Got a Cause? Pen a Poem. Win 10 Grand.

It’s tough raising nickels and dimes
In even the most prosperous times
One new course of action
That might get some traction
Is pitching nonprofits in rhymes

Heart and Soul Foundation Grant ProgramOK, so I didn’t miss my calling as a poet. But if you’re a nonprofit organization in the U.S., U.K. or Canada, and if you can tell your story poetically, you can win up to $10,000 from the CTK Foundation’s Heart and Soul Grant Competition.

You only have four weeks to compose your masterpiece, but that’s enough time for a four- to eight-line poem, right? Here’s how it works:

Submit an original poem that reflects the work and/or mission of your nonprofit organization. Just about anyone can write it, but it’s got to be original. They’re Googling to be sure. You have until March 28.

Winners will be selected by an international panel of independent artists and producers. In addition to getting a briefcase full of money, you’ll be invited to a gala evening event on April 14th in Austin, Texas. I recommend you put the money in the bank before heading to the event.

  • First place award is a cash grant of $10,000. Your poem will also be made into a song by written and recorded by a man who’s got an incredible story to tell.
  • Second place award is a cash grant of $5,000 and no song.
  • There’s also a Blogger’s Choice Award, whereby a randomly selected blogger who helps promote the program (like me) gets to choose an applicant to receive a $1,000 cash grant. There’s no song with this award either, but the blogger might hum a few bars for you.
  • Two steel-stringed guitars, signed by all members of Los Lonely Boys, will be awarded for use in for auction and fund raising. I recommend you avoid shipping them on United Airlines.
  • Up to 20 technology grants, valued at $10,000, to nonprofits that indicate an interest.

Are there more details? Sure. Select the CTK Foundation tab located on the www.communitytech.net website. The video has more. You can also follow #ctkgrant on Twitter.

Eloqua’s Innovative Blog Tree

Eloqua's Blog TreeBig graphics are a recent trend and a great way to attract attention. People love to share images that creatively display information in formats that make data easier to visualize. Wikibon.org did this to great effect this summer, presenting data storage growth in terms of iPads stacked on the playing field at Wembley Stadium. According to founder Dave Vellante, the graphic hit Digg.com and traffic exploded. For not a lot of money (you can outsource the design overseas), the community got attention it couldn’t buy with thousands of dollars worth of list rentals.

Eloqua has just released an infographic depicting the social media landscape as a tree with expertise clustered on topical branches. This one has a twist. According to Eloqua content director Joe Chernov:

Our vision is to make this graphic as interactive as possible.  To that end, if you don’t agree with the placement of your “leaf” on the tree, just “Like” Eloqua on Facebook and tag yourself on the limb upon which you feel you belong.  (We are also urging bloggers who are not present on the “tree” to tag themselves as well.) We’ll revisit the image and make appropriate changes.

I’m flattered to be included on one of the branches, but there’s no reason you can’t add yourself. Just follow Joe’s directions and join the foliage!

Be Inclusive Or Be Irrelevant

In my column in BtoB magazine this month I discuss the contrasting media relations styles of two giants of the Internet age: Google and Apple. The column focused specifically on their communications styles, but I believe the business tactics of these two starkly different but successful companies have bigger significance.

Google and Apple are diametrically opposed in many respects. Apple creates delightful experiences. Its products are proprietary, closed and self-contained, but people love using them because they not only work but seem to function the way humans expect. Apple is a technology company whose vision is rooted in human-friendly design.

Google’s vision is rooted in the potential of technology. The company produces an amazing array of products, ranging from mapping software to CAD design to medical records organizers. Google shares its ideas quite openly in public “labs” and is also prone to ending public experiments with little notice or explanation. Even its self-deprecating error messages are emblematic of the corporate culture, as if to say “So it didn’t work; we’ll make it better.”

The public-facing strategies these companies employ also couldn’t be more different. Apple holds its new product plans close to the vest and reveals them with fanfare at elaborate press conferences that generate months of media speculation. The company may only hold a couple of press conferences a year, but you can be sure they’re memorable.

Apple not only doesn’t use social media, it has actively litigated against bloggers who have revealed sensitive information. The strategy works well for Apple because its rabid base of fans is more than happy to indulge in speculative frenzy and drive awareness that no amount of advertising could buy.

In contrast, Google rarely holds press conferences. Most of its products are announced in a low-key style via blogs. Its developers and product managers work the long tail through one-on-one interviews and frequent speaking engagements. The company uses every social media outlet it can but shuns the media spotlight.

So Which Are You?

Is your company Apple or Google? Most businesses model their public personae on the Apple example. Their plans are shrouded in secrecy, access to executives is granted only to the top media and leaks are dealt with harshly out of fear that they could compromise the goal of being first to market. The theory is that the market is hungry for information, so it’s best to withhold news until it can have the greatest impact.

That strategy works for Apple but not for most businesses. Today, customers are swimming in information and if they don’t get insight about where you’re going, they simply move to someone else. Companies that build products behind closed doors risk becoming irrelevant because no one talks about them. What’s more, they lose the advantage of involving customers in a process that can not only make their products better but form the basis for a word-of-mouth marketing force.

How about being first to market? That benefit is vastly overrated. History has demonstrated that the only advantage of being an early mover is that it gives you the opportunity to make mistakes that others learn from. Apple’s sole first-to-market experience – the Newton – was also its most notable failure. The history of technology markets in particular is littered with businesses that created innovations that others later made successful.

In a world of plentiful information, the winners are those that do the best job of talking about their innovations before they reach the market. Prospective customers want to be involved in the process, and they punish those businesses that don’t indulge them. Look at the companies that are making headlines today and you’ll find nearly all of them have adopted an open and inclusive path to the market.

The Apples of the world are few and far between. Nearly everyone would like to be an Apple, but few will ever get the chance.

A Bit of Inspired Word of Mouth

I’m participating in the Word-Of-Mouth SuperGenius conference that’s being run in Chicago next month by Andy Sernovitz and his crew at GasPedal. It’s been a kick to watch the organizers drink their own Kool-Aid whilst promoting the event. The buttons, banners and custom discount code were nice, but the T-shirt that arrived in the mail yesterday was truly inspired. Talk about one-to-one marketing!

Despite the fact that I look terrible in yellow and the garment accentuates my developing paunch, I’ll be sharing it with others. Like I’m doing now.

Paulismyhero SuperGenius t-shirt

Recommended Reading – 8/12/09

Notice Those Ads on Blogs? Regulators Do, Too – NYTimes.com

The National Advertising Review Council is calling for clear disclosure from bloggers who are paid for product reviews or whose work is sponsored by companies they blog about. However, some people think the guidelines go too far. For example, they would require a blogger to disclose in a product review that the product had been provided free by a vendor. Such disclosure has never been practiced by traditional media companies.

You are SO unfollowed! – Scobleizer

Robert Scoble un-follows 106,000 people in one shot and says he’s relieved. Perhaps we’re beginning to see the backlash against social media over-exposure. We shouldn’t become a victim of the need to constantly communicate.

Managing beyond Web 2.0 – McKinsey Quarterly

What happens when consumers’ shared experiences are more interesting than anything your marketing department can provide? Marketers have to learn the tools of interaction in order to adapt to conversations going on outside of their control. Those consumer experiences can also yield valuable ideas for marketing programs that reflect what the audience really wants to talk about.

The article cites the experience of GlaxoSmithKline, which dealt with consumer confusion over its Alli weight-loss drug  by setting up the My Alli community site to support discussion, videos, FAQs and a membership plan to aid in weight loss. This wrapped useful information (and a marketing message) in a warm and friendly environment.

Four useful tools for social networkers – Strominator

David Strom reviews four online services that increase the productivity of active contributors to social media. I particularly like Pixelpipe and Tr.im.

Beware Social Media Marketing Myths – BusinessWeek

BusinessWeek’s Gene Marks skewers some common misconceptions about social networks. They’re not free, he says. In fact, they require a significant investment of time. And you won’t necessarily find customers there. He also advises business owners not to spread themselves too thin. If you find a platform that works, put your efforts behind that one. Good advice, if not necessarily groundbreaking.

Pepsi Sees a Chance to Fill Newspapers’ Void – BrandWeek

BrandWeek interviews Bonin Bough, PepsiCo’s new social media director. He’s spearheading a broad and deep push into all kinds of channels that enable customers to interact with the company and create their own content. PepsiCo is actually sponsorsing bloggers to cover some trade shows, effectively setting the company up as a competitor to newspapers. Bough has some nice sound bites. “If you really think about it, it’s the largest broadcast network in the world, and in such a short amount of time, too. People are willing to share if they are given a structured opportunity to do so.”

The One Word You Can’t Say: Campaign – MediaPost

“The word ‘campaign’ has become the pariah of social marketing,” says MediaPost. “Preferred alternatives include terms like ‘program,’ ‘initiative,’ or even ‘conversation.’” This article speaks truth. The old 13-week campaign doesn’t work in a conversational medium. You need to build relationships, and that takes times. The good news? Relationships can last for many years.

Still, this new reality challenges conventional thinking and standard operating procedure. For one thing, agencies are paid to create campaigns with defined beginnings and ends. How do you compensate the agency for open-ended conversations? Also, the beneficiaries are likely to extend beyond the marketing department, which means that organizations need broad-based buy-in to make social media “campaigns” successful.

BzzAgent Cultivates Brand Influencers

Dave Balter knows a thing or two about brand advocacy, and his experience may turn some of your assumptions about brand relationships on their head.

Balter is the founder of BzzAgent, a Boston-based agency that specializes in generating word-of-mouth awareness for products and brands. Over the past eight years, the company has recruited more than half a million brand ambassadors it calls “agents” and applied them to campaigns for more than 500 clients.

BzzAgent’s success challenges two items of conventional wisdom about marketing:

  • People don’t want to have relationships with brands; and 
  • You have to pay them to spread your message. 

BzzAgent doesn’t pay any of its brand agents. “As soon as you put cash in somebody’s hands, it changes their opinion,” Balter says. “What we say instead is that we’ll let you try products and what you say about them is up to you.” Just being involved in the campaign is a motivator. “BzzAgent is a natural magnet for people who like to influence.”

Earnest Advocates

BzzAgent recruits people from all walks of life with the simple promise of a special relationship with the brands they endorse. No one is coerced or enticed into becoming an agent or working on a campaign; if they don’t want to be involved, they shouldn’t participate.

“We tell people that we see them as a thought leader for a product. We send them the product, send a BzzGuide [brochure]  to help them feel special and then they talk to other people as they want. We don’t tell them to what to say,” Balter says.

With no more compensation than that, some of BzzAgent’s most actuve participants devote 20 hours per week to evangelizing products. They’re asked to log on to a secure website periodically to tell about their activities. The comments – both pro and con – are acknowledged by a personal thank-you from a BzzAgent employee and transmitted to the client.

Both of these factors are powerful motivators for the core of agents, Balter says. “The idea that you’re so important that the brand is going to actually listen to you means your opinion matters,” he says. The personal acknowledgment shows that there’s a human being taking an interest in what the agent has to say.

Such influence enhances a person’s self-esteeem. Brand advocates also gain status from knowing that they matter and sharing that with their friends.

Balter believes that people do identify with brands and that identification is a badge of honor. “I think people want to ‘friend’ brands more than many of us can imagine,” he says. Being a vocal fan is a badge of honor. “It gains acknowledgement from their peers,” he says.

BzzAgent’s new BzzScapes site would tend to validate that opinion. Launched in late May, BzzScapes offers people the chance to build an online shrine to brands they support. Each BzzScape links back to an individual user’s profile, giving that person the distinction of being the first to express brand affinity.

In a little more than week, nearly 2,800 BzzScapes have been created for organizations ranging from soccer teams to soda pop. Contributors receive no reward other than the recognition that they were the first to establish an outpost. Some unlikely brands have generated impressive activity. The BzzScape for personal-care company Burt’s Bees has logged more than 22,000 contributions from nearly 750 users. The reasons aren’t clear. It seems that some brands just inspire that kind of passion from customers.

Click here for an audio interview with Dave Balter conducted on May 28, 2009. (40:00)

[audio:http://gillin.com/Podcasts/Balter.mp3]

Digital Lifeline for Struggling Artists

fans_friendsSelf-promotion is all the rage in social media publishing these days, with titles like Stephen Van Yoder’s 2nd edition of Get Slightly Famous, Jorge Olson’s Unselfish Guide to Self-Promotion and Dan Schawbel’s Me 2.0 hitting the market in just the last few months.  

I haven’t had a chance to read many of these volumes in any depth yet, but I did make it a point to pick up Scott Kirsner’s Fans, Friends and Followers when it arrived in the mail.  Two reasons:

  •         Kirsner is an accomplished journalist who knows how to tell stories, and I think stories are the essence of learning.
  •         He’s a tight and efficient writer, so I knew that the 183 pages would be time well spent.

I wasn’t disappointed.  Fans, Friends And Followers is packed with useful information about how to create a following online and possibly quit your day job.  Kirsner, who writes extensively about film for a variety of publications as well as his own CinemaTech blog, did his homework, conducting dozens of conversations with successful artists who have created enthusiastic followings and featuring their words in a section of first-person narratives interviews that make up the majority of the book. He distills their experiences into 35 pages of advice about how to maximize your search visibility, use low-cost promotional channels and distribute products cheaply

And in the best tradition of practicing what one preaches, Kirsner self-published in both print and digital form and has taken responsibility for marketing the title himself.

Self-publishing shaved months off the production process. “I’d say about half [the books I receive from publishers] have gone stale by the time they get into my hands,”  he told me in an e-mail exchange.  Not only that, but authors can make considerably more money off of self-published books than those produced by commercial publishers if they promote them well.

I had heard of only a few of the people I met in Fans, Friends And Followers, but that doesn’t matter.  These people have built legions of followers through hyper-efficient and inexpensive word-of-mouth marketing juiced by digital tools. The artists profiled here have little in common other than their ambition to chase a dream and the street sense to double down on opportunities.  Some have made the jump to semi-stardom, like Richard Cheese and his band, Lounge Against the Machine.  Most, however, are content with small but passionate groups of followers who provide just enough income for them to develop their talents.  Not everyone in this book is making a living as an artist, but most are coming pretty close.

Audience Connection

Scott Kirsner

Scott Kirsner

Another thread that runs through these interviews is a remarkable connection these artists have with their audiences.  That’s because the tools they use, which range from e-mail lists to Facebook groups to fan-based distribution networks, are so easy to develop today compared to a few years ago.  In contrast with the recording or film industry megastars, these people are almost addicted audience feedback. 

Singer-songwriter Jonathan Coulton, for example, actually asks fans to sign a log book if they want him to come to their city.  While planning a trip to Seattle, he messaged local fans that he was having difficulty finding a place to perform. Within 24 hours, a half dozen volunteers had come forth to help.

Many of the artists Kirsner profiles publish their own work and sell them out of their homes or through fulfillment services.  There’s a nice section on how to do this, and the trade-offs of distributing through various means.

Fans Friends And Followers is clearly targeted at the struggling artist who has to do as much as possible with very little. If you want to learn how to market your business, there are other books better for that.  Not many of the people in this book are getting rich, but all are getting by and they’re having a wonderful time doing something they love.

Kirsner thinks wealth will be in the picture pretty soon.  “In the near-term, the ‘pots of gold’ will definitely come from people who get signed to make records for big labels or movies for big studios,” he wrote. “But over the longer term, I do think you’ll see people who figure out a mix of projects that…get the best of both worlds.”

Viral Marketing at the Marathon

jason_jacobsIf you watch the Boston Marathon next Monday, keep an eye out for Jason Jacobs. He should be pretty easy to spot; he’ll be the one dressed as a giant iPhone.

Jacobs is the founder of FitnessKeeper, Inc. , which sells the RunKeeper iPhone application. RunKeeper uses the iPhone’s built-in GPS to track how far and how fast people run, walk, cycle and whatever. They can then share their numbers wit h friends.

The marathon idea came about after a pitch from some students at Emerson College three weeks ago. In Jacobs’ own words, here’s why he’ll be dressed as an iPhone:

With RunKeeper, we have been really big on “humanizing the brand” (check out @runkeeper on Twitter), and what better way to humanize the brand than to have a giant iPhone with RunKeeper on the screen actually running in the marathon?

We partnered with a team of undergrads in a social media class at Emerson College to help us put together a marketing campaign.  They pitched me on the idea with only 3 weeks before the marathon, and I fell in love with it right away.

We jumped into action immediately.  By the next morning, I had a marathon number (VERY hard to do), and we’ve been scrambling ever since to line up tshirt and other vendors, get the costume built, plan all of the race day logistics, build awareness in the community, etc. etc.  And this is all while training for the race (typically an 18-week ordeal) in 3 weeks time.  Even better is that we have been filming the entire process!

The plan is to launch a series of viral videos leading up to and immediately following the race, which document the prep for this campaign from soup-to-nuts, as well as the outcome.  Think Apprentice meets Real World meets Behind-the-Music.

It’s a great idea, although there’s only one video at the moment and it isn’t exactly viral quality. Jacbos is also raising money for Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, which is a worthy cause.

I hope this works. It’s gonna be hot in that iPhone suit!

Influencer Marketing: Not Your Typical PR

With mainstream media rapidly declining in scope, influence is increasingly being exerted from below by individuals using the power of self-publishing to reach out to their peers.

In recent influencer engagements, we’ve learned a few things about how to work with these new media.  An important point to remember is that they do not behave like reporters.  Journalists are skilled in the “game” that goes on with public relations professionals.   You know: It’s the one in which PR is paid to keep pushing and the journalists is paid to be skeptical.  The two parties engage in this back-and-forth with a wink and a nod, knowing that each has a job to do.

Influencers often don’t work this way.  To them, their online outpost is a display of their passion for the topic that they cover.  They care deeply about the subject matter and they usually know at least as much as the PR person who contacts them.  Often they know quite a bit more.  In some ways, engaging with influencers is like pitching product reviewers.

Know Your Stuff

You’d better come prepared to this engagement, because some influencers will take lack of knowledge on your part as an insult.  This can capsize junior agency people who aren’t prepared for the depth of questions they will get or the scorn they may endure if they can’t answer.  Again, journalists know how the game is played, but influencers are more likely to expect the person on the phone to share their enthusiasm.  I recommend you put experienced people on this job.

Influencers are also likely to have an opinion.  While journalists are expected not to share any biases, bloggers often do what they do precisely because they have opinions to share.  Fortunately, a little advance reading can often clue you in to someone’s agenda and even help you decide if they’re worth contacting all.  You don’t want to come in with a strong Windows pitch, for example, to a blogger who’s passionate about the Mac.  You also don’t want to be blindsided by someone who has made his or her opinions clear and who is offended by the fact that you don’t know them.  Again, 15 to 20 minutes of reading can save you a lot of aggravation.

Finally, influencers are more likely to want to get their hands on the product or to talk in depth with the people who develop it.  Unlike journalists, they’re probably not interested in analyst quotes or customer case studies.  It’s more likely they’ll want to talk to the VP of engineering or the CEO than to the head of marketing.  Before you start an influencers program, be sure that you have these people on board.

Their time will be well spent.  The right influencers have as much credibility in their community as product reviewers or analysts.  They usually have extensive networks of online and real-world contacts and they’re likely to have experience with not only the your products but those of your competitors.  Engage in a conversation.  You might learn something from them.

Disney's Viral Hit

If you haven’t seen it yet, check out this fantastic viral video from Disney Parks & Resorts. Parks VP for Global PR Duncan Wardle told me the promotion paid for itself in about 18 1/2 hours measured by the bookings it generated. Since then, it’s been shared by millions.

Personalization, wow! factor and easy shareability were the keys. Be sure to watch till the end and listen for Goofy. This is cool stuff.