Saturday, August 22, 2009

Movin' on up to a deluxe apartment in the sky

Spaight Talk is moving over to Wordpress - please find the new blog at A great group has started to assemble here, so I definitely thank you for playing, and look forward to continuing the conversation over at the new place. 

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Your Customers Expect The "Make It Happen" Button

Marketers, hospitality brands, everyone: consider this a friendly reminder that creating a positively talkable customer experience should still be strategy numero uno in your playbook. Why? Because customers now  expect the "Make It Happen" button. 

Put yourself in the shoes of your customer. (OK, it's me. Today. But pretend that it is you. Seriously. Do it. Please.) Imagine this experience. It might help you deeply understand that what your customers go through -- and what they expect from you -- is much bigger than you think. 

You're leaving on a business trip. When you are dropped at the airport, your four-year-old is crying and screaming "Mommy Mommy Mommy" in the car, so your nerves are raw and you haven't even entered the airport yet. First leg of the trip goes fine, you're starting to relax. Your connecting flight leaves on time, you're thinking "no sweat. I'm good." Until you are told that there are 32 (yes, 32) planes ahead of you on the runway. You regroup, read your book, make pleasant conversation with your seat mate with some serious halitosis. Fine. Until you fly into a thunderstorm, think you're falling out of the sky, and circle the airport for a while before you are allowed to land. All this before you even get to your hotel. 

(Hotel marketers -- Hampton Inn & Suites, specifically: are you paying attention now? You should be.) You - the customer - are incredibly relieved to get to your hotel. Until you realize that the gate agent at the airport kept your American Express card.  You regroup again and head to your room. Nice amenities, you're thinking ahhhhh at last. I can order some room service and chill out. The menu looks great. So you push the room service button one answers. You see that there is a "Make It Happen" button. "Let us spoil you. Direct any request to our make it happen line." SWEET, you're thinking. Surely someone at the make it happen button will bring me some food. Except, um, no one answers the "make it happen" button either. (Seriously. I am not making this up.)

So, you call the front desk and are informed that, oops, the restaurant is closed for renovations - we "forgot" to mention that when you made your reservation. But hey, we can shuttle you to another part of town, you can order a pizza, or you can walk five blocks to a diner after traveling for nine hours. We can "make that happen" for you! 

Guess what your customer says? Can you guess? "Make this happen: I am checking out. Now. Buh-bye. And when I get to my new hotel, I am going to write a blog post about your God-awful service, that I hope through some small miracle many people see. Let's make that happen." 

Then, you get to your new hotel, and, um, find your American Express card, which you've already cancelled, and they won't reinstate, and won't send you a new one for four days (remember those commercials they used to run with the couple traveling and AmEx is there to save their butts? Yeah, so do I). So they pass you around from person to person, put you on hold a few times until you are standing at the hotel desk in tears, and eventually tell your hotel "She's good. She can stay." You breathe a sigh of relief. And go to your room and immediately tell the world about that, too. 

The moral of this story? Like it or not, those marketers that haven't figured this out yet need to deal with the fact that customers have come to expect the "Make It Happen" button. We're less tolerant of mediocrity - or worse - than we used to be. Because we have channels for sharing and amplifying our discontent. And because we have every right to expect more. 

Monday, August 17, 2009

Social Media Strategy: This is where the true candy is.

Now that most of us, at least in this tiny corner, seem in agreement that social media is not a strategy, but a channel, a medium, a toolset, let's do some more thinking/talking about the process of actually articulating said strategy. 

I'm one of those people that is perpetually asking "what's the strategy?" for any tactic, no matter how small. (Really? You want to paint your room green? What's your strategy for that?) But social media is such a unique animal, that in this case, I can really see why strategy becomes challenging. 

First, sometimes when you put social media strategies on paper, they seem so remedial and obvious, at least to those of us who do this every day: Listen and respond. Take a thought leadership position. Facilitate conversation and sharing between your customers and prospective customers. Etcetera etcetera.  Sometimes, I like to draw the plan, instead of writing it, just to make it less boring. In a brief twitter exchange with @armano recently there was talk about how social media is like a game of Life (his idea) or CandyLand. And while the tactics may seem like the candy - they are not. Really, the strategy is where the tasty, juicy stuff lies. (We'll talk about some specific examples in future posts.) 

When it comes to putting the tactics on paper, it gets even weirder. This, obviously, is quite unlike traditional media planning. Ain't no flowcharts here showing you how many Facebook posts, tweets, video views you're getting this month. No sir or madam. We can give you content guidelines and ideas, but that's where it stops. After that, you have to trust us. 

@teecycletim, social communications guy extraordinaire, posed this great question on my previous post: "Should someone create a separate social media strategy at all, or is that just part of a larger brand strategy?" My initial answer was the time-honored hedge, "it depends". For some brands, social media is so integral to what their social business and brand is that it could be an effortless extension of their brand strategy. Like Threadless, which exists to be an "amazing community of talented artists". That brand idea that is at their core is organically extended into social media tactics. Most brands, though, stand for something other than "community." So a social media strategy (or strategies) needs to be defined that articulates how social media fits into the overall marketing strategy and brand strategy. But it's still not "separate" - it flows from the rest of the marketing/brand plan. 

In keeping with the "not the smartest person in the room" vibe of this blog, rather than me continue pontificating on this question, I'm more curious what you think about these questions from your experience: How do you like to express your social media strategy/strategies? What specific challenges have you encountered with that planning process? If you're a brand-side person, what do you expect from a social media plan, and how is it most useful for you have it expressed? Do you agree that there needs to be a distinct social media strategy articulated, or do you consider it a subset of your larger business/brand/marketing/communications strategy?  

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

No, Social Media is Not A Strategy

Social media is NOT a strategy. It never has been. It never will be. Any more than broadcast is a strategy, or print is a strategy, or chartreuse sidewalk chalk written upside down in Portuguese is a strategy. Seth Godin nailed it in his recent post When tactics drown out strategy"Building a permission asset so we can grow our influence with our best customers over time" is a strategy. Using email, twitter or RSS along with newsletters, contests and a human voice are all tactics."
It might also help to think about it this way (credit to Denise Kohnke at Laughlin Constable for this metaphor): A goal is quantifiable. An objective is what you plan to accomplish...the top of the mountain. A strategy is the road you are planning to take to get there. And a tactic is simply the vehicle on the road, be it social media tools or any other toolset. 

Last week, that there was quite the robust discussion happening at Shannon Paul's blog about "Is social media is a strategy or a tactic?" But if I am deeply honest, I have to admit that I also find it somewhat surprising that a group of such highly regarded professionals would feel the need to debate this question quite so ad nauseum in the first place. 

Now, don't misconstrue that remark. I'm not saying it out of arrogance. I still know I am not the smartest person in the room. It's not that I don't think this group of really smart folks understands strategy. I suspect they do. And I'm all in favor of open and candid debate, and people having the resources to get their questions answered. But here in the fishbowl, there is a tendency to analyze everything past the point of slow, painful death. 30 comments later -  has the definition of a strategy and a tactic changed? No. As Beth Harte astutely points out in her comments on Shannon's blog, strategy vs. tactic is not a negotiable construct. It's a timeless and permanent one.  

Mind you this is not to say that you don't NEED a social media strategy, but social media itself is the car, not the road. 

To be continued...

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Socially shared photos should not suck.

So here are three easy ways to make your photos rock. 

Thinking about photos that people share through social media and how "professional" they should be, spurred by some photos that I saw someone tweeting from a conference last week that were not of a quality where I, personally, would have used them with my name attached. Believe me, I get that socially shared photos are sometimes better if they are "raw" and "authentic" and all that. But that doesn't mean it's OK for them to be total crap. If someone takes the time and cares enough to click your link, they should be rewarded with some eye candy, not walk away disappointed. 

What does a brand strategist know about photography? Actually I studied with documentary photographer Mary Ellen Mark  at a workshop in Mexico and then on her recommendation attended the International Center of Photography for a year, completing their documentary photography program. So I do know a few things I can share. Hell, I paid tens of thousands of dollars in tuition to get these tips, but for you, no charge ;-) These are things that anyone can easily do to create great results. 


Why shoot from across the room or across the street if you can get closer and more intimate with your subject? Long lenses have a time and a place (say, if you're shooting polar bears), but if you can get physically closer, throw the telephoto back in the bag and engage. You are going to get a stronger connection, sense the moment better and avoid a bunch of distracting junk around the edge of your frame. While you are at it, pay attention to all of the edges of your frame. You might argue you can crop the junk out later, but I say that's lame. The photo will be way more powerful if you just take it well in the first place. 


The first time Mary Ellen watched me shoot, she said "You are obviously an athletic person. Why aren't you moving?" That simple advice rocked my photographic world. When we're little, more often than not we are taught to take a snapshot standing up with the subject dead ahead in the center of the frame. Later, no one tells us that this is incredibly boring. Crouch down. Reach up. Move around your subject to the left and the right. Lay on the ground or stand on your head if you want to. It will give your photos a lot more energy. 


While you are moving so vigorously around your subject, keep in mind that photos are not little rectangles. They have more than width and length; the great ones actually show depth. Pay attention to that depth, and find lines that you can use to create it. 

These are not meant to be "rules" and obviously there are always exceptions. It's also more relevant to certain applications - like stuff you're tweeting or putting on flickr for a client brand or your brand, versus your personal photos on Facebook. They are just a few things you might want to try to bring your photos to life and help make them more "sharable." 

My next challenge is to work on taking better photos with my iPhone like this guy, Andy. Any tips for that? What do you think? What have you found that works for you? 

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

So you can Tweet like hell. But are you LIVING loudly enough?

As I write this, I am waiting for a phone call from a doctor who will tell me if I have cancer, as my grandmother, mother and two aunts did. I likely will have to wait another 24 hours or so for the verdict to be handed down, so inevitably, I am reflective. (Yet, eerily calm.) 

When something like this happens - or even might be happening - you of course think about the things you still want to do. When I was in college, I used to dream of being President/CEO of a huge agency. Whatever. I couldn't care less about that now. Once I grew up (well after college) I used to dream of having a family. And lo and behold, two days ago I was with my beautiful son when he took his first boat ride, took his first JetSki ride, and proudly caught his first fish. And I was enjoying the beautiful peace of floating in a chilly Minnesota lake. So here I am at 40. And my only goal that truly matters is to see all of my son's "firsts", whether it's his geeky state quarter collection that we made last night, his first day of school, his first geeky science project, or his first child. 

Sure, sure. I still have professional goals. Professionally, I'd like to find the time to make my blog better and therefore more widely read. I'm really looking forward to some speaking engagements that I have coming up. I'd like to be much more knowledgeable about web analytics, which I am working on. And I'd quite like our agency to earn a big African chocolate account, the Specialized Bikes account and New Zealand tourism. Among other things. But really, none of that stuff is going on my gravestone, whether that gravestone happens tomorrow, next year or 60 years from now. All it needs to say is that I was a good Mom, Wife, Friend, Daughter, Aunt and Sister, and that I lived life fully. 

Are you working more than you really need to? Tweeting with one hand on a Sunday morning while you halfway listen to what your kid is saying? Is it really worth it? Is it still going to be worth it if, God forbid, the call comes some Wednesday afternoon that you have cancer? With all due respect to those who so aggressively throw themselves into blogging, speaking, etc...I am not knocking professional passion. I just don't personally think it's worth making work the centerpiece of your existence. Different strokes for different folks, and all. 

I don't mean to sound preachy here. And I have beaten this drum before. But seriously, I am asking you to think about this: Are you LIVING loudly enough? 

Epilogue: I learned last night that I do NOT have cancer. And I am so grateful. 

Thursday, July 9, 2009

I am so not the smartest person in the room. (And neither are you).

I realized today that one of the biggest benefits of "Web 2.0" is the breadth of incredible talent to which we are now exposed on a daily basis. It's truly humbling. Humbling to watch people like @ambercadabra and @tommartin and @mackcollier and @edwardboches and countless others crank out incredibly smart, sincere thinking day in and day out. Humbling to talk to people like @augieray and @thelarch and countless others who know more about the web than I will ever know if I spend the rest of my life focused on  it. Humbling to meet new friends like @tamadear and @katjaib who bring such energy, life, and passion to each post, each day. And on and on. #followfriday - all of the above amazing people. 

This might surprise some people who have previously worked with me at agencies, but, I am hereby publicly proclaiming that I am far from the smartest person in the room. I'm still very confident in my abilities, but I see how far I have to go now, and I always will. Like me, you may at times think you're pretty smart. And I'm sure you are. But always, ALWAYS remember that there is always more you can learn - no matter who you are, how your blog is ranked, how many followers you have, where you are speaking, etc. 

I also want to take a moment to sincerely thank all of you - not just the folks listed here but ALL of you who follow me, or take the time to read my so-far-incredibly-average blog that I am learning so much from, or have met with me - because you add so much value to my life. 

When I first started on Twitter, I saw a few - just a few - of the Social Media "Experts" copping such an attitude about themselves that it was a huge turnoff, and almost sent me running. If that is where you are, stick with it, it is well worth it. That said, I still get tired of the 'tude sometimes, and I'm quite sure there are moments (hopefully not too many?) when I am guilty of the "holier than thou" syndrome myself. I've seen some Tweets that are so insanely self-centered and boastful that I wish to God I could post them without blowing up bridges. Hilarious stuff! "Did you see what so-and-so said about me?" Come on, seriously?!

What do you think about this? Do you see the arrogance that I see sometimes? Or has your experience been different? Who ARE the smartest people in the room that I should be following? 

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Grudge match: Professional Passion versus the 10-Year Itch

Let's talk about ADVENTURE, PLEASE because that is what I am craving at 3:00AM as I write this. My biggest challenge in life is satisfying my thirst for adventure while also being a full-time marketing professional and the Mom of a very intense almost 4-year-old. Can you relate? 

Most people don't know that I once dropped out of college for a year to live in Southern California and be a beach bum and that I once dropped out of marketing for year to study photography in New York City. Next year, I will have been in Milwaukee, a place I swore I would never live, for ten years. And it's been good. But seriously, I've got the ten year itch. Bad. It's gotten to the point where every time I see a kayak on top of a vehicle, it hurts. (This is a subtle hint to my friends who have kayaks and live on the lake.) 

Last year on my 40th birthday trip to Tulum, Mexico, I saw people kiteboarding for the first time and it was a real "holy shit" moment for me. I have never had any desire to scuba dive, or surf, and frankly, while I love the ocean it generally scares the crap out of me. But kiteboarding? OH. MY. GOD. I. WANT. TO. DO. THAT. 

And what have I done about it? NADA. Social media is great, but there is a lot more to life. We stay up late and blog and Tweet and post. But how often does this divert us from focusing on what is REAL? It's time. Let's do it! I'm taking a kayaking clinic this Friday (another passion I've been putting off). I'm looking into kiting camp with Broneah kiteboarding in Michigan for next month. Next year, maybe Puerto Rico. Someday: Patagonia. I can no longer bail for a year, but I still have to scratch the itch. 

What passions are you putting off because you are "too busy"? How do you balance your passions and your profession?

Photo credit: Andrew Chatham

Friday, June 19, 2009

Sponge, Idiot Savant, Creative, Geek.

A few people have asked what a brand strategist is and what resources I recommend for aspiring brand strategists. In super simple terms, a brand strategist is someone who learns everything there is to learn about a brand and everything surrounding that brand - including its users, fans, prospects, detractors - and can distill it down into only what matters to create the most relevant value proposition. And then recommends marketing and/or communication strategies for bringing that brand to life. 

A great brand strategist is: 

1) A sponge. You don't have to be a full-blown Account Planner, necessarily, to be a great brand strategist. But if you don't have a heaping helping of passionate intellectual curiosity, do choose a different path. My top three books on brand strategy are: 

Building Strong Brands, by David Aaker. Very academic but it's The Bible. This is what Harley-Davidson used to craft their brand identity system when I worked on their business. If you still have questions about what a brand strategist is, read this book and there will be no further possible questions. 

Disruption. Beyond Disruption. How Disruption Brought Order. all by Jean-Marie Dru and all absolute must reads. 

Truth, Lies and Advertising by Jon Steel. 

Those are just the books, obviously there are other publications (I love Communication Arts), numerous blogs (see blog roll for just a few of many), piles of research, etc. 

2) An idiot savant. I suck at abstract math, science, and history, and really anything truly useful in the world. But I can cut through a brand strategy like a knife through butter. Which does not exactly put me up for the Nobel Prize, but hey, it's fun. To be a brand strategist, you need a bizarre God-given ability to take an enormous pile of information and cut to just what matters. To craft it into a tight proposition that is confident, relevant and captures the heart of the brand experience. Frankly, I'm not convinced that being a really great brand strategist can be taught. You are either strategic, or you aren't. If you aren't, don't beat your head against the wall. 

3) A creative. Right now, I have on my desk essentially a laminated placemat of a brand value proposition architecture that a new client feels captures their brand to a tee. But it is complete and utter garbage if I can't translate it to a far more brilliant creative team in a language that they can relate to. (There's some killer stuff in Truth, Lies and Advertising on how to do this. The hair on the balls of a bee; if that doesn't pique your curiosity, I don't know what will. Read it.) So it helps if you have at least some creative urges, sensibilities or at least appreciation. 

4) A geek. While tactical planning is (thankfully) not a huge part of the job as a brand strategist, it definitely helps to throw yourself learning about all kinds of media, interactive, social and otherwise, so you can therefore bring forward ideas for how to express your strategies in a variety of ways, which inspires others. And it's important to be an inspiring geek, not a boring geek. If I am a boring geek, God forbid, I hope you will tell me so I stop blogging. 

It's pretty simple stuff. I hope that helps? What other resources do you recommend? 

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

One tool. Five days. 23% increase. Really.

Seem to be a lot of folks looking for Super Simple Social media examples to help them or their clients get it. So I want to share what I think to be a pretty remarkable story about a social effort that Jigsaw, the agency that so graciously writes me a paycheck every couple of weeks, did with social media in five days - Yes, FIVE DAYS. Caveat: I don't want people to take away that social media is a quick-turn solution. It typically is NOT. It is a long-term commitment. But I have found that this example has helped whet the appetite of even the biggest nay sayers, because it is so ridiculously simple.

Situation/Objective: Blood Drive. Need to get 16-18 year olds to donate blood in greater numbers. Muy pronto.

Strategy: Use social communication tool to enable current teenage blood donors to influence their friends and peers to donate.

Super Simple Tactics: Facebook. Coach 17-year-old blood drive organizer to 1) launch Facebook fan page and event page 2) add some simple video and links and 3) invite people to join. Watch cryptic teenage conversation unfold.

The Money Tactic: Create discussion threads. Ask "Do you know anyone who ever needed blood? What's the story?" Experience awe as young woman steps up to offer this emotional plea:

Then, send reminder message two days before blood drive. Encourage group members to check out the above story.

Result: 23% increase in blood donation over previous blood drive, with no other significant differences in communication. Messages from other teens indicate that "I did donate today, and Hailey's story gave me the extra boost of courage to get over my fear of needles."

A Few Observations:

First of all, it is the best feeling in the world when you know without a doubt that what you just did made a difference. There is NOTHING better. Second, it is important to note that it wasn't just that fact that we used Facebook that had the influence; the fact that we were on Facebook merely helped the organizers and participants get excited and talk up the event. All we did was organize the channel; they did all the real work. Finally, this is a best case scenario. Facebook is great for mobilizing actual causes, but I think even for those it is getting more and more challenging to get noticed on Facebook. And it's not this simple for every brand, by any stretch of the imagination.

Still, it does whet the appetite, doesn't it? Is this helpful or not?

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Launch yourself into something new - like space boy

How much fun are you having at work? Or does "fun at work" seem like an oxymoron to you? For me, I've found that the most fun I can have at work is to really launch myself into something new and exciting. Think about what you would get excited about learning - and then GO FOR IT.

Go for it the way a three-year-old goes for it when he gets turned onto something new. Until three weeks ago, my son knew virtually nothing about space. Then we got him one of those silly Magic School Bus books where the school bus flies around space. Next thing you know, he's pulling the World Almanac down off the shelf and asking me to help him read the list of space missions. So we get a couple of more books, and now he has taught me all about the 11 planets (including dwarf planets Pluto, Eris and Ceres, you know, right?), the Kuiper Belt and the Oort Cloud. Then yesterday we had to go to the grocery store to get various fruits with which we could estimate the scale of various planets. And when that wasn't adequate, we had to go get a real model of the solar system and a little constellation dome. Never once did it cross his mind that most three-year-olds, at least most of the ones that I know, don't feel the need to throw themselves into learning with quite this much gusto.

Sure, kids are all little sponges. So are we, or at least we have the potential to be. Who says you have to stop learning with passion once your job description is written down on a piece of paper? Don't be limited by what the job description says. For more about passion, check out the "More Cowbell" post from Narciso Tovar and "You Gotta Want the Ball" from Tom Martin.

Uh-oh - here comes the "I'm too busy" excuse; I have zero empathy for that excuse when I hear it from people who supposedly are interested in learning social media, and I have zero empathy for you if that is what you are thinking right now. I get it. You're busy. We all are. And I know that not everyone has the luxury that I have of an employer who gets it, too, and gives me the time to make it happen. But so what? No excuses. No surrender. Make learning a priority, even if it is for a short time each day. Your career is going to be a hell of a lot more fun - and more successful - if you do.

Have you found this to be true?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Is your brand personality boooooring?

Brand personality has always been important. (Duh.) Now, for brands in social media, it matters more than ever. When a brand enters social media it should take a long hard look at how its personality is stacking up in that context. Welcome to the personality contest, folks. Bring it.

Let's use the airline business as an example. It's one that I know reasonably well, having worked on the American Airlines business at their agency in Dallas a few lifetimes ago. American has always been a seriously conservative brand. I would describe their brand personality as professional and efficient. It's the LinkedIn of airlines. Yawn. 

When you walk into the par-tay or networking event known as social media, is professional and efficient how you want to be seen? Does that cut it? While those traits are relevant for the frequent business traveler, which admittedly is American's bread and butter, isn't there a little more to it that that? Their stated customer commitment on their website is "safe, dependable and friendly" air transportation. So what does friendly MEAN in a social media environment? 

Does it mean civil and pleasant responses to customer inquiries, as American seems to provide via @AAirwaves on Twitter? I think it takes more than basic courtesy to be seen as a friendly brand, though I applaud them for being responsive. 

Does it mean a rapping flight attendant, as for Southwest Air, which in 2008 was named the Most Admired Airline by Fortune Magazine - probably one or two business travelers reading that, I'm thinking - and the Friendliest Airline by A huge part of Southwest's popularity is, in fact, driven by its brand personality, carried through each customer experience touchpoint. Maybe rap isn't for everyone, and as I understand it, the Southwest Flight Attendant, David Holmes, started the rap thing himself. But that's because the company created a culture of personality in which he could do that. 

I would say there are plenty of other ways for American - or any brand - to use social media to humanize its brand. That's half or more of the advantage of these new tools, isn't it, the ability to put a face on  your brand? 

When I go to American's channel on the new YouTube beta it's mostly junk about their new planes. Social media is NOT about your planes, your sale, or your junk. It's about people. Personalities. Stories. 

What's the rest of your competitive social sphere look like? Maybe you've also got a brand like AirTran, with its crowdsourcing site and winning points by being the first airline to offer WiFi on every flight. (Hopefully, you do not have their social "hate" groups created by customers.) Based on the Tweet I showed at the start of this post, I would say that when you choose to go social, you are putting yourself in a position where you are going to be compared, and you need to deal with that fact. 

I'm not saying any of this to dis American. I would actually give them a pat on the back for being social, and figuring it out, and doing some good things. (And I did try to contact @billysanez from American to get his perspective, but strangely enough have not heard back. Go figure.)

If your brand or your client is participating in social media, take the time to step back and reevaluate 1) what your personality is and whether it needs to evolve and 2) whether how you are expressing it is strong enough. 

What do you think about how brand personality needs to evolve?

Friday, May 22, 2009

Four Strategies to Overcome Sociomediaphobia

Sociomediaphobia (noun): fear and loathing triggered by the mere notion of conversational engagement with customers and prospects. 

Why are so many clients so afraid of social media? It can be perplexing, when it's so easy for "us" to see the opportunity, and it's not so easy to persuade "them" to see the light. 

Case in point. There's a brand that I desperately want to work with and know with 100% certainty that we could create amazing results with. In spite of doing relatively little marketing communication, this brand has numerous, hungry fans who, like me, are begging for them to create a community online. The fans have created a Facebook page where they are literally asking for the brand to engage, and a fake Twitter account on behalf of the brand. It is also a brand with stories that are so rich that they would make you drool. Yet, the brand's response when I proposed actively participating in social media was something to the effect of: "Yes, we know. Maybe later."

Trying to put myself in the client's shoes - part of the purpose of this blog - I think back to the time before I was personally engaged online. I suppose it was one part fear of the unknown, and one part not knowing where to start climbing the enormous mountain of information. So I dove in head first, and it has become the most fun I have had in my 20 years in this business. 

Here are a few "blocking and tackling" strategies to overcome this fear and help move people who would really benefit from a social media strategy along the curve a little bit faster: 

1. Educate in a way that whets the appetite. In addition to "the presentation" and "the demonstration" serve up "appetizers" in the form of great stories on a regular basis (sans stalking, and assuming there is at list some marginal interest). Unearthing a relevant research study in the client's specific category with real quantitative data on what similar or competitive brands are doing in social media helps, when possible. Third party endorsements are always good, so I'm going to see if I can get this particular client to attend a social media conference with me. Data creates confidence, whereas anecdotal evidence of "coolness" perpetuates doubt. Of course, the data doesn't exist for everything yet, which will remain part of the challenge for a while. So if you can't find it, just tell them that the Pope is using Facebook now, and that should win them over for sure. 

2. Speak their language - not "ours". It is essential to use simple, accessible language and keep the lingo to a reasonable level. Resist the powerful urge to tell them how cool hashtags are three minutes into the conversation. Remember that not everyone is as much of a geek as you are. Let's face it - those of us who live and breathe and love social media tend to use language that makes even others in the profession glaze over. A very intelligent coworker has pointed out to me that I sometimes speak "in code". This is a difficult thing to keep top of mind and even harder to change, and I think regular Twitter use actually exacerbates the challenge because we get used to talking mainly with fellow devotees. But it's got to be done. Are you speaking in code? Stop it. Now. 

3. Sell the sizzle, not the steak. Spoken like a true early 90's ad grad, right? But really - like anything, you've got to sell the benefits, not the features. So abandon any remote thought of using the " it's about relationships, how can you put a measurement on that?" argument. One, it's crap, and two, any marginally engaged client is going to be out the door at that point in the conversation. The other part of speaking their language (besides speaking plain English or whatever language you speak) is speaking to the bottom line. Today I shared with this client some great information on ROI measurement via thebrandbuilder blog which does an outstanding job of articulating the opportunity social communication tools present them to not just engage and build community, but to demonstrably grow their business.  

4. Learn patience. As @ambercadabra recently reminded me, contrary to what I wanted to hear, we will all need to learn patience in spades to help most others navigate this sea change. Unfortunately, not every brand is run by innovators. It isn't easy, but deal with it. I work with a guy who is the most amazing relationship-builder I have ever known because he nurtures a "sale" over the period of months, years, whatever it takes. And it that's what it takes, I am determined to see this brand feed its online community. It will happen. 

What do YOU think are the best ways to overcome Sociomediaphobia? 

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Yes, I AM Specialized. Do you care?

Dear @iamspecialized, 

I would like you to know about my raging love affair. With my new Specialized Roubaix road bike. 

Like your other 433 Twitter followers, I would actually like to have a relationship with you and your brand. But, since you are only following 20 of us, and using your Twitter feed as a one-way news and content feed, you are missing that opportunity. 

I have tweeted about my Specialized bike. Had you been listening and responding, imagine the impact it would have had on me to have received a simple reply from you, saying "Hey, Spaight, thanks, welcome to the Specialized family." I am what marketers dream of - you give me a little love in return, and I will spread the love like you won't believe. And I'm sure there are others like me, with much more social clout that you are missing, too. 

I really like Masi bikes, too. And @timjackson from talks to me. Funny thing, because I post so much about biking in all of my social haunts, lots of people have been asking me lately about what kind of bike to buy. What should I tell them? Are you interested in a relationship with us "regular folks", or if I am not an elite rider, do you not care? Because that's the impression I am getting from you. Your website is sweet and a joy to navigate. Your rider blogs and videos are entertaining, but from what I have seen, pretty much one way. 

As @getresults tweeted this morning, "Listen, so they don't vote with their feet." 

Are you listening? 

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Marquette University: Telling, Not Selling

I've been doing a lot of research on what higher education is doing with social media to engage students, prospects and alumni. And I just have to give some kudos to Milwaukee's Marquette University (MU), because they are at the top of the heap, not just locally but nationally. It's a great example to share with clients and others who are looking for what social media "should" look and feel like. 

Today's butt-cover statement: MU is not my client. Actually, Alverno College is a client of my employer, so I suppose this post could get me in trouble if anyone overreacts. Keep in mind that 1) Alverno College rocks 2) this is my personal blog and has nothing to do with my employer and 3) I'm not commenting on the schools, just social media. (Oh yeah and I have three blog followers, so how much does it really matter?) 

That said...Marquette recently got quite a bit of play for using Twitter as a teaching tool. Social media is clearly not a bolt on to the communications plan - it's become part of the curriculum. 

The biggest strength of Marquette's social presence, though, is it's highly authentic and likeable human personality. The guy behind it is Tim Cigelske, or @Teecycle_Tim, a 2004 graduate of MU's School of Journalism, former Montana bellboy and US Airways baggage handler, AP correspondent and newspaper reporter, turned Communication Specialist. I'm thinking there's something huge owed to the fact that Tim is a content-creator by training and by trade, not a "marketing guy".  

Marketers take note: Tim's not selling. He's telling.  Telling strategic stories.

If you want to show someone how to engage effectively on Twitter, you could show them Marquette's Twitter stream. (If you want to also show them how NOT to engage on Twitter, you could show them the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's Twitter stream. Ouch.)  

Marquette's Facebook fan page, likewise, is a great mix of news and events with stories about individual people - what a concept! In January 2009, they launched a Facebook Class of 2013 forum dedicated to fueling conversation between current students and prospective ones. While this might seem like a no brainer, it seems to be out front in the world of higher ed, from what I have seen so far. 

And - proving once again that many of the best social communications happen by sheer serendipity, if you haven't seen the video of graduating Marquette students "Shouting" goodbye, definitely check it out. I found it to be pretty emotional (though a bit too long for my personal taste). This is completely student-generated, with no influence from the communications folks, I'm told. And it shows, in how much it is felt, not acted. But the point is, the communications team "gets it" and helped this video spread to it's over 5,000 views to date. I wonder how much great, "free" content higher education is missing. 

The only thing didn't necessarily get is why the only blog I could find for Marquette was the Law School Faculty Blog. According to the latest report from the National Association for College Admission Counseling, 50% of private college and universities have blogs (though I speculate that probably 90% of them suck). So, it seems like they might be missing an opportunity to build their personality even more and add some depth to the conversation. And, given their brand strategy of "Be the Difference", there's definitely opportunity to use social communications to build that position while also building community. As "Mr. Cigelske" stated, "We've got some things in the works. You've got to just keep thinking big." 

Way to go Marquette. Even though one of the humans I personally couldn't care less about is Danny Gokey, nice job with the social stuff. 

What do you think of what MU is doing? Have you seen any other great higher ed stuff?  

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Harley-Davidson is revving up its social web strategy

Two days ago, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Randy Sprenger at Harley-Davidson to learn about their social web efforts. As a former agency Account Director on their business, I have a ton of passion for the brand oozing through my veins, and frankly was seeing some things on Twitter that made me wonder if they "get it". So I initiated this conversation to try to see things from their perspective. 

I'm putting myself in a bit of an awkward position here, frankly, which is a great way to learn. If I say anything negative, I risk ticking off people I like at a company that I love. If I don't, I'm not being completely honest. I'm counting on the fact that Randy - who is a seriously smart guy who had responsibility for globally for 8 years - said he is open to learning from others who have a strong point of view, as I learned from him. 

Harley-Davidson has embraced digital communication in a way that has well supported the desires of their uber-passionate customer community. And the social web is no exception. Although from the outside it sometimes looks like they are moving "at the speed of corporate," that is by conscious strategic choice. Moving deliberately ensures that they remain true to the ideals of the brand and authentic in spirit. Keep in mind: this is a brand that had a die-hard customer community -- fueled by H.O.G. (Harley Owners Group) -- decades before community was cool. 

So job one, socially speaking, must be to support the passions and needs of that community. With 145,000+ fans on Facebook so far, H-D can post a question to start a thread and have 175 fan posts in ONE HOUR. Would you kill for that kind of customer engagement? Yeah, I thought so. Take a look at their very global Facebook fan page here.

Facebook isn't what H-D considers their biggest social web success, though. The company took some heat by a few die-hards for "selling out" when it used Victoria's Secret model Marisa Miller to launch its V-Rod Muscle model. But in conjunction with a 24-hour featured video buy on YouTube, its "Making of Marisa Miller and the Harley-Davidson V-Rod Muscle" video drew 600,000 views. Check out the video here. Although I must admit that, at the time, I was in the "sellout" camp, it's pretty hard to argue with that kind of outreach for a brand that has been working for a decade now to attract younger riders. As Randy said, "It's become a cliche, but content is still king." I couldn't agree more -- content and creativity -- and there are few brands that can boast the trough of rich content that H-D has to feed from. 

So the biggest thing I learned? Remember that things are not always as they seem from the outside. 

If there's anything I could constructively criticize about Harley's social efforts - and there isn't much - it would still be the personality, or relative lack thereof, of their Twitter presence.  In fairness, I should say that H-D started on Twitter in January 2009, so they are justifiably still in the "figuring it out" stage. I understand the logic that they are using it as a communication channel largely for "the brand" to communicate with those already engaged, and to listen to the voice of the customer. There can be no doubt that listening is a great early step on Twitter. But Twitter is also a chance to put a human face (or faces) and an otherwise corporate monolith, among a broader audience of curious passers-by who could very well become Harley riders if they are engaged in the incredible story and experience, by an actual human being. 

The time has come for many brands to stop treating social networking like an extension of advertising, and time to start using it as the personal, individual connection tool that it is. Authentically communicate person-to-person, not business-to-consumer. And I know I'm not alone in this opinion, as I've seen other conversation about it in my networks. Whoever I saw coin the term "P2P" last week, step up and take credit. It's the truth. 

What's next for Harley-Davidson on the social web and what's their biggest question for all the social web gurus out there? They are indeed in the process of shifting from using it as a customer tool to talking with new folks. Part of that challenge is deciding how to best address its many diverse audiences - women, younger riders, Hispanic riders, and more. 

Do you have any ideas? Have you seen a brand do a great job at this?  

If anyone knows anyone at Nike in the web/social web function, please hook me up with them. Off the top of my head that's the brand that's got the most similar challenges. 

Comments are very welcome - thanks. 

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Social Media with Purpose

When it comes to social media, I'm relatively new. There are a lot of experts who know more than I do. But I know a lot, and when it comes to brand strategy, I've definitely been around the block a few times. I've put skin in the game on brands like American Airlines, Gateway and Harley-Davidson, and I want to see them and others succeed at this insanely huge opportunity for better communication and relationships. 

My purpose for this blog is three-fold:

1) to learn. learn. and learn. 

2) to try to engage more "brand people" in the conversation about the conversation, so we can all learn more about the social life from their perspective. "We" (agencies and social media consultants galore) seem to be doing a lot of talking about what "they" (brands) should do, but the world looks rather different from where "they" sit. Maybe if we understand that better, and speak more in their context, we can be of more help as they try to educate others in their organizations about the potential of the social web. 

3) to encourage clients of all shapes and sizes to use social media in a way that delivers on a larger strategic idea rather than as the tactic du jour. Rather than starting the conversation with "We need a Facebook page." I would love to see more brands asking "How can social media support our overall business and marketing strategies?"  

I'm looking forward to sharing ideas with you and brainstorming together. 

If there are particular "brand people" you would like to hear from, let me know and I'll see what I can do.