Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Sharpie Blog Puts Newell Rubbermaid’s Social Media Strategy into “Sharper” Focus

Key Takeaways from this Post
  • Companies must grapple with both their corporate and consumer brands, which are often served by different social media strategies.
  • Each product may differ in emphasis and focus, but they all should fit into one overall marketing strategy.
  • Social media is one part of that strategy; traditional marketing efforts still dominate.

Companies have multiple brand identities. There is the corporate brand relevant for investors, regulators, and job applicants. And then there are individual product brands, which customers care about. Unless you need to highlight your corporate agenda, your social media strategy will typically support your brands.

Take Atlanta based Newell Rubbermaid. I venture to say that few have heard of the Newell Rubbermaid corporate entity even if they know many of its products including Sharpie pens, Graco baby seats and Rubbermaid containers.

I had a chance to reconnect with the keeper of its social media strategy, Bert Dumars (blog) at Technology Association of Georgia  where we both sat on a social media panel.

Bert mentioned that Newell Rubbermaid had just launched a product blog for its Sharpie pens. Along with its Graco and Rubbermaid blogs, Newell Rubbermaid now has three blogs. There is no Newell Rubbermaid corporate blog.

Its blogging strategy is consistent with a company that is successfully shifting from a B2B to B2C marketing strategy that highlights individual product brands.

So how do these blogs reach their users?

  • For the Rubbermaid blog, its purpose is not brand awareness. Most people have heard of Rubbermaid. The goal is to increase awareness of its products. Most people don’t know the extent of the product line. The blog therefore targets influencers, like professional organizers to help validate the products and spread the word.
  • For the Graco Baby blog, the issue was brand awareness. The goal is to “humanize” the brand by targeting mommy bloggers and highlighting the real people behind what was perceived as a corporate brand. The blog has helped increase Graco’s positive awareness from 65 percent to 83 percent.
  • Sharpie has a hugely loyal user base. The purpose of this blog is to create a platform that opens the brand to conversation and what Newell Rubbermaid believes is a pent up desire to engage with them. It is intended to play up the cool factor and will feature artists and creative outlets for Sharpie pens.

Three brands, three blogs, three approaches but one overall strategy. Blogs managed individually by different brand managers. Newell Rubbermaid’s Dumas understands that conversations are critical to a brand’s future, but that they take a long time to develop. That is why their focus is on cultivating relationships and slowly reaching out to their respective communities.

While Bert is pleased with the success of the blogs, they don’t draw the same amount of traffic as the Graco, Rubbermaid and Sharpie websites. As Bert freely admits, they aren’t meant to draw the same number of visitors. They are intended to complement, not compete. They are vehicles to engage their biggest fans. They are part of an overall social media strategy based on long-term conversations and not hard sell traditional advertising.

And herein lies Newell Rubbermaid’s success. Their social media strategy reflects the unique nature of their individual users, even while adhering to a consistent broader marketing strategy. It is a delicate balance, but based on customer feedback, it appears to be a formula that is working.


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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Social CRM – Leveraging the Power of Unstructured Conversations

Key Takeaways from this Post
  • Social networks are “unstructured conversations” than can yield valuable data to generate sales and reduce costs.
  • Unstructured conversations are gaining currency for leading CRM companies.
  • Social CRM or CRM 2.0 rests on the interplay of customer interaction and company rules.

In flush times, social networks are a hard sell. In hard times when companies have little money to spare, selling social networks is even more difficult. That’s why I want to return to the subject of a previous posting about social data mining.

Social networks can yield rich customer data that companies can use to reduce customer support costs and increase sales.

It’s a compelling argument but I gather it’s still new. Few of the social networking companies I spoke with this past fall at the Web 2.0 Expo in New York highlighted social data mining, and even fewer were building applications to support it.

Enter Oracle and SAP

But times they may be a changing. CRM giants like Oracle and SAP are now building tools to help companies take advantage of social networks’ “unstructured conversations.”

Oracle (blog) has built a suite of tools that “leverage the collective knowledge of the broader sales community” to help a company complete sales rather than merely tracking the sales pipeline. The net result Oracle claims is higher productivity, better leads, a shortened sales cycle and increased sales.

Mark Woollen, Oracle’s VP of CRM Strategy explained to me about how social CRM is “giving context to unstructured conversations.” Especially in this economy where growth is hard to come by, Woollen believes that social CRM can help drive business and improve margins.

SAP is using CRM to map relationships with their customers. They gave me an online demonstration of how they are leveraging the social network Twitter to improve customer support. Their software tracks key words in tweets for content and sentiment to help service reps resolve issues before they become problems.

Both Oracle and SAP acknowledge a transfer of power is taking place. Unstructured conversations between customers are redefining relationships between customers and companies and challenging companies to look at data in different ways. In creating new applications, they are grappling with issues of standardization and monetization.

Michael Thomas, director of CRM and social media strategy at Neighborhood America and national president of the CRM Association believes “larger corporations are getting interested but are still getting their arms around the ROI. They can’t do effective CRM without collaboration. It’s a bi-directional flow. You have to be in position to react.”

Enter CRM 2.0

This game change in managing customer relationships is central to what CRM expert Paul Greenberg addresses in his presentation -”What the Hell is CRM 2.0?” According to Paul, the difference between CRM 1.0 and CRM 2.0 s the difference between:

  • Businesses producing products and services for the customer, and businesses aggregating experiences, products, services, tools and knowledge of customers.
  • Focusing on customers and focusing on all iterations of the relationships (company, partners, customers), specifically on identifying, engaging and enabling the influential nodes.
  • Technology focused around operational aspects of sales, marketing, support and technology focused on both the operational and social/collaborative which integrates the customer into the entire enterprise value chain.

It’s one thing to identify the elements of CRM 2.0; it’s quite another to implement it. As Greenberg recognizes, CRM not cheap, and it’s hard. “Not a lot of companies are doing well in tying the pieces together.”

Raising Privacy Issues

And what about concerns about privacy? All this data mining raises the question of privacy and how your data is being used. It’s what Derek Grant, vice president of sales at the web marketing automation firm Pardot (blog) calls the “creepiness” factor.

Greenberg makes a distinction between trust and privacy. Companies can act responsibly even if they mine data. While I don’t support the sale or transfer of personal information to a third party, I generally subscribe to Greenberg’s contentions about user participation in a social network.

  • They have no inherent right to be a member.
  • There are risks associated. There is no complete, guaranteed privacy.
  • While they retain ownership of their profile, by signing up, they are providing a limited license to the social network to use that profile as an asset.
  • That profile well may be used commercially with their permission.
Successful CRM 2.0

Beyond addressing issues of privacy and trust, CRM 2.0’s success rests on an understanding of the interplay of social customer interaction and company rules as Paul Greenberg points in his discussion of HelpStream (blog).

Their approach involves distilling key points of an online conversation, applying recognized company business rules and workflows to address them, and then notifying appropriate personnel to solve them. It’s the follow up that often gets lost. What’s the point of mining data, if the data is not put in the right hands to address the issues that are raised.

I know that I have only touched the surface of CRM 2.0. And I recognize CRM is far a field from corporate communications. But I feel that highlighting CRM’s role can help legitimize the tools that PR professionals are trying to implement. It also is a recognition that PR professionals need to appreciate the value of data in measuring success.

Let me get back to you.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Campaigns versus Conversations – Measuring Social Media Success

Key Takeaways from this Post
  • Social Media can be measured by its short term and long term value.
  • Conversations are the cornerstone of social media.
  • Success is defined by the piece of the conversation you own.
  • Successful campaigns must be placed in the context of long term conversations.
Especially in these recessionary times, how do you measure social media’s effectiveness? When are 500 submissions a success and 50,000 downloads a failure?

The answer largely depends on your time horizon. In talking to clients, I find it helpful to break down social media into short-term and long-term value. In my lexicon, “campaigns” are important to achieve short-term measurable success, but sustainable customer engagement requires a commitment to long-term “conversations.” Generally, I view campaigns as efforts that incorporate user generated content, viral videos, promotions, and games to generate sales. I view conversations as part of efforts to enhance reputation or brand and may not have immediate payoff. Of course, there is much overlap as campaigns can be part of conversations.

From my perspective, I am very focused on the long term and can’t stress enough the importance of conversations. Radian6 (blog) defines brands “as the sum of all conversations taking place amongst users, and they are happening regardless of whether you are part of these conversations or not.”

Conversations are the essence of successful social media. Social media thrives in a flat community based on participation, connections, engagement and open dialogue. The chief currency is not monetary; it’s about reputation and influence, which are defined by credibility and authenticity.

Successful conversations require long-term commitment and engagement from the highest levels in the company on down. Customers want to engage on a personal level with their brands and the companies (and employees) behind them.

Owning your piece of the conversation


In a highly competitive market where brands are seeking to capture mindshare, the key is to determine what part of the conversation you currently own, what part of the conversation you want to own and what part of the conversation you are able to own given the competition and the attributes of your brand. To that end, you must look at your product or brand and ask:


What is it?

Who is it for?
Why do they care?
How is it different?

Answering these questions will also help determine how broad or narrow you may want to play in the online conversation. Owning a small portion of the conversation may yield the highest level of extended engagement and generate the most buzz.

Where’s the Beef?

Conversations are well and good, but what about clients seeking short term, immediate results. I can’t deny my bias. Launching social media campaigns around user generated content, viral videos, casual games, promotions may generate spikes in website visits and online sales, but I am not convinced they have lasting value or build engaged customers without conversations. Once the campaign is over, how do you continue to engage the users you reached?

In using social media campaigns as part of a marketing or PR strategy, I offer up the follow considerations in helping evaluate a potential campaign:

  • Long-Term vs. Short-Term – How does it relate to the conversation?
  • Continuity — What steps are in place to maintain connections and continuity after the campaign?
  • Scalability — Is it scalable?
  • Amplification — How does the campaign extend to other marketing efforts and other channels (both new and traditional)?
  • Payoff — What is the pay off for the user?
  • Employee Engagement — Can employees be engaged?
  • The Community — Does the community match the marketing strategy?
  • Technology — Does the technology match the user target?
  • Celebrity Endorsement — If you are using a celebrity, is there a direct connection between a celebrity endorsement and the user, channel and particular application being used?
  • Refreshment — Does the campaign or interactive website have rich, refreshed content?

These questions are helpful in setting expectations and putting campaigns in a larger context. No doubt, ordinary campaigns can yield extraordinary results, but extraordinary campaigns are really extensions of conversations that you should be having.

As for effective social media campaigns, I will save my rules of engagement for another posting. But I do recommend checking out the 2008 Forrester Groundswell Award Winners for some excellent case studies.

Let me get back to you.


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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Taking Risks in Hard Times


This past week I sat on a social media panel at an offsite for HR executives. In addressing the topic of transforming company culture, I asked the following question: When it comes to social media, when is it time to strike? When times are hard, when sales are down, when marketing efforts are not working well, when budgets are shrinking and you have little to lose? Or is it when times are flush, when shifting strategies may upset a winning formula?

I understand the fear of being fired for failing at something experimental. I recognize that ROI is elusive. But when others are circling the wagons, is it possibly the time to pull the trigger and help position your company for times when conditions are better?

Of course there are other factors to consider when implementing a social media, including expertise, resources, company culture, and what the competition is doing. I am only suggesting that the current recession may be a rare opportunity to take a risk.

Let me get back to you.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Atlanta’s Newest Blog — Southern VC

Just wanted to mention that Greg Foster has launched a blog — Southern VC. Greg is a really smart guy who understands social media. A former corporate development vice president at Turner Broadcasting, Greg is a venture capitalist at Noro-Moseley Partners here in Atlanta with a “sector focus on technology, and sub-sector foci in software as a service (SAAS), digital media, and cloud computing.”

Let me get back to you.

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Atlanta Start Up Weekend


Entrepreneurialism is alive and well in Atlanta. Along with Startup Lounge, Startup Riot, Start Atlanta, add
Atlanta Startup Weekend (ASW), which I attended the past weekend. Like Startup Weekends held in other cities, ASW, now in its second year, was an intense 54 hour event that brought together tech minds (developers, designers, marketers, etc) to create companies from concept to launch.

I was only able to stop by on Sunday night but I was interested in checking out Atlanta’s commitment to building a high-tech community. More than 70 people were on hand for the final presentations — 50 more than last year. All in all, 130 people registered, 102 showed up the first day, 41 initial ideas were proposed, 7 companies were formed – all over one weekend.

Asked how Atlanta’s Startup Weekend differs from those in other cities, George Junginger, a Start Up Weekend facilitator, was “amazed by the amount of tech talent in attendance.” In other cities, he said there tended to be many more marketing professionals.

Startup Weekend Companies


As a social media advocate, I am pleased to discover that all the companies that launched were essentially social networking applications. Perhaps it’s the nature of the event, but they all took advantage of Web 2.0 technology.

Some of the companies that launched include:

Twitpay.me, which let’s you send payments via Twitter.

Closebuy.me, a location-based inventory search engine. Want a specific camera? CloseBuy.me will tell you who has it in stock and how close they are to you.

GivingTi.me, which enables entrepreneurs to help each other one hour at a time.

Jumbis.com, which generates single product sales websites that turn buyers into evangelists. Automatically.

Reepli.com, which is a targeted social marketing effort focused on twitter and blog integration to allow companies to engage conversations.

The level of participation reflects “incredible progress from last year,” according to Lance Weatherby, a technology entrepreneur and currently a Venture Catalyst at Georgia Tech. He helped facilitate this year’s Atlanta Startup Weekend.

“The members of the media that covered the event and the number of attendees that stayed through the final hours of this Weekend demonstrate that the Atlanta high tech community is getting stronger…And it is not because of the current economy…Most attendees have day jobs,” said Weatherby.

That’s also the belief held by Stephen Fleming, chief commercialization officer at Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute. “Forget complaints about the lack of money or support. The high-tech community is a lot healthier than people give us credit for.”

Over the months to come, it will be interesting to see which companies get to the next level in their development. Skribit, which was the only company that launched last year, was on hand. It continues to evolve and attract outside interest.

Let me get back to you.

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Monday, November 3, 2008

Gaming and Social Media – Further Reflections from SIEGE


Believe it or not, social media is changing the face of gaming.

In keeping with the Halloween theme from this past Friday…Heeee’s back, or rather I’m back.

After a two-week break, I have cleared my head and hopefully have sharpened my blogging strategy. But before I turn to other planned postings, I wanted to wrap up my thoughts from my previous posting about last month’s Southern Interactive Entertainment & Gaming Expo (SIEGE) conference held here in Atlanta.

Key Takeaways from the Post
  • Aided by social media, marketers are using non-traditional games to engage new audiences.
  • A game to be a game requires modeling, simulation and role-playing in a prescribed context.
  • Games must be compelling first, brand extensions and promotions second.

Based on feedback from gamers at SIEGE, it is clear that gaming is evolving and increasingly integrated into marketing strategies. But what is the social media angle?

From a user standpoint, they are highly interactive. Results are immediate, and they lend themselves to extended periods of engagement. They also build community. From a marketer’s perspective, they can build brand. While ROI remains elusive, games are sticky. Marketers can track traffic and measure their usage. If compelling, they can be viral. Users will devote time competing with themselves as well as with others, collecting points, downloading badges, rating and inviting friends to participate.

In short, gaming is an ideal platform in a new media strategy. Once more, gaming is dynamic; its user base is expanding, and its functionality is evolving especially with greater emphasis on downloadable, browser based games.

At SIEGE, I spoke with Danny Miller (blog) a GA Tech student and president k2xl.com. He believes there is a paradigm shift taking place. The gaming market is attracting more non-traditional gamers who are increasingly engaged in games tied to political campaigns, marketing efforts, and education initiatives.

Georgia Tech Assistant Professor Celia Pearce spoke with me about gaming’s widening social demographics. The core group of 18-24 year olds is saturated. In the U.S market, there has been less focus on older and younger users, but that might be changing. Habbo Hotel, aimed at teenagers, is now the biggest virtual world attracting 90 million users. On the other end of spectrum gaming continues to attract Baby Boomers. I was surprised to learn that the percentage of Baby Boomers in the gaming population is greater than the percentage of Boomers that make up the overall US population.

Gaming…Toward a Definition

So what actually is a game?

Ian Bogost (blog) is an assistant professor at Georgia Tech and a founding partner at Persuasive Games. He believes that games require modeling, simulation and role-playing in a prescribed context. As opposed to toys, Kevin O’Gorman on the Game Art and Design faculty at the Art Institute of Atlanta believes that games must have prescribed rules, in a prescribed space with prescribed goals.

These definitions are useful as games evolve and take on new roles. These new types of gaming include:

Casual GamesVideo game targeted at a mass audience and are typically distinguished by their simple rules. They require no long-term time commitment or special skills to play, and there are comparatively low production and distribution costs for the producer. Casual games typically are played on a personal computer online in web browsers, although they now are starting to become popular on game consoles, too.

Serious Games
– A serious game is a term used to refer to a software or hardware application developed with game technology and game design principles for a primary purpose other than pure entertainment. Serious games include games used for educational, persuasive, political, or health purposes.

Alternate Reality Games
(ARG) — An alternate reality game is an interactive narrative that uses the real world as a platform, often involving multiple media and game elements, to tell a story that may be affected by participants’ ideas or actions. The form is defined by intense player involvement with a story that takes place in real-time. An ARG evolves according to participants’ responses, and characters that are actively controlled by the game’s designers, as opposed to being controlled by artificial intelligence as in a computer or console video game.

Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOG or simply MMO) – is a video game, which is capable of supporting hundreds or thousands of players simultaneously. By necessity, they are played on the Internet, and feature at least one persistent world. MMOGs can enable players to cooperate and compete with each other on a large scale.

Gaming and Marketing

Whether a game is a game or merely game-like, it can be your “most successful or your most risky marketing strategy,” says Lukas Bradley, president of Th.ru.st Interactive who sat on a SEIGE adverigaming panel. Th.ru.st specializes in multiplayer games, virtual worlds, and Rich Internet Applications.

Companies are using games as promotions to attract customers, as content to engage visitors, as viral campaigns to generate buzz and as tools to train employees.

But over and over again the gamers I talked to stressed that games must be compelling first, brand extensions and promotions second. And just because the game is compelling, doesn’t mean it serves to extend the brand. In considering a gaming strategy, you need to ask yourself whether the tone and content of the game fulfill the brand promise or is it a game for a game’s sake.

In the end, the link between gaming and brand building has grown stronger for two reasons. One is technological. Web 2.0 is making it easier and less costly to create and distribute games. The other is cultural. In our entertainment focused society, it is only natural that marketers look to “playing” games to engage customers and extend the brand.

Let me get back to you.

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Monday, October 13, 2008

Games and Social Media: Reflections from SIEGE – Part I

[This is the first in a two part postings of my introduction to gaming and the Atlanta gaming community.]

Key Takeaways from this Post:
  • Games and game theory help drive the growth of social networks.
  • Georgia is making inroads in its efforts to build a gaming industry.
  • Digitainment or the marriage of music, games and digital technology can help drive Atlanta’s high tech industry.
  • The first step is bridging the gap between high-tech and gaming communities.

I took last week off from blogging but I wanted to write about the South Interactive Entertainment and Game Expo (SIEGE 2008) that I attended last weekend with more than 300 gamers here in Atlanta.

Founded in 2007 and run by the Georgia Game Developers Association, SIEGE has established itself as the largest video game trade show in the southeast.

Over cans of Monster, I had a chance to meet some of the players in the industry as well as learn more about the Atlanta gaming community. It was also a chance to hear about the latest industry trends like casual gaming, MMOGs, advergaming, and serious games.

For anyone who knows me, I am not a gamer. But what I lack in hours played with a console or online with a keyboard, I make up for in the belief that games and interactive entertainment are playing a critical role in the adoption of social media.

In addressing the games, online promotions and sweepstakes, Hector Pages, COO of Brandmovers wrote:

“The Web 2.0 explosion has created unprecedented opportunities for brands to engage consumers in the digital spaces where they work and play. Brand marketing budgets increasingly reflect this trend as dollars continue to shift away from ‘traditional’ advertising into new media.”

That’s clearly the case with games. Games are now serious business. Advertisers now place ads in games much the same way they do in movies and television. Games not only contain ads; they can also be ads themselves and are increasingly making their way to social networks.

Games and the theory behind them are a clear influence on social networks. Rankings and the accumulation of points and status play an important role in driving member participation. Games in the form of promotions can draw traffic to sites and engage users at a deeper level. Games can also contain viral elements that can help spread the reach of the promotion. Some social networks like Atlanta-based Kaneva even have the look and feel of a gaming environment. In fact Kaneva’s co-founder Greg Frame is its chief gaming officer.

Making Georgia a Gaming Hub

In speaking to GGDA Co-Founder Clinton Lowe, SIEGE Conference Director Andrew Greenberg, Georgia Tech Assistant Professor Celia Pearce and Bill Thompson, deputy commissioner of the state’s Film, Music and Digital Entertainment Office, I have begun to understand how gaming is changing, and how Georgia and Atlanta are embracing the gaming industry. Overcoming negative stereotypes, gamers and gaming are seen as an engine for economic growth and job creation.

Georgia still lags behind states like California, Washington, Texas, New York and Massachusetts. But today 60 game companies operate in Georgia employing approximately 2000 employees. Schools like Georgia Tech, the Savannah College of Art and Design, and the Art Institute of Atlanta are spawning a new generation of game developers and designers.

Atlanta includes homegrown companies like Tripwire Interactive, Hi-Rez Studios and Turner’s GameTap franchise. Prominent gaming companies like Iceland-based CCP Games, one of the top ten MMOG developers in the world, set up their North American headquarters here after acquiring White Wolf Studios. So did CDC Games, China’s largest video game company, and Electronic Arts, America’s largest video game development companies has an R & D lab in Savannah.

To promote the gaming industry, the entrepreneurs like Chris Klaus worked with state officials to help pass the 2008 Entertainment Industry Investment Act, which offers the highest level of incentives for the video game industry in the nation.

Digitainment: Atlanta’s High-Tech Future

Clearly, Atlanta’s gaming industry is gaining influence and getting the attention of the business community. Personally, I think the marriage of music, gaming, and digital technology – known somewhat inelegantly as “digitainment,” can help form the basis of Atlanta’s high-tech future.

While promising, that future faces hurdles. For the Atlanta high-tech industry in general, there continues to be a shortage of investment dollars. The startup culture is still fragmented and struggles to define itself and get the visibility it deserves.

Digitainment may be the digital glue that helps shape Atlanta’s high tech identity.

Unfortunately, the software, Web development and gaming communities still seem worlds apart. At least that seems to be the consensus based on meetings I attend and discussions I regularly have with leaders in the Atlanta startup community. Based on my experience, I can’t recall meeting a game developer at a startup event, and I didn’t encounter any of the high-tech software entrepreneurs I know at SIEGE.

To me, that’s a lost opportunity given that Web 2.0 seems like the logical connection between the two cultures and two industries. At a certain level, software developers, gamers and Web designers are all part of larger high-tech ecosystem.

There are efforts underway to help bridge that gap. I am participating on a committee to promote digitainment through a planned event next year. Members from the Technology Association of Georgia, the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce and the Georgia Film, Music and Digital Entertainment Office are working to create awareness, attract and retain young talent, and foster economic development.

Gaming has come a long way in overcoming long held stereotypes. And with the advent of Web 2.0, gaming is finding a new place to spread its influence. But in order to for the concept of digitainment to take hold, more needs to be done in breaking down barriers and using Web 2.0 to bridge Atlanta’s gaming and software communities.

Let me get back to you.

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Monday, September 29, 2008

Atlanta Social Media Webcast to Showcase Leading Global Brands

This is a busy week, but I wanted to call your attention to a webcast I am hosting this week,Thursday Oct 2nd at 10:00 AM EDT. It’s a roundtable I put together that includes PR and marketing representatives from some of the world’s leading brands with corporate headquarters in greater Atlanta.  These representatives will discuss their companies’ use of social media. 

To listen and/or participate, please log on here.

The live, on-the-record webcast will address the growing importance of social media and how marketing and corporate communications are leading the way in advocating its adoption. The panel will showcase greater Atlanta based companies but the issues they face are global in scale.

PR Newswire is sponsoring the event, which will be hosted at Coca-Cola’s headquarters.

The panelists include:

Adam Brown, Director, Digital Communications, Coca Cola Company (blog)
Debbie Curtis-Magley, Manager of Corporate Public Relations,
UPS
Bert Dumars, Vice President E-Business & Interactive Marketing, Newell Rubbermaid (blog)
Jennifer Martin, Director Public Relations, CNN (blog)
Michael Pranikoff, Director of Emerging Media, PR Newswire

Listeners will be invited to submit written questions for the panelists to address.

As the former head of corporate communications at Atlanta-based EarthLink, I have long been interested in understanding how companies are using social media as a business model and a principal marketing channel – especially for companies based in Atlanta.

PR and marketing professionals are recognizing the importance of social media, but questions persist on securing management buy-in, identifying best practices, and determining a return on investment. This roundtable is an opportunity for some of Atlanta’s biggest companies with some the best known brands in the world to share how and why they are using social media. This is not to minimize the many smaller companies that are using social media, but larger established companies face a unique set of issues.

I hope you can listen in.

Let me get back to you.

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Start Atlanta: Bootstrapping A Community


Startup requisite: empty pizza boxes

Key take-aways from this post:

  • Startup communities don’t always happen organically; they need direction and committed drivers.
  • When possible, capitalize on existing infrastructure.
  • Start Atlanta has the potential to serve as a model for other cities trying to reach critical mass for their startup communities.

This past weekend I attended the kick-off of Start Atlanta held in the Appcelerator offices in Buckhead.

The irony of the meeting location was not lost on many in the group of more than 20 entrepreneurs who came together interested in forging a stronger high tech community here in Atlanta. Appcelerator’s Jeff Haynie recently moved to Mountain View, California in the heart of Silicon Valley as part of a $4 million deal led by Storm Ventures.

Haynie has long been a leader in Atlanta’s high tech community and his departing blog post provided some of the inspiration for Start Atlanta.

Start Atlanta is another indication of a growing movement to deepen the area’s high tech’s roots, build a climate for investment and innovation, and attract and retain a younger generation of developers, designers and entrepreneurs.

It’s vencorps meets Y Combinator meets Kiva.

It’s recognition that there is no simple mechanism to fund companies. As one of the organizers described it, Start Atlanta is a breeding ground for community. It’s about sharing resources, cross-pollinating angel investors with entrepreneurs who in some cases have nothing more than an idea. It’s about facilitating connections, raising a collective consciousness and bootstrapping a community.


Gang of Five plus 2

I first learned about Start Atlanta from Patrick Clements whom I met at a recent Capital Lounge hosted by Michael Blake and Scott Burkett. Patrick who began Big Web Apps, (blog ) is part of the Gang of Five (actually seven) that meets regularly over coffee. Its members also include:

Loren Norman who has started several companies including Snowcap Labs (blog ), Alan Pinstein, founder of Showcase Real Estate Web Sites, Wei Yang Co-Founder, Business Development at EasyAutoSales.com (blog), Matthew Sweezey, Duncan Freeman whose company Band Metrics (blog ) is in private beta , and Ray Abram (blog)

Part support group, part strategy session, the Gang of Five decided it wanted to give some permanence to the many events popping up around Atlanta.

And so for two days and three nights, a group of mostly entrepreneurs and some investors met and brainstormed. This week they hope to unveil a community site.

Among those who attended the first night was Jason Ardell, a 25-year old entrepreneur. He is looking to help build a community and get Atlanta more recognition. His company feedscrub.com (blog) is in alpha. Think of his company as a spam filter for RSS feeds, an algorithm that helps find relevant content.

Rather than starting from scratch, Start Atlanta elected to build a site based on code from recently launched Hackers and Backers.

Hackers & Backers (Beta) is a meeting place for entrepreneurs, technical specialists, and investors. It lets you post a project and invite others to join. It helps search for people with relevant skills in your geographic area and check out their connections and credentials.

As co-founder , Ho-Sheng Hsiao who was on hand this past weekend told me, “Hackers and Backers is a combination of a social networking site and classified ads.”

He said he had a hard time looking for other entrepreneurs and thought a social networking site could spark community. “Start Atlanta is doing the same thing I wanted to do with Hackers and Backers. I wanted to see if there was a way to work together.”

And so Start Atlanta is building off Hsiao’s platform. They are adding several features to support development of the community, including a mini-project called Badgely.


Badgely prototype

As Alan Pinstein emailed after day 2, “Badgely is a system we have devised to track individual participation in the community and attendance at community events.”

To understand Badgely badges, think merit badges for entrepreneurs. These badges are meant to increase visibility and reward participants who attend and actively engage in events around the city devoted to startups and the high-tech community.

Through the first weekend, Alan wrote me that they “decided to focus on first getting the core community-fostering infrastructure in place while we make sure that we get buy-in from anticipated funders.” Plus, he added, “it’s going to take us at least several weeks to get the legal issues sorted out.”

There will also be an offline component to Start Atlanta where investors and entrepreneurs will be able to interact. It will also leverage the many existing events in Atlanta to help educate entrepreneurs and investors.

And so now the really hard part begins – sustaining a movement. At least for now, Start Atlanta joins Startup Lounge, Startup Riot, and Startup Weekend in establishing a viable community for entrepreneurialism.

Let me get back to you.

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Posted by Dan Greenfield in 13:27:19 | Permalink | No Comments »