Friday, September 19, 2008

Social Networking at Web 2.0 Expo New York

I went by the New York City Web 2.0 Expo yesterday. I caught up with friends and met people I only knew through email. To be honest, it had a very different vibe than the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco earlier this year. Perhaps it was an east coast thing or maybe the news from Wall Street was on the back of everyone’s mind.

I hope the lines for free food is not a sign of things to come.

Trends in Social Networking


I was most interested in looking at social networking companies and I visited with Awareness Networks, HIveLive, Jive Software, OneSite, Oribius, Pringo, and Sparta Social Networks. We talked about price (upfront costs, monthly and yearly costs, licensing fees, hosting and maintenance fees, storage fees, usage fees, etc) and the SaaS model. While this model is compeling, I always worry about who owns the content if I chose to part ways with my vendor. I also asked about the role that data mining and CRM is playing in social networking. As I have written before, I think data mining is powerful selling tool to convince management that is slow to embrace social networking.

My sense from talking to companies is that CRM and web analytics will play a more integrated role in social networking’s future, but that we are not at that point in the adoption curve. It certainly wasn’t a feature that companies stressed in our conversations.

I also talked to folks at Brickfish, a social media advertising platform. It made me think of Atlanta based Vitrue, which is using social media to extend the brand. I was interested in hearing how you sometimes need to seed a site with legitimate user generated content to attract others to create their own. No one wants to be the first to show up at a party.

In addition, I talked with Twing, a search engine dedicated to online communities and forums. Traditional search engine results don’t always accurately reflect conversation threads because these discussions generally link to each other, not other websites. In other words, without link love there is no love potion to drive search results higher.

Anyway I head back to Atlanta today. There was just too little time to digest all the sessions and visit all the companies I wanted to see.

New Photos


Finally, for those who haven’t noticed, I have changed the Photo of the Week sidebar to Bernaise Source Photos. I will be highlighting photos from various events I attend because we can’t live by words alone.

Let me get back to you.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

MFG.com: Where Manufacturing Meets Web 2.0

MFG.com’s A.J. Sweat and Mitch Free

In my search for Atlanta based Web 2.0 companies I came across MFG.com; it is the match.com for connecting suppliers with buyers in manufacturing, and it’s proving to be one of Atlanta’s notable high tech success stories.

It’s a social network, but don’t expect members to “poke” one another. Their needs are not California cool or Atlanta hot. Instead the company is focused on the 300 processes that fabricate, mold, cast, extrude, forge, and stamp.

MFG.com is an online marketplace servicing the global manufacturing community. Its platform simplifies the complex process of sourcing and selling manufacturing services. The technology connects buyers with suppliers of manufacturing services while directing the collaboration, quoting, due diligence and analysis processes.

MFG.com consolidates the once-fragmented world of custom manufacturing into a more efficient marketplace, enabling products to be sourced and built more easily, quickly, inexpensively, and at higher quality levels.

An Early Inspiration

MFG.com’s founder and CEO Mitch Free began his career as a machinist on a factory floor. An early inspiration for MFG.com came from Lendingtree.com’s tagline ( “When banks compete, you win.”) Free recognized that this same philosophy could be applied to manufacturing.

With operations reaching internationally, Free is succeeding where past B2B marketplace sites and software developers (VerticalNet, PurchasePro, and FreeMarkets) failed. Many other so-called B2B companies rose and fell spectacularly during the dot com bubble meltdown.

This I know first hand. I bought VerticalNet on March 10, 2000 at its peak. The next trading day, the Nasdaq bubble began bursting many a retirement plan.

Today approximately 180,000 companies around the world have registered.

What is the secret of their success? Delivering value is one reason; Web 2.0 is another. Where Web 1.0 was static and about controlling the environment, Web 2.0 is dynamic and about engaging customers internationally to build a better online experience.

Mitch recognized the power of community to drive transactions. Search engines can’t do it. Nor can directories, which need user lists to work. With Web 2.0, content generates the circulation, and community creates efficiencies.

While the adoption curve may take longer with communities, the connections are stickier. With the MFG.com community, Free sees an opportunity for people to interact, collaborate, negotiate and leverage collective intelligence.

The process takes time. Manufacturing in general has been slower to embrace the Internet. And suppliers in particular are not accustomed to transparency. The shift in control puts prospects and customers in charge.

To help extend the power of the community, MFGX.com was created under AJ Sweatt’s direction. The goal is to facilitate discussion and let users voice their opinions. Unlike other companies, MFG.com is not concerned about negative comments. The community is self-policing, and Free would much rather be aware of what is being said than discourage negative feedback.

With MFGX.com, users create their own profile to network with peers, build their reputation, promote their company, find employment (or employees), and buy and sell things.

Why MFG.com

MFG.com is interesting on many fronts for me. One is its commitment to Atlanta.

Despite his company’s success, Mitch had considered heading to the west coast, particularly given Atlanta’s attitude toward web 2.0 and its adoption rate. He decided to stay recognizing that he would be trading one set of problems for another — finding developers and scarcity of resources for the West Coast’s hyper competitive environment.

MFG.com is embracing Web 2.0, a technology that runs counter to its industry’s prevailing culture, and its understanding of negative comments is unusual for many companies in general and Atlanta corporate culture in particular.

I am particularly interested in what MFG.com is looking to do in its next stage of development. In fact, it was through my conversation with Mitch Free and reading MoneyBall that I have begun to understand how data can be used to sell social media. Social networks generate immense amounts of data, which in turn can spur new services and transform companies. In other words, social media is not a cost center.

That’s what Free is doing. Buyers and suppliers are always looking for new information. Their transactions generate data. Free is mining that data and helping MFG.com create a new generation of services.

One service is predictive cost modeling. Based on data about parts ordered, MFG.com can help suppliers and buyers predict the cost of products with similar features and how much to charge.

While I know far less about drill bits than digital ones, I appreciate how MFG.com has embraced Web 2.0 and applied it to new areas. Its success is a valuable lesson for any company who questions the power of community to drive innovation.

Let me get back to you.

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Saturday, September 13, 2008

Twitter Twitter Everywhere


Photos by Maigh

The other night, I attended the inaugural meeting of the ATL Tweet-Up in midtown Atlanta.

As its organizer Maigh explained it to me, the ATL Tweet-Up was an outgrowth of APWBWGTTD– Atlanta People With Blogs Who Get Together To Drink.

Now to be honest, I learned about the ATL Tweet-Up via email, not Twitter. But as I have admitted more than once, I still only use Twitter (http://twitter.com/bernaise) intermittently to capture random observations.

I know many people who swear by it, but I know even more people who have never heard of it.

Nevertheless, Twitter is gaining traction. Here in Atlanta, Mike Schinkel hosted a “Why You Must Have a Twitter Strategy” at the August session of the Atlanta Web Entrepreneurs Meet-Up.

And fellow Atlanta blogger Toby Bloomberg did a great posting on local companies and organizations that use Twitter including The Home Depot, Delta Airlines, and the Fulton County Office of the Sheriff.

I have written about Twitter’s business applications myself, but I was intrigued that a social event could be driven by 140 characters at time.

Now at this ATL Tweet-Up there was not much tweeting going on – at least what I could see. But that’s OK. I had a chance to catch up with Grayson Daughters, Lance Weatherby and meet fellow bloggers Scott Lockhart and Kimberly Turner. Their startup Regator (blog) “gathers and organizes the web’s best blog posts to make it easy to find them.”

I asked them about Twitter or it’s more formal name – microblogging. For them, it’s a good way for individuals to communicate. But it’s not a high priority given that there are at LEAST sixty million blogs online right now to trudge through, according to Discover magazine, and about 175,000 more are added every day (about two every second).

For me, I am approaching Twitter with an open mind. You clearly can’t ignore its personal and professional utility. But perhaps Evan LaPointe’s newly launched blog TATTOPITW.com says it all. I also met Evan at the Tweet-up (which goes to show you the power of social media to connect.) TATTOPITW stands for because there are two types of people in the world. Business or pleasure, there are those who get Twitter and those who never will.

Let me get back to you.


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Monday, September 1, 2008

IBM Executive to Speak at TAG Enterprise 2.0 Event

I have written from time to time about my involvement in the Technology Association of Georgia (TAG) Enterprise 2.0 Society. TAG is dedicated to the promotion and economic advancement of the state’s technology industry. The Enterprise 2.0 TAG Society explores key strategic and organizational shifts that organizations need to make in order to adapt to the changing landscape of the digital world.

For those who will be in Atlanta on Wednesday, September 3, 2008 (7:30am – 9:00am at the GTRI Conference Center), TAG Enterprise has invited growth & innovation expert Steven Kloeblen to discuss proactive approaches to business transformation.

I wanted to pass along some information that Sherry Heyl the chair of Enterprise 2.0 sent out:

Steven’s role as VP of Business Development for IBM’s World Development Initiative has made him a sought after thought leader in the area of global growth through the application of enterprise 2.0 technology. Steve will refer to IBM’s recently completed bi-annual survey of over 1,100 CEO’s from around the globe. He will also speak to the trends that demonstrate how the highest performing companies scale innovation, extend and integrate global partnership networks, exploit disruptive business models and embrace social responsibility as a competitive advantage.

A little more background. In his current role as IBM Vice President Business Development – New Growth Platforms Steve concentrates on developing market strategies and business designs in new growth environments. Steven is also leading The IBM World Development Initiative. This is a group of more than 250 volunteer IBM’ers focused on creating a commercial business that leverages IBM’s capabilities to address the needs of the world’s most poor. Together the WDI has committed to a 10-year outcome to improve the lives of 1 billion people, while generating $1 billion annually of profitable revenue.

If you want more information, go to the Enterprise 2.0 site. I hope you can make it.

Let me get back to you.

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Monday, August 25, 2008

How Social Data Mining Can Redefine PR’s Role


Negative comments. They cause legal departments fits and are often one of the biggest reason why companies don’t want blogs, forums or social networks.

As a communications professional, I’m not wild about negative comments either, but I am willing to accept them given the advantages that social media offers. Deploying social networks:

• help you track and manage what the public is currently saying online
• let you better address these comments
• can actually help you score points with customers

There are plenty of examples of users rallying behind companies that acknowledge mistakes and make good faith efforts to correct them.

To convince reluctant executives, there is a business case to be made that doesn’t involve value intangibles like engagement and authenticity. It’s about data mining. Social media can generate data – tons of it. The key is to tap its power to deliver customer insights.

But before anyone raises privacy concerns, let me say that I am not encouraging companies to monitor private conversations or sell personal data to third parties without a customer’s permission. I am also not talking about ways to serve up ads to customers. Analyzing social network dynamics yields insights that can improve products and processes, reduce costs and allocate resources based on customer behavior. In short, it helps us better understand our customers.

What form does this data take?

Social network analysis or social data mining focuses on the relationships and interactions of people, groups, or organizations and not individual users. It views user actions interdependently rather than independently. It follows the linkages between users and how they share information. It tries to identify patterns and understand their significance.

Joe Cothrel’s Take


Joe Cothrel understands data. He works at Lithium Technologies. I have mentioned him before. His company builds forums for other companies.

From his perspective, not having a forum is far worse than negative comments. Forums can help clients hear about problems weeks before they begin hitting customer support centers and become expensive crises.

Harvesting insights goes beyond content (what is being said) and sentiment (how it is expressed). It’s about the patterns and connections – who is saying and how often. When do supporters engage, when do detractors chime in and why?

And it’s not just the social networks or forums themselves. It’s the space around them. What blogs and networks are connecting to yours? What are the key nodes, and is your social network one of them? Where are users coming from, where do they go when they are there and where do they go when they leave? If your social network is an ecosystem, how does it work and how does it work in relationship to the wider ecosystem outside of yours?

And for managers of social forums, when do you listen, when do you speak and what voice do you use? What does it mean to manage beyond the community?

Helping to answer these questions are tools like Google Analytics and customer relationship management (CRM).

Google Analytics is a free service that generates detailed statistics about the visitors to a website. Google Analytics can track visitors from all referrers, including search engines, display advertising, pay-per-click networks, email marketing and even digital collateral such as links within PDF documents.

CRM helps an enterprise manage customer relationships. CRM is a combination of policies, processes, and strategies implemented by a company that unify its customer interaction and provides a mechanism for tracking customer information.

A New Way of Doing Business


Together they are powerful tools in distilling and making sense of valuable data about your customers from social networks. You can track the effectiveness of marketing campaigns, generate sales leads and identify new product ideas. In turn, social networks can help with a company’s CRM efforts. As Denis Pombriant wrote,

We have all kinds of CRM systems today that systematize and organize our customer facing processes, but what we lack right now are effective ways of capturing customer feedback….Social networking is an important new contributor to front office business processes. It gives us a way to look at the world through the eyes of the customer, and makes good on some of the promises of CRM.

For example, a company can link a customer record to a social network or forum login and track activity and comments back to its CRM system. This enables a company have a more complete picture of the customer’s interaction with the company.

I realize that CRM and web analytics generally fall outside the purview of traditional media relations. Our role rests in the realm of what is being said, not shaping business processes. But in championing social networks to reluctant executives we need to think more creatively and expansively.

It is time to stop focusing on negative comments and stress social media’s strategic value. Understanding social data mining not only helps with our advocacy; it helps give us a seat at the table. It moves PR away from simply shaping perception to helping the enterprise better understand and serve customers.

Let me get back to you.

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Monday, August 11, 2008

CNN iReport Marks an Anniversary


This month marks the second anniversary of CNN iReport. This initiative reflects the Cable News Network’s commitment to crowdsourcing and citizen journalism.

Many in the news industry are looking at crowdsourcing, citizen journalism and other forms of user-generated content as a way to combat declining newspaper circulations and shrinking network news audiences.

Launching iReport involved risk. As with any social media initiative, management faced some difficult questions. Would people embrace it and in a meaningful way? How would CNN handle negative comments? Could you ensure accuracy? Would it compromise the brand and potentially call CNN’s integrity into question? Would it lessen the prestige of its hired staff of professional journalists?

Viewer submissions from major events like the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004 were instrumental in helping make the decision. CNN’s management gave its approval, and iReports went live on August 2, 2006.

From all accounts it worked. People around the world contribute videos and pictures to supplement existing stories that CNN is covering or submitting breaking news that they are witnessing. It helps CNN stretch a limited news budget, obtain footage of stories that would be difficult to obtain itself, cover more stories in more depth and more personally and engage with its viewers more directly.

After the initial success of iReports, CNN launched an iReport.com beta version in February of this year. (And just last week, iReports announced it was no longer in beta.) The site allows users to submit photos, videos and comments and have them appear on the site. The submissions are sometimes very serious and sometimes just entertaining or novel. CNN producers review these submissions and select reports for possible airing on the CNN television networks, CNN.com and other CNN platforms. The site also allows iReporters to contact each other.

CNN said it did not have targeted projections, but they are pleased with some of the results so far:

• Traffic is up 25 percent in June and double from the month before.

• More than 75,000 individuals to date have registered as citizen journalists.

• At launch they had 13 iReports; right before they launched iReport.com, they were receiving around 10,000 a month.

The Atlanta Connection

For those who regularly follow my blog, I have a strong interest in social media as well as Atlanta based companies that are showcasing social media. CNN iReport meets both criteria. In fact, Lila King, senior producer for user participation at CNN.com strongly believes that iReport has become so successful because its CNN headquarters are in Atlanta. The proximity adds credibility and allows for more collaboration.

While other local companies are still only considering social media, CNN’s strategy includes a blog, the use of Twitter and a presence on Second Life to engage its viewers and facilitate discussion. King points with pride to the feedback from its Black in America series. As of August 1, the series received 1527 submissions, and 73 were vetted for use on CNN’s other platforms.

Viewers have posted about their own experiences, while some commented specifically on CNN’s coverage. CNN doesn’t censor contributions and believes the advantages of an open discussion outweigh any negative comments. There are however community guidelines that address inappropriate (hateful and obscene) material.

For CNN, iReport is clearly a business strategy to create and extend content and engage viewers. But to King it is much more. She points to citizen journalists who literally risked their lives posting videos about protests in Myanmar. “I believe tools like iReport helps the grassroots spirit of the Internet.”

The success of iReport has not gone unnoticed. Writing about alternative forms of journalism, Project for Excellence in Journalism reported that “CNN’s iReport is the most conspicuous example of this trend.” Other networks have similar initiaitves, including ABC’s i-Caught, Fox’s uReport, and MSNBC’s FirstPerson.

While iRerport’s criteria is pretty broad, it is still much harder to make the leap to other CNN properties. On average, 10 percent of 800 – 1200 iReports are vetted each day and make it to another CNN platform. In addition to the community guidelines, here are some other things to consider:

  • Making the cut to another CNN platform requires a full vetting of its authencity.
  • Submissions need to be in context of stories that CNN is running at the time.
  • The most successful submissions contain a compelling human interest angle.
  • The most recent submissions often have a better chance of getting aired.

With more citizen journalist-produced content making its way to news websites, it makes me wonder how crowdsourcing will impact the PR profession. Will it give us more opportunities to gain exposure or make it harder to stand out in the crowd? Will we have to rethink how we “pitch” a story? Will our expertise be as valued when user generated content is gaining more currency? Can or should PR “orchestrate” the contributions of citizen journalists?

Crowdsourcing and citizen journalism are still in their early stages of adoption. It is still unclear if ithey will increase interest in broadcast and print journalism. What is clear to me, however, they are not only changing the face of journalism; they are also impacting the way PR professionals do their job.

Let me get back to you.

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Monday, August 4, 2008

On Baseball, Data and Social Media

Reading Chris Anderson’s recent Wired Magazine cover story about the End of Theory prompted me to do something I had been meaning to do for sometime: buy Michael Lewis’s Moneyball.

Chris’s piece examines how computers, the Internet and the era of massive data are changing our assumptions about science and scientific method. Moneyball looks at how the use of data enabled the Oakland Athletics to amass one of the best overall records in baseball with one of the lowest team payrolls.

And it is the power of data that is transforming the way we in marketing and PR do business. Through data, we can identify trends that we never knew existed, find previously ignored market segments and gain an advantage in a very competitive marketplace.

So beginning at the All Star break, I started reading and finished the book at 2:30 one recent morning. Now I am no baseball expert and can’t prove or disprove Lewis’s theory, but I was struck by one thing in particular: The story of how Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane used Ivy League number crunchers parallels the work we are doing with social media.

It is a story about questioning assumptions, challenging orthodoxy, tapping new ways to engage fans and measuring performance. It’s about a new kind of expertise that is creating a whole new approach to doing business.

Challenging Unconventional Wisdom

For the longest time, stats like batting averages, stolen bases, and RBIs have governed baseball. Leading the majors in any one of these categories is worth millions of dollars. What Beane did was unconventional. He looked at the statistics that others overlooked, ignored, or rejected to sign ballplayers that other scouts had overlooked, ignored, or rejected.

His conclusion: on base percentages and slugging percentages are a far more accurate way to assess talent and predict success. They were the best indicators of which players would produce the most runs for the team as a whole. More runs, more wins. And today, while these stats are more widely used, that has not always been the case.

The story really begins in the late 1970s with an eccentric visionary, Bill James. Back then, there was no such thing as a blog, so he self-published a book that challenged the orthodoxy governing the measure of baseball success. Without search engines, he placed a single ad in the Sporting News. He grew a small but loyal following and responded individually to reader mail.

At the time, management and traditional sports journalists were very skeptical. In much the same way bloggers were initially dismissed, sportswriter Thomas Boswell wrote, “What we really need is for the amateurs to clear the floor.”

There was also no place for companies to share information with their customers. Data was not transparent; stats were held by major league teams and only one company – the Elias Sports Bureau – was authorized to sell that data. Major League Baseball wasn’t interested in new metrics and wasn’t interested in giving fans the data they asked for.

Quoting James, Michael Lewis writes: “The entire basis of professional sports is the public’s interest in what is going on. To deny the public access to information that it cares about is the logical equivalent of locking the stadiums and playing the games in private so that no one will find out what is happening.”

James advocated that the accumulation of baseball statistics should be taken out of the hands of baseball insiders and put instead in the hands of volunteer scorekeepers. The huge success of Rotisserie Baseball in the mid 1980s demonstrated that fans were hungry to engage with each other.

These developments along with the growing power of computers and the drive for new kinds of expertise (like the use of derivatives in financial markets) all contributed to a new way to think about stats, baseball and managing teams.

Sound familiar?

Does the story of self-publishers, companies unwilling to engage their customers, skeptical journalists, empowered fans and the lack of transparency sound familiar? These are the elements that social media advocates experienced in the beginning and, to a lesser extent, experience today.

While most of us are not involved in managing sports teams and picking players, the lessons learned from Moneyball are transferable. Most importantly, data is king.

Moneyball Marketing

In making their selections, the A’s crunched millions of bits of data, analyzing the outcomes of thousands of plays in a given game and in a given season. It’s the same approach we should be taking: looking at the connections among and interactions between individuals to understand innovation, collective decision making, and problem solving, and how the structure of organizations and social networks impacts these processes.

Blogger Steve Rubel refers to it as Moneyball marketing.

We need ask ourselves: Are we looking at the data that social networks yield? How and where does data factor into PR decisions? Can we use data to target the right audience – especially in the age of the long tail where we can go after niche markets?

Identify the right data and you can help improve products, increase sales, engage customers and build brand.

Once more, as the Oakland A’s demonstrated, data collection can save dollars. The challenge of course is to identify the right data. And that data must directly relate to your company’s business objectives. In the case of the A’s, the goal was to maximize limited dollars.

Number crunching and computers may seem incongruous with the traditions that govern our nation’s past time. And after all baseball is just a game. But Moneyball demonstrates once again that how you play the game often dictates whether you win or lose.

Let me get back to you.

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Monday, July 28, 2008

Viral Videos — Can Cell Phones Pop Popcorn?

alt : http://www.youtube.com/v/V94shlqPlSI&hl=en&fs=1

With news of another study that claims cell phones are hazardous to your health, it’s no wonder that this video recently went viral.

It had all the appearances of (and what marketers want most) authenticity. It had relatively low production values, an international group of normal looking twenty-somethings, and no product placements.

But in truth, it was all a hoax.

It was produced by Cardo Systems to draw attention to its Bluetooth headsets. The CEO claimed it was meant to be entertaining, not a way to scare people into buying its products. (Though I do wonder if they are doing more harm than good by reinforcing fears.)

The results – tons of hits on the Web. I admit it. It worked. I was duped. It played on my inner fears, even though there is no definitive evidence that cell phone usage causes cancer.

I am still debating about whether I liked being duped. But I have to give Cardo Systems credit; they accomplished what they set out to do. They created a successful viral campaign. The real success will be if Cardo Systems sees an up tick in sales and suffers no blow to its reputation.

A Marketer’s Dream

Viral campaigns are a marketer’s dream; Customers are doing the work for you at no cost to you. Viral campaigns can also become a PR dream or nightmare depending on how they are done.

Now a viral campaign doesn’t have to be fake to be viral. The Diet Coke/Mentos videos were real. But as National Public Radio discussed, fake is in. Need another example? Check out this ad. It’s for Gatorade.

alt : http://www.youtube.com/v/GSGqK-nZkaU&hl=en&fs=1


So how far are you willing to go to mislead? What are your limits on deception? Are you prepared to deal with an unanticipated reaction when viewers discover your ruse? Before answering, here are some issues to consider.

Understanding the entertainment value — Viral videos are rarely product plugs unless your product is really cool and worth sharing. (Think Apple) The most successful videos are forms of entertainment (make you laugh, shock you, etc) that people are moved to share. In some cases, there is even value in making viewers wonder if the video is an amateur effort or a professional production.

So you need to consider, do you have what it takes to be entertaining? And can you manage the line between being appropriate and inappropriate, laughed with and laughed at, tasteful and tasteless? Are you willing to take the risk?

Losing of control – What you gain in low cost distribution, you give up in control. A Super Bowl ad costs millions, but you are assured wide exposure. When making a viral video, you need to recognize that users will decide whether it will be an Internet sensation or a dud.

Setting a time frame – Viral videos can reach millions but their entertainment shelf life is short. You can get a burst of publicity, but viewers are not repeatedly exposed to the message.

Understanding the viral paradox – Marketers can spend millions trying to create viral videos, but the best ones are hit or miss; you can’t create viral. If you try to be viral, you will often fail.

Admitting it – If and when you are discovered, come clean. Denying involvement engenders the wrong kind of publicity and undermines the good will you were trying to create in the first place.

Going negative – While it’s more the case for political ads, PR challenges abound when a negative video about your company goes viral – especially when it’s fictitious. Taking a negative video seriously is critical. I wonder how many PR and marketing professionals have strategies in place to combat negative videos on YouTube? Do you swarm it or ignore it? Do you create a video to combat it or use another media to contain it?

Optimizing – Using tags is a good way to help people search your video and improve the chances of it going viral. YouTube uses the middle frame of a video as its thumbnail description. Some companies have actually resorted to using a sexy picture unrelated to the video to trick viewers into clicking on the thumbail. Others post fake comments or pay people to post fake comments to create the illusion of success. I don’t recommend gaming the system.

Being too subtle – Blatant product plugs rarely go viral. But there is a danger of creating a video that is so subtle that viewers fail to make a connection with your product.

Setting the bottom line – When attempting to go viral, be authentic, be entertaining, but always keep your strategic objective in mind. Don’t go viral for the sake of going viral.

Ask yourself, would you watch this video and pass it around? Fake is risky. Are you willing to take the risk?

Let me get back to you.

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Should “Tony the Tiger” Use Twitter?


Tony the Tiger, Ronald McDonald, the Jolly Green Giant – all are part the pantheon of famous characters that have helped companies personalize their brands over the years.

Today, through the power of social media, employees from rank and file to management are also getting into the act of helping to build more informal, more personal relationships with their customers.

Consider Twitter.

Now I have a confession. I follow others on Twitter, and others follow me, but I have to admit I have been slow to embrace this technology and the 140 characters it provides per posting.

But I have gained a new perspective after talking to Dave Eckoff the other day. He is a Twitter enthusiast.

He told me about Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos. Hsieh is an avid Twitter fan. His tweets have gotten a lot of recognition form bloggers like David Armano.

In another interview with Toby Bloomberg, Hsieh revealed that over 300 of his employees are using Twitter. His primary goal: “Our main motivation for getting our employees to join Twitter was to help improve our company culture.”

Hsieh told Tim Brunelle, “We’re interested in forming lifelong, meaningful relationships with our customers, so the more engaged our customers are, the more likely that will happen.”

And then there is Jim Long founder of Verge New Media and a television cameraman for NBC News who tweets regularly about life on the frontline covering breaking news.

So popular are his tweets that Connie Reece commented on his blog that his use of Twitter motivated her to start watching Meet the Press – a welcomed response for the network news executives who continue to experience declining viewership.

And finally there is the example of Comcast and Frank Eliason from Comcast Customer Outreach who uses it as a touch point to assist customers.

Rethinking Traditional Brand Strategies

Traditional advertisers could learn a thing or two from Tony Hsieh, Jim Long and Frank Eliason.

It occurred to me that what is good for CEOs, cameramen and service reps could also be true for company mascots or spokescharacters. If Twitter can take companies to the next level of customer interaction, maybe it can inspire brand managers to make their characters and products more engaging.

Maybe it’s time for these advertising icons to enter the social media age and start microblogging.

Now I was reminded that character or fake (depending upon your perspective) blogs have been the subject of much controversy. But maybe it’s time to revisit the topic in light of the customers-as-friends phenomenon made popular through social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook.

In addition, there was a story in the New York Times this week on how companies are updating their characters to appeal to today’s Internet savvy generation.

Imagine getting regular Twitter updates from:

The Jolly Green Giant who can share nutritional information and the challenges of being too tall particularly when sitting in coach on airplanes

Or Pop ‘N’ Fresh – the Pillsbury Doughboy – who can discuss recipe ideas and his feelings about being regularly poked in the stomach

Too much information? Perhaps, but putting aside Tony the Tiger’s possible use of Twitter, social media has important implications for brands.

It comes down to brand integrity. While social media helps build stronger connections and extends the brand, it can also tie specific individuals to products and companies. The challenge of course is determining how close that relationship should be. What happens if that individual leaves the company? It is not as simple as starting a new ad campaign. Customers will have invested in this individual, and it may be disruptive to the brand experience.

Of course, advertisers face similar brand challenges when companies end relationships with celebrities and athletes who endorse their products. Customers can make the transition, but in the case of social media you want to avoid having the employees become larger than the brands that employ them.

Food for thought as you eat your morning cereal and read on Twitter tales of that silly Rabbit and what he really thinks when he can’t get hold of that box of Trix.

Let me get back to you.

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Posted by Dan Greenfield in 14:37:00 | Permalink | Comments (8)

Monday, June 9, 2008

Social Media: When Risk Becomes Necessity

As PR and marketing professionals, our jobs involve assessing risk. Risk is the possibility of loss, damage, or any other undesirable event.

And what’s more risky these days than social media. Decentralization, transparency and conversations are departures from the safe and the familiar. Poor execution can weaken the brand and damage corporate reputation. How often have you heard executives say, “I don’t want to give customers a platform to say negative things about us?”

Many companies are still opting to take a pass, postpone plans or continue to “consider their options.”

Now as a former corporate communications vice president, I appreciate the need to minimize risk. I understand that decisions are often reached by consensus (or depending on your perspective, committee). Bold action can be reckless or impolitic.

But as I move ahead with plans to launch a consultancy and in talking with potential clients, I have reached the following conclusion – When risk becomes necessity, it is no longer a choice.

You must act. The fear associated with risk is diminished. In its place is a clear line of attack.

Consider the following. You are in the second floor of burning building. Jumping out a window would normally be risky. But now staying in the building is more risky. So you jump.

This is not just a game of semantics. As we all know, there are real business consequences at stake with the decision to take a risk.


Reaching A Social Media Tipping Point

Social media may involve unacceptable levels of risk, but at a certain point, the opposite will be true. Not acting will mean real loss (of customers) and damage (to your reputation).

It would be interesting if we could create a way to graph the social media tipping point – the point where no action is worse than action. That tipping point would vary from company to company and industry to industry, but it would include the following matrices:

• Actions by competitors – competitors launch initiatives that position them as leaders, which in turn attract attention, generate more sales, and increase market share

• Online conversations of your customers – negative comments increase or the number of conversations starts declining suggesting a diminished brand or increased irrelevance

• Reactions by existing and potential employees – employees appear less engaged and attracting new younger employees becomes more difficult

As advocates of social media, how can we minimize risk? We can’t change market dynamics, and we can’t implement business strategy unilaterally. But we can monitor actions by competitors, online conversations by customers, and reactions by employees. We can build internal consensus by educating executives and rank and file on the benefits of social media. We can form partnerships with the marketing and product development teams to help build in social media components. And we can help determine ROI for department heads who are looking to cut costs and increase revenue.

It is said no one was ever fired by hiring IBM. There is safety in what is familiar. As market professionals we need to respect the power of risk.

But I will maintain that when it comes to social media, it is a matter of when, not if. Waiting until risk becomes necessity comes at a cost. Are we willing to cede a possible competitive advantage? Is that a risk we are willing to take?

Let me get back to you.

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Posted by Dan Greenfield in 15:15:17 | Permalink | Comments (5)