Tag Archives: social media

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

The Secret to Engineering Better Customers

2022 Magno MagnaDome I‘ve been spending the last week digging through data from our social media scans at SocialRep, paying a lot more attention to what content shows up when someone searches on the web, and why. And I have to say, as a marketer, I’m pretty dismayed. For the 15 years I’ve been involved in marketing, one of the most persistent refrains we hear in business is the need to improve Customer Intimacy. And in the span of that 15 years, I’ve seen technology leveraged in countless ways to improve customer pipeline metrics, visibility, and efficiency, but rarely to build meaningful relationships with customers. My newest case-in-point is search marketing and SEO.

One of the things we do at SocialRep is collect all the user generated content about a customer’s particular industry–collecting and analyzing every conversation on blogs, forums, social networks, wikis, video boards. It doesn’t take long to develop a clear picture of how content is generated to influence consumer traffic, especially the persistent problem of splogs–content posted for no other purpose than to game search traffic.

In the SocialRep system, I’ve discovered that about 70% of the splogs we’re filtering out are posted at Blogspot, a free blog service owned by Google. That’s right. Google. The company whose mission it is to help you cut through the noise and clutter on the Internet also happens to be one the biggest enablers of noise and clutter on the Internet–at least the clutter we’re finding in industries such as automotive, consumer electronics, pharma and consumer and enterprise software.

When you first come across a splog, it looks like a regular blog. But the more splogs you see, the more you start noticing something a little bit “off”. Sometimes you’ll be reading a post and it will suddenly veer into gibberish. Sometimes you’ll notice that every post on the blog is an article written by a different author, with little continuity of topic. Sometimes you’ll notice that the content is blatantly ripped off from BusinessWeek or Wired with no attribution. 

If you look at this garbage as much as you must if you’re really trying to understand the media landscape influencing your market, you start to realize how much time, money and ingenuity marketers are pouring down a dark hole trying to game search algorithms instead of building customer intimacy:

  • There are article syndication services that will take one article you write, and subtly rewrite it dozens of times to post on countless splogs in order to look like original content pointing back to your web site.
  • There are content automation tools that will search the web for content according to keywords you designate, and scrape bits and pieces together from all over the web to generate new “content” for posting on splogs to drive search traffic. Some of these tools are sophisticated enough to preserve certain rules of grammar so that search bots recognize the content as valid.
  • There are systems that automate not only splog posting, but splog generation–creating new splogs on the fly to maximize keywords and link juice.
  • And of course, there are dozens of search marketing gurus who will sell you their secrets to search traffic success using these and countless other technologies and techniques.

Ah ain't long for this whorl I don’t want to sound like some naive idealist, and I don’t want to impugn the entire search marketing industry. I understand how search drives traffic, and I understand the challenges of cutting through the clutter to reach consumers on the internet. In this day and age, it’s imperative that companies understand how to develop effective content for SEO, and that means writing content that’s optimized for search algorithms

But when we reach the point where we’re writing massive amounts of content that’s designed only for computers to read, we’ve reached a tipping point where marketing becomes a parody of itself. In the name of cutting through the clutter, we create more clutter. In the name of building customer relationships, we develop content that customers would never want to read. Instead of putting our resources and creativity into actually connecting with customers, we focus instead on trying to engineer some immaculately efficient engine to boil the ocean and spit out customers ready to buy our product with the least amount of input or effort.

It’s a brilliant pursuit. One that marketers have been striving toward for decades. We’ve done it with advertising. We’ve done it with DM. We’ve done with email marketing, and viral, and search. We’re on a quest for clinical efficiency, but all the while we keep talking about customer intimacy. And then we wonder why consumers themselves are so drawn to social media, drawn inexplicably to connect with other consumers to share experiences that belie all the marketing bullshit their lives are flooded with every moment.

PR Still Not Getting Social Media

Photo Credit: tranchis

You would have to be a mummy not to have noticed the ongoing and pervasive conversation about what role public relations firms should play in helping their clients understand and use social media. I won’t go into the details here, except to point you to two recent posts on the subject; check out a response to this week’s event at the Horn Group called “Is Social Media Killing PR?” By Jeremiah Owyang and a post by Christopher Kenton called “The Bursting Media Bubble: Is this the death of Public Relations?” Jeremiah and Christopher are quick to acknowledge the continuing value of public relations but hold PR firm’s toes to the fire when it comes to understanding the fundamentals of social media and engaging the public instead of the media power brokers on behalf of their clients.

Public Relations firm’s inability to understand this paradigm shift was highlighted at the 3rd Annual Society for New Communications Research Symposium where Don Middleberg, CEO of the public relations agency, Middleberg Communications, and Jen McClure, executive director, Society for New Communications Research made the following statement to attendees,

“Managing social media belongs with public relations practitioners since PR professionals are story tellers who understand how to build relationships, collaborate, engage in conversations, understand changing influence patterns, and how to communicate with journalists in the channel of their choice.”

Framing social media as “communicating with journalists in the channel of their choice” is exactly why public relations practitioners are failing to provide leadership in the social media space.

Public relations is organized to maintain relationships with reporters and analysts not with customers directly. Influencing the influencers is so deeply rooted in the DNA of PR firms that it is difficult for them to hear what their own research is telling them. Perhaps that’s why only 5% of the 1850 companies surveyed by MotiveLab last summer trusted their PR firms to help them implement social media programs.

Photo Credit: tranchis

Is Social Media killing PR?

ShatterproofIf you want find the front line on the debate over social media and its impact on marketing and public relations, two posts from late last week are worth reading. The first is a post on Chris Brogan’s blog about “Bob”, an enthusiastic employee at a Fortune 500 who ran afoul of his superiors by engaging customers online in the wake of a direct mail campaign. The post is interesting, but the ensuing debate in the comment thread provides a fascinating look at a number of fault lines companies face over social media–management vs. staff, innovation vs. resistance to change, control vs. collaboration–it’s a veritable cornucopia of management challenges.

I don’t want to rehash the whole discussion here, but I would suggest reading the thread if you’re a marketing manager. It’s a perfect case study on why every company needs an explicit social media policy. Without one, critical decisions over customer engagement that may impact everything from brand equity to employee moral will be left to the kind of petty internal politics that stifle innovation. Whether your policy is a lock-down on social media–which I certainly wouldn’t advocate–or a liberal policy that encourages employees to get involved, there’s really no excuse for allowing a void over social media policy to persist.

The second post worth reading is one by Charles Cooper at CNET, which is a rather dismissive post of a panel held by Horn Group asking whether Social Media is killing PR. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to make it to the event, so I can’t give a first hand account of the debate, but Cooper’s derision is a good view onto another of the social media fault lines, dividing the true believers from the status quo.

As a tool for communications, social media obviously is of keen interest to public relations types. But let’s dispense with the nonsense about it being a paradigm changer. Maybe that day will arrive, but to date, the cheerleaders have overstated the results.

I had to laugh out loud when I read that. As someone who has worked in corporate marketing for 15 years, as someone who has run agencies serving some of the world’s biggest brands, I’ve worked with many Fortune 500 and Global 2000 marketing executives who have felt the impact of social media first hand, and are struggling mightily to adapt. I’ve seen a major telecom provider lose the loyalty of its developer network to a competitor’s wildly successful forum. I’ve seen one of the world’s biggest consumer electronics manufacturers blow their biggest product launch in years because they ignored consumer dialog that clearly pointed in a different direction. I’ve seen one of the world’s biggest software makers struggle to manage a marketing operation fragmented by aggressive consumer engagement. And I’ve watched one of the world’s biggest automakers leverage consumer engagement to drive product development decisions that delighted their customers.

This is nonsense? Was the wildfire of social media backlash against the pricing of the iPhone, and Apple’s initial lame response, nonsense? How about the social media initiatives leveraged by Barack Obama and netroots progressives to defeat Hillary Clinton’s vaunted PR machinery–led by none other than the head of one of the world’s biggest PR agencies? All nonsense, I’m sure.

Cooper’s dismissive denial of the significance of social media, and of those who have “drunk the Kool-Aid”, is based on a tellingly narrow view of social media’s domain–as if social media represents an upstart movement of arrogant whippersnappers wanting to seize the throne of Media Influence. He derides the bleating PR masses who have bought into this illusion.

What’s more, they are scared stiff of antagonizing the “influencers.” Especially when one or another bloviator from the blogosphere wakes up on the wrong side of the bed and issues a fatwa. But does a relatively small circle of (mostly California-based) bloggers still command the same influence it did a year ago?

The answer is “No”, but not because the A-Listers are losing influence as social media broadens, though that’s probably true. The answer is “No” because the influence of A-Listers was only a phenomenon within the echo chamber of early adopters and media personalities afraid they might lose their status and influence to mere “bloggers”. The real story is the day-to-day dialog among millions of ordinary people in little corners of the internet where they influence the brand impressions and purchase behavior of their peers. Like the 65,000 cyclists that frequent a mountain biker’s forum to share experiences with equipment, warranties and customer service. Or the 91,000 members of a hair dresser’s forum that share information about products and brands, as well as tips and techniques.

These are the real influencers, and the real driving force behind social media, and why it matters significantly to marketers as well as PR folks. Instead of putting the Horn Group’s panel into this broader context, Cooper dismisses the influence of A-Listers and then lauds the influence of one of his mainstream media peers:

Then the predictably prescient Kara Swisher from The Wall Street Journal‘s All Things Digital cut to the core question which–I believe–outweighs all others: If the message is empty, why bother? There is little point in trying to push a lame product or marketing idea. That’s a message some sales and marketing departments don’t want to hear. But in the end, doesn’t everything come back to value?

Again, the answer is “No”, not because value isn’t important, but because there is a long and messy process of discovering and defining value–a process in which good PR plays a role by interacting with, and understanding, the market. Social media is a game changer in this respect, because today, marketers have the opportunity to listen to customers like never before–not through focus groups or surveys, but through real engagement and active listening. Whether PR folks take that opportunity to broaden their focus and listen to consumers, instead of focusing solely on “influencing the influencers”, is a fault line that Cooper nicely illuminates.

One last nit. Cooper is dismissive of Jeremiah Owyang in a way I want to call out.

As I listened to the panelists debate the question, I began to fidget as Forrester Research’s Jeremiah Oywang offered a marketing-heavy spiel on the central role social media should occupy in any effective PR strategy. Oywang is earnest about this stuff so I can’t come down too hard, and yes, social media has its place. Still, it sounded like so much gobbledygook to me.

If saying “Owyang is earnest about gobbledygook” is not coming down too hard, I’d hate to see what Cooper really thinks. The reason not to come down too hard on Owyang is not because he’s “earnest”, but because he’s a professional. Owyang spends more time every day with a larger group of marketing executives and marketing practitioners than anyone I know; he’s one of the hardest working analysts in social or mainstream media. Maybe he didn’t lay things out in a way that Cooper understood, or maybe Cooper isn’t a position to want to understand what Owyang has to say. Owyang wrote his own post about the event. You be the judge.

The Natural Selection of a Market Recession

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the financial crisis and its likely implications for the business of marketing. Beyond the direct comments on my blog, I got a lot of bemused and even dismissive comments by email. At the time, the Web2.0 conference was in full swing in New York, and most of the chatter was around exciting new technologies, not so much about the stock market. What a difference a couple of weeks makes. We’ve had some collossal bank failures–WaMu and Wachovia–a major battle over a $700B Wall Street bailout, and the single largest one-day drop of the stock market, more than 9%. That’s just the surface stuff–not getting into interbank lending rates, Fed liquidity, foreign capital flight, etc. This week I’ve heard direct news of the ripples hitting my own industry with discrete layoffs starting in the advertising and digital media space.

All of this, of course, is only symptomatic. The really troubling news hits much closer to home. As many of you know, I’m running SocialRep, a startup in the social media monitoring space, and I depend on sales, credit and investor funding to keep the business accelerating down the runway. In the past 2 weeks, one of my major prospects, a company in the financial sector, went belly up rather suddenly–eating up weeks of energy, investment and travel to close a deal. Many of my other prospects are visibly slowing their spending–holding back on any outlay of cash until they can see where things are headed. The limit on one of my credit accounts was cut back, leaving me a lot less breathing room. On the VC front, the impact is also evident–even though VCs have funds, they’re slowing down and being more careful in their investments, waiting to see who has what it takes to survive a downturn. Yesterday, as if to emphasize that this is rapidly spreading to mainstreet, McDonald’s announced that financing from Bank of America for franchisees to improve their restaurants had been capped by BofA in the wake of market events.

These are all serious signs of a market slowdown that goes way beyond Wall Street–right to my own front door. When banks stop lending and credit dries up, it’s like running out of gas. But despite the growing stream of dire press accounts of what’s happening in the market, I still don’t see any sign that the vast majority of people realize how serious this crisis has become. But relatively speaking, it’s still early in the cycle.

I didn’t write this post to spread doom and gloom, although I am convinced that we’re in for a proverbial Correction of epic proportions. The point is, this is all part of the cycle. It’s the nature of systems–part of the very process of organizational advancement and evolution–and many of the most important transformations of social and economic systems can only happen through disruption. The larger the disruption, the greater the capacity for fundamental change. Everywhere you look where we try to control and minimize the natural cycle of systemic disruption, we wind up only delaying–and often increasing the magnitude–of the eventual, inevitable disruption.

The SunThink of forest fires. We spent decades trying to control and minimize forest fires–Smoky the Bear!–only to discover that we were inadvertently causing a massive buildup of dead underbrush and fuel, making the eventual, inevitable forest fire far more powerful and destructive than the smaller fires that used to happen more frequently.

We’ve done something similar in our economy. We’ve leveraged our assets through credit to unnaturally extend and sustain a supposedly endless cycle of prosperity. We used equity and credit to go beyond our paychecks to buy lots and lots of stuff, and the economy grew unnaturally–like some genetically engineered 1000-pound pumpkin. But we leveraged ourselves out over thin air–housing prices. And when we finally reached the headwinds that pushed prices down, the whole thing began to unwind. If you don’t have any more equity and credit to buy lots of stuff, the economy slows down. But it’s worse than that, because now you have to divert your paycheck from buying even the important stuff to pay down the credit bill, so the economy stalls even more. That we’re seriously floating major legislation to try and prop up the underlying housing prices and credit is not surprising, but it’s not comforting. The bill is necessary to prevent markets from seizing up entirely, but many of the provisions are laughable. It’s as if we’re saying, uh oh, bigger fires? Let’s clone an army of Smoky the Bears, and stop fires once and for all. The whole premise is simply not credible. The decline, the disruption, however painful it may be, however we may be able to attenuate some of its worst effects, is a natural part of the system. Not only can we not avoid it. We literally can’t grow without it.

Once you understand that reality, get past the denial, you have a clearer view to what it takes to survive and even thrive in transformational chaos. Speaking dispassionately, the role of disruption is to challenge the system and eliminate weaknesses–to burn out the deadwood and disease. Once that happens–assuming the system wasn’t so diseased that it collapses entirely–there’s an opportunity for reorganization and redevelopment, an advancement to a higher order of organization.

From an American perspective, we have seen this cycle play out in marketing for well over a century. Some of the cycles of disruption and reorder have been dramatic, some more subtle. We’ve seen marketing evolve through cycles that defined marketing by distribution, merchandizing, personal selling, mass markets, mass media, branding, database marketing, internet marketing and most recently social media, just to name some of the most obvious transformations. Some of those cycles were driven most by innovation–radio, TV, computers, networks–others were driven most by disruption–two world wars, the Great Depression, regional wars and countless smaller recessions.

I watched this cycle play out directly during the Dotcom boom and bust when I was president of an agency in San Francisco, and I’m anticipating that we’ll watch it all play out again, but this time on a larger scale, with greater disruption, and with greater impact on the reorganization of marketing as we rebuild. The cycle is predictable, but it’s not orchestrated. It happens through a process of natural selection, driven primarily by short term business objectives. So here’s my 2-cent prediction on the mechanics of this correction. I’ll leave the higher level analysis for a future post.

The first obvious indicators of the cycle accelerating will be layoffs. But companies are already starting to feel the liquidity squeeze, and their first response will be to hold off on any new expenses. This will ripple out and return as a drop in orders and an increase in selling cycles, making the liquidity crunch tighter. After cutting programs, the more aggressive companies will start layoffs. Layoffs ultimately will disproportionately affect marketing, as companies focus more intensely on short-term sales efforts. At this point, we’ll see a large number of senior marketing executives and managers retired–they’re expensive and their contribution is more strategic than the short-term, closing-deals imperative. Marketing will be redefined functionally as sales support and lead generation, and marketing directors will take over the day-to-day reins. Most companies will retreat into this relentlessly sales-driven mode until the bleeding stops and markets stabilize.

Emerging Beauty
At this point, the natural selection shifts from who and what gets cut to who and what gets selected for new growth. Companies still have to compete, and they’ll look for ways to gain a market advantage. The focus early on will be all on demand generation. Marketing directors who have grown up with technologies will explore emerging tools that improve lead generation and campaign performance. Vendors and startups who weren’t overly leveraged before the drop will aggressively innovate new technologies to feed the hunger for cheap and efficient lead generation. But all of this will happen against the backdrop of a new, accepted foundation of social media technology. All of the Web 2.0 hype will have long since burned away, and the useful stuff–the components that help companies connect more effectively with customers to provide the products they want and need without all the bloat of inneficient product development and promotion.

This, ulitmately, is the evolution imperative that will be at the heart of recovery. An evolved paradigm of media–no longer a fight between broadcast and social–but an integration at the foundational level based on what allows successful businesses to advance. It won’t happen by design. It won’t happen by chance. It’s the natural direction of the system, and the massive disruption caused by the financial meltdown is only the catalyst.

I’ll write more in the coming days about why I’m so convinced social media is going to be woven into the fabric of the new marketing infrastructure. Suffice to say that it’s not “true belief” on my part. I’ve written and spoken about this in the past, that the media paradigm we’ve known all our lives and accepted as the norm is in fact a bubble that is bursting. The historical status quo has always been word-of-mouth. Technology simply evolved in a way that disrupted the status quo and put control in the hands of a few, primarily because of the expense of technology-based communication. But technology is now commodity. Communication has returned to a higher level of democratization. And now we’re seeing the media bubble burst, right at the same time we’re seeing a more acute economic bubble burst along with it.

Marketing in the Face of a Wall Street Crash


Serendipity is an odd thing. It’s as if the future is written all around us on little post-it notes, but we never read them until an event unfolds and we suddenly realize that, just maybe, we might have seen it coming.

A few years ago my best friend’s dad gave me an amazing collection of thousands of books. I’m a writer, my wife’s a librarian, we were like kids in a candy store. It’s taken years to process the books, and we still have 20 boxes in my garage. So a couple of months ago I was down in the garage sorting a stack of books and one book stood out. Because of its cover. Because of its author. Because of its simple title: The Great Crash. 1929.

The Great Crash 1929John Kenneth Galbraith, the influential popular economist, wrote the book in 1954 as “an economic history of the lead-up to the Wall Street crash of 1929”. Given all the concern over the past year about the mortgage crisis, it seemed like a timely topic, so I put it on a short stack to read. I finally got down to reading the book on a trip back east and literally just finished reading it last Friday. That was the day the “extraordinary weekend” started before the 504-point crash on Monday. It’s an understatement to say that I felt like I had just read the history of what is about to unfold before us.

Without overstating the parallels between 1929 and 2008–the mechanisms behind the collapse are undoubtedly different–the pattern is hauntingly familiar, right down to the constant stream of assurances from vaunted economists and elected politicians that “we’ve now seen the worst of it”, “a turn around is just around the corner” and, my personal favorite, “the fundamentals of our economy are still strong”. This is what Galbraith called the collective belief in the power of incantation. I’ll let others argue about the economic comparisons of 1929 to 2008, but the human factor–the wholesale denial of destruction even while it’s underway–is breathtakingly familiar.

I hate to be the alarm clock if you’ve been oversleeping, but it’s time to wake up and get it together. We’re in for a rough ride, and it’s not going to be pretty–especially for marketers. I’ve spent the past year pouring all of my resources into a marketing technology startup. It’s a scary time to look up and realize you’re standing on a small rock in the middle of a raging sea and a gathering storm. But it’s even worse to keep your head down and spout incantations about how it’s all going to turn around real soon now. So here’s my blog-condensed playbook of what lies ahead.

It’s going to get a lot worse before it even starts to get better. We’re only seeing the beginning throes of chaos in our financial system. We’ll see liquidation panic play out over days and probably weeks. The government will make various attempts to stop the bleeding, but eventually they’ll be left to do nothing but call impressive meetings of Very Important People who deliver more incantations. The impact on available cash and credit will force companies to cut spending deeply. Jobs will be lost on a large scale, and just like past recessions, marketers will be heavily over-represented in the RIFs. At many companies, marketing executives and managers will be released and become freelance consultants, marketing associates and directors will take over and run marketing operations primarily as sales support. Lead generation will of course lead everything.

That’s the bad news. And make no mistake, it will be ugly. The good news is, chaotic disruption is a huge opportunity for innovation, though it’s not for the faint hearted. In any system, change can only be accomplished by disruption and reorganization. Instead of looking at the disaster ahead as wholesale destruction, look for the patterns of reorganization–and find the companies that have the intelligence and bravery to share your world view. Look for the opportunities to solve problems and help companies grow when others are running scared. Proctor and Gamble, Kellogg and Chevrolet were companies that invested in advertising during the Great Depression while the vast majority of companies cowered in their caves, and during the worst financial meltdown of our history (so far anyway) they managed to grow and build a sizeable lead over competitors leading into the recovery.

Who are the companies that will be investing in growth as the financial system crashes around them? And what will they be investing in? I know where I’m placing my bets. While much of the Web 2.0 hype will be silenced in the coming months, I’m betting people will go online to connect with peers more than ever before. To share their fears, to relate, to vet anything that anyone is telling them about what’s happening, and most of all, to find opportunities. I’m also betting that the decks will be cleared for a new generation of marketing tools and marketing personnel for whom social media and community isn’t a trend, but a given. This is the transition point.

Seriously. It’s time to wake up. There’s a rough road ahead. Buckle your seat belt and grab the wheel.

Crowdsourcing or Crowdsouring

There’s no doubt that Crowdsourcing (aka getting your customers to work for you) is big business. According to IHL Consulting Group self-checkout alone is projected to be worth $1.2 trillion by 2009. Customers helping themselves or each other works because most people are served quicker, more accurately and leave with a stronger relationship to the company or product then they arrived with. For some of us this is hard to believe. I much prefer being served. But I am being retrained. I pump my own gas, research and buy my own travel tickets, check myself out of Home Depot and seek purchasing advice from bloggers. The grease that makes these wheels turn is best described by Malcolm Gladwell in his book “The Tipping Point”. Mavens, “one who accumulates knowledge” are wonderfully obsessed with details and love to help others. To a large degree building successful online communities relies on recruiting Mavens. But of course you can’t recruit Mavens – you can only entice them to participate. Fortunately they’re easy to spot. They participate and they don’t pull punches. We tell our clients that if a Maven has wondered into your community respond directly, openly and honestly. Without their participation in your social media plan, Crowdsourcing will become Crowdsouring.

Putting the Social Media Pieces Together

Penolope Trunk from the Boston Globe posted a very incisive piece on the proliferation and fragmentation of social media tools, and the implications for developing a consistent brand–especially a personal brand.

It’s clear to me that blogging is best for expressing big ideas. If you can’t convey new ideas on your blog, then you probably won’t get a lot of traffic. And most blogs that do well have a single theme and the audience can depend on the theme dictating the content of the blog. But Twitter is not good for fleshed-out ideas. I see people using Twitter for a lot of stuff, but not for fleshed-out ideas. And Flickr is good for expressing passion. Way better than, say, Twitter.

So it strikes me as really lame that we have such a wide range of media at our disposal yet people are using that range to convey the same aspect of themselves: the personal brand they are creating for social media.

What I love about her post–other than the fact that she’s not a “social media guru” but a working journalist who’s sharing her experience working with Web 2.0 tools–is that she highlights an aspect of social media marketing that I haven’t thought deeply about, despite coming from a branding background. Like many marketers, I’ve been so focused on figuring out the tactical aspects of knitting together all these disparate tools, I haven’t thought too much about the modulation of voice or message to match the medium, even though it’s obvious.

yellow knowsOver the past few months, I’ve been working on the interplay of Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube and my own blog and business sites. In a nutshell I’m working to create original content in places like YouTube and my business sites, write commentary about the content on my blog, and drive traffic to the content through Twitter, FriendFeed, and SEO traffic. LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter help me build networks of people who have a general and hopefully growing interest in the content I’m creating.

It’s a lot like the integrated marketing programs my agency used to produce where we’d use direct mail to drive web traffic to move a product. Except today, the tools are proliferating and evolving so rapidly, it takes some time to figure out what tool works best for what purpose.

But Penelope sheds another light on this complex fabric. Who you connect with, and the inherent mode of communication facilitated by, say, the 140 character haiku of Twitter, has not only a practical impact on what you say, but a strategic one as well. Instead of having a monolithic “social media” voice that you shove into each new medium however well it fits, explore different aspects of your voice that fit different mediums.

So I am playing with Twitter right now, seeing what part of me feels most natural to be in Twitter. This is the same thing we do as we make a new friend. We figure out what combination of the things that make up our personality will be best with this person. That’s why we’re a little different with each person we know.

Maybe this is a little too down in the weeds for many marketers, but i think it’s bringing us full circle with much of the depth of understanding marketers have gained about communication over the past 30 years, and applying it rather succinctly to the tools we’re building in social media. Discussions like this are proof to me that social media is not a passing phenomena. Again, this isn’t a marketer or social media guru pushing a new methodology, it’s a journalist speaking about her own exploration with the modern tools of communication and how she understands the evolution of her craft. That’s powerful stuff.

Success in Social Media Survey Results

A year ago MotiveLab syndicated a marketing whitepaper with Netline, entitled “12 Essential Tips for Success in Social Media”. Over 3,000 people downloaded the report and 1,800 filled out a short survey asking about their attitudes and approach to social media marketing. The results of that survey are available here for free.

We separated the data gathered in the first six months from the data gathered in the second six months. Interesting trends are discernable even in this short of a time period suggesting that the pace of adoption and the level of social media integration among corporations are increasing. We also discovered a lack of confidence in PR and Advertising agency’s ability to deliver social media strategies despite a considerable effort by these traditional media players to add social media to their service offering.

New Social Media Marketing Adoption Report

Last year my agency, MotiveLab, syndicated a marketing whitepaper with Netline, entitled “12 Essential Tips for Success in Social Media”. We were overwhelmed with the results. Over the course of the past year, almost 3000 people downloaded the whitepaper, with more than 1800 registering and answering a short survey about their attitudes and approach to social media marketing.

Recently we analyzed the results as two separate data sets divided into six month periods, and compared the first six months to the second six months to see any changes in attitudes and opinions. The report is available for free at the MotiveLab Web site, and the results are fascinating.

I won’t rehash all the data in the report, but it shows a clear acceleration in adoption of social media as a marketing practice, and fairly balanced opinions about its value and application, despite all the frothy hype and counter-hype in business reporting. (The whole debate last week about the “failure of online communities” reminds of when we were all debating about whether or not the Internet was a smart marketing investment. I thought Francois Gossieaux answered it nicely.)

One note about the data that I thought was pretty fascinating. Less than 5% of marketers cited PR or Advertising agencies as resources for developing social media marketing programs, despite the fact these companies are making a tremendous effort to add social media to their service offerings. Looks like they need to do a little more week eating their own dog food and connecting with the marketing community to refine their approach.