I was recently quoted on Internetnews.com making the following prediction:
“Look for marketing’s love affair with social media to give way in 2011 to the sobering reality that a Facebook fan page and Twitter account don’t solve problems of poor products or positioning. Stories of social media failures will become more frequent as practitioners realize that customer conversations are time-consuming to maintain and that peer conversations present as many problems as they do opportunities.”
A few of my more passionate social marketing friends contacted me and asked politely if I had lost my mind or something for issuing such a gloomy and pessimistic forecast at precisely the hour of social media’s triumph.
I responded that no slight was intended. On the contrary, I think the hangover stage is necessary and healthy if social media is to achieve its realistic potential for change.
Anyone who’s watched technology for a while is familiar with the lifecycle of innovation. There’s a period of exuberance, followed by the cold reality that the new tool won’t shorten the work week or lead to permanent weight loss. Gartner famously labeled this blue period the “trough of disillusionment,” which is a perfect term for it.
Some technologies never exit this down cycle (handwriting recognition) and some dwell in purgatory for many years before finding their niche (tablets). Many return to achieve their potential after time and other technology advancements help them along (PCs, the Internet) and a precious few continue rocketing up the adoption curve without any slowdown whatsoever (smart phones).
Social media marketing can never match the hype that has been heaped on it for the last three years, so it must go through a correction stage. The discipline will be better for the experience, but only after a lot of business people realize the ugly reality that this stuff is really difficult.
Blaming the Tools
The souring of marketer attitudes toward social media first became evident to me last spring when I worked on a survey for B-to-B magazine that found that nearly half of 400 marketers surveyed were disappointed with the results they were getting from Twitter. A little further exploration revealed that those expressing the greatest disappointment were using Twitter for business less than once a week. That’s like blaming your lawnmower for making your lawn ugly when you only cut the grass every other month.
I’ve recently noticed that the questions marketers ask me have changed. A year ago, people wanted to know how to start social media campaigns. Now they want to know how to rescue the floundering campaigns they already have. Disillusionment is starting to set in.
As poorly conceived or badly executed social marketing campaigns begin to take their toll, people will naturally blame the tools. That’s an instinctive self-protection reflex. Over the past year marketers have decorated their websites like Christmas trees with Twitter and Facebook logos. Now some of them are wondering why Santa hasn’t appeared. Unfortunately, even Santa requires you to first spend a year being good.
While I don’t believe the popular attitude toward social media marketing is going to turn overwhelmingly sour, we will begin to see marketers pulling in their guns this year for three major reasons:
Lack of executive support. A lot of C-suite types never believed social media was all that big a deal in the first place, so they made half-hearted investments with unrealistic goals. Most of these initiatives will fail. Executives can then say “I told you so” until the market forces their hand.
Lack of patience. Social marketing is unlike traditional marketing in some pretty fundamental ways. Traditional marketing is campaign-oriented: Put a message in the field and then sort through the surge of leads and responses that come in. Social marketing is about building relationships over time. Like a good diet, you don’t see much progress in the early going, but you notice big changes a year later. It takes patience to get there. Patience is becoming a pretty precious commodity.
Lack of understanding. I’ve talked to several companies recently that have information-rich community websites that are going nowhere. These companies have got half of the equation right: They’re producing solid content. What they don’t understand is the relationship side of the equation. They’re approaching social marketing like they approach conventional marketing: Blast out a message and hope that people respond. That was hard to do even three years ago and it’s almost impossible today.
A more effective strategy is to reach out to the people who already have the audience’s attention and get them engaged. One-to-one relationship-building is not a traditional marketing strength, but it must become one.
So Now What?
The social media landscape is vastly more crowded today than it was a year or two ago. The time when a clever blogger could amass an audience of 30,000 loyalists in a year has passed. People’s attention spans are shorter than ever and their willingness to find information is giving way to the expectation that information will find them.
Effective social marketing campaigns require commitment, patience and constant innovation. They also must be backed by an organizational commitment to creating delightful customer experiences. In many cases, the best group to run social campaigns is the customer service organization because they already understand one-to-one relationships. However, marketing usually carries the ball and turf wars prevent them from working cooperatively with other groups.
Social marketing is hard. It requires treating an audience as a collection of individuals rather than a demographic clump. Building relationships takes time and a tolerance for frustration. There are many blind alleys and few big scores. Success comes from building community one brick at a time.
Avaya’s Paul Dunay (left) said it best in a recent webcast. “We treat every customer as if he or she could bring down our company.” The key word in that sentence is “we.” Social marketing requires everyone in the company to embrace the idea of customers as individuals. Not everyone is up to the task just yet.
Tip of the Week: Twitter Transcription
When Twitter came on the market four years ago, the founders made the decision to display conversation streams in reverse chronological order, with the most recent posts at the top. This broke from the style used by instant messaging and chat services, which display the most recent entries at the bottom. Third-party Twitter clients have, for the most part, adopted Twitter’s style.
The only problem with this approach is that it makes transcribing Twitter streams for publication a chore. People don’t like to read transcripts in reverse-chronological order; they expect the oldest comments to be at the top. Transcription can involve a laborious cut-and-paste process to reverse the order.
Just for Fun: RoadsideAmerica.com
Some artists work in oils, others dabble in watercolors and still others build creations out of wood or iron. Then there’s Barney Smith of San Antonio, TX, whose medium of choice is… toilet seats. That’s right, Barney is the creator and proprietor of Barney Smith’s Toilet Seat Art Museum (right), and if you catch him on a day when he’s in the shop, he’ll proudly show you his collection of more than 1,000 specimens, each meticulously hand-carved, decorated and cataloged with a unique serial number. I know. I’ve been there. It’s amazing.
The Toilet Seat Art Museum is one of hundreds of odd and unique roadside attractions captured in RoadsideAmerica.com, a site that can entertain you for hours with its collection of weird and wonderful examples of human creativity and absurdity. Here you’ll find a monument to Bobbie the Wonder Dog, a pet who found his way across 2,400 miles of wilderness in 1924 to return to his Oregon home. Or you can read about Stephen Guman of Naugatuck, CT, who has built a castle out of 396,000 Popsicle sticks. Consult it before your next road trip. You may never reach your destination.
Eric Schwartzman and I are deep into the research for our forthcoming book on business-to-business social media and lately we’ve been learning what makes communities tick. Online gathering places for business professionals actually predate the commercial Internet by more than a decade, having established themselves as an effective form of peer support back in the days of Compuserve and Usenet. With the addition of profiling, friending and other features of modern social networks, there are more opportunities than ever to use communities to bind customers closer to your company.
Communities have a lot of value outside of support. They can be used to test new product ideas, generate feedback, spread a message and enlist new customers. I’ve recently spoken to people who administer such successful b-to-b social networks as Spiceworks, element 14, AuntMinnie, the SAP Developer Network and others to learn what works with business professionals. In the process, I’ve learned to understand the difference between consumer and business communities. Here are some highlights.
B-to-b customers are motivated by professional, rather than personal interests. This may seem obvious, but when you think about it, there are big implications for the way you approach a community. The essence of many consumer social networks is playfulness, chitchat and commentary on popular topics in the news. Much of this content doesn’t play well in a b-to-b environment. While some community administrators report that political and even sports topics spur conversation, by and large the membership has problems to solve and little time to waste. Keep the navigation simple and the gimmickry to a minimum. I’ve always liked LinkedIn’s look and feel because it reflects its utility so well. LinkedIn’s look is almost aggressively boring, but the message is that it’s a place to get work done, not to mess around.
Engagement is difficult. The term “engagement” has become almost cliché in its role as the Holy Grail of social media marketing. Facebook is an engagement machine. The company claims the average user spends more than 55 minutes per day on the site. That’s great for Facebook, but most businesses would fire an employee who did that.
Business professionals are focused on solving problems, and that makes their social network behavior quite different from consumers’. In its “Social Technographics of Business Buyers” study published about a year ago, Forrester Research observed that “buyers will participate socially when they need to solve problems or evaluate progress; otherwise they are off running their companies.” In other words, a network that has a high “time spent on site” number may be attracting the wrong people (or may just be difficult to navigate). When building a b-to-b community, accept the fact that a lot of people may register once and never come back. Factors such as search engine performance and unique visitor growth may be more important than time spent reading because they indicate that your community is providing content that other people are discovering and finding valuable.
It’s all about the job. Back in my tech publishing days, I used to joke that when a CIO approached us offering to author an article, it almost invariably meant he was looking for a job. That observation was later validated by prominent business magazine (I think it was Fortune) that suggested that the acronym CIO actually stood for “Career Is Over.” I would later learn that CIOs were in almost constant job search mode. They were in visible and pressurized situations and frequently took the fall when things went wrong.
Today, a lot more people are in that boat. Layoffs are everyday occurrences and unforgiving markets have made job security a joke. Forget allegiance to one’s employer. Business professionals today are constantly on the lookout for opportunities to network, showcase their stuff and be ready when the ax falls. Keep this in mind and give people ample opportunity to connect with each other. Which is one of the reasons you should…
Enable people to build personal brands. Nearly every successful professional social network I’ve encountered has some kind of a points system or other tool for elevating the status of individual members. In extreme cases, such as that of TopCoder, the most innovative and productive members of the community can win cash prizes. However, it’s remarkable how much people will contribute to the collective simply for the visibility. As Tabrez Syed, director of products at the 800,000-member Spiceworks community said, “It’s amazing how much people are willing to give back.”
Part of this is human nature, I suppose, but there’s a practical element as well. Visible contributors gain status that leads to jobs and consulting assignments. A few years ago, it was almost impossible to build one’s reputation this way, but social networks have created a way to build status based solely on a person’s contributions. SAP, which has one of the most impressive communities programs I’ve seen, recognizes its most valuable members at annual conferences. These people are rock stars, which has all kinds of benefits to them.
In the coming weeks, I’ll be talking to owners of successful communities aimed at doctors, human resources professionals and food service managers. I’m sure there’ll be more to report.
Upcoming and Ongoing
My new 65-slide mega-presentation entitled “B-to-B Social Media: A Quiet Giant” is now available on SlideShare. Feel free to borrow from it. I only ask for attribution. This presentation was briefly the most tweeted slide deck on SlideShare early this week, but fell off the home page a couple of hours later. Fame is so fleeting :-).
If you’re a member of the Public Relations Society of America, consider tuning in for my March 2 webcast on Consumer-Generated Advertising. This is an interesting topic that I’ve enjoyed researching. A lot of brands are experimenting with CGA these days and many are experiencing disappointment. I think you have to go in with your eyes wide open and be ready to kiss a lot of frogs before finding your prince.
Tip of the Week: Giveaway of the Day
Everyone likes something for nothing, right? It turns out giveaways can be good business, too. Software companies are increasingly promoting their products through limited-time giveaways in which visitors can download full-featured versions absolutely free. Promotions typically last anywhere from 24 hours to a couple of weeks. The idea is that paid upgrades and word-of-mouth marketing will spread the word better than expensive advertising. Giveaway of the Day is my new discovery. Subscribe to its newsletter or RSS feed to get a daily notification of a new limited-time download. There’s a parallel site for games. And don’t forget to bookmark my favorite free software site, Gizmo’s Freeware. Started by a retired IT manager in Australia, it offers a massive collection of full-function freeware that can address about 95% of the average PC user’s needs. A volunteer staff of reviewers provides guidance and insight.
Just For Fun: Ruminations
“It’s never more important to me to look my best than when I’m gonna be around someone I can’t stand.”
“I don’t understand the purpose of the line, ‘I don’t need to drink to have fun.’ No one does. But why start a fire with flint and sticks when they’ve invented the lighter?”
Those are just three of the gems from Ruminations, a website that accepts short, funny, original observations or anecdotes and then encourages its members to vote them up or down the popularity scale. Reading Ruminations is like listening to a nonstop Steven Wright standup routine. Many of the contributions are hilarious, but some of them make you ponder the odd, illogical and bizarre things that humans do. “How many times is it appropriate to say ‘What?’ before you just nod and smile because you still didn’t hear what they said?” asks one contributor. The site was started by author and comedian Aaron Karo (above), who has a newsletter by the same name.
I’ve recently worked with several companies that are trying to bring some order to their social media activities. I’ve found that most have the same problem: They’ve dabbled in blogs, Twitter and Facebook fan pages but after several months they lack traffic, followers and fans. They’re frustrated and confused. Wasn’t this supposed to be a cheap and easy way to build their brand and bring in sales?
Social media is cheap but it isn’t easy. With millions of bloggers and Facebook pages online, building visibility is a challenge that demands time. More importantly, it demands a strategy, and that’s where businesses usually don’t go far enough. There’s nothing wrong with diving in and using the tools. In fact, I encourage experimentation. But before you invest significant time in social media, you need a plan.
Here’s the four-stage process I walk then through.
Define the Objective – Social media tools are only tools. Without an underlying strategy, they have about as much benefit as a plumber’s wrench has to fixing a hole in the wall. Most business objectives demand a mix of online and offline tools, and social media may have little or no value. Start with the objective and work backwards. Common business objectives range from building thought leadership to generating leads, cutting customer service costs and recruiting quality employees. Each demands different strategies and tools. If you start with the objective, the rest of the process is easier.
Identify Metrics – Here I steal shamelessly from measurement queen Katie Paine, who believes that any goal can be measured. In many cases, relevant metrics have nothing to do with the Internet. They can include yardsticks such as:
- Positive mentions in mainstream media outlets;
- Quantity of new job applicants;
- Speaking invitations;
- Reduction in help desk calls;
- Improvements in Net Promoter Scores; and, of course
- Increased sales.
Note that many of these examples have nothing to do with Web analytics. Friends, followers and fans have little value if they don’t achieve the business goal. Don’t go overboard on metrics. Choose three or four that are meaningful to your goal and define standards of success, like a doubling of Facebook fans in a six-month period. Then revisit your progress every three months and adjust (or choose new metrics).
Define Tactics – How are you going to use online and offline channels to reach your goals? Consider all the options. For example, thought leadership may be enhanced by blogging and tweeting, but an equally effective strategy may be growing the quantity of speaking engagements or starting a local professional group. Consider location. The Internet provides a great way to increase international exposure but it may be of little help in growing visibility within your local geography. That goal may be better addressed by increasing activity in local trade associations or advertising on radio. Tactics are enabled by tools, so you need these plans in place before you start blogging or tweeting
Choose Tools – This is where many companies start their social media journey, but it really is where they should end it. Different tools are good for different purposes. For example, Twitter is an excellent news delivery vehicle while Facebook is better for creating a feedback loop. My book, Secrets Of Social Media Marketing, has a more complete selection grid. Also, many businesses are now learning how to use multiple tools in concert to magnify their impact.
Appropriate tools also may have nothing to do with the Internet. For example, starting a local chapter of a professional trade association or submitting speaking proposals to conference organizers can be a great way to network or build visibility. You can also combine offline and online tactics, such as promoting an upcoming speech through the media while seeking interviews with prominent bloggers.
This is the basic framework I use for discussion, and I find that the structured approach helps focus my clients. When you really think about your business goals, it’s surprising to discover how many of the tactics come down to good old-fashioned person-to-person relationships. Online tools can certainly help there, but sometimes a phone call or a lunch meeting is worth 1,000 tweets.
Book authors endure several months of agony between the time they submit a manuscript for publication and the arrival of the first reviews. So Dana and I were pleased to read these words from the influential Library Journal about our new book, The Joy of Geocaching, which arrives in April:
Longtime tech writer Gillin and his wife, Dana, an editor, are the perfect ambassadors for geocaching. Their book imparts all the how-to that a budding enthusiast needs to get started while also including lots of funny and interesting anecdotes that will communicate to the completely unfamiliar reader just why the sport is exploding in popularity.
Tip of the Week: Posterous
If you have accounts with more than one social media service these days (and who doesn’t?), then Posterous can save you time and increase your online footprint. I got interested in Posterous, which is one of a expanding category of so-called “lifestreaming” services, after I read that PR super blogger Steve Rubel had mothballed his popular Micro Persuasion blog last June and shifted all his activities to Posterous. Lifestreaming tools radiate your messages out to all the social networking services you use. Instead of sending a message as a tweet, I can e-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org and it will appear almost instantly on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, FriendFeed, Flickr and Delicious. No added work on my end. The service supports dozens of other destinations, including YouTube and blogs.
Posterous does some clever things in interpreting the messages you send. For example, if you include a link to a photo, it automatically reformats and resizes the image for the selected destination. It also knows not to attempt to post an entire blog entry to a social bookmarking site but rather to publish a headline and link. There are many other dials and switches that I haven’t investigated yet, but the service is already saving me time and drudgery. Another popular lifestreaming service is ping.fm and others are on the way. In addition, many social networks and bookmark sites are incorporating cross-posting as a basic feature.
The downside of lifestreaming is that it multiplies the amount of noise in an already cacophonous Internet. But it also multiplies your opportunity to be heard. There are big implications to this, which I explore in my column in BtoB magazine next week and will expand upon in future editions of this newsletter.
Just For Fun: Funny Street View Photos
Google is in the process of photographing as much of the habitable world as it can for its Street View service. As its camera-equipped vehicles methodically troll the streets capturing images, they occasionally come across some funny and bizarre scenes. A blogger has captured some of the weirder ones at the Top 100 Funniest Google Street View Pictures, such as this one showing a man apparently trying to break into a house. They’re presented along with links to the image on the original map. I’m sure there are plenty of others that didn’t make this list, but it’s a good start.
As we head into the second decade of the new millennium (okay, it technically doesn’t begin for another year, but stick with me), it’s worth remembering where media stood just 10 years ago.
In January, 2000, few people had heard of Google. Online advertising was banners and e-mails. Big media brands dominated the Web. U.S. newspaper ad revenue would hit record high levels in 2000. Newsroom employment would peak in 2001 as newsstand sales of the top 100 magazines approached 30 million. No one had heard of blogs. People used mobile phones to talk.
Fast forward to 2009. Last year, people spent six billion minutes on Facebook, downloaded one billion YouTube videos and logged over 1.4 million blog entries every day. The iPhone became the first mobile phone to be used more for data than for voice. The Internet became the second most popular news medium behind television. Wikipedia posted its three millionth article.
The statistics go on and on. In just 10 years, our century-old mass-market media model has given way to a new structure dominated by the economics of the individual. Customers now take their opinions directly to the market. Woe to organizations that don’t listen.
The contraction of mass-market media has brought plenty of pain. Tens of thousands of media professionals have lost their jobs in the past two years, crowdsourcing has sent some professional fees into a tailspin and veteran marketers are under threat if they don’t “get” social media. But this pain is necessary, even beneficial in the long run.
Media has historically been one of the least efficient industries on the planet. It’s a business that declares success if only 97% of its audience ignores an ad or tosses a mailer into the trash. It gains one customer at the expense of annoying 50 bystanders.
When department store magnate John Wanamaker said half his ad dollars were wasted, but he didn’t know which half, he was being generous.
The new Internet has flipped the economics. As media control has passed from institutions to individuals, waste has begun to work out of the system. The cost of reaching a targeted customer will only decline in the years to come. Sadly, these changes will also devastate those industries and professions that thrived on media’s historical inefficiency.
While mourning the loss of comfort and security that old media once provided, we shouldn’t get caught up looking backward. More competitive markets will bring new options for reaching customers. The marketers who survive will be those who put the past behind them and move quickly to take advantage of these new efficiencies.
Let’s start the year not by regretting the losses of the last decade, but by learning the skills we’ll need to survive the next.
What changes will we be looking back upon a decade from now? Post your comments on the blogged version of this article.
My Next Book Will Be For B2B Marketers
More than 50 books about social media were published in 2009, but not a single one targeted business-to-business marketers. It’s hard to believe, but Amazon doesn’t lie.
Eric Schwartzman and I intend to fill that gap. We’ve teamed up to write a new book under the working title of Social Media Marketing to the Business Customer for publication late this year or early next.The book will focus on issues that are unique to the B2B: disclosure, regulation, internal resistance, policies, legal issues and more.
Eric (pictured here) is the innovator behind the iPressroom service that many large companies use for their online media destinations. He’s also host of the On the Record…Online podcast series. Over nearly six years, he’s recorded audio interviews with almost 200 marketers and journalists about how the Internet has affected their work. It’s an amazing archive.
Eric and I will spend the next six months researching this book, and we welcome your guidance and expertise. The draft outline has been posted online and we invite you to share your thoughts. We’ll also be looking for good case studies of B2B marketers who have implemented successful social media programs. And if you’re willing to bare your soul and tell us about a campaign that DIDN’T go well, we’re particularly interested in talking to you. We’ll be gentle, I promise. 🙂
Just reply to this e-mail if you want to reach me. I will be posting updates on the research on my blog as we move forward. Forwards and retweets are more than welcome as we steam toward the June 30 manuscript deadline.
One More Plea to Take My Survey
Just before the holidays, I wrote you about a research report I’m preparing on multi-platform social media strategies. Marketers are beginning to expand beyond using point tools such as blogs and Facebook fan pages in favor of multi-platform programs that incorporate elements like video, podcasts, social networks, Twitter and branded customer communities all working together. I’m finding that combining several tools can greatly enhance the reach and impact of a program.
I’ve posted a survey to try to identify the most valuable scenarios and tools for multi-platform campaigns. If you can spare 10 minutes, please fill it out. I’m also lining up one-on-one interviews with marketers at mid-sized and large companies who can speak on the record about their experiences using multiple platforms. Please contact me if you’re willing to speak.
Tip of the Week: HandBrake Video Transcoder
I don’t know who first said, “The great thing about standards is that there are so many of them,” but he or she must have been talking about online video. If you’re trying to convert a video taken with a digital camera and post it on a couple of different websites, you may need to reformat — it’s called “transcoding” — two or three times in the process. And, of course, Apple doesn’t read Microsoft and vice versa.
Until recently, the only way to do this was with software that was either expensive, limited in functionality or insanely difficult to use. So I was grateful recently to find HandBrake, an open-source software program that accepts just about any video format you throw at it and spits out a file in almost any other format. HandBrake is fast and the default settings are easy to use. If you want to geek out, there are about a thousand dials and knobs you can play with. And since it’s open source, HandBrake will improve over time. Try it!
Just For Fun: Tweeting Greyhounds
Those of you who follow my Twitter stream may know that my wife, Dana, and I recently adopted a greyhound named Jacoby (right). It was Jacoby’s second day home when Dana thought of creating a Twitter account for our new dog. He now has 64 followers and is listed on 8 Twitter lists. There are several dozen dogs on Twitter, who share the daily adventures of their lives, and Jacoby is no exception. If you think this is silly, check out some of the other lists that people have made on Listorious. And go follow Jacoby.
As a producer, host or speaker on more than 300 podcasts, I’ve learned a bit about the craft. Here are 11 tips for making your appearance as a podcast guest the best it can be.
1. If possible, read the questions or script in advance
Unless you’re comfortable shooting from the hip, you should know what questions will be asked of you. Change or delete any questions you’re uncomfortable with. Hosts usually want you to sound your best and will willingly comply.
2. Jot down a few notes…
…but don’t prepare a script. If you script your answers, the interview will sound wooden and artificial. It’s better to work from talking points.
3. Find a quiet place
Avoid open windows and doors, shut off air conditioners for the duration of the recording and silence cell phones and computers.
4. Use a landline phone
When it comes to reliability and sound quality, you still can’t beat a wire.
4a. Use Skype
The quality of VOIP services absolutely rocks, but you need access and a few dollars’ worth of hardware to use them. Also, many corporations block Skype access and the service does you no good unless both parties on the call are using it. That’s why this recommendation doesn’t merit a full-blown tip.
5. If possible, use a headset
It’s more comfortable and minimizes the risk of distortion from contact with the microphone.
6. Speak at a measured pace
You’re talking faster than you think you are. Slow down and articulate. Think about what you’re going to say before you say it. This is a recording, so we can edit out the pauses.
7. Be animated
Use your voice to add texture. Vary the pitch, speed and volume to emphasize or downplay parts of the message. Avoid speaking in a monotone. Nothing will lose a listener’s interest faster than that.
8. Don’t hesitate to start over
If you start a sentence and then get lost, stop, take a breath, collect your thoughts and begin again. Fumbles can be edited out.
9. Time your answers
Figure 60 to 90 seconds for an answer. Beyond that, you had better be interesting, because your audience’s attention span begins to wane.
10. Beware of verbal tics
These really stand out in a recorded interview. Some common bad habits include “Like,” “You know,” “OK” and “Ummmm.” Minimize them. No one is competing with you for the microphone, so take your time and speak deliberately and in complete sentences. Sometimes you can’t help your tics. In that case, they can be fixed in the editing process. If losing them is too distracting, don’t let this point trip you up.
11. Review the show notes
Podcasts should always include a written companion in the form of a blog entry. Be sure this information reflects accurately what you said. It’s the only information the search engines will see.
A note on length
The most common question I’m asked about podcasts is what is the ideal length? At the risk of being flip, my answer is “As long as it’s interesting.” I really mean that. If you look at the 10 most highly rated podcasts of all time at IT Conversations, they average a remarkable 55 minutes. Having listened to many of these programs, I can tell you that the speakers could easily keep me engaged much longer than that. In contrast, I have listened to excruciatingly dull podcasts that lasted less than 10 minutes.
What’s the difference? Uninspired content – often rooted in a product pitch – and lack of stories that bring the message to life. Storytelling is the most basic of human communication devices, yet it’s amazing how few communicators use it. A podcast is not a research paper or a collateral sheet. It is a human voice, which is the oldest form of rich communications. Use your voice to its fullest potential, tell stories and make the interaction personal. That’s what will keep your audience engaged. And when they’re engaged, no one cares how long you talk.
Customer-Generated Advertising – A PRSA Webinar
“Crowdsourcing” is an appealing new option for marketers who want to spread their advertising messages through low-cost peer-to-peer channels. Enthusiasts can be recruited to become brand advocates for products that they love, spreading the word through their social networks, Facebook friendships and Twitter streams. Contests are an increasingly popular means of leveraging customer creativity to build grassroots campaigns. This webinar features examples of successful customer-generated advertising promotions in both business-to-consumer and business-to-business contexts. Attendees will learn:
- Appropriate scenarios for applying crowdsourced promotion
- How to generate ideas that spur customer creativity
- Low-cost incentives to build participation
- Basics of measuring results
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.”
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)
World Without Media – Now With Voice
I’ve posted an audio-annotated version of my presentation “World Without Media: What Will Fill the Void?” which was prepared for the Society of New Communication Research’s New Communications Forum in April. The presentation was featured on the News & Politics home page of SlideShare.net the day after it was posted and has been viewed more than 1,300 times. The presentation assesses what the media landscape of the future will look like and what that means for businesses that are trying to reach their constituents today.
Google Wave is a Disruptor
Google’s new Wave environment is a powerful evolution of a wiki metaphor that incorporates Twitter-like messaging, document sharing and an open standards architecture that encourages users to share their workspaces all over the Web. It could reshape the collaboration world in some important ways. My first take is here.
Tip of the Week: GFI Backup
If you worry about preserving the sanctity of your critical files and back them up using a copy and paste approach, then take a look at GFI Backup. The free home edition of this professional backup software is plenty powerful for individual use and includes options like automatic compression and incremental backup, which only saves files that have changed since the last backup session.
Just for Fun: Deadmalls.com
“Malls are being mauled. In case you’ve been paying closer attention to Wall Street or the housing market, rest assured that America’s once-bustling shopping meccas are doing just as poorly,” reads an entry from the blog at Deadmalls.com, a site devoted to preserving the history of shopping malls and documenting their decline. America’s shopping malls are in deep trouble, battered by the twin forces of falling department store sales and recessionary pressure. Deadmalls.com has news about America’s largest retail destinations and the factors contributing to their demise. Fun? Not so much. But kind of fascinating.
Here is an audio-annotated version of my presentation “World Without Media: What Will Fill the Void?” which was prepared for the Society of New Communication Research’s New Communications Forum in April, 2009. The presentation was featured on the News & Politics home page of SlideShare.net the day after it was posted. Description follows:
We are witnessing the rapid collapse of media institutions that have existed for more than a century. The newspaper industry is undergoing a process of ritual destruction. Broadcast markets are fragmenting into a patchwork of special interests. The next generation of consumers relies on Facebook friends to deliver the kind of value formerly provided by The New York Times. These trends are scary to those of us who have grown up in a world of mass media, but they are inevitable and they will ultimately give birth to a new breed of special interest media that will be richer, more diverse and less predictable than the institutions they replace.
For now, we’re in an uneasy middle stage: Trusted institutions are going away but the institutions that will replace them have yet to be defined. What does the media landscape of the future look like and what does this mean for businesses that are trying to reach their constituents?
Ask a room full of college students and a room full of business professionals “Who belongs to LinkedIn?” and the results will be almost a mirror opposite of each other. Facebook is the social network for after-hours fun. In contrast, LinkedIn is for business professionals. It’s a buttoned-down, no-nonsense business destination with a two-color, text-heavy design that almost screams “Boring!”
LinkedIn is anything but boring, however. Its value as a way to establish and further business relationships is unparalleled, thanks to the unique services it offers. If you signed up long ago and forgot about it, I recommend you take another look.
Like any social network, LinkedIn has personal profiles, groups, and the concept of “friends,” which it calls “connections.” Its most distinctive feature is based on these connections: a six-degrees-of-separation structure that enables members to connect to people they don’t necessarily know through intermediaries within their trusted circle. It’s the online equivalent of arranging an introduction.
Personally, I don’t find this feature all that useful, but connections are the core of other LinkedIn features that I do like. One is Answers, a section where members can post their questions about nearly anything to a select group of connections or to the entire membership. Answers is a great way to get questions resolved quickly, but it’s also a means to expose your skills. Believe it or not, some people answer more than 200 questions a week on LinkedIn. One reason for their generosity: the site enables members to rate the quality of responses and showcases the most prolific contributors in a Hall of Fame section (the all-time leader has answered an incredible 14,000 questions).
LinkedIn is also unparalleled in its database of company information, but it takes a bottoms-up approach, focusing not on corporate leadership but rather on individual employees. If you need to find a specific person within a company or just check out a potential partner or employer, you can go in through the back door by consulting current employees. LinkedIn will tell you if you have a direct or second-degree connection to the people you seek.
Job listings go beyond the standard titles and descriptions to provide contact information for people within the companies that advertise opportunities. If a job interests you, you can click through to find out who you know at the company and then contact that person for insight or a referral. LinkedIn also excels at search engine performance. Its public profiles do so well on Google that they frequently outrank personal websites in search results. I don’t know the secret, but I suspect that the site’s system of internal links is partially responsible. This alone is enough reason to set up your personal profile.
Given all this career-boosting utility, it’s not surprising that traffic to LinkedIn reportedly doubled in the weeks following the stock market meltdown. Members can brush up their personal profiles by swapping recommendations with others, updating their qualifications and showcasing their expertise through integrated applications. Unlike Facebook, LinkedIn keeps a tight rein on the applications it chooses to support, limiting the current selection to just 10 business-focused services.
While LinkedIn doesn’t have nearly the membership numbers of Facebook, its business focus is an advantage. The CEO was recently quoted saying that the demographics of LinkedIn members are better than those of Wall Street Journal subscribers. In troubled times, that’s a very good place to be.
World Without Media
While in San Francisco last week, I delivered a presentation to the New Comm Forum with a title that was meant to be provocative: “World Without Media: What Will Fill the Void?” The premise was that the existing media world is collapsing with stunning speed and the new media organizations have yet to develop to provide the kind of trusted advice that we have come to expect from these institutions. We are in for some scary times while we sort it all out, although I believe we will be better off in the long run. Please view and/or download the presentation on SlideShare.
Tip of the Week – Compress PowerPoint Files
Do your PowerPoint presentations swell to gargantuan proportions? It’s not unusual for image-laden slide decks to reach 15 MB or more, which makes them unwieldy to send. Some e-mail servers won’t even accept files that large. The culprit is usually images. Large photo files can total several megabytes in size, and cropping and resizing them doesn’t change that. There is a handy feature in PowerPoint, however, that cuts out unused real estate and compresses images into the size needed to display them on the screen. Simply right click on any photo in the slide deck, choose Format Picture… then the Picture tab and then click the Compress… button. Choose All pictures in document, select Web/Screen resolution and check the boxes to compress the pictures and delete cropped areas. I tried this on one large PowerPoint file and reduced the size from 13MB to 5MB. Your mileage will vary, but your presentation will always be more compact for it.
Just for Fun – World’s Scariest Bridges
If the photo at right scares the bejeezus out of you – as it does me – then you probably don’t want to spend much time looking at this gallery of the most dangerous rope bridges in the world. “You can find a wide variety of these bridges in countries like India, Malaysia, Philippines, New Zealand, Pakistan, Nepal, as well as in the interiors of some other countries,” says the site, in a description that serves as a warning against traveling in those countries. It’s hard to believe that anyone would set foot on some of these contraptions, which appear to come right out of an Indiana Jones movie. Then again, maybe staying in the same place is worse.