Spiral Marketing: The More You Know, The More You Can Know

February 10, 2010

Google Buzz or Google Fizzle?

Ah, Google – you evil bastard! You slipped in another Facebook / Twitter / (insert social network of your choosing) Killer into our gmail accounts while we slept, blissfully unaware of your latest misguided attempt at social network domination. At least the Wave and the Buzz make me think that, hey, I need a vacation; Google Docs? Not so much. But at the end of the day, as much as you’d like to, you will be hard-pressed to transplant the Facebooks and Twitters of the world. You have more money than most to spend on technology – but technology has little to do with the problem you are trying to solve.

Here’s the thing: Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks are marginally interesting technology, but I venture to guess that I could pay some very clever college students all the pizza and Meisterbrau they can consume, and they’ll come up with a pretty good approximation of the Facebook, Twitter or ______________ technology in a matter of weeks. Facebook technology has as much value as Twitter or Google Buzz technology: next to nothing.

Yeah, I said it. All this social media technology by itself is worth about as much as, well, Google Wave. Because the value of Facebook is that some enormous number of people use it every day, and they use it a lot. Same with Twitter. It isn’t the technology of the network that matters: it is the network itself that counts. Facebook could easily go away – it happened to MySpace, and it could also happen to Twitter. But MySpace wasn’t killed by technology or Rupert Murdoch’s continued misunderstanding of all thing interwebz (although it hastened its decline).  MySpace is dying because people aren’t using it the way they used to.

The value of a network is generally (and very loosely) based on the number of people that use it (Metcalfe’s Law). The value of a network is more precisely based on the number of possible subgroups within the network (Reed’s Law). On this count alone, your chances of transplanting a Facebook or Twitter go from “No way in Hell” to “Geez, if I drink enough, I could see it happening.”  Why?  Because you brilliantly gave away a veritable plethora of free email accounts (I think I have, like, 87 of them). This gives you a network with an enormous number of users – a necessary precondition to taking over the social networking world.

But this isn’t a network problem alone – it is a value problem. And while having a huge network (through registered gmail users) is a necessary factor in your dastardly global dominance scheme, it is not sufficient.  And this is where you will fall short again.  Because email is more ubiquitous than the largest social network – everyone’s got an account – but the economic value of a network is based upon the aggregate value of the interactions on the network. And people don’t value email interactions. If they did, email would be synonymous with “printing money.”  Which I suspect is what you are trying to do, at the end of the day. But I don’t want to interact socially through my email – I would rather not do ANYTHING through my email, just as I never write letters anymore. There is already enough garbage in email to negate any value it ever might have had – and hey, don’t get me wrong, I use email; I just use it when I have no other possible means of communicating what I need to communicate. But until you can tell me what in the hell “fwd:fwd:fwd:re:fwd:fwd:re:fwd:re:puppies” means without me having to open the damn email, I’ll pass.

The two necessary and sufficient preconditions for achieving social media world dominance and the economic and intellectual imprisonment of the world are 1) a very large and active community; that 2) delivers high perceived value  in the interactions of the community (and “noise” does not equal “value”).   With Google Wave you took a fair (although off target) shot at delivering more valuable interactions, but you couldn’t drive the numbers. With Google Buzz, you are using your huge gmail user base to capture numbers, but without improving the quality of the interactions in that network.

The good news? You’ve got the problem surrounded. The bad news? I think the Buzz you’re hearing is really the sound of a fizzle.

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August 18, 2009

Four Questions A CEO Must Ask About Social Media

I’ve read several lists of reasons CEOs are not adopting, and in some cases are “afraid” of social media over the last couple of days – 13 reasons, 11 reasons, 28 reasons the CEO is afraid of social media; I think the purpose of these lists are to help inform and create discussions by describing questions and objections they have encountered.  I am going to add my thoughts to that discussion.

I’ll preface my comments, however, with the observation that I don’t believe that CEOs are “afraid” of social media.  I do believe that some might think social media is just a “flash in the pan” (I think these CEOs underestimate the sea change that is occurring – disregarding social media, the effectiveness of virtually all other forms of marketing have been in steady decline for years).  I also believe others see social media for what it is – a potential game-changing “disruptive” model for integrating one’s customers into the business.  If the latter is true, as I believe it is, then there is tremendous organizational complexity in adopting this game-changing model – complexity not just in fitting social media into the marketing mix, but integrating it across customer touchpoints, all the while addressing the uncertainty, ego issues and performance management questions that will inevitably arise.

First Principles

In thinking about the core “first principles” for adopting social media, I believe there are four key questions the CEO is concerned about, and these, as in any highly functioning and complex business, are all interrelated.  These questions aren’t in any particular order – in fact, they relate to each other, and a key goal when discussing social media with a CEO is to first figure out which question is most important to him / her as an entry point into the conversation.

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How does Social Media fit within our company?

One question a CEO must answer is “How does social media and social marketing fit within my company?” If one seeks to implement an overarching social media strategy for a company of any size and complexity, this is no small question: in large companies, this might extend across multiple departments in marketing alone – marketing communications, PR, investor relations, and any number of product marketing groups.  Forgetting about social media, most companies have a difficult time getting their sales and marketing functions to get along, and then, expanding this to all customer-facing functions?  There is tremendous coordination and effort in getting key stakeholders all in the same tent at the same time.

Adding to this complexity is that in the vast majority of companies there is not a single officer dedicated to “owning the customer relationship.” That’s right – the customer, the fundamental source of value in all companies, has no single champion, and instead is usually passed from one functional silo to another.  It is possible to trace the path that led corporations toward managing activities, such as sales, marcomm and support, and away from managing relationships, but the implication is that, while social media and social marketing is and should be about engaging customers, most companies are not yet very well organized to support that conversation.  To embrace the potential of social media to its fullest, a company must rethink its way back to relationship-based management.

How do we control the message?

Another question a CEO is concerned with is “How do we control the message?”  There is an internal aspect to this question – “how do I control internal communications and proprietary information?”; and an external aspect – “how do I manage my brand if I don’t control the message?”  Breaking this down a bit further, the potential for unauthorized disclosures of proprietary and confidential information exists with or without social media.  Social media does not create the motives to share this information, or the carelessness that leads to leaking it.  Whether a company embraces social media as a key component of its strategy, it does at least need to update its HR policies regarding treatment of confidential information to incorporate appropriate uses of social media.

The external component of this question is perhaps the more difficult for CEOs to come to terms with.  After spending considerable time and effort crafting a finely honed, targeted message, on the face of it social media would appear to be a threat to that effort.  Of course, there has always been information from customers that has contradicted the marketing message of a given company, but never before has one voice had the power to amplify and repeat a message to so many than with social media.  But to effectively use social media and marketing is to engage with and embrace the customer’s voice within a company, and by doing so, a company opens itself to the bad with the good.  Although perhaps obvious, a company must remember that negative comments will be put forth, whether the company likes it or not.  It is therefore in the best interests of the company to be engaged in a conversation, rather than letting a monologue propagate without the company’s voice.  And the company must be prepared to respond quickly to any negative or off-point commentary in this environment where damage accrues in minutes and hours, rather than the days and weeks of the past.

How do we measure results?

A third question is “how do we measure results?”  This is a weakness in the social media landscape – being a relatively immature discipline, metrics that have evolved over decades of direct mail marketing, print and broadcast advertising, etc. and many years of online advertising have not yet evolved for social marketing.  There does exist, however, various techniques for linking social media efforts with strategic social marketing goals.

The more interesting point regarding metrics for marketing spend is that, across the board, the effectiveness of traditional marketing techniques is rapidly declining.  It is also true that early adopters of successful strategies benefit disproportionately from those strategies than do “me-too” adopters.  So the conundrum is whether a company stick with easily measurable media with appreciable and consistent long term declines in effectiveness; or it takes an early adopter position, build in the appropriate goals, benchmarks and controls, and trust that the anecdotal evidence of social media success, combined with tangential but highly relevant metrics of word of mouth marketing effectiveness, audience growth, adoption, mindshare, etc. lead to early adopter success?

How do we overcome “Cultural Inertia” in adopting Social Media?

Finally, the CEO has to ask “how do we overcome ‘cultural inertia’ in adopting social media?”  This is perhaps one of the most problematic questions because it is where social media touches employees: one has to understand that companies have ingrained processes, defined roles and responsibilities, established budgets and resources, and performance plans / incentives for existing functions.  By introducing social media into the marketing / sales / support mix – bridging all customer-facing functions – a company must deal with tough questions of where social media fits within the organization, who is responsible for it, how it impacts other functions, and how it will be funded through the budget.  These are important questions that relate directly to established departments’ and executives’ sense of security and of delivering value to the organization. These topics are very sensitive on many levels, and must be addressed carefully to ensure the entire organization adopts and is aligned with the success of social media and marketing, and the new customer intimacy that results.

There are clearly many tactical questions a company must ask and answer in developing and implementing a social media / social marketing presence.  The questions above are, however, “first principle” questions from which I believe all others will derive.  CEOs, and those that seek to promote a social media strategy, must address these questions, and address them carefully; if properly implemented, I believe it inevitable that social media will be a valuable and increasingly important component of a company’s marketing mix and customer support capability.

August 9, 2009

If you say bad things about me on social networks, I’ll pack up my coffee shop and go home!

I was reading an article in the online Wall Street Journal entitled “No More Perks: Coffee Shops Pull The Plug On Laptop Users” (see http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124950421033208823.html – it was brought to my attention by @enthused).  The meat of the article is that coffee shops, particularly independent coffee shops, are beginning to limit and even ban laptop users.

I am a fan of the the indie coffee shops – I think they can be gathering places for vibrant neighborhoods, and I’d like to see more of them survive.  To survive, though, is to embrace your customer, and I’d be very interested to see the financial analysis of allowing versus limiting or banning outright laptop users.  My intuition and experience tells me that this is in general a very bad idea for these indie coffee shops, but I am open to a financial analysis that proves me wrong.  I believe that there are a tremendous number of patrons who go to their favorite coffee shop to work, and are paying customers; unless you are standing room only, a customer in your shop is a whole lot more valuable than a customer who finds an alternative place to work (and caffeinate).

But that’s not what this particular blog post is about.  Buried in the story is what I consider a little gem of a cautionary tale about how not to handle social media.

As a preface, I believe one of the key “transformations” companies need to make in adopting social media is

Broadcasting (Controlling) Your Message >> Influencing The Conversation About You

I don’t think Masoud Soltani, one of the owners of Cocoa Bar in New York, shares my opinion.

So here’s the background: Hannah Moots and her boyfriend stopped in to Cocoa Bar in Brooklyn (of which Soltani is an owner) on a Friday night to do grad school apps.  It seems there was only one other couple in the place at the time – according to Ms. Moots, she and her boyfriend were going to do the apps, then have a glass of wine or two afterward.  They were turned away because they would ruin the ambiance of the place by bringing out the laptops (although apparently their table wasn’t in view of the only other occupied table in the house).  So Hannah and her boyfriend went elsewhere.  That’s where the social media story starts.

Hannah posted a review of Cocoa Bar Brooklyn on Yelp.com – it currently has a 3.5 star rating (http://www.yelp.com/biz/cocoa-bar-brooklyn) discussing her experience.  She gave it a less than stellar review – as, might I add, did quite a few others.  This is where it gets good.  According to the Wall Street Journal “Masoud Soltani, a Cocoa Bar owner, confirms that he sent her a Yelp message: ‘I remember you very well…I would not think you would write such bad stuff about us.'”

This is one of the great worries every owner or CEO has about social media, right?  The fear that someone will say something negative about the company, or off-message, or inconsistent with their brand.  And guess what?  This story proves they are right to be afraid – there are actually people out there saying bad things about the Cocoa Bar!  This is no phobia – this is a rational fear.

But at the end of the day, Hannah Smoots didn’t need Soltani’s permission to post her opinion in an open forum – Soltani couldn’t stop that message any more than Horizon Realty or Alliance Property Management can try to quash negative opinions about their properties.  The negative review of Cocoa Bar was out there, and at this point the company only had three options: ignore the message; engage the customer (presumably in hopes of turning a negative into a positive; try it sometimes, it works!); or nullify the message (by proving the information false or biased in a level-headed manner).

Soltani apparently thought “self-righteous indignation” was a fourth option . . . it really isn’t.

The customer may not always be right, but the customer is always the customer.  The customer has a voice, as she always has had, but social media provides the means to amplify her message, and deliver it to a potentially large audience.  Whether you, as a company, choose to participate in that conversation is up to you, but to ignore social media for fear of these situations is a lot like hiding under the blanket when you hear a scary noise in the dark.  Turn on the lights! Face your fears, embrace the voices of your customers, and you might be surprised at how much better your business can be for the effort.

There is, though, one other option that the ever entrepreneurial Masoud Soltani has discovered as well: according to the WSJ, “Mr. Soltani says [Hannah Smoots] is no longer welcome in his store.”

So if you find yourself in front of the Cocoa Bar in Brooklyn at 228 7th Ave (3.5 stars on Yelp.com), you might consider whether you would prefer a coffee shop that believes you have a voice worth listening to.  Might I suggest

Southside Coffee, 652 6th Ave (4.5 stars on Yelp.com)

Root Hill Cafe, 262 4th Ave (4.5 stars)

Cafe Grumpy, 383 7th Ave (4.5 stars)

Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera . . .

(http://www.yelp.com/search?find_desc=coffee+shops&find_loc=228+7th+Ave+Brooklyn+NY&ns=1&rpp=10)

You’re welcome.

Kev

June 19, 2009

Twitter Vs. Facebook? That Is NOT The Question

It has become popular occasionally to ask whether one would pick Twitter or Facebook if you had to choose.  The question, hypothetical though it may be, makes no sense – the implied choice is based upon a false analogy.  Taken to the extreme, the question is about the same as asking whether you would prefer a black phone or a black photo album.  But in this rush by the social media “gurus” or hobbyists to “pick what’s best,” I think they are missing the forest for a few trees, some of which – like MySpace – may or may not be around in a year.

I think the important question, and perhaps the question that people are trying to answer when they get is this discussion, is how do we understand best how to use social media.  And how we best understand the use of social media is a lot like understanding how to best build a house (to use an old analogy).  I don’t look in my toolbox, see a hammer, nails, saw, level and square, and suddenly understand how to build a house.  Similarly, I cannot look into my “social media toolbox” and understand how to build or influence a group of people.  I need to first build my blueprint – my end-state vision of what I am trying to accomplish – and then, understanding the goal, I look to my toolbox to determine which tools I will need and how I will use them to accomplish that goal.  And in any social media campaign – which may be as mundane as building your own personal influence, or as business critical as creating a social marketing campaign that seeks to reach an audience that is immune to more traditional marketing techniques – these goals, these “blueprints” will be as different as the people or the businesses they are meant to support.

Those who know me know that I believe very strongly that the world is full of answers – ask someone a question, and you are highly likely to get an answer.  And since you’ve gotten an answer, you assume everything is great, and you act upon that answer.  The only problem is that, in over 20 years of consulting experience, I’ve rarely seen efforts go wrong because a company couldn’t get an answer to the question they posed; they have gone wrong because the company asked the wrong question to begin with.  The implications of this point are that objectively, an answer can be right or wrong given the question you ask, but the “rightness” or “wrongness” of the answer you get doesn’t help you if you started with the wrong question to begin with.  And I have, and have very often seen clients, ask bad questions for which they get the “right” answer, which leads to a totally disastrous result.

Getting back to the subject of this post, I am saying that “Twitter vs. Facebook?” is a badly formed question; it has no chance of getting beyond personal preference to a more unified view of the social landscape, and how you become a part of the conversation taking place there.

So what are the right questions? I think the first question any individual or business has to ask is “what are my goals for a social marketing campaign?”  I can’t give you a cookie cutter that fits every industry, although in a later post I’ll consider some “value chains” that you may seek to influence with social media, and how those relate to questions you must answer to develop your goals and strategy.  The blueprint for the house depends on the house you seek to build.

But once you’ve had the architect come round to help understand the house you need, the house you want to build, how then do you apply social media tools to the building of this house?  One option I am tempted to try is to create a dartboard, with slots for various SM tools, and 3 darts – then use any tool you land a dart in.  This appeals to me only to the extent that a) it’s kind of funny; and b) I always drink when I throw darts.

But for the sake of this discussion, I will let that go, and instead assert that there are certain characteristics of social media represented to a greater or lesser degree in each of the social media tools and techniques.  There are also other tools that amplify the effect of these characteristics, but I’ll save that for later as well.  To support a mental model for evaluating these tools, I personally think these 9 characteristics are highly relevant:

  1. Reach – how many in my “social graph” can I reach with a given message.  Note that reach is relative and I believe closely related to specificity – while I may be able to “reach” a whole lot of people on Twitter without any notion of specificity (or targeting) of messages, I may reach far fewer individuals on LinkedIn, but the people I reach are much more valuable because my message is very specific to them.
  2. Interactivity – does the tool of choice allow for near real time interaction, or is it less interactive (Am I talking on the phone or exchanging letters?)
  3. Speed – how quickly could my message propagate to a given number of people?
  4. Repeatability – how efficiently and effectively can I repeat a message I receive to share it with other users?
  5. Specificity – given a social media tool, how specific or diverse can I expect the body of messages to be?
  6. Depth – How “deep” is the information provided in a given message?  Is it a headline, or an in-depth posting on a specific topic?
  7. Persistence – if you view a conversation as evolving over time, then any given topic within that conversation has a “window of time” where it is the focus of discussion.  How long does a given message persist in the conversation – how long is the window open for someone to receive the message?
  8. Searchability – Given that messages persist within the window of the current social conversation for a limited period of time (a “meme”), how easily can I recall information once it has passed out of that window?  In general, the greater the depth of the information, the more searchable it is.
  9. Measurability – to be honest, this is a placeholder right now in my opinion.  I think we are in the mode in the social media space of “inventing” science, without having gone to the trouble of correlating a specific measure to a specific outcome.  I think many are working toward getting us there, but I don’t believe we yet know what measurable outcomes correlate with true business (and / or reputational) value.  Until we do, measurability has to be taken with a grain of salt . . .

So I think these are important characteristics to assess with any given social media tool, just as I can (and at times have tried) to measurethe “Hammerability” of a hammer, a screwdriver, a pair of pliers, and a random piece of metal.  You may have a different model for how you think of these tools – if so, great, write your own blog post and send it to me.  But using my characteristics, I’m going to apply them to several types of social media tools:

  • Twitter – the fastest growing social network on the interweb (it’s the internet, or the world wide web, folks!), and a micro-blogging platform.  Say anything you want, as long as it is 140 characters or less.
  • General Social Networks – a social network based on interpersonal social relationships; in all likelihood, I could have named this Facebook and no one would have disagreed.
  • Business Networks – a list of contacts and discussions related to business topics, such as LinkedIn, Plaxo, etc.
  • Special Purpose Social Networks – social networks related to a specific group or topic, business or social.  This may be a local area mother’s group, or a collaboration community for a given business, etc.
  • Blogs – dissertations and commentaries on a specific topic (don’t look now, but you’re reading one, by the way).

This is by no means meant to cover every social media tool and variation thereof, and as I said earlier, it specifically excludes tools, such as StumbleUpon, that I would argue are used to amplify one or more of the characteristics above.

What I have done, based on the characteristics and types of social media I’ve outlined above, is assigned (somewhat) subjective values to each characteristic for each social media type and created a Radar map.  All other things being equal (many times they are not, but let’s skip that question for this post), then the goal of a social marketing strategy should be to cover as much area of this graph as possible:

Social Media Radar Map

Social Media Radar Map

Now, it may not be obvious from the above, but if your goal (in general) is to cover as much area of this graph as possible, you have to use multiple social media tools to do so.  To illustrate, I can see from the radar graph below that while Twitter gives me great immediacy and interactivity, it does not give me a great deal of depth of content or persistence; blogs, on the other hand, do provide the depth and persistence, but without the interactivity.  By combining the two, however, I can cover a large area of the graph:

Twitter / Blog Radar Map

Twitter / Blog Radar Map

As you can see, by combining Twitter with Blogging, in a coordinated marketing campaign, I can cover a lot of important social media “territory.”  The other interesting thing to note is that Facebook and Twitter do not cover the same area, but if I combine Facebook and blogging or Twitter and blogging, I cover a great deal more area.  In fact, by combining Twitter and Blogging, I cover virtually ALL of the area that Facebook is covering: should we then be surprised that two top priorities of Facebook are to make it more interactive (like Twitter), and to begin to incorporate blogging elements?

Twitter / Facebook / Blog Radar Map

Twitter / Facebook / Blog Radar Map

A couple of points, for the sake of completeness: in a very specific context, specialized social networks and business networks deliver a great deal of benefit (within that context).  My discussion above is meant to serve to illustrate the general principles of a broad-based social marketing strategy, and therefore I have disregarded to a large extent the advantages of a very targeted campaign using these niche social media tools within a very narrow context.  That doesn’t mean they are more or less important than other social media uses; it only means that the hypothetical “house” I was building did not conform to the constraints within which these more specialized tools may be much more effective than broader based social media.

I also intentionally disregarded Authority & Credibility as characteristics of the social media platforms.  I don’t think it is possible to say that, because you have a friend that you think knows everything there is to know about subject XYZ, that this person can objectively be thought of as authoritative and credible.  Questions of authority and credibility aren’t characteristics of the social media tools and platforms I spoke of here, but result from the response to the content appearing on these platforms.  In this case, all of the members of the conversation will judge the authority and credibility of the information, rather than the medium itself.  @naomimimi and I were speaking yesterday of a “clique-ishness” that still persists on Twitter – the “Twitterati” tend to feed each other’s sense of authority and credibility.  As these platforms become more widely established and egalitarian, I believe that the merit of the ideas and thought leadership will supplant the “reputation” of the individual posting the content, leading to a much richer and more informative landscape of ideas and opinions – a much more highly functioning “hive mind.”

So ultimately, I think there are those that can and will answer the question of Twitter vs. Facebook, or any one social media tool or technique vs. the other – for themselves, given their personal preference.  I believe that a much more interesting question, however, is how do we evaluate and employ a suite of social media techniques to conduct a robust, wide-ranging, energetic, and informative social marketing campaign.  What house do you want to build, and how do you best employ the social media tools available to build that house?

Kev

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