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?