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Millennials: Coming Soon to a Cubicle Near You

August 26, 2010 by  
Filed under Newsletter

This weekend I’ll pack my daughter off to college, so as a little celebration, I took her and a friend to a Six Flags amusement park this week. As we drove west on the Massachusetts Turnpike, I took the opportunity to eavesdrop on the conversation in the back seat, affording me one of my too-rare glimpses into the world of Millennials.

During the 75-minute drive, I listened to the girls talk excitedly about the people they would soon meet in person for the first time. They already knew many of them, of course. Thanks to Facebook, they had been building connections with future classmates since the late spring. When today’s students arrive on campus, they already know dozens of others.
My daughter, Alice, had already “spoken” to her future roommate several times. I use the term figuratively because Alice hates to talk on the telephone, as do most of her friends. By “speak”, she means text messages, instant messaging sessions, wall posts and maybe a few webcam interactions. For today’s teens, interaction with friends is multi-channel and multimedia.
I actually shouldn’t say Alice hates talking on the phone. She just can’t fathom doing nothing but talking. Her favorite context for conversation these days is a massively multi-player game where friends can slay dragons and battle wizards while chatting about the same things their parents talked about: music, school and romance.
Much has changed there as well. Thanks to MySpace pages and BitTorrent, Millennials have constant and immediate access to the latest music and video. They like the top artists, of course, but along with Lady Gaga (left) they favor an assortment of bands I’ve never heard of that cater to eclectic tastes. When I was their age, I learned of new artists from cassette tapes exchanged between friends. Today, a link in an instant message does the same thing, and Apple’s Genius and Pandora make the process programmatic.
Relationships? Well, after listening to two teenagers talk for an hour, it dawned on me that there were people they felt very strongly about whom they had actually never met. One of Alice’s best friends lives in Texas. Their relationship was already well established last year long before they met each other for the first time.
It’s not unusual to hear terms like “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” applied to virtual relationships. Nor is it surprising to hear of relationships ending in novel ways. Two years ago, I listened in as a group of Alice’s classmates spoke of a friend who had just ended a romance. Everyone in the group knew the news except the guy who had been dumped. He hadn’t read the message yet.
Sound strange? A survey of teens this year by textPlus found that 30% percent said they’ve broken up with someone or been dumped via text message. Call it passive aggressive or conflict avoidance or whatever you want; it’s the way things are.
Coming To Your Town
And so they head off to college, and in four years they will enter a workplace that understands little about their values and systems. They will encounter managers who believe that Facebook is a productivity drain and who would rather employees spend an hour in traffic jams each day than get work done from home.
They will have their first brush with cover-your-ass thinking and will sit in meetings that waste hours of time so that everyone in the room can be “in the loop.”
They will encounter rigid, top-down hierarchies in which risk is avoided and decisions are unchallenged. They will find mid-level managers who hoard information out of fear that sharing will threaten their job security.
They will wonder how anything gets done in environments like these and they will gravitate toward those companies that discard tradition. They’re young, confident and coming to your town. Are you ready?

MediaBlather is Back

Shortly after recording our 100th episode of the MediaBlather podcast, David Strom and I took a break during the first half of this year. But we’re tanned, rested and back in action now with new podcasts posting every couple of weeks.

In Identity Crisis, we discussed the helplessness that BP felt as its Twitter identity was hijacked by an anonymous critic. Freelance Destruction looked at the plummeting pay rates in the freelance market and assessed the impact that would have on traditionally trusted sources of advice such as product reviews. The bad news: technology reviews have taken a turn for the worse. The good news: people like David Strom are figuring out new models.We’re always looking for guests and ideas, so if you’ve got an interesting story to tell or a new book to promote, drop me a line and we’ll get you on the show.

MediaBlather


Tip of the Week: OneForty.com

Twitter has unleashed a torrent of creative energy in the form of applications and websites that do everything from automatically unfollow people to calculate the total potential reach of a tweet. The problem is keeping up with them all. The crowdsourced Twitter Fan Wiki is a great resource, but its organization is weak and it’s not always up to date. It can also be overwhelming: The apps listing page runs to 20,000 words.
OneForty.comEnter OneForty.com, a startup dedicated to finding and rating the best Twitter applications. Its site is clean, easy to use and chock-full of intelligent reviews, many by business customers. The founder and CEO is Laura Fitton (@pistachio), co-author of Twitter for Dummies, and a visionary who saw the potential of this platform long before it became a staple of corporate marketers. Check it out; it will help you tell your app from your elbow.

Just For Fun: Amazing Tattoos

Amazing TattoosI’ll admit I’m not much for tattoos. It’s not the pain that scares me; it’s just that they’re so, well, permanent. Nevertheless, I do appreciate great craftsmanship, and this selection of 40 amazing tattoos demonstrates what today’s technology can achieve using flesh as the principal medium.

Note: Some of these images are a little disturbing, so if you have a weak stomach, look elsewhere. At least you don’t have to live with them etched into your arm!

What Geocaching Taught Me About Social Networks

March 12, 2010 by  
Filed under Newsletter

The Joy Of Geocaching, a labor of love that my wife Dana and I have been working on seemingly since the Reagan administration, arrived at the publisher’s warehouse this week. This project began in July, 2008 and proceeded through many twists and turns – including the demise of our first publisher – before reaching the finish line.

Publication of a book is a good time to reflect on what you’ve learned and I realize now how much I learned about social networking from this project.

If you’re not familiar with geocaching, it’s an outdoor game played by three to four million mostly adults worldwide. Players hunt for hidden containers using global positioning receivers. The geographic coordinates of the containers – which can range in size from the tip of a pencil eraser to, in one case, a Nissan Pathfinder – are published at Geocaching.com. The photo shows an example of a particularly clever container.

All containers must contain a paper log, but nothing more is required. The joy of geocaching is in the hunt and the reward of finding a geocache is nothing more than satisfaction. Geocaching.com recorded its one millionth active geocache placement early this week.

Sounds simple and maybe a little weird, right? I certainly thought so at first. But as Dana and I began to geocache and then talk to people who love the game, we found that an enormous social network had developed around it. People were forming new relationships, repairing old ones, improving their health and re-connecting with nature in ways that would have been impossible without technology.

Passion for Cachin’
We met people who have logged more than 35,000 finds over the last eight years. One small circle of friends drove 12,000 miles – and flew another 10,000 – in a mad dash to find a geocache in all 50 states in 10 days. Another team spent weeks planning a speed run that netted a record 413 finds in 24 hours. Their record was broken just five months later.

We met an elite group of “extreme geocachers” who pursue containers hidden under water, on abandoned railroad trestles, deep in mine shafts and at the top of 100-foot sheer rock cliffs. Then there are the people who hide caches. Some of them spend days constructing elaborate themed networks consisting of dozens of containers. Others concoct puzzles so devious that we didn’t know where even to begin to solve them.

The social network that ties this community together is a quirky website run by a rather reclusive profit organization in Seattle called Groundspeak. The Geocaching.com website is basically a database with a few HTML pages and some query forms. It has almost none of the trappings of Web 2.0, not even photo tags. The only means users have to create content is its rigidly formatted description pages and comment forms.

Human Ingenuity

Yet despite those limitations, the geocaching community has done some wonderfully inventive things. Geocaching has its own language. More than 100 clubs and associations have sprung up in all 50 states and overseas. Geocachers arrange community cleanups, stage fund-raising events and help each other in times of need. They created “event caches” long before the concept of the unconference caught on. And they’ve done this without any prompting from above, using a simple website built around a simple game.

Here are some lessons I’ve learned:
There Is No Substitute For Passion. Groundspeak does almost nothing to market the game. It provides an online meeting place, a newsletter and some basic services in exchange for a $30 annual fee. Geocaching has spread to an audience of more than three million players entirely by word of mouth. The one million records in its database have each been meticulously reviewed by a team of volunteers.

It’s Not About Technology. The Geocaching.com website is five years behind the technology curve. It has some rudimentary Web 2.0 features, but few members use them. The website really does only one thing well, but that’s all its users ask it to do. Too much technology would actually complicate the experience.

People Basically Want To Do The Right Thing. Every community has its petty rivalries, but in interviews with more than 60 enthusiasts and casual conversations with many more, we encountered only one case in which a dispute resulted in the destruction of personal property (a geocache). In contrast, we heard dozens of stories about geocachers putting their personal safety in the hands of total strangers simply because the person was another geocacher.

Peer Recognition Matters. One of Groundspeak’s early innovations was to keep a running tally on its website of each member’s total hides and finds. This is a source of a constant friendly rivalry among players. Top geocachers not only know their own tallies but also the totals of those nearest to them in the hierarchy.The drive to be visible is an incredible motivator.

Simple Succeeds. I noted in a column last year the irony that Twitter, with its stripped-down simplicity, has been a social media mega-hit while the technically elegant but byzantine Second Life has faded into a niche. In the same ways, geocaching succeeds because it keeps the rules simple. This has enabled players to develop an incredibly rich variety of variations, and Groundspeak has commendably remained open to letting them take the game where they wish.

The Joy  of Geocaching coverThere’s so much more I could say (224 pages worth, in fact!) about this remarkable community, and I’m hoping to develop a presentation around this topic for business audiences. It will include lots of funny, scary and touching stories that we learned in our research and show how online connections can contribute to more meaningful real-world relationships.

I need a sponsor, though, so if your company or group is interested in bringing me in for an entertaining and instructive one-hour session on how an online network can drive millions of people into the woods to reconnect with nature, please drop me a line.

Last Call: Early-Bird Discount at NewComm Forum

The NewComm Forum, April 20-23 in San Mateo, CA, if one of the best-kept new-media conference secrets. Just have a look at the speakers and sessions. This is an essential conference if you want to know what’s coming in this rapidly developing field. My newsletter subscribers get a special discount on top of the early-bird rate by using discount code NCF118, but hurry, because today is the last day for early-bird savings!

Quick Survey: How Do You “Sell” Social Media?

As part of the research for a business-to-business social marketing book that Eric Schwartzman and I are co-authoring (Wiley, late 2010), I’d like to ask you to take this quick survey about how you “sell” social marketing to your internal stakeholders. It’s four questions and won’t take three minutes. Promise. Thanks so much!

Tip of the Week: Geocaching Swiss Army Knife

I’ve got geocaching on the brain this week, so if you’re into the game, or planning to give it a try, be aware of the most powerful software tool available to serious geocachers.

It’s called Geocaching Swiss Army Knife (GSAK), and every serious geocacher I know uses it. Created by an Australian former IT manager, GSAK is a powerful database manager for geocaches. You can use it to store details about thousands of caches and select your targets with a high degree of precision. So if you want an easy day of caching with a few simple targets within walking distance of your hotel, a simple query will give you a list you can load into your GPS receiver and go. You can also annotate cache listings with your own notes, create a list of caches along a route, store queries for later use and see the caches you’ve selected displayed on a map.

GSAK is a free download, but a nag screen kicks in after a few weeks. Most serious users opt to pay the modest $25 fee for a lifetime license.

Just For Fun: Probably Bad News

The folks who brought you the wonderful Fail Blog have aggregated some of their best media miscues into Probably Bad News, a site whose tagline is “News Fails, because journalism isn’t dying fast enough.” You can upload your own favorite typos, double entendres and acts of sheer stupidity for others to vote upon. Many of the examples involve computers gone haywire, which lack the sheer hilarity of printed mistakes, in my view. But there’s some good stuff there, anyway.

B-to-B Social Media in Action

February 15, 2009 by  
Filed under Newsletter

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

Let’s look at three examples of companies that are using social media for business-to-business(b-to-b) applications. All us different tools and all are effective in different ways.

Wikibon

Wikibon.org is the kind of Web 2.0 project that could disrupt a big industry. It was started two years ago by David Vellante, a veteran IT analyst who used to run the largest division of International Data Corp. Wikibon challenges an IT research model that has traditionally had customers paying tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for access to elite analysts. Traditional IT research is top-down. Wikibon is bottoms-up.

Think of it as open source advice. The more than 3,000 people who have joined Wikibon’s enterprise storage community share their expertise with each other and learn from a core group of about 40 independent consultants and experts who use the wiki to showcase their services. It’s a classic Web 2.0 give-to-get formula. The experts share their knowledge in hopes of getting business from the corporate IT specialists who visit the site. Before Wikibon, these experts had severely limited promotional channels. With Wikibon, they have an established community of prequalified business prospects.

Members have contributed 20,000 articles and edits to the archive, Vellante told me. What’s more, the time people spend browsing this rich information resource is “Facebook-like. We’re getting 20 to 30 page views per visitor.” Wikibon may not put Gartner out of business, but it is a challenging the assumption that good information has to be expensive and it’s giving some small b-to-b firms a way to reach an ideal prospect base.

GoGreenSolar

If you’ve ever done business on eBay, you know that its peer rating system is one of its great innovations. RatePoint is one of an emerging class of companies that is bringing this concept to the open Web, and GoGreenSolar is using customer reviews to its advantage.

GoGreenSolar is a small Los Angeles-based firm that sells green energy products. About 60% of its business is b-to-b. A few months ago, the company contracted with RatePoint to install a customer ratings page on its website at a cost of $18/month. RatePoint acts as a kind of validation service, verifying that customer reviews haven’t been tampered with and providing a means to arbitrate disputes. GoGreenSolar has about 20 reviews on this site, all but one of them five stars. The ratings pages quickly became one of the site’s most popular features, says founder Deep Patel. In an increasingly competitive industry where customer service is a differentiator, the ratings are helping GoGreenSolar stand out.

Patel says one of the hidden values of the ratings program is the opportunity for follow-up engagement with customers. By encouraging buyers to post their comments, “We have an opportunity to have a dialog after the transaction. That’s a sales opportunity,” he says. “People who leave reviews often come back and buy more.”

Though GoGreenSolar hasn’t had many negative reviews to worry about, Patel even sees opportunity in the occasional dissatisfied customer. The rating system is an opportunity to fix the problem and turn the customer into a source of repeat business, he said.

Emerson Process Management

You probably aren’t going to stop by the Emerson Process Experts blog for a casual read. Here’s a clip from a recent entry: “The valve supplier typically supplies the safety valve torque requirements and required leakage rates. The actuator supplier provides the torque-to-supply pressure tables. The good news for those of us a little rusty in our advanced math skills is that the equations are algebraic and the simplifying assumptions err to the side of conservative volume sizing..”

Did your eyes glaze over? This tech talks would baffle the typical visitor, but it’s music to the ears of the plant engineers and process control experts who regularly visit the blog started three years ago by Jim Cahill (left), marketing communications manager for Emerson’s Process Systems and Solutions business. It’s one of my favorite examples of good b-to-b blogging.

Emerson Process Experts is superbly focused; it doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a technical resource to a small but very important audience. Cahill is fluent in the language of the industry, but he’s also a good writer who organizes and expresses his thoughts clearly.

What’s the benefit to Emerson? The company has become a trusted source of advice to customers and prospects. Its plentiful links to other sources of information ingratiates the company with publishers. And 190 inbound links haven’t hurt its search performance: Emerson is the number one commercial link on Google for the terms “process management” and “process control.”


New Conversation Monitoring Service is Free During Test Phase

If you’ve been itching to try out one of those conversation monitoring services – the ones that tap into millions of blogs and discussion groups and pick out mentions of your company – you now have a chance to try one for free. BuzzGain is an online service for identifying chatter on blogs, photo-sharing services, video services, Twitter and traditional media. It’s co-founded by Brian Solis, a PR guy who’s very savvy about new media. According to the pitch I received, this test isn’t open to the general public: “They’re launching BuzzGain in the true spirit of public beta…They want to listen to and learn…While it’s in Beta, it will be free for everyone.”

What J&J Could Have Done

November 21, 2008 by  
Filed under Newsletter

It wasn’t exactly a repeat of the 1982 poisoned Tylenol disaster, but Johnson & Johnson was struggling with a minor crisis this week after some vocal critics derided an edgy ad that implied that new moms could suffer back pain from carrying their infants. What can we learn from this episode and was J&J’s rapid apology really the best response?

The video had actually been online for more than six weeks before a few vocal moms on Twitter began trashing it this past weekend. The ad suggests, with tongue in cheek, that new moms who bond with their babies by carrying them in slings and chest packs may be inadvertently giving themselves back pain. The message wasn’t that moms shouldn’t bond with their children but that they should be ready for the consequences.

Seems innocuous enough, but a few vocal mommy bloggers didn’t see it that way. They thought the ad was insulting to mothers and they Twittered their criticism, calling for a boycott of Motrin. Bloggers picked up on the controversy and posted more than 100 opinions about the ad, J&J’s reaction and the media frenzy that surrounded it. There were even parody ads making fun of the whole affair. Forrester’s Josh Bernoff has a good account of the controversy with links to background material.

A chastened J&J pulled the ad off its website and issued an apology on its corporate blog. The promotion “was meant to engender sympathy and appreciation for all that parents do for their kids, but did so through an attempt at humor that missed the mark and many moms found offensive,” wrote Kathy Widmer, Vice President of Marketing at McNeil Consumer Healthcare.

J&J probably had no choice but to withdraw the ad, since the criticism was threatening to swamp any benefit the company had hoped to receive. But you also have to wonder if the company hurt itself by buckling to political correctness due to pressure from a minority of critics. After all, the ad hadn’t seemed to offend anyone in particular during the first six weeks it was posted. It was only after a few outraged mommy bloggers began drawing attention to it that the criticism spiraled out of control. At that point, it was too late for J&J to explain its motives. Its critics had taken control of the conversation and anything the company did would look defensive and stubborn.

The incident quickly created a lot of soul-searching on both sides. A backlash against #motrinmoms developed, with some people criticizing the critics for practicing mob rule. Even one of the most vocal motrinmoms, Jessica Gottlieb, suggested that J&J overreacted in pulling down the ad. In fact most of the recent blogger activity has focused more on untangling what happened than debating whether J&J was right or wrong.

Here’s my take. J&J’s choice of language in the ad was arrogant and dismissive. The ad talked down to mothers and was begging for a backlash. However, that wasn’t necessarily a reason not to run it. J&J could have mitigated the criticism, or even turned it to its advantage, by using social media channels more effectively:

  • The company could have invited a select group of mommy bloggers to preview the campaign privately and offer feedback. Even if the company had elected to go ahead without making changes, it would have been able to argue that it had sought guidance from its target group. And if the moms had blessed the video, it would have been the ultimate defense for J&J.
  • The ad could have been presented in a humorous context on the Motrin site. A message like, “We know your babies aren’t a fashion accessory, but since this is International Baby-Wearing Week, we thought you’d appreciate this good-natured parody,” would have gone a long way toward heading off criticism.
  • J&J could have listened. When a blogger tracked down the head of corporate communications for J&J’s ad agency for a comment on the firestorm on Sunday afternoon, the woman professed to know nothing about the controversy. This is despite the fact that more than 2,000 Twitter messages had already been posted. Take note: the blogosphere doesn’t take weekends off.
  • The company could have jumped into the Twitterstream and engaged. It didn’t, preferring to post a rather brief statement on the blog and issue a press release. Kathy Widmer should have responded on the critics’ own turf. Her message was constructive, but a little too disconnected.
  • J&J could have been more profuse in its apologies. A big donation to Babywearing International would have been a start. Or it could have taken Jessica Gottlieb’s advice and distributed baby slings in maternity awards around the country. I’m not sure I agree that branding them with the Motrin logo would have been such a good idea.

In today’s networked world, there is no excuse for a corporation to be surprised by negative response to a controversial message. Social networks and the blogosphere offer a cheap and speedy way to anticipate criticism. Ironically, J&J is one of only two pharmaceutical companies to host a corporate blog (Glaxo’s alliConnect is the only other one I’m familiar with). This company gets new media more than most of its peers, which makes this online ambush particularly ironic.