Category: Business and Marketing

The Evolution of Social Media

The person who initially introduced me to social media in 2005 just announced that he is quitting Facebook.

He is not the first person I know who has expressed that the sugar high of social media has crashed. In fact, for the past couple of years, I have been going through my own highs and lows. Considering I made social media my career choice I could not just quit. Instead, I have been forced to think through what is going on in me, in society, and in business and what I want to do about it.

During a business meeting a couple of years ago I was asked what my contingency plan was after social media peaked. I tried to explain that I was anxiously waiting for that day to come so we can get down to the real business of social media.

You see, the creation of social media is very much like the discovery of how to make fire. Stay with me here.

fireI can imagine the first man who figured out how to make fire. To everyone around him, and probably to him, it seemed like magic. Very quickly his tribe recognized that the ability to create fire would change everything. I bet the “fire makers” of the tribe were highly compensated. I can also imagine there were people in the tribe who were afraid of the fire and thought that people should not use fire.

I can imagine the many experiments the tribes attempted with fire. I wonder how many people were burned, and how many fires spread beyond the control of the tribe. It must have been an exciting and dangerous time.

As time passed, more and more people learned how to create fire and fire became no big deal anymore. Everyone moved on. But did humanity stop using fire? Of course not. We just use fire now when it makes sense to. Are there still fire specialists? Yes! They blow beautiful glass creations, cook wonderful meals, or save our property from being destroyed.

Just like fire no longer seems like magic, many of us are no longer thrilled with the magic of social media. But that does not mean social media is going away. No. We are just going to use the tools that help us do what we want to do instead of expecting the tools to do magic for us.

So where does that leave me as a social media consultant? Well, there are still many people who are just learning what all these tools are and I expect that will continue to be the case for at least a couple of years. However, when I show people these tools I get the most joy from seeing their creativity unleashed, new relationships discovered, and newfound courage developed.

I love empowering people and that is how I will continue to use social media and the ever-growing number of digital tools. Just like a glass blower uses fire to shape glass I will use social media to help people shape their dreams.

Why Social Media is not living up to its potential?

What a week! and it is only Wednesday.

When I got started in Social Media I gave myself the title Idealist. I saw a vision of the many wonderful opportunities the open web was going to bring. That was a long time ago. I have been slapped multiple times with a healthy dose of reality. Especially this past week.

The lessons of the week have been very enlightening. In a short time, I found myself explaining the three issues I have with the current state of social media in such a way that I was able to see how these three issues are related and how they are hurting us from truly embracing the opportunities that social media offers.

1. Social Media Has Been Hijacked by Marketing and PR

Social Media was not created to be a channel for marketing and PR. It was created by innovators who desired a way to collaborate with each other. They needed tools and so they created the tools and offered them freely, or mostly free to anyone who wanted a platform for conversation and collaboration. That WAS the dream of social media when I got started. Now the dream is to drive traffic to your website, get word of mouth marketing, make a video go viral, create buzz, and so on and so on.

Need evidence of this? Just look at the latest articles that claim that your social media manager should be under 25. What can a 25-year-old do for you? Well they know the language, they know the tools, and they can spit out your message. But they are not the people making business decisions nor do they have the experience to consult with the company about what business changes need to be made based on conversations that are happening online. No, social media does not have the respect that it deserves yet, so it has been taken over by loudmouths, aggressive salespeople, and spammers which now vastly outnumber the type of innovators, entrepreneurs, and change agents that gave birth to the social web.

2. FEAR!

Jim Collins was wrong, Good is not the enemy of Great, Fear is!

Social Media is still foreign to many communicators. Some fear the technology, some fear the openness, some fear making a mistake, some fear the idea that people get to talk back. This fear can no longer stop them from being a part of social media. It is no longer a choice. Communicators are being directed to have a social media presence, but having a presence does not mean embracing social media. For many, it means outsourcing social media responsibilities to someone else who can be blamed if anything goes wrong. It means using social media channels to do business the same old way, connecting with media outlets and institutions and avoiding any and all contact with individuals. It means doing as little as possible and then pointing out that their social media efforts are not working as well as traditional messaging. Meanwhile, scrappy little start-ups and courageous thought leaders will continue to be disruptive causing more fear and uncertainty among those who are too scared to truly dive in.

3. Left Brain Thinking

My frustration from the beginning has been how often organizations embrace the new technology without considering the new skills and approaches that must come along with the technology. On the flip side, many people I know who develop new technologies believe all they have to do is build a great tool and it will be successful. We have seen enough great tools fail to know this is not true. Look at absolutely every tool that Yahoo! purchased such as Delicious, Upcoming and Flickr. Great technologies that they thought would bring them social media success just because they enabled users to be social. But without ongoing innovation and a nurturing community manager, all of these great tools are disappearing. More recently RIM (Blackberry) purchased two of my favorite tools Gist and Tungle. Guess what…Gist is going, going gone.

Why does this happen? I am currently reading the book, A Whole New Mind, which does a good job explaining how our traditional celebration of left brain thinking (engineering, number crunching, logic, SAT stuff)  is starting to lose some of its spark as we are starting to realize that we have evolved to a point when beauty, empathy, and nurturing communications is required.

That is what social media requires for us to move forward;  a desire to create, collaborate and connect. A desire to nurture our right brain in spite of the logic of our left brain. A desire that is strong enough to overcome fear.

Social Media has empowered many people to live a life that was not possible 10 years ago, myself included. It has also forced people to make changes they were not ready for and caused a lot of anxiety. And as we have all seen it has given power to voices who do not know how to appropriately use such power.

It is a messy, messy place, but it is not going away. I can only hope that we, as the human race, continue to evolve to a place where we can take advantage of the opportunities that were envisioned when these collaborative tools were created.

Too Much Information or How the Truth Gets Lost

In 7 years of talking about social media, I have never thought that I would be the one to say, “There is too much information.”

In the early days of social media, there were huge debates about the value of user-generated content vs the media (old media vs new media). Although I rarely participated in these debates I usually found myself on the side of new media. Even some of my early presentations illustrated how new media was just as valuable and trustworthy as old media, and maybe even more so because of the power of the network to call out anything false and for ongoing dialog that will expose the truth.

This was before Marketing and PR hijacked social media.

In 2006 and 2007 I gave a lot of presentations to Marketing and PR professionals. The question that I was asked at every presentation was “how do we control the message?” My answer was that you can’t. I was wrong.

I have watched as lots of money has been poured into social media campaigns to get people excited or inspired to spread the message to their friends thus using the power of the network to imply that the message was true. We can see this in political smear campaigns and branded marketing campaigns, which is to be expected. But the recent Kony2012 campaign is what recently got my attention and has made me quite concerned.

My first exposure to the Kony2012 campaign was when I read a headline in my Google Alerts that basically said a new social media campaign was about to be launched and I should not believe it. I did not read any further. Then my friends on Facebook started posting the video and expressing their heartfelt support for the campaign. I even learned that one of my connections was actually from Uganda and had first-hand experiences with warlords. I thought back to the initial report that warned me to ignore this campaign and made a mental note to do more research. Then my teenage son came home and told me about the campaign. As we talked about it I mentioned the headline I read that said to ignore the campaign. He explained to me that everything, even a good campaign such as this, will have haters. Haters are gonna hate. The hater’s side of the story is there is nothing we can do, or it is not our problem and so forth. Typical apathy. I made another mental note to look into the campaign.

This morning my 11-year-old son was on my laptop. When I was finally able to win the custody battle for my Mac I noticed that my son had not logged off the chat he was having with another 5th grader about the Kony video. At this point, I knew I had to look into this.

But before I began my Kony research I decided to go through my Daily Google Alerts. My alerts were full of articles about the Kony2012 campaign. Mostly of how well the campaign has been executed. Social Media Today had a great post titled Ripoff or Revolution? which pointed out Grant Oyston’s Tumblr account which was asking good questions about the Kony2012 campaign.

Then I came across the post How Kony2012 gets it wrong. There are a lot of good questions being asked about motives, message, and facts.

When it comes to wanting to do something good for mankind or to stop horrific evil, we can do little things every day. Those little things add up. But when those little things are part of a misdirected larger effort, then ultimately more harm is done.

Perhaps I was right many years ago in believing that social media brings out the truth because of the ability for others to respond. But what I have learned is that there is so much noise on the web that many people miss the responses. It takes time to research the validity of a story, which is why so much misinformation gets passed around. And unless a response to such a story is positioned in a way that it makes a person look good or feel good to share the other side of the story, the response will never gain the power from a strong network.  How can one feel good about telling their friends that they have been duped, that their good deed for the day may have caused more harm than good? More importantly, how do we keep from getting cynical and apathetic?

More than ever, we all have a responsibility to do a little more than sign our name to a list or share a story with our friends. If we truly want to make a difference in our world, we need to get involved with the world even if it means taking a little time to learn more than one side of the story. There is a lot of information on the web that if we take the time to read more details and ask more questions, the truth should never get lost.


Making the “Holiday Ask” Personal (A Case Study)

It’s that time of year;

  • The ringing of the Salvation Army bells
  • The opportunity to donate food as you buy your groceries
  • Events that require toys for tots as an entry fee

Whereas all of these activities are successful because they make it easy to give, they seem to lack the personal touch of knowing who you are supporting, where your gifts are going, or how you are changing lives. They also require enormous effort to attract partners and volunteers to be everywhere shoppers and party-goers are.

Even though the end of the year is a time of giving both for altruistic reasons and for tax reasons, it is also a time of great competition for dollars among nonprofits. The smaller nonprofits need to be extra creative within very tight budget constraints.

My client, Georgia Lions Lighthouse Foundation, has created a campaign that is creative, compelling, entertaining with a personal touch.

It starts with a video, Santa Claus Needs New Eyewear.

The video is funny, showcases the work that the Lighthouse does, and has a call to action. The Lighthouse produced this video by showcasing the talents that existed in their own building. The lyrics were written by a staff member and the vocals were provided by another staff member.

The call to action is for you to visit their holiday website Check It Twice.  At the website, instead of just asking for a donation, the Lighthouse has developed a holiday gift catalog where you can choose the amount you would like to give by choosing the gift you would like to give. Not only does this make your gift more personal, in one snapshot it also tells the story of all the work that the Lighthouse is involved with.

While you are the site you can also read the touching letter from Gary who continues to be a productive member of society thanks to the work of the Georgia Lions Lighthouse.

Not only has the Lighthouse developed an entertaining campaign that is seeking end-of-the-year gifts, but they are also effectively enhancing the community’s awareness of the work that they do all year long; work that not only makes a difference to the lives of individual clients but also makes a difference for the whole community.

Can You Build Brand Equity Without Mentioning the Brand?

originally posted on Concept Hub

In short, the answer is no.

However, we now live in a world where people are tuning out commercials and advertisements. Our attention is short and fragmented.

By May 2010, YouTube was exceeding 2 billion views a day. To put that in perspective, the 2011 Super Bowl was the most-watched program ever…with a mere 111 million viewers.

With so many people getting their information online through their social networks the challenge for brands has been how to break through the noise and get their message spread, i.e. go viral.

One of the early viral videos was the Dove commercial which tapped into the existing conversation of a women’s natural beauty compared to the airbrushed distortions of what we see in advertisements that tell us how beautiful we could look. This message was a direct contradiction to what I learned in many of my Marketing classes in college about creating a need to be better. Although the brand was front and center throughout the video, the message was more of a public service announcement than a commercial.

People like to feel good and they like to see the world changing for what they feel is better. The Dove video captured both the element of empowering women to feel good about their image and the idea that the world was becoming more “real.”

However, consider the gum video…I honestly forget what the brand was that produced the incredible video Where the Hell is Matt. Oh! how many people saw that video and had tears in their eyes at the end. What an incredible soundtrack paired with an incredible journey. No one knew it was sponsored by a brand. No brand is mentioned, but our emotions were swept away…until we learned it was all filmed on green screen and sponsored by that gum…what was the brand? Whatever the brand, it left me with a bitter taste.

Many brands are trying to create viral videos that are entertaining. My all-time favorite is…not Old Spice, but Evian’s Roller Babies. I mean not only impressive technology, cuteness, but also a song that brings back memories of my own childhood. I am entertained, but I am not running out to buy a bottle of Evian (or Old Spice). These brands are more top of mind for me, but I am not emotionally connected. I have not seen any numbers about whether or not these videos actually impacted the bottom line of the brands, only the numbers of how viral they were and the lift in awareness. At the end of the day, awareness does not necessarily increase sales.

Today I saw another video, one made in Taiwan with English subtitles. It was posted on Facebook by my friend Toby Bloomberg. The video took me on a journey. Told me a story, and connected me to the characters. At the end, I felt inspired. I felt I had a responsibility, a call to action to answer the question, “what am I living for?” And I felt I had a bank that was by my side who understood life is more than our daily grind. With the very minimum mention of the brand, this video not only raised awareness but also built brand equity with their story. A story that has gone international asking the world the question “What do people live for?” Too bad they’re not in my neighborhood….yet.

What a Social Media Expert Does

There continues to be a lot of social media expert bashing going on. My standard policy in such debates is to let the battle go on without me. My focus is on improving my skills in ways that best serve my clients. Since 2005 I have watched and learned from a variety of heated debates including old media vs new media, whether or not social media was a waste of time and a fad, content paywall vs free information, and now why you should not hire a social media expert.

I have felt all the previous debates were healthy discourses related to the changing world. However, I feel the bashing of social media experts is becoming quite dangerous.

I came into the social media field with a very focused vision of what social media was and how it would affect the business world. Almost 6 years later my perspective has not changed much. I have always said social media will impact every department within every industry. It will knock down siloed walls within companies and it will knock down barriers for millions of competitors. Early on I was very aggressive in trying to get this message out, however, the more clients I worked with the more I learned what my role is and what a social media expert is supposed to do.

A social media expert needs to go where the client is in their understanding of social media. Some clients think of social media as a PR initiative. Others see it as an extension of a digital marketing campaign. Some see it as a sales channel where others see it as an opportunity to provide customer service. However, the social media expert does not allow their client to stay in one place with their understanding of social media. They guide the client to new doors and windows where the opportunity lies waiting while threats continue to sneak in.

At one time I had a strict policy to not handle a client’s social media efforts. I explained to my clients that for me to handle their social media would be equivalent to me answering their emails or going to a networking event on their behalf. However, that is one policy I did change several years ago. I realized that part of helping an organization change and embrace the new web was to literally show them the way. We have taken on projects to set up and grow channels and even posting messages and engaging with the community, all while helping clients see how this new world fits in with how they are already doing business.

This leads to what kind of skillset a social media expert needs to have. They need to be salespeople who know how to sell a vision. They need to be project managers who know how to assign tasks and measure the results. They need to be bleeding edge evangelists who thrive on keeping up with the latest innovations and connecting the dots of how the new toys can improve current business processes. But at the same time, they need to be patient trainers who get excited when they are teaching a person how to set up a Linkedin profile and they begin to see all the light bulbs coming on for that person.

Just like there are many doctors, lawyers, and used car salespeople with all kinds of different experiences, values, and approaches to their profession, there are all kinds of social media experts. The danger of bashing the profession is that companies who need the guidance the most will look to people who specialize in only one area that social media touches, such as PR or Marketing and will continue to miss out on new opportunities or will not recognize the incoming threats of today’s world.

Big Brands, Passionate Causes, and No Names

originally posted on Concept Hub

Over the years I have had the opportunity to work with organizations of all sizes; from projects for Fortune 100 well-known brands to consultations with solo-preneurs. Although there are some basic rules that apply to social media no matter the organization, the approach and expectations are vastly different based on your industry and how your organization is positioned in the marketplace.

This is why I often cringe when clients or peers reference what big brands are doing in social media as an example of how they would like to build their strategy. Besides the fact that big brands tend to have more money to experiment with and access to large agencies, the challenges, and opportunities that a big brand faces are vastly different than what a startup or even a mid-sized company is facing. This is also why, when choosing an agency to help you with your social media plan, it is best to work with someone who has already experienced the challenges you will be facing.

In a recent course I delivered I segmented the types of challenges that each of three different types of organizations faces and where their focus would be.

Big Brands

For big brands, we are not just talking about the size of an organization but also how well they are known in the marketplace. Think Coca-Cola, Chick-Fil-A, Nestle.

For these brands, there is already a  large volume of conversation about them happening on the web whether they choose to participate or not. The goal is to understand what is being expressed in order to capitalize on the positive sentiment while managing any negative backlash. This is something that Nestle did not do very well when launching their Facebook Page.

Secondary to understanding the brand’s social strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats is to maintain brand integrity while amplifying the conversation, rallying the community around a goal, cause, or product, and measure the effectiveness.

Big brands have a lot to get their arms around when leveraging social media, but creating buzz usually isn’t one of the big hurdles.

Passionate Causes 

I have to admit, I have the most fun working with companies who are building a community around a passionate cause.  Oftentimes I get to work with passionate causes through a nonprofit client.

A passionate cause can be anything from curing cancer to running. It is a cause or activity that people are consumed by. They are involved in the community, not for money, but for the greater good (personal or global), to make a difference, and to be part of a community. This is the kind of stuff that social media was created for.

Like big brands, those organizations that are part of a passionate cause have a huge community of people already involved in social media. The challenge is, they may not be involved with your organization. There are so many competing groups, events, organizations, and chatter, it takes work to get people focused in one direction. When working with nonprofits the challenge is compounded by a lack of time and resources to nurture the existing communities. Too many times groups have fallen for the idea of “build it and they will come” hoping that a plug and play social media platform will solve all the problems.

The goal should be to focus on building a community, starting with each person that is involved with the organization. Toss aside the marketing speak and share stories. In the case of the passionate cause, my most relevant  twitter-sized philosophy is:

Your best assets are hidden. Locked away in your heart, mind, & experiences. Social Media is a place where you can set them free.

I recall sitting in a staff meeting at one of the nonprofits I was working with and just feeling the passion from each team member. They knew, without a doubt, the difference they were making. When I shared with them ways they could release that energy from beyond the walls of their building  I could see the excitement. In a few short months, they have done an amazing job telling their stories and inspiring clients and volunteers to share their stories as well. They have also taken steps to participate in other communities, sharing ideas and stories and thus expanding their reach exponentially. For a passionate cause, the goal is to rally the community to contribute online and to share their passions throughout the web.

No Names

No Names could be a start-up company, but it could also be a large company in an industry that no one really thinks about often in their daily lives, such as Retirement Planning.

The challenge is to build trust, create relevancy, provide daily value, and to tie it back to the organization’s bottom line. For me, this is where I wear my consultative, relationship building, sales hat. But it has to be more than a hat, it has to be authentic.

When you are building your brand name you are networking (social networking). You are getting to know people are their terms, caring about what they care about and sharing stories and information that help them achieve their goals. It is all about service. I am reading the book about Zappos, Delivering Happiness.  Their story is the perfect example of how to build a brand and build a community through the heart of a servant. Zappos sells shoes, online! and they survived two significant recession and continue to thrive. They did this by caring about people. They cared about people before social media and then through social media. When you are working on a social media strategy for an organization that is a no name, don’t worry so much about building your name. Instead, consult, serve, and entertain, and your network will build your name for you.

No matter your organization, always remember social media is always about people first.

Social Media Consulting Vs. Community Management

originally posted on Concept Hub

Since 2005 I have had the privileged to provide consultation, training and project management to several clients in the Metro Atlanta area. One of those clients, eRollover, has provided me with the opportunity to round out my experience by serving as their Community Director.

I  have always believed that social media needs to be integrated with various in-house job functions. As a consultant, my role has often been to guide my clients to adopt social media in the various ways that the organization felt ready. For some clients, it was as basic as getting their employees set up on Linkedin, for others it is was launching a branded niche community. As a community manager on staff with eRollover my role has been to continue to push the organization to be a social company from inside out.

Although my responsibilities include driving traffic to the website, getting followers on Twitter and Facebook and encouraging engagement on the various sites, I also need to ensure that each team member is also part of the community, not just on our site, but throughout the web. I have had the opportunity to sit in the strategy meetings for every aspect of the company to ensure that we are leveraging social software for everything from raising money to generating revenue.

What I have learned in the past year is:

Consulting is a lot easier than managing! As a consultant, I am still very hands-on with all the tools and personally apply the best practices. But when I apply my theories to my personal brand or even the Concept Hub brand, I am personally involved and the positive results have often been a result of the fact that I am aligned with people of like minds. As a manager of a brand, I am trying to align the brand (a start-up brand at that) with a community of people who are already involved with other similar brands. I need to do this in such a way that I am not the center of attention, but the brand is, as well as the various team members. What has worked for me personally is not always working out for the brand.

Community Management cannot be a silo-ed position! This is not a surprise to me, it is what I have believed all along. Social Media touches every aspect of the business. Any effort in the business can be enhanced by social media. A community manager not only needs to be in the boardroom and at various team and strategy meetings, but they need to also be meeting one on one with all the decision managers helping them understand the impact that social media can have on the direction of the business. I am very fortunate that I am working with a team that believes this as well.

You need more than one voice on the web. Although ultimately I am responsible for the direction and the success (or failures) of our social media program, I cannot be the only voice on the web. I am representing only one perspective. In the case of eRollover, I can align with Gen Xers who have realized they need to do more to save for their future. Others on the team are active investors and can align with like minds. Although it is the eRollover brand that needs to be the center of the conversation, conversations happen between people and the more voices we have on the web from the team the more people we can align with.

Guidelines evolve! For many people who have managed a brand for a long time, social media continues to present some mind-boggling challenges. Especially now that brands can be involved in the conversations in the case of a branded twitter campaign or the new roll out of Facebook Pages that enable brands to comment on other brand pages. As social media continues to evolve your guidelines need to evolve. For example, if your community is gathering on a particular political site, should your brand be there?  If yes what will others who are from the other political spectrum think of your brand?

Social Media roles are here to stay! at least for a while. I have read many opinions that social media is going to be swallowed by existing roles such as PR or Marketing. What I believed long ago when I started this agency and what I have found to be true in my role as Community Director is that there is a need for a new role focused solely on social media. We need PR to focus on PR while integrating social media into their role. We need marketing to focus on marketing while integrating social media into their role. But organizations will also continue to need an agency or person who can continue to find new ways to push the company to be more innovative and to include new markets which will be the role of the savvy Community Director and Social Media consultants.

Perhaps the titles will change as more people try to differentiate their offerings. Perhaps the roles will vary based on the needs and culture of each organization, but I do believe the need for expertise in social media will be needed for a good long time.

How to Deal with Experts

originally posted on Concept Hub

A little over a year ago a friend of mine was encouraging me to be a little more controversial in my writing. There were debates going on in the social media-verse that I had strong opinions about but chose to stay out of the conversations.

One of those debates was related to the use of the word “expert” especially in regards to someone claiming to be a social media expert. I am of the opinion that there are people who have chosen to focus on the study of social media and how it impacts business and society, therefore work to make social media their “expertise.” I also know that when you are in front of people who want to hear about your  knowledge and experience or are willing to pay you for your “expert” opinion, it does not give them any comfort to hear you shy away from the word “expert.”

Although I felt I had good points I still chose to stay out of the debate. However, I was very pleased to see Shel Holtz’s article claiming that It’s time for the anti-social media guru meme to die.

With all that said, it is still incredibly important that brands and organizations not pay good money for the advice of a person who claims to be an expert. Here are 3 ways to deal with an expert, social media or otherwise.

1. Do not buy anything you do not understand.

When I was a teen, my dad and brother taught me enough about cars that I can hear a noise and know what the problem could be. Otherwise, I could be out on my own with a minor belt squeaking and get charged for a whole new transmission.

Know enough about social media to know what you want to do with social media. If a consultant or agency tries to sell you on all the things social media can do, ask questions, ask for case studies, and ask about the roles your organization will have to play for success.

2. Know what you need an expert for.

Social Media has and will continue to impact every department within your business. It is something each of your team will need to learn how to integrate into their current responsibilities. An expert who has dedicated their career to making the impact of social media their expertise will understand this. However, we will often see the big picture and want to move at a different, much faster pace than what your organization is ready for. It is important that social media integration is handled as carefully as any change management initiative.

3. Make sure the expert is focused but not too focused.

Social Media has had a great impact on PR, Marketing, and Interactive Agencies. Now each discipline is claiming to have expertise in social media. What they have is expertise in is how social media impacts their discipline. The challenge is that social media crosses all departments and an organization must be prepared for that. Although there is great value in having your PR or Marketing person integrating social media into their communications efforts, it is also valuable to have an expert who understands social media in all of its various forms.

I hope that Shel Holtz’s call for the anti-social media guru meme to die is a sign that social media is finally maturing and real experts who can make a real difference can be separated from the many people who entered the social media world to try to cash in on what they thought was the latest fad.