Posts Tagged ‘social media marketing’

Transparency is a Thimbleful of Water

October 30, 2010

When Jeffrey Eisenberg gave an inspiring and thought-provoking talk last Thursday at Innotech Austin, he talked about how transparency is no longer a choice for companies. Your information will be out there whether you like it or not due to the number of employees, customers and competitors using social media. Your choice, he said, is authenticity.

I agree with Jeffrey that the debate on transparency is over, but for different reasons and with a different conclusion. In my view transparency is not enough. It comes from a group of executives agreeing that transparency, in this modern world, is a good thing. They then decide what to be transparent about and set a timeline to disclose it. The marketing person (you or me) “crafts messaging.” Transparency is implemented as translucency – selective disclosure. It’s a wall of glass bricks where you can see that someone’s in the shower but can’t see what Monty Python calls “the naughty bits.”

Is transparency good? Sure. A man dying of thirst in the desert won’t turn down a thimbleful of water. But it’s nowhere near enough. Companies that talk about transparency are simply disclosing marginally more information than is required by law. Calling a thimbleful of water a sea change is asinine.

OK, what about Jeffrey’s concept of authenticity? Authenticity is about being who you are. That’s good, right?

Before we got busy with kiddos my wife and I indulged a passion for traveling in rural Mexico. I’m not talking about Cancun or Baja. Every single time we got as far off the beaten track as possible, visiting towns that were only accessible by train or on foot. We slept on rooftops and in homes in towns where there was no hotel because no one visited. I remember a conversation with a family about domestic animals. After we revealed that we had only a cat to our names, our hosts looked at us with pity, the way a social media addict looks at a person without a smartphone. They thought we were beyond dirt poor. So they welcomed us into the three-room house in which they, as people of means (with two pigs, many chickens, a goat and two cows) lived. I’m not mocking these generous people. On the contrary, they were fantastic hosts and taught us a lot. And the food was authentic.

At the grocery store I can buy Old El Paso salsa with the word “authentic” on the label. It does not taste the same. Sorry Jeffrey, but the word authenticity is too easily abused. Just like transparency. The more syllables a word has, the more easily it is twisted – that’s why MBAs and lawyers love their polysyllables. So where does that leave us?

It leaves us in search of a word so direct and real that to abuse it would be unthinkable. I suggest “honesty.” Be honest with your employees, customers, prospects and even competitors. Honesty doesn’t mean disclosing earnings and salaries when the SEC doesn’t require it (although some companies do).  Honesty means telling people the facts unless there’s a good reason you can’t tell them. And when you can’t, honesty demands that you don’t waffle. Instead, you say “I can’t tell you that and here’s why.” You can choose to keep information private in an honest way.

Admit to not being transparent and you admit to failing in the implementation of your communications strategy. Admit to being inauthentic and you admit to wearing a tie and sport coat when you’re more comfortable in jeans. Admit to not being honest and you acknowledge a major failing in your character. See the difference? You’ve moved up from the nickel slots of corporate communications to the high stakes poker game of integrity. Are you ready?

This is a huge challenge to marketers when our three favorite words are Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. Are you ready to leave that behind? Can you?

After all, marketing has shifted from advertising to conversation. Want to end a conversation? Try not being honest. As soon as the other party figures it out, the conversation ends. Want to end a conversation with your spouse? Try “crafting messaging”, setting a timeline, and selectively disclosing information about something important, like what you’re spending money on. But be careful. You may end more than just a conversation that way.

Transparency is a timid step in the right direction. It’s pointing at the moon, not launching a rocket to go there. Authenticity is better but it’s too easily co-opted, messaged and massaged. Try honesty.

And if the three syllables in honesty give enough wiggle room to “craft messaging” rather than simply saying what is, then we’ll have to settle on one syllable. (I know you’re thinking by now that it’s “rant”, but it’s not.)


Just be true.

Photo by michael.dreves


No Guru, No Method, No Teacher

March 28, 2009


My all-time favorite album title is ‘No Guru, No Method, No Teacher’ by Van Morrison. Forget that it’s brilliant music by a world-class artist. The title alone rocks.

I’ve been thinking about it lately as I’ve considered discussion around the title ‘social media guru.’ Brand Dialogue suggests that you view anyone bearing this title skeptically. Jeremiah Owyang thinks that the tide of the recession will sweep the beach clear of many self-proclaimed gurus -and that this will be a good thing.

Others clearly view it differently. I just ran across yet another Craigslist job listing where a company was looking for a ‘social media guru’. I see the title used frequently without irony on Twitter and in profiles, and I hear it used as a compliment. And many people have deep expertise in the field – I’m lucky enough to have worked with a few and know a few more.

My own take is that I don’t like the term for a couple reasons. From a Geoffrey Moore perspective, we’re nowhere near all the way through the adoption curve on social media. Everything that you know today will change very shortly as the late adopters and laggards from Moore’s classic model start showing up. (Yes, the book was written in 1991 – peg me as a dinosaur if you like, but it’s the best model of technology adoption I know). I’m seeing this more and more on Facebook. The changes they’ve made to their interface are minor compared to the changes happening in the community as more aunts, grandpas and non-technophiles start SuperPoking each other – and me.

More than that, though, I don’t like the term ‘guru’ – for any field of endeavor. Okay, maybe Jesus and Buddha and a few others have truly earned it. But I don’t like the term applied to me. Really. And it’s more than just my Midwestern modesty.

I’ve been called ‘guru’ in several roles – sometimes around data analysis, sometimes around pricing and packaging, sometimes around product launch. All areas in which I’m proud to have some expertise. But the folks that called me ‘guru’ in any of those roles were rarely the greatest collaborators on the team. More often than not they wanted transactional discipleship – to get my expertise applied to their project or deal and to move on. Which is fine. We all have roles on the team, and I behave no differently when I need signoff from Legal or Finance on something. Except I don’t call them ‘gurus’, because I’m not there to learn from them – I’m there, openly, to get their expertise applied and move on.

I’ve spent the past half hour rewriting the paragraph above and trying to make it not sound cranky. I may have failed at that. But Van Morrison is famous for his crankiness. And he urged us to accept no guru, no method, no teacher. Some of us know more than others. We can and should learn from them whenever possible. But there’s more unknown than known, and we all have a lot to learn from each other.

“You can’t stay the same. If you’re a musician and a singer, you have to change, that’s the way it works.” – Van Morrison

Photo by oddsock

Is Using Twitter Twice As Important As Using a Hammer?

February 21, 2009

1430449350_a4392bb04a_mHow many hits does  “how to use Twitter” return on Google? Currently 67,900,000. That’s twice as many hits as “how to use a hammer.”

I just did a survey of the 20 people in this coffeeshop. 19/20 looked up from their laptops and said a hammer was a useful tool. (One said “leave me alone.”) 3/20 or 15% had used Twitter, and two of them thought it was a useful tool. Then I got back to my keyboard and found that “leave me alone” guy had tweeted “who is this idiot asking people about hammers in the coffee shop?”

Here’s the mathy part:  if every Twitter user were Sybil with 16 different personalities and 16 different opinions about how to use Twitter, we haven’t come close to explaining 68MM hits.

Of the posts out there, some are useful. If you’ve never used Twitter (or if this blog post is incomprehensible to you), Cnet’s newbie guide is helpful. Amber Naslund’s Social Media Starter Kit post on Twitter goes deeper and is more business-oriented. Lots of other good ones – what are your favorites?

“How to use Twitter”, beyond the basics of signing up and tweeting, is a lousy question. Many of the “how to use a hammer” results are useless if your goals is pulling nails with a clawhammer, sinking finishing nails, or advanced ballpeenery.  The real question is “how to use Twitter for ___”. You fill in the blank.

I saw this in action this week when @sw_headgeek mentioned that he was having trouble keeping up with his Twitter stream. I asked what client he was using – it was twhirl.  That’s a fine client if you’re using Twitter as I do, as ambient text radio with the occasional @ conversation or dm exchange. But the geek needs to track a few different groups: key influencers in his industry, friends and internal collaborators, @ replies and dm’s, and everybody else. So now he’s giving tweetdeck a try.

Will it be better? Probably – because we’ve considered his purpose before giving an answer. “X is the BEST Twitter tool” is fundamentalism.

Many “this is how you should use Twitter” posts (including the current hot topic, auto-dm’s) amount to fundamentalism also. Me, I don’t get upset if someone auto-dm’s me. I might unfollow  if the dm amounts to “welcome, click my junk”, though.

We don’t need a new etiquette (twitiquette) rulebook, we just need to remember that “social” is the important word in social media. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Be nice. Listen, don’t just talk. And when people break those basic social rules, karma will take care of it. The profiles on Twitter spammers say it all – “following 1,363, 75 followers?”

photo by Kyle May

Taking Feedback on a Daily Basis

October 21, 2008

I had a coffee with a couple of friends from another department at work last week. The first discussed how a friend with a new baby was coping with lack of sleep. The second had been out of the baby business for some time but immediately offered a number of suggestions. Friend #1 responded, somewhat wearily, “I’m not sure she’s in the market for any more unsolicited advice at the moment.”

The trouble with feedback isn’t getting enough of it. The problem is the timing. At certain intervals (birth of a new baby, an annual customer survey) we are inundated with it. The rest of the time we’re flying blind. To combat this,

  • Elicit feedback at every opportunity. Don’t wait for the annual customer survey. Only your most committed or dissatisfied customers will respond (I’ve seen those surveys ‘summarized’ as 160+ slide decks that are never acted on). Instead, use every transaction and touchpoint to gather feedback. Include a ‘tell us how we’re doing’ link on every communication. Run polls constantly on the website – not monolithic surveys, just one simple question at a time. Take advice from Chris Brogan and others by using social media as a listening tool. Keep a ‘comments’ notepad at the cash register and give cashiers an incentive to use it. You’ll find you have a constant stream of useful insight instead of an occasional paralyzing deluge. Ben and Jackie advocated this in 2004 as part of their 10 Rules of Feedback, but I still see many companies who think of themselves as ‘responsive’ because of an annual deep-dive effort instead of a constant listening posture.
  • Categorize the feedback collected on the matrix. A surprising amount of it will fall into one of two no-brainer categories: easy stuff with high business benefit (“Grand Master of the Obvious”), or hard stuff with low business benefit (“Banging your head against the wall.”) You know what to do with these. The other two require thought and analysis. If you have something that’s high-benefit and hard to execute, ask yourself if you can meet the same need in an easier way. Something that’s low-value and easy to execute is handled differently. Is there other value that can be extracted from it by demonstrating responsiveness to customers, increasing satisfaction and retention? If so, again, we’ve shifted into Grand Master of the Obvious mode.

The smartest thing you can do as a businessperson is to make every decision a no-brainer. Developing an appetite and process for feedback is one of the best ways to do that.

The Most Potent Argument Ever For Joining Yet Another Social Network

September 15, 2008

Here’s a transcript of a short conversation in the workplace.

Me: “Hey, where’d you get that cake?”

Michael101: “If you were on Yammer, you’d know.”

OK…I’ve signed up. Stuff I like:

  • Ability to have a many-to-one or one-two-many conversation within the enterprise
  • Lotsa my friends are there since I hang out with Hooverites

Stuff I don’t like

  • Please let me use Twhirl. I want to be able to switch back and forth between Twitter and Yammer as I please. Otherwise I risk missing cake at a critical juncture

Hand Drawn Fail Whale

June 29, 2008

My 4 1/2 year old daughter drew this today. I don’t think I ever showed her the fail whale, despite blogging about its hidden meanings recently.

If it’s showing up in the drawings of children, it’s a true cultural zeitgeist…or icon…or something.

Words Matter

June 19, 2008

twitter is over capacity

What do their words say about their worldview? Why say “Too many tweets” instead of “not enough bandwidth?” Are they asking us to tweet less? Would you like us to use/love your service less?

What does the image say about their worldview? Cute, but isn’t it impossible for happy twitterbirds to lift a whale? Is the message here “we’d like to serve you but in our hearts we believe it’s impossible?”

What about the happy smile on the whale’s face? Is the message “he doesn’t care that he’s not adequately supported and neither should you?”

Do I read too much into these things? Probably. And I continue to love Twitter.

Disentangling Identities

June 11, 2008

For the past several months I’ve been on Twitter as @Hoovers. That’s been an experiment in representing my company in microblog-land. As of Friday 6/13/2008, I’ll end the experiment and disentangle my identity from the corporate one. My friend Kathleen (Hoover’s Community Manager/Moderator and all-around good person) will take over tweeting as Hoover’s. I’ll resume tweeting as rsomers.

I’ve learned a lot during this experiment:

  • Social media makes it easy to mix the personal and professional. I initially intended just to tweet business-related things (Hoover’s product enhancements, updates to the site, interesting blog posts, etc). I did…but also discussed James Jamerson, Central Texas tornado warnings, Twitter business plans, my family, sushi, Iron Man and other non-business things. I plugged my personal blog (this one). I plugged my local coffee shop (Blue Marble Java in Pflugerville, where I’m writing this). I don’t know where the personal ends and the professional begins. Maybe that’s the point
  • If you tweet as a company you need to add a certain amound of the personal. ‘RichardAtDELL’ may be a more powerful Twitter identity than ‘DELL.’ In a social media sphere people like to know that they’re interacting with another person. I overcame that for my 259 Twitter homies, perhaps because I can’t avoid mixing the personal and the professional in the tone and topic of my tweets
  • Online identity evolves. It’s worth thinking in terms of personal branding as we choose url’s, blog titles, Twitter ID’s, etc. A rational schema (where the url ties to the blog title ties to the Twitter ID) makes the best sense. But it will still change over time as our personal and professional goals change
  • As that identity evolves we have a responsibility to the people we’ve been interacting with. Between now and Friday 6/13 I’ll DM every Twitter user I’ve had significant interaction with and let them know of the change

Thank you @antm and @roblifford for suggesting the Twitter experiment and grabbing the Hoovers ID for us to use. Thank you @jowyang and @chrisbrogan for the warm welcome and offers of help. @TWalk and @zackgonzales, we may need to talk F2F over the cube again. @vpearcy, thanks for helping me experience Return to Forever without having to endure being there. Thank you @tawnypress for the honest product/service feedback and friendship. I appreciate @smallbiztrends, @twittertutors and others participation in the Twitter Business Plan contest as much as I appreciate @cparmele’s helping get it noticed.

And, of course, all praise be to @TweetJeebus.

Social Media Marketing Makes You Care

May 14, 2008

Earlier today I mentioned a Hoover’s promotion on Twitter. A person I know through Twitter and LinkedIn responded, tried the product, and may purchase.

Here’s the interesting thing: in my career in traditional marketing, a campaign may drive thousands of leads. In that context I care about the customer experience as an abstraction: will a bad experience hamper the campaign performance?

I’ve never met this person face to face. We had a nice conversation via LinkedIn Answers and we interact on Twitter occasionally – not a deep relationship, just the ongoing stream of ideas that Twitter represents. Even so, I feel differently today. I’m concerned that Sales, Customer Support and other team members treat this person right.

Traditional marketing (online or offline) forces you to care about customer experience. Social media marketing goes deeper. It forces you to care about customers.

Is social media changing how marketing is done? Wrong question. The right one is this: is social media changing marketers?

Social Network Fatigue

April 25, 2008

Social Network Fatigue

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols at Computerworld says he doesn’t want to friend me. With an ever-increasing number of social media options, who can blame him? He has a long track record as an online social networker, with roots going back to managing listservs and Compuserve groups.

Zude is a promising option for those of us facing social networking site fatigue. As Brian Solis observes, it allows the user to incorporate elements from other social networking sites into a personal Zude page. Almost anything can be dragged, dropped, remixed and mashed up.

I’ve often discussed the need to be able to keep all one’s social capital in one place. Zude is a first step towards what that place might look like. Right now it looks more like MySpace than LinkedIn, but there’s no reason it can’t be used for professional purposes. And a professional Zude-type tool would have the added value proposition, if done right, of saving busy professionals time by updating everything at once and doing away with the need for multiple passwords and online identities.

Baby steps. But steps in the right direction.

Thanks to mattkeefe for the image