social media leader?

Fundamentally, I have no problem with Cision’s professed vision. There is a legitimate opportunity for someone to help agencies navigate the shifting media landscape. But in my experience, Cision’s practice doesn’t measure up. Whether they call it harvesting or recruitment, they collected my contact information and sold it to agencies, no matter how deeply it may have been embedded in a product or a service. They did not seek my permission, and they had no means of holding their clients accountable for the most basic legal and ethical marketing practices, whether or not they’re educating those clients through their webinars and whitepapers. However laudable their messaging may be on the subject of social media, they’ve treated me, the blogger, without respect. And in enabling PR agencies to continue the practice of unaccountable spamming, they have done no favors for their own market. I am far less likely today to pay attention to any email from a PR agency, which is a direct result of this experience.

I have no doubt Cision will respond ably to this post. But it’s a commitment to action I want to see. Specifically:

  1. End the practice of “recruiting” emails and including them on any list before permission is explicitly granted.
  2. Require every agency using one of your lists to include a footer, or a post script, that includes an unsubscribe link with a Cision contact. You can not claim to be accountable if the bloggers you “recruit” cannot close the loop with you about the communications we receive.
  3. Create a clear set of marketing guidelines for which you hold your clients responsible, including adhering to provisions of the CAN-SPAM act, and provide a transparent place for your “recruited” bloggers to register complaints.

If you’re truly the social media leader you position yourself to be, this shouldn’t be any issue at all.

Update: I’ve gotten a few emails, and a few comments below, directing me to other posts and comments online about similar experiences with Cision–and, frankly, similar platitudes from Cision about accountability and desire for “dialog”. There’s a pattern emerging, which you can clearly see here, here and here. Someone calls Cision out for enabling spam, Mea Culpas ensue with perfectly played “openness and accountability” and yet Cision doesn’t change its behavior. The post you see here, including Cision’s careful self-defense wrapped in a “willingness to listen” are played out again and again, month after month making idiots of us all. So Heidi. C’mon back. Let’s have a real discussion about the game Cision is playing.

Bioneers Panel on Social Media

logoI‘m thrilled to have been invited to moderate a panel on Social Media at the upcoming Bioneers Conference, October 16-18th at the Marin Civic Center, just north of San Francisco. The conference is a 20-year old forum featuring many of the world’s leading social and scientific innovators on issues of the environment and social justice–artists and authors, physicists and physicians, all gathered to explore real-world solutions to some of the most pressing challenges facing humanity.

This year’s presenters include Michael Pollan, author of The Ominvore’s Dilemma, and Dr. Andrew Weil, the world’s leading proponent of integrative medicine, along with dozens of experts in everything from economics to activism. More than 3000 are expected to attend the conference, and sessions will be webcast live, joining 20 sites from Alaska to Maine.

The panel I’ll be moderating will focus on the impact of social media on corporate responsibility and accountability. Among a long list of social media veterans, panelists will include Blogher co-founder Elisa Camahort Page, Get Satisfaction founder Lane Becker, and PopRule CEO Rob Kramer. It’s a phenomenal opportunity to connect the dots between the media that’s reshaping our lives every day, and the real-world impact on society and business–and as I’ve said, I’m thrilled at the opportunity to participate.

If you’re interested in attending the Bioneers conference, I’ve been extended a discount to pass on to my network, and additional discounts are available to educators who’d like to attend. Higher education students and faculty can attend for only $35/day with lunch included (code: action), and first timers can get a special tent pass for $50 (code: tentspecial).

If you want a taste of what Bioneers is all about, check out this video about one of the many groups associated with Bioneers. Real-world solutions for real-world problems. Cool stuff.

Kodak’s Social Media Strategy: Backfiring Already?


Last week I wrote a short analysis of Kodak’s surprising move with the Zi8 pocket camera, explaining how Kodak had obviously been listening intently to consumer discussions about pocket video cameras, and rather than making the usual incremental upgrade to one or two features for their next release, they threw down the gauntlet and upgraded just about every feature mentioned on user wish lists. This was an unusual move in consumer electronics, where the industry pace for upgrades is typically much slower–a move all the more interesting because it was so obviously enabled by social media monitoring. (How do I know? Because our sister company SocialRep was tracking the same space for Creative Labs, and tracked the same user wish lists in relation to the Vado.)

Jeff Hayzlett, Kodak’s CMO, has been praised and criticized in equal measure for his approach to marketing, which not incidentally includes a big dose of social media. Jeff is an avid user of Twitter and Facebook, and in general a great advocate for social marketing. The fact that he was listening closely to the market is a good thing. The question is, what do you do with what you learn? How does it effect your market strategy?

Last week, I hinted that maybe Kodak has something up its sleeve. Why would a company dramatically accelerate the pace of the product lifecycle? Sure, in the short run, you grab a lead over your competitors and force them to play catch up while you… run ahead. But for that strategy to pay off, you better have some idea of where you plan to run. I had visions in my head of new innovations Kodak might have on deck, from on-device editing tools to face-recognition tagging, or maybe optical zoom and interchangeable lenses. Sure, all in a $200 camera, right? Hey, who would have thought we’d have so much technology in smart phones these days. Well, it turns out I got too far ahead of myself. And maybe Kodak did too.

This week, one of the first hands-on reviews came out from a very influential source. Macworld reviewed the new Zi8, and the verdict was not kind.

Browse through the many pocket camcorder reviews we’ve published and you learn that these camcorders are limited in significant ways—no image stabilization, no exposure or white balance controls, no optical zoom, no support for using external microphones, and no support for 1080p high-definition video. Kodak hasn’t addressed all these limitations with the Zi8, but it does take a shot at some of the most significant—specifically, image stabilization, 1080p shooting, and support for external microphones. Regrettably, none works in stellar fashion or makes up for a camera that’s a fairly average performer.

The review goes on to deconstruct all the areas where the Zi8 falls down, which is a 1-1 list of all the areas the Zi8 was supposed to be jumping ahead of the competition. The best the review could say about the Zi8 is that it “isn’t a terrible pocket camcorder.”

It’s just that in the areas where it differentiates itself from other cameras in this class—1080p video, external audio input, and image stabilization—it doesn’t perform well.

That pretty much throws cold water on the notion that Kodak can run ahead while the competition plays catch up. It also deflates the entire premise of the word-of-mouth excitement Kodak generated when they announced the camera, immediately dubbed by drooling analysts as the “Flip Killer”. The question now is whether or not the bullet-points on the camera box will be enough to sway a large number of customers who don’t know how to Google product reviews.

I don’t know what happened at Kodak, but I can’t help wondering if they let marketing run ahead while production couldn’t keep up. The circumstantial evidence seems to suggest that marketing listened to customer dialog–as well they should–but instead of prioritizing a list of functions they could wrap into the next release at a reasonable level of quality, they got excited by the notion of baking everything into the camera so they could kill the competition. Unfortunately, they didn’t hit the mark, and the result is arguably worse than if they had kept with the strategy of incremental upgrades. The criticism from Macworld is doubly painful because Creative used their production cycle for the next version of the Vado, in part, to vastly improve their support and integration with Macs. Kodak has inadvertently handed Creative a really nice story to tell Mac users when the new Vado is released September 20th.

Not to jump all over Kodak, but there’s another big social media question with regard to Kodak and the Zi8. Kodak made big fanfare of a consumer contest to rename the camera. They got a lot of buzz on Twitter and in the media for the contest–including this breathless review in the Boston Globe. That was weeks ago–an internet eternity. No name has been announced, and the Zi8 is being marketed and sold under the old name they had obviously decided was in need of a change. What’s the deal?

I’ll keep updating on this as the story unfolds. I applaud Kodak for the way they’re pushing traditional boundaries with social media, but there’s obviously still a lot for us all to learn about how social media interacts with market strategy.

Kodak Throws Down the Social Media Gauntlet

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Over the past few months I’ve been analyzing social media marketing data produced by our alter-ego/partner SocialRep. One of the industries SocialRep tracks is consumer electronics, which includes endless sub-sectors where pitched battles for the hearts and minds of consumers play out every day. Many companies in this industry have become savvy about social media–few industries attract more online dialog than electronic gadgets–but the tactics companies use to integrate social media with traditional marketing programs varies widely.

One of the more interesting battles has been playing out in the pocket video market, where the Flip made a splash three years ago introducing a tiny video cam with no tape, just memory, and they dominated the competitive share of voice in online dialog for that sector ever since. What made this remarkable was that Flip’s maker, PureDigital, was an upstart, and they caught the industry heavy-weights flat-footed. Sony, JVC, RCA and other household brands were slow to respond until the brush fire started by PureDigital became a serious sector of the video market.

If it looked like the Flip came out of nowhere, in a way it did. PureDigital had been making cheap disposable video cameras for sale in CVS Pharmacy, and they anticipated market demand for a reusable version–a cheap video camera that would slip in your pocket. At the time, interest in YouTube was exploding, but the big handycam players were still focused on big and expensive cameras–at least, big and expensive compared to the Flip pocket cam. The tradeoff with pocket cams, of course, is quality; a tiny camera forces lots of compromises. But if you’re creating short video for sharing online, you can afford a drop in quality that no one will notice on the Web. And the opportunity to capture candid moments they’d never haul out a standard video camera to film caught the imagination of web-savvy consumers.

In time, competitors joined the fray. Creative Labs, the prolific engineers that produced the Sound Blaster and essentially invented MP3 players, outdid the Flip with a smaller camera called the Vado that went head-to-head on features and quality. Kodak appeared with their own version, the zi6, and took an interesting niche approach by creating a ruggedized version targeting the travel market. Sony came out with the Webbie, and Samsung and RCA weighed in as well.


So now you have the typical consumer electronics market dynamic: a number of players, each kicking and scratching for a foothold based on features and price. With each successive release of an updated model–which seems to be at a pace averaging two releases per company, per year–the competitors up the ante in one way or another. One company comes out with an 8GB camera, another comes out with a higher quality lens. In this way, the market slowly ratchets forward, with each competitor leveraging an incremental advance on features, quality or price. It’s a Kabuki dance that plays out the same away all across the industry. That is, until now.

If you carefully track the social media conversations about pocket video cameras, you eventually wind up with a comprehensive list of all the features people care about. Not everyone cares about the same features–some want better audio features, some want better editing software, some want higher video resolution–and the wish extends down to special features that vary among the different categories of users and their intended applications for the camera. As each new release of a product comes to market, you can track which features get checked off with a cheer, or with a groan when one contingent’s favored feature doesn’t get upgraded. This is one of the great promises of social media–listening to consumers to plan and build better products.

It turns out, Kodak was listening as well. Kodak’s CMO, Jeff Hayzlett, has been both celebrated and bashed for his approach to marketing, which includes a heavy dose of social media. Kodak is all over Facebook and Twitter–they’re just winding up a contest on Twitter to rename their newest camera–and they’re doing all the things social media gurus say a savvy company should. But when they announced the release of their newest camera, they demonstrated that they really had been listening. Instead of making an incremental advance on one or two features to move an inch ahead of the competition, Kodak cleaned up the entire list of every feature consumers had mentioned online on their wish lists. In one go. And it was uncanny. As I went back through the SocialRep data looking at the features consumers had discussed over the past 6 months, it was obvious Kodak had created the same list, and used it as a product roadmap for the Kodak zi8.

So this will be an interesting case study.

The zi8 was announced a few weeks ago, and the response to the announcement among the gadget analysts was almost apoplectic. Everyone cheered. When the advance models went out to reviewers, you could see the dialog shift ever so slightly. “Sure, it’s 1080p resolution, but how much difference does that really make? Tough crowd, but of course, reviewers need something to complain about. The real question will be how consumers respond when the camera rolls out next month–no word on Amazon pre sales yet–and what that says about social media as a marketing tool.

Will Kodak displace the Flip in competitive share of voice? (A “forensic” analysis of Flip’s marketing tactics and how Kodak’s tactics compare is an entirely different topic, but one I’ve been tracking as well for a social media case study.) There are so many angles to look at now that there’s a clear case of a company leveraging social media to tune product development. Clearly, the market has been recalibrated for pocket video cameras–every player will now have to approach parity with Kodak in features sooner rather than later. But will that kind of development acceleration across the market help Kodak? It will certainly shift the focus of development to a new set of features next year, which could give Kodak an edge as they look ahead while all their competitors focus on playing catch-up. But do they have a vision for where to take the market now that consumer’s baseline ideals have been answered?

Needless to say, I’ll be continuing to watch this play out, and watching more of the data as the story unfolds. I’m hoping maybe I can draw my friends Jonathan Knowles and Victor Cook into the discussion to parse some of the competitive market share data.

Disclosure: SocialRep is a MotiveLab partner, and provides social media intelligence software to Creative Labs.

Sales 2.0 at the SF Social Media Breakfast

SF Social Media BreakfastI can’t tell you how pleased I was with the launch to the San Francisco Social Media Breakfast. We sold out our tickets and had a great turnout of about 50 people–which is pretty remarkable for a 7:30am event in the city. But hey, the traffic and parking was a breeze. We moved the event a couple doors down from Cafe de la Presse to The Wine Bar, which was a much better venue both for networking, and for the presentation with Anneke Seley.

We kicked the event off with an hour of networking over coffee and breakfast, and I did a an interview with Anneke Seley, sort of in the style of Fresh Air, before opening up the conversation. We talked about Anneke’s background and depth of experience in Silicon Valley–she was employee #12 at Oracle and launched their highly successful inside sales group–and used that as the backdrop for talking about the industry trends that have led to Sales 2.0, and how that’s reshaping the way businesses build sales organizations.

SF Social Media Breakfast
SF Social Media Breakfast

We’ll be book talking Sales 2.0 in the next week or two, so I don’t want to steal the thunder from the discussion, but one concept really jumped out at me that I’ve been thinking a lot about the past few days. It builds from Anneke’s discription of the way the environment for selling in Silicon Valley has changed over the past decade, and how the change has impacted Web 2.0 adoption.

As Anneke tells it in Sales 2.0, back in the day when she joined Oracle, there was a major shift just getting underway in the valley. Traditionally, companies like Oracle sold only extremely expensive enterprise products and sales focused on developing large accounts. Sales people were at home in the field, wining and dining clients and racking up huge expense accounts. As Oracle started selling cheaper products that could load onto desktop PCs, smaller companies became viable prospects, meaning smaller accounts that couldn’t sustain the huge costs of an enterprise-focused sales force.

That trend has only accelerated. We now have companies of all sizes buying products online, and in the case of software, often for a monthly subscription fee with little or no switching costs. What this means is that the cost of selling has to be dramatically reduced. We need efficient ways to meet customers online, attract, inform, educate, and persuade them to buy our products, and the cost of that sale has to be well within the falling margins for product revenue. This is a business driver for social media that goes beyond the red herring of how trendy Web 2.0 may be, and whether or not it’s a passing fad.

If you want to follow the Twitter conversation from the event, you can pick up some good bits of dialog, not to mention some good follows. Also, Jeff Weinberger has a post up about an aha social media moment that happened during the breakfast–which is exactly what it’s all about.

Stay tuned for the book discussion. I passed out a half-dozen books to people who committed to reading it this week. We’ll check in on Friday and start the ball rolling.

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, likeDel.icio.us, 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.

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

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.