Books Worth Reading: the Trust Equation

The stack of unread books on the nightstand has been getting pretty tall lately, so I took advantage of some recent travel and vacation time to shorten it a bit. Over the next couple of days, I’ll post of reviews of some titles I recommend. Starting with…

TrustAgentsTrust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust – Chris Brogan and Julien Smith don’t need my help to sell books; they’ve already made the New York Times bestseller list and their success is well deserved. The market has been flooded with social media books this year, but Trust Agents is different because it’s more about the social than the media.

Oh, there are plenty of tech tips and tricks, which are organized conveniently into sidebars, bullet lists and “top 10” formats. What really makes this book work, though, is its unflagging devotion to a kind of social media Golden Rule: treat others the way you’d want them to treat you and the rewards will come back in time

The authors make a persuasive case that the value one derives from social media comes from using the tools to build trust, and that means giving till it hurts. It’s about answering questions, making connections, giving advice and donating time without any clear expectation of reward. Believe us, the rewards will come, the authors say.

You certainly can’t argue with their success. Brogan is an A-list blogger and Smith is a popular speaker and pioneer in online community development. If Trust Agents does nothing else, it provides a blueprint for achieving the kind of success the authors have demonstrated through the practice of listening actively, responding generously and constantly asking the audience for feedback. Take the tools out of the equation and the same tactics work offline. People who succeed are those who have the relationships and reputations to get things done for others.

The greatest shortcoming of Trust Agents – if you can call it that– is the lack of hard ROI data. The authors don’t try to calculate the return on their own time investments, perhaps because neither has ever needed to. ROI, however, has been the bugaboo of this fledgling media and the greatest excuse for executives so far choosing to do nothing. If you want numbers, read Groundswell by Li and Bernoff or Measuring Public Relationships by Paine. Both do an excellent job of assigning numbers to actions.

If you learn nothing more from this book than a few of the tricks to better leverage your own online presence, it’s well worth the price.

Connectors_coverThe Connectors: How the World’s Most Successful Businesspeople Build Relationships and Win Clients for LifeI sometimes share with audiences the story of Automatic Appliance, a local retailer and service company that has forever wrested my business from the big-box discount companies by tirelessly working to satisfy me at every opportunity. The last time I called seeking to fix a balky clothes dryer, the owner spent 15 minutes on the phone trying to help me resolve the problem myself instead of charging me $300 for a house visit. Such selfless generosity has won Automatic Appliance a customer for life.

This anecdote would fit perfectly in The Connectors, a book that echoes, in many ways, the give-to-get spirit of Trust Agents. To be honest, I almost quit reading this book by marketing entrepreneur Maribeth Kuzmeski after 50 pages because it appeared to be just another in a long line of bafflingly successful books that tell how you can succeed by believing in yourself. But there’s more to The Connectors than pop-psych pabulum. I’m glad I stuck with it.

The Connectors isn’t about connections as much as about going the extra mile to make yourself or your business exceptional. The connections the author refers to are those that create indelible impressions in the minds of those one seeks to influence. Over time, these become the basis for sustainable business relationships.

Like Trust Agents, The Connectors skirts the ROI issue and chooses to build its case through anecdotes and inspirational stories. The book includes a number of useful and downloadable self-assessment worksheets. While some of its examples have been done to death (it’s time to retire Fedex’s Fred Smith legend, inspiring as it is), Kuzmeski’s many examples of success working with individual clients are compelling. Her counsel boils down to:

  • Build your social skills in a way that works for you;
  • Focus on what you do well and use your strengths to establish a unique niche for your enterprise;
  • Find small ways to delight customers; and
  • Doggedly pursue business opportunities with generosity and goodwill until the client turns your way.

Like Trust Agents, The Connectors takes it on faith – and the author’s considerable success – that paying it forward pays back in the long run. The most compelling section for me focused on creating a personal impression with prospects that makes it impossible for them not to want to give you their business. This may involve considerable investment of time and energy, an issue the author doesn’t resolve completely, but you can’t argue with the results. In an age in which globalization makes long-term competitive advantage nearly impossible to achieve, trusted relationships may be all we have left.

Big Blue’s Social Media Numbers

From yesterday’s BtoB magazine NetMarketing Breakfast in New York, here are some facts and figures from Adam Christensen, Social Media Communications Manager at IBM, about Big Blue’s use of social media tools:

  • Internal blogs: 17,000
  • Members of the Beehive social network: 60,000
  • Daily page views on IBM’s internal wiki: 1,000,000
  • Participants in its four Innovation Jams: 500,000
  • IBMers on Twitter: 3,000
  • IBMers on Facebook: 52,000
  • IBMers on LinkedIn: 198,000

For a company with 400,000 employees, those numbers are pretty impressive. They’re all the more remarkable when you consider that, 20 years ago, IBM had one of the most buttoned down command-and-control cultures of any company on the planet.

Adam works on strategy and standards for IBM’s global social media activities. Follow him on Twitter.

Ending the Hype: A Panel Discussion

I was delighted to participate in a panel with  Jason FallsC.C. Chapman, Chris Brogan, Brian Solis and Mike Lewis at the Inbound Marketing Summit last week.  Here’s the full 37-minute panel. It got pretty heated at a couple of points. This group is passionate about discarding old assumptions.

If the video below doesn’t play for you, click here to view it on the Visible Gains site.

Going Totally Random With Twitter

The most frequent criticism of Twitter that I hear is that the service is a waste of time. It’s all about people telling the world what they had for breakfast or how long they’ve been waiting for a bus. Don’t we have better things to do?

I decided to try a short experiment. I clipped a 100-tweet block from my Twitter stream at random and examined the contents to see just how much useful content there was, if any.

A little background first: I follow about 1,150 people and I prune my list with some care. If someone’s tweets are completely irrelevant to my interests, I unfollow that person. I only follow people who interest me or who send me a personal request asking me to follow them. That weeds out the spammers and bots.

Here are my results

  • 42% of the tweets were what I’d call random. These were mostly along the lines of what people had for breakfast or ongoing conversations I hadn’t followed.
  • 12% contained news of general interest (BTW, Twitter has been one of the best places to monitor the ongoing news of the Samoan tsunami this week).
  • 33% were referral links to information that the writer found interesting.
  • 7% were notable quotes.
  • 6% were either self-promotional messages or requests for advice.

Two statistics interested me in particular. One was that 45% of the tweets contained a link. This indicates that Twitter is used at least as much to point friends to interesting information as it is to comment on everyday activities. After all, you can’t link to what you had for breakfast. The other is that at least 20 of the tweets interested me enough that I wanted to learn more.

This wasn’t the kind of reading I would find on a typical news website. Here’s a sampling:

It isn’t, but then I don’t use Twitter for the same reason I use CNN. The bottom line is that the 4 1/2 minutes it took me to read 100 tweets yielded at least 20 items of interest. There are other places on the Web where I could consume more information in less time, but it’s a different kind of information. It’s not less valuable, just different.

Newspaper and magazine editors often complain that the rise of customized news services has shortchanged readers by removing the element of discovery that a printed publication delivers. However, the Twitter stream and Facebook news feed deliver just as much surprise and delight as any professional media entity, if not more. The only difference: the recommendations come from people I know instead of professional editors.

It turns out that avid Web users are just as interested in discovery as print readers. It’s just that they’ve found a faster, less intrusive, more personal and more ecologically friendly way to go about it. Is it any wonder mainstream media is dying?

Tweet Your Way to Luxury

Desert Springs JW Marriott ResortThe Desert Springs JW Marriott Resort & Spa, in Palm Desert, Calif. has a clever Twitter-based promotion starting tomorrow. They call it “Tweet to Retreat,” and it requires followers on Twitter to answer a daily question about the resort to be entered in a drawing for a luxury three-day getaway package.

You don’t have to be a hotel guest to enter. All answers can be found on the resort website. Questions range “from the ingredients in the Angel Kiss cocktail at Oasis Bar & Grille (hint, hint), to the number of rooms at the hotel,” the press release says. Not sure what the (hint, hint) is all about. The release on the website also mysteriously leaves out the detail that you can find answers to the questions elsewhere on the site. That information was only contained in the release sent by e-mail.

Anyway, the hotel has only 280 followers as of this morning, so your chances should be pretty good if you make it a point to check out the daily questions. The prize: “A three-night stay at the resort, including: dinner at Ristorante Tuscany and Mikado Japanese Steakhouse, daily breakfast at LakeView, four 60-minute spa treatments, a VIP table at Costas nightclub, and a choice of tennis or golf lessons for two.” I’m there!

Why Websites Don’t Matter

By now, most companies have got a pretty good handle on what happens on their website.  At the very least, they use a tool like Google Analytics or the simple and easy StatCounter to track total visits, referring URLs, visitor paths and time-spent-on-site.  It’s intriguing and fun to see where people are coming from and what they’re doing.  It’s also increasingly irrelevant.

The website as we know it is becoming a relic of the first 15 years of the Internet.  Sure, websites will always be important, but the action that takes place around a company, brand or individual is moving into a complex web of stateless conversations.  Some of these take place on corporate websites, but many of them don’t.  Consider Facebook, whose 200 million members are the world’s largest ready-made audience.  Some brands have more active communities of customers on Facebook than they do on their own websites.  In fact, their own websites may not even enable community at all.  Perception of their brand is defined in a community that they host but can’t control.


Our personal activities now take place in many locations.  Look at Twitter, for example.  While there’s a Twitter website, conversations take place in the ether. People who use TweetDeck, Twhirl, TwInbox or one of the other dedicated Twitter clients may never visit the Twitter website. In fact, the Twitter feed may easily be displayed on any website you like.

Steve Rubel, a public relations social media visionary whom I profiled in New Influencers, recently announced that he’s abandoning his blog in favor of a lifestream. Steve is at the extreme edge of social media activity, so his experience isn’t typical, but I think his point bears considering.  He’s saying that the action now takes place in so many nooks and crannies of the Internet that a website is, at best, a place to pull them all together.  Our own activities are too expansive to be confined to one place.

This presents some immediate problems.  It seems that just as we’ve succeeded in getting a pretty good handle on what happens on our websites, the action has moved elsewhere.  In many cases, we have no insight into what’s happening there. Facebook, for example, offers only rudimentary reporting on activity within its profiles and forims. There is simply no way to determine how many people have seen a message on Twitter. Sites like Flickr, YouTube or SlideShare can tell you how many people have watched your presentation or video but not where they came from or how long they spent there. Our window on online activity around our brand is actually becoming more opaque with time.

Not Dead Yet

Does this mean websites are dead? No, but they are changing. The website’s role will increasingly be to present a persons or organization’s view of things in hopes of enticing conversations back to that controllable and measurable forum.  It will be the home base for everything we do online, kind of our own organizational lifestream. But marketers must face the new reality that online success has many faces, even if we can’t measure all of them very well.

This also means that businesses should take a new look at hosting their own communities.  Facebook is training wheels for the bigger goal of building branded communities that become the primary destination for customers and business partners.  If you can build and measure those, you can gain a lot more insight about what motivates customers.  If you can’t, well, try to send people back to your trusty old website for your point of view.

Why People Love Social Networks

From my weekly newsletter. To subscribe, just fill out the short form to the right.

Social networks are so popular these days that many  marketers and small business owners may feel compelled to use them regardless of whether they make sense or not for the business. I’ve recently been helping some clients to make these decisions, which can be expensive if poorly considered, and I find that many people still have some very basic questions. So I’ll devote a few posts to practical advice that may help clear up the confusion.

Why all the hype?

Online communities have been around since the earliest days of the Internet and in commercial services like CompuServe and The Well. So what’s different today? In 1998, a site called, which is still thriving, introduced the concept of “profiles” and “friends.” While this nation seems second nature today, it was revolutionary at the time.

The profile is a person’s (or business’) home base. It not only contains personal information about a wide range of topics, but it also keeps track of a member’s activity within the community. This is important, because as members accumulate friends, joins groups and help other members, all of those activities and relationships are captured in their profiles. The more they contribute, the more valuable they are to the community and the more their personal status grows.

Friending is essentially the process of sharing personal information with others. When two people become friends, they exchange glimpses into each other’s lives, much as we create and nurture real-life friendships. Friends relationships are very strong, whether real or electronic. The chance to build and solidify relationships with our friends is one of the greatest appeals of social networks.

There’s also utility in these online relationships. Social networks are great contact managers. Instead of maintaining our own address books, it’s easy to let the network keep track of where people are, what companies they work for, who they’re dating, etc. They also make it easy for us to capture fleeting relationships. Once we friend someone we’ve met at a conference or football game, we never need to lose touch with that person again.

Groups are a natural outgrowth of profiles and friends. Social networks keep track of information that can be used to find other people with whom we share common interests. While most networks don’t allow members to mass-mail other people based upon their interests, they do enable sponsors to buy targeted advertising and people to form relationships within the groups they join. The advantage of starting a group on Facebook, for example, is that Facebook already has information about a vast community of people. Group organizers can take advantage of this information to quickly grow their membership without starting from the ground up.

Profiles, groups and friends — these are the essential elements of social networks. Next we’ll look at how they’re applied on three of the most popular networks: Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Still Don't Get Twitter? Maybe This Will Help

twitter-logoIt’s okay to admit it.  You’re among friends.  You’ve been on Twitter for a couple of months now and you still can’t figure out what the heck all the fuss is about.  It took me a while to “get” Twitter, too, but now I find it an indispensable part of my toolkit for gathering information and promoting my work.  Here are some things to think about.

The 140-character limit is liberating.  Writing blog entries is a time-consuming task.  I’m not the type who fires off one-sentence posts, so I like to put some thought into what I say on a blog.  In contrast, Twitter’s 140-character limit lends itself well to quick thoughts that I believe are worth sharing with others but that don’t justify a full-blown blog entry.  Very little of what I tweet makes it into my blog and vice versa.

The 140-character limit can also be frustrating. If you have ever engaged in an e-mail exchange using Twitter direct messaging, you know it can be disjointed.  At some point, you need to jump to e-mail.  That said, 140 characters does force you to focus your thoughts and to write succinctly,

Public conversations.  Twitter gives everyone the option of making discussions public.  You can’t do this with e-mail, and it’s difficult to accomplish on a blog.  If you believe that your exchange with others would benefit from public input, or if you just want to expose the discussion to others, you have that option.  You can always take things private via direct messaging if you wish.

Immediacy.  When you just can’t wait for information, Twitter can’t be beat for getting your question to a large group.  It’s impractical to do this with e-mail. People’s inboxes are already cluttered with spam and you have no way of getting your message to people you don’t know.  Also, through “retweeting,” a message can reach a large number of people who aren’t on your follower list.  This brings new perspectives to the conversation and gives you the opportunity to discover people you wouldn’t have otherwise met.

Retweeting. While we’re on the subject, don’t underestimate the power of the retweet.  When someone picks up your message and forwards it to their followers, it magnifies your reach and often recruits new followers in the process.  Sending provocative messages that others retweet is a great way to build your following and your contact list for information-gathering and promotion.

Discovery.  Twitter is the most efficient mechanism I’ve ever seen for discovering interesting information.  I could literally do nothing all day but monitor the “All Friends” feed in TweetDeck and read interesting articles that others recommend. If it weren’t for Twitter, for example, I wouldn’t have known that Travelocity has hotels in Las Vegas for $22 a night.  This discovery process is not unlike scanning the pages of a newspaper, but it’s much faster and more encompassing.  Also, you know that comments and recommendations from certain people will be of particular interest to you, so you have the option of drilling down on individual profiles to see what they’ve been saying recently.  Chaotic?  Sure, but that’s part of the discovery process.

Searchable. If you want to find out what people are saying about you right now, services like Twitscoop and Monitter enable you to instantly track mentions of your company, product, industry or whatever and to save them as RSS feeds for later browsing.  You can do the same with Twitter Search. Google Alerts currently doesn’t index Twitter feeds, but Filtrbox does.

Twitter is a deceptively simple idea with remarkably powerful applications.  People are only beginning to tap into its potential, and I hope visitors to this blog will contribute their own thoughts on what they find most compelling.

Recommended Reading 3/30/09

At its essence, Twitter is nothing more than an RSS feed. The tools are what make it so valuable. Online Best Colleges has come up with this great list of 100 Twitter tools that do everything from identify people you haven’t tweeted in a long time to figure out how much time you waste on Twitter. And you can waste a LOT of time on Twitter!

Nielsen: Social Networking Overtakes E-mail in Popularity

Active reach in what Nielsen defines as “member communities” now exceeds e-mail participation by 67 percent to 65 percent. What’s more, the reach of social networking and blogging venues is growing at twice the rate of other large drivers of Internet use such as portals, e-mail and search.

A statistical analysis of social network users that is totally made up but bitingly accurate, at least in the satirical sense 🙂

Six ways to make Web 2.0 work – The McKinsey Quarterly

McKinsey looks at the characteristics of organizations that have successfully leveraged Web 2.0 technologies. Quoting:

  • To date, as many survey respondents are dissatisfied with their use of Web 2.0 technologies as are satisfied. Participatory technologies should include auditing functions, similar to those for e-mail, that track all contributions and their authors. Ultimately, however, companies must recognize that successful participation means engaging in authentic conversations with participants.
  • We have found that, unless a number of success factors are present, Web 2.0 efforts often fail to launch or to reach expected heights of usage. Executives who are suspicious or uncomfortable with perceived changes or risks often call off these efforts.
  • What distinguishes them from previous technologies is the high degree of participation they require to be effective.
  • While they are inherently disruptive and often challenge an organization and its culture, they are not technically complex to implement. Rather, they are a relatively lightweight overlay to the existing infrastructure and do not necessarily require complex technology integration.
  • Since we first polled global executives two years ago, the adoption of these tools has continued. Spending on them is now a relatively modest $1 billion, but the level of investment is expected to grow by more than 15 percent annually over the next five years, despite the current recession.
  • The transformation to a bottom-up culture needs help from the top.
  • Successful participation, however, requires not only grassroots activity but also a different leadership approach: senior executives often become role models and lead through informal channels.
  • Efforts go awry when organizations try to dictate their preferred uses of the technologies—a strategy that fits applications designed specifically to improve the performance of known processes—rather than observing what works and then scaling it up
  • [Success requires] a more effective play to the Web’s ethos and the participants’ desire for recognition: bolstering the reputation of participants in relevant communities, rewarding enthusiasm, or acknowledging the quality and usefulness of contributions.
  • Numerous executives we interviewed said that participatory initiatives had been stalled by legal and HR concerns. These risks differ markedly from those of previous technology adoptions, where the chief downside was high costs and poor execution

Self-publishing today is inexpensive and relatively easy. For authors who don’t want to put up with the run-around of finding increasingly skittish professional publishers, it can be a fast way to build a personal brand and actually make decent money.

Social Networks Drive Video Views

The most common way that viewers find videos is direct navigation to a video site. About 45% of all video views were from by consumers who started at YouTube. A survey by TubeMogul found that social networks have a bigger influence on video usage than search engines, accounting for about 80% of all visitors.

Twitter User Base Continues To Grow

According to Pew Research, 27% of bloggers use Twitter and 11% of Web-equipped US adults have used a microblog service. That second figure has nearly doubled in the past year. There is a high correlation between Twitter use and use of other Internet technologies. The median age of a Twitter user is 31. By comparison, the median age of a MySpace user is 27, while Facebook users median at 26 and LinkedIn users at 40.

Mars Deserves Praise for Innovative Skittles Initiative

SkittlesEarly this week, candy maker Skittles rocked the media by giving over its entire home page to a list of Twitter postings labeled with the #skittles hash tag. The experiment initially provoked excitement, then doubt and finally alarm as pranksters used the opportunity to post all manner of negative and even obscene comments that had very little to do with the fruit candy.

As the volume of trash talk swelled, Mars Snackfood US pulled down the Twitter search page and replaced it with a Facebook profile. Today the site features a Wikipedia entry. Skittles’ branding consists of an overlay window that links to various references to the product in social media outposts. Basically, Mars reconfigured the brand’s website as a package of consumer-generated content.

A lot of people are trashing Mars for this bold experiment. “Disastrous” says Apryl Duncan on “Gimmicky” says VentureBeat. “Humiliating disaster” says SmartCompany. While some people are praising Mars for originality, the early consensus is that this campaign is not a good idea for the Skittles brand.

Bold Move


More skittles

I beg to differ. While Mars certainly could have better anticipated the frat-boy efforts to undermine the program, the Skittles experiment is a bold statement about where the company is taking its marketing tactics. Full disclosure: I’ve had the opportunity to work with some of the Mars marketers on a paid basis over the past year. Unlike many other corporations I’ve encountered, these people get it. Sure, they’re still feeling their way through the process of working with uncensored customer conversations, but they’re on the right track and they’re taking the right risks.


In January, Mars held a day-long offsite meeting with more than 100 of its global marketers to talk about word-of-mouth marketing. I was there, along with many of the company’s agency and branding partners. I was impressed with the commitment the company is making to understanding and working with social media. While many of their peers still regard online forums with a mixture of suspicion and disgust, the Mars marketers see it as an opportunity. They’re also fully aware of the risks. One breakout session at the meeting was devoted almost entirely to an analysis of Johnson & Johnson’s Motrin Moms fiasco.

Still more SkittlesThere’s no question Mars could have thought through this experiment somewhat better. Twitter was a bad place to start and under the circumstances, some filtering would have been appropriate. However, the whole concept of giving over the Skittles Web presence to customer conversations is daring and innovative. It’s unfortunate that some of the same people who trash brands for not being more hip to social media are now trashing Mars for almost being too hip.

Proof in the Pudding

Also, look at the coverage this story has generated: The Wall Street Journal, LA Times, Fast Company, CNET and the list goes on and on. If you believe Oscar Wilde’s theory that “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about,” then this campaign is a hit. If Skittles sales don’t jump 15% in the next month, I’ll eat a bag of the candy, including the bag.

Chevy TahoeExperimentation is central to new media marketing and negative reactions to bold ideas are nothing to be feared. Nearly three years ago, General Motors invited visitors to stitch together their own video ads for the Chevrolet Tahoe SUV. About 15% of the videos people created were negative, prompting critics to call the campaign a disaster. But inside General Motors the project was considered an unqualified success. The Tahoe hit 30% market share shortly after the Web promotion began, outpacing its closest competitor two to one.

The Skittles campaign is outside-the-box thinking. Despite its shortcomings, it deserves praise.