Archive for December, 2007

The Bastardization of Social Media

IStock_000004861785XSmallThis has been an absolutely incredible year.  We’ve been privileged to talk to some household-name companies about PR & Social Media.  We’ve even won more than our fair share of FORTUNE-level engagements. (w00t!) 

But, as the brand names got bigger, I sometimes caught a whiff of something unsavory in those oaken conference rooms. 

I was beginning to smell a rat. 

In some select cases we found our prospective clients more interested in paying lip-service to Social Media ideals than in true change.  They were looking to mark off the check-box, as in, “Social Media? Yep, we got that.”

Merriam-Webster defines “bastardization” as “(reducing) from a higher to a lower state or condition.”  Here’s an example… 

One company we talked to had already added basic Social Media elements to their web properties.  Permalinks, embed code, even some blogs and remixable multimedia content.  At first glance, most any social media schmoe would laud the company’s savvy. 

But when we dug deeper, we only saw problems

  • The blogs only spoke to tiny special-interest niches of the brand’s humongous audience… 
  • Many of the company’s previous forays into Social Media had been both disjointed and blithely abandoned (and yet were still easy to find)…
  • The company’s name was being abused by SEO scammers…
  • Some of their best stuff was simply hard to find…

Ultimately the company seemed more than happy to allow people to share their content, but was unwilling to do anything to engage with them 1:1

They didn’t want to be part of the conversation; they wanted to be the topic of the conversation.

We pointed out the difference.  We lost.  (w00t!)

Niches Happen

IStock_000003937940XSmall

The question has been raised by Jeremiah Owyang, “Should brands Join or Build their own Social Networks?”

Today, the bulk of our social networking online happens within vast networks like MySpace and Facebook.  Yet many have suggested that the future might belong to verticalized, more personal approaches (a.k.a. “microcommunities,” as seen in white-label approaches like Ning; demographic nets like Eons; or trade-focused networks like MyRagan).

“Facebook and MySpace are just too huge,” pundits argue.  “There’s no differentiation.  It’s too impersonal to share the same space with millions of strangers.  Most people can only maintain about 150 people in their network before they experience an attention crash.”

But I think the vastness of the larger socnets is part of their strength. 

People who invest hundreds of hours into cultivating their socnet presence want some assurance that their chosen networks offer long-term viability! 

Moreover, these Big Socnets offer a shared, common experience for friends/followers; those who connect via these platforms know what they’re getting into, know how to use the apps, etc.

And in any case, from these big, horizontal platforms, niches naturally emerge.  ‘Cuz it’s probably true that we can’t reasonably sustain more than 150–odd relationships, we self-select our Top Friends (so to speak).  We become fansumers of brands in order to interact in an ad-hoc but focused way with people who exist outside our core socnet group, creating tangential niches.

I look at my own groups of Friends/Followers on Facebook and Twitter, for example, and I see 300–ish people who tend to be in Marketing/PR/Tech, in either Boston or the Bay Area. 

Of those ~300 people, I probably have met and interact regularly with less than 1/2 of them.  These ~300 contacts grew organically from my public presence on this blog and as an agency principal. 

From the hordes, a niche emerged. I don’t concern myself with the millions of people I don’t know, even though they exist in the same socnets.

That’s not to say that vertical socnets like Eons or MyRagan aren’t viable.  Just not as necessary as some have suggested. 

Give us the big, nebulous social network: we can make of it what we want, thank you very much.

Twitter Offers An Advertising Model

Twitter logoNo, “Twitter Offers An Advertising Model” is not a news headline.  It’s a proposition. 

Today I saw this tweet from @DellOutlet: “We (know) that you all want to see more coupon offers. Sorry we’ve been so quiet – our inventory has been a bit low.”  Checking @DellOutlet’s historical tweetstream, I guesstimate that they tweet once every 7 – 10 days. 

Low-key.  Value-based.  No one else on Twitter seems to mind.

I also read this blog post from Albert Maruggi, in which he plays out a dialogue between a Social Media enthusiast and a diabolical marketer.  From the nefarious marketeer in Maruggi’s post:

(Twitter is) the greatest freakin’ opt-in Ad server on the planet, these people are agreeing to follow companies just to get ads pushed at them.”

As expected, and rightfully so, Albert sides with the fuzzy-wuzzy Social Media zealot, protesting this marketer’s mindset with talk of Twitter as “idea exchange, social hang-out,” etc.

But, really, what’s wrong with using Twitter as an opt-in ad server?  A 140–character advertisement, no silly graphics, just the straight-out offer, from my favorite brands…?  I don’t see the harm.  Plus, only those who opt-in to receive the ads would see them: the ads wouldn’t impinge on our Twitter friends’ own tweetstreams.

I dig it.  As long as the offers or notices were infrequent and of-interest … if they were too frequent, of low-value, or annoying, I could “unfollow” ‘em with a click. 

Certainly Dell’s gotten lots of credit, of late, for getting it right with Social Media; their @DellOutlet Twitter presence has been hailed as a pioneering attempt. 

As a die-hard Twitter junkie, am I too quick to cede ground to the marketeers? 

As a marketer yourself, do you see the opportunity here?  Would you be able to walk the line?

Open Letter to CEO Bloggers

IStock_000003828532XSmallIt takes a lot of ego to rise to the CEO spot.  You need to be confident and charming, smart and articulate.  These are excellent qualities in a blogger, too. 

I can understand why you’d be interested in “joining the conversation.”  It’s an interesting conversation – after all, it’s a conversation about topics of interest to you and to your company, and the people you’ll interact with will self-identify themselves as being interested in what you’ve got to say. 

Done well, you’ll get both personal satisfaction and bottom-line results from your foray into blogging.

Ha!!  Caught you.  You were nodding in agreement all the way through my li’l speech.  Well, sorry to burst the bubble, but you should have raised a quizzical eyebrow when I used the word “foray.” 

A “foray” is nowadays thought of as an experiment; more tellingly, the word’s archaic meaning was “to ravage in search of spoils.”  Is that what you want to do?  Are you hoping to exploit the blogosphere?  (Good luck with that!) 

Too many would-be CEO bloggers treat their new toy as little more than a weekly newsletter.  They expect that simply because they are the CEO, naturally people will be magnetically drawn to their words.  And then they are crushed to see “Comments (0)” after each post, and are mortified to see a wan, unbudging Technorati ranking… 

And then they give up, poo-pooing the ballyhooed Blogosphere as they munch on some sour grapes.  Because they couldn’t tame the blogosphere, they lost interest.  Now, all other blog-related projects at the company become suspect – after all, if THE CEO couldn’t hack it, who dares think that they could do better?

And thus a company loses a golden opportunity to engage with their customers & prospects.

But you’re not like that?  You truly want to engage?  Cool.  Start by NOT blogging. 

Don’t blog for at least one full month following your decision to start blogging.  Instead, spend that time finding OTHER blogs in your industry.  Read them.  Comment judiciously.  Leave your “agenda” on the coat-rack.  Just get to know a few folks.  Introduce yourself. 

As the CEO, you’re probably accustomed to being noticed when you walk into an industry function.  You may even have handlers to squire you to the centers of power in a conference hall.  But, you wouldn’t presume that level of recognition and clout if you walked into a block party in a new neighborhood, eh?  You’d hang back a little, insert yourself mildly into a wedge of conversation, ingratiate yourself.  You’d be a gentleman.

And yet there might still be moments of awkwardness.  All the neighbors know each other.  There are cliques.  There’s context, politics and in-jokes to figure out.  You wouldn’t expect to be the life of the party right away.  But, you knew that going in… so, to help grease the skids, you brought some nice bottles of wine and some of your killer BBQ ribs.

Same with blogging, Chief.  Think of it as an extended block party.  You’re certainly invited, but please don’t expect to be Mr. Popular right away.  Giving freely of your attention in the form of commenting & linking liberally to your peers’ blogs is the equivalent of handing out your BBQ goodies.  It could take YEARS, but sooner or later your neighbors will come to respect, expect and love your contributions.

Up for it?  Awesome.  Cover up the keyboard, lay aside your ambitions, start reading, and join the fun. 

Marketing: It's Evolution Not Revolution

It’s easy for us, as marketers, to hyperventilate about how Social Media represents a “revolution.”  It’s not revolutionary, though; we need to apply some Big Picture perspective.

IStock_000004659760XSmallLast night I watched the “Walking with Cavemen” special on Discovery.  (You reach a certain age, the Discovery Channel looks better and better.)  It was a well-produced and fascinating look at the evolution of Man.

One point struck me, in particular: for about a million years, Man’s use of technology didn’t move an inch.  The height of our inventiveness began and ended at the “sharp stone.”  Our forebears literally couldn’t even make the imaginative leap to consider attaching their sharpened stones to a stick, to make an axe or spear. 

Compare that million-year stagnation to the last 150–odd years of human history.  Yes, these have been bloody times but the pace of technical change has been breathtaking.  Cars, trains, airplanes, warships, computers, nuclear fission, the Internet…

According to the theory suggested by the show’s producers, the pace of technological innovation quickened soon after cavemen harnassed the power of fire. 

No longer did the night bring horror; now the cave people were warm and safe… with the luxury of leisure time, the cave people could engage in flights of imagination and speculation; they could finally engage their sense of wonder…”

We’re still evolving.  Look at Marketing.  In the last few years alone, the Live Web has emerged – empowering all online denizens to publish/share/influence with the same speed and efficacy as any multinational marketeer – and lo’, the top-down “broadcast” model which dominated Marketing for the past 75 years has been turned on its head

But, it’s a wave that’s been coming.  First came the semiconductor, then the mainframe, then the minicomputer, then the Personal Computer, then desktop publishing, then the Web (online publishing), then search, then blogs … This so-called revolution has been brewing for 50 years!  I think that’s called Evolution.

It’s sure as hell exciting, though; it feels like a spurt of evolutionary progress.  Blogs, Word-Of-Mouth Marketing, Social Networking: these are terms that barely existed 5 years ago yet they have become part of the bedrock of virtually every marketing program now under consideration.  There are a lot of really smart people thinking very hard about where this is all headed.

What a great time to be on this planet.  We’re benefiting from all the great stuff invented during one of Mankind’s most productive periods (including Stage One of the Internet, the first technology with the capacity to link the ideas and voices of an entire planet).  And now we stand perched on a precipice: “What’s Next??” – it’s okay to wonder, again.

My skull hurts from wondering where all this innovation will take us.  Is that a headache I feel? – or the nascent stirrings of evolution?




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