June 16th, 2009
Paul Levy is the CEO and President of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts, and author of the blog, “Running a Hospital.”
- Paul Levy knew nothing about health care, medicine, or running a hospital, yet he still found it fascinating. So he decided to start writing a blog.
- Paul Levy posts real time data of operations at BIDMC to brag about their success, but also to expose issues that need improvement.
- Blogging has inspiring clinicians to do better because they know their results will be seen by the public.
- Blogging should be a core part of a CEO’s duties to promote his/her organization.
December 20th, 2008
Andy Sernovitz is the author of “Word of Mouth Marketing: How Smart Companies Get People Talking” and founder of GasPedal, a word of mouth marketing firm.
- If you have a strong personal brand or corporate brand it supersedes whatever the hot product of the day is.
- Launching word of mouth marketing requires marketers to stop thinking about what can I get for my budget.
- Once you start talking to people and they start talking back, you can never put that genie back in the bottle.
- Word of mouth is a function of customer service.
- For word of mouth to work you need talkers, topics, and tools.
- It’s so easy to apply a little effort and get little successes to create a business case for word of mouth marketing.
- Unbury that hidden statistic that shows that a huge percentage of your customers come to you for free. Compare word of mouth marketing costs to search engine marketing costs.
- Could one person if they were sitting on Twitter would be more functional if they were on the phone?
- Find the heroes within your company and the simple wins.
Developing the “Andy” brand vs. the company brand
Andy Sernovitz is synonymous with word of mouth marketing. From his popular book to his firm, GasPedal, he’s a highly sought after thought leader for speaking engagements on the subject. But that hasn’t always been the case.
Originally, GasPedal was a dotcom incubator, and thus its brand was all about Internet start ups. Over time the company began focusing on email communications, and thus the brand changed to the email marketing people. Now that they’ve expanded that subset of word of mouth marketing, GasPedal’s formed the brand of being the word of mouth marketing people.
“The [company] brand has become a function of what I’m doing at any particular point in time, which is an interesting point in personal branding that if you have a strong personal brand or corporate brand it supersedes whatever the hot product of the day is,” Sernovitz said.
Because Sernovitz is a speaker, much of his work is associated with him personally. The problem is Andy doesn’t scale. Without the company, he’s the product. And only one of him can fly around and do keynote speeches and consult with companies. It’s a common problem for consultants. “What happens is you run out of you, and it’s exhausting. The reason there’s a GasPedal brand is the objective has got to be not buying Andy, but buying our education and our training and what we do so the de-Andification of Gas Pedal is a very explicit product. It’s a very explicit branding objective,” Sernovitz said.
The brand of GasPedal has very little of Andy Sernovitz in it. But separately, in a different brand space is his book and his blog with very little mention of his company.
Word of mouth marketing is not that difficult
Word of mouth marketing is so much easier than people think, said Sernovitz. He has companies that come to him and they say, “I’ve got $100,000 and I want to do word of mouth marketing campaign.” It’s a common introduction because that’s how marketers work. They think about budget. Throw enough money at a problem and you’ll get results.
That’s not how marketers should be approaching word of mouth marketing. One must think, how do I build relationships with people and give them something they want to share?
“Word of mouth marketing is first and foremost about communications. And turning them on, and making them happy, and giving them things to talk about. So when you go into a word of mouth campaign with ‘We’re going to do a campaign that has a budget, and a start and a stop.’ That’s not how it works. Once you start talking to people and they start talking back, you can never put that genie back in the bottle. It’s a campaign misconception,” said Sernovitz.
Word of mouth is a function of customer service
Sernovitz doesn’t believe that social media is synonymous with word of mouth. Social media is simply one of the many tools you can use to generate word of mouth.
In actuality, word of mouth is a function of customer service. You provide that service in a way that your audience should want to share it. He references the popularity of Zappos, the online shoe company. They’re not popular because they Tweet, but rather they’ve developed a customer service methodology that bleeds through traditional and non-traditional (e.g. Twitter) forms of communications. To only talk about their success on Twitter is only capturing a small part of Zappos’ entire customer service story.
For word of mouth to work, three things need to come together:
- Who’s going to talk about you? The talkers.
- What are they going to say? The topics.
- How are we going to make it easier for them to say it? The tools (traditional and social media).
Word of mouth doesn’t have to have social media involved at all. Sernovitz tells the story of Lowe’s 10% off coupons that he sees available on a weekday at the store. He realizes that Lowe’s figures that anyone that comes to its store before 12pm on a weekday is probably going back to work. So why not give people something to bring back to work that they can place on the office refrigerator? It’s a simple sheet that just says “Office Deals.” Lowe’s invites you to take this sheet, put it on your company fridge, offering up ten 10% off coupons for ten of your coworkers.
The Lowe’s coupon sheet is a very economical and efficient means of word of mouth, and it’s not social media. In the Lowe’s example, the “talkers” are the shoppers. The “topic” is the offer, but really you can also say the topic is connecting with your coworkers. And you make it easier with a single sheet with ten offers that you can put on the fridge (“the tool”).
How do you join in the conversation, expand it, and accelerate it?
The essential step of word of mouth marketing that so many companies have a hard time with is just “do it.” Not to do it big with a huge $100,000 budget, but just begin communicating and do it. It’s hard to fail with this stuff, said Sernovitz. It’s so easy to apply a little effort and get little successes to create a business case.
Sernovitz told the story of the Chicago Tribune journalist who became the social media evangelist for the paper with his character he dubbed “Col. Tribune.” All he did was send out light goofy Tweets on Twitter that garnered him a lot of success.
Sernovitz said that any individual can gather the same learnings as a business analyst by constantly trying stuff. All the word of mouth success stories begin exactly the same way – someone just started doing it.
Not all customers come from marketing efforts
Where do you get your business? Does it all come from marketing? Probably not. Unbury that hidden statistic that shows that a huge percentage of your customers come to you for free. No marketing effort brought them there. They heard about you through word of mouth. That’s your number one ROI. You want to get more of those free customers.
It’s easy to calculate the value of customers garnered through word of mouth. Let’s say you pay $5 for a lead through search marketing. A referral through search marketing is not nearly as a strong as a recommendation from a friend. If you add an “email a friend” link on your product page, that referral is worth at least $5 if not more. If you can get 5,000 people to click on that link, the value of that button is at least $25,000. It’s worth it to you now to spend some money on that page, the offer, and conversion. The cost to change that is far less than your SEM efforts.
Shift customer service efforts to enhance word of mouth marketing for the same cost
Word of mouth makes a lot of good things obvious. For example, in the case of a great customer service call (the customer calls, gets their problem fixed, and everyone’s happy) that moment is lost once the phone hangs up. Nobody knows that the call happened. But if that same customer had the same problem and they wrote it up on their blog, the cost to your business is the same. When someone goes to search that same problem, they find it, and can have that same experience. You help a lot more people, but you spend the same amount of money.
I told Sernovitz my story about the woman who couldn’t get satisfaction calling DirecTV’s customer support, but did when she sent out a Tweet. While I thought it was ironic that the two departments weren’t talking to each other on how to handle customers, Sernovitz said it made perfect sense. Twitter allows a company to have a fresh new start with customer service, said Sernovitz. The phone system is loaded with baggage. They can start customer service over again with a presence on Twitter.
When I asked Sernovitz what’s the biggest mistake he’s made in social media, he admitted that he often makes things too complicated. For example, he will set up huge communities with all these varying technologies and functionality, but in the end realizes that the most functional tools are often phone calls and an email list. He finds that the less he does, the more successful he becomes.
Andy Sernovitz’s advice for companies getting started in word of mouth marketing
Offering up the same advice Chris Brogan gave in his “Be the Voice” interview, Sernovitz suggested companies should start by listening. That doesn’t mean hiring an analytics company. Just set up Google Alerts, said Sernovitz. (NOTE: I suggest doing a lot more than Google Alerts. Google Alerts only catch a small portion of conversation about you.)
Second step is to find someone who really wants to do this. Find the person who loves social media and who’s wearing the company shirt on weekends, Sernovitz said. Ross Mayfield suggested the same thing in his “Be the Voice” interview as well. Although it was really hip at one point, don’t have your CEO blog. The CEO should be running the company.
And finally, find the simple wins. Could one person if they were sitting on Twitter would be more functional if they were on the phone? Take them off the phone and find out. Or instead of spending $5,000 on an SEM campaign, why not soup up a tell a friend form?
Simply put, find the heroes within your company and the simple wins. It’s really hard to screw this up, said Sernovitz.
November 10th, 2008
Summary (Chris Brogan):
- Large companies know that their marketing dollars aren’t cutting it like they use to.
- While not everyone is ready to publish in social media, everyone can agree to begin a listening campaign.
- When you listen, don’t just look for your company name, but think how the consumer would write about issues related to your product.
- Begin building relationships now with influencers. It’ll be a lot easier to talk with them down the line when you have positive and negative news.
- Brogan purposely doesn’t finish his blog posts and that invites lots of comments. People love to give their opinion and he wants readers to feel welcome to do that.
- Transparency is a misused term. Not all companies can be transparent, but everyone can disclose a relationship where others may perceive a conflict if it wasn’t disclosed.
- Being part of the conversation means actually learning the language and being more of an appropriate immigrant to this new digital community.
- Don’t assume social media doesn’t exist until you arrive.
I spoke to Brogan about how he conducts his business as a social media consultant. Brogan talks with a lot of large corporations about incorporating social media into their marketing mix. What I was eager to find out from Brogan was how he got these large corporations to take the social media plunge. For years I’ve dealt with companies that only can think like a traditional marketer (e.g. make sure you hit all your message points). I asked Brogan, how do you get companies to shift from marketing-type thinking and more into the storytelling and informational nature that’s required of social and new media communications.
Recognizing you can’t build Rome in a day, Brogan doesn’t immediately recommend companies start going into full blown social media production mode. He first tries to get a level of agreement with potential clients that marketing has changed for their business. That they’re getting less and less uptake for the number of dollars they’re putting into traditional marketing. They usually agree to that. In fact, they probably agreed to that before he walked through the door. There’s a reason they asked him to come.
What’s different today about these social media marketing meetings, said Brogan, is that now he’s meeting with senior level people. In the past, he would talk to kids in the organization who were chomping at the bit to get something done. Things have definitely changed. You’ve got CMOs and VP’s of Marketing realizing that they’re slow out of the gate, but they know they want to do this. And Brogan feels that this trend shows that the market is evolving. Companies are taking social media seriously as a place they actually want to place their dollars.
Commitment to listening
I asked Brogan how committed these companies are on the long haul and he said what they are committed to is listening, not necessarily exposing their voice online. “They’re almost always willing to commit to a listening program. Because I can almost always find either dirt or really interesting competitive information for free on the Web every single day,” said Brogan.
Brogan describes one company (could not mention name) that was doing some listening, via Google alerts, but only around their company name. They didn’t actually do any listening around what their product was and how people would actually talk about it (e.g. “My ____ service sucks”). “They weren’t putting in things that would get into the mindset of what the customer would write about this,” said Brogan, “They were doing it from their brand.”
To help the company, Brogan started putting in search terms as to what a customer would say if they were having a good or bad experience with the company. What they discovered is there was a lot more being said about them positive and negative. Brogan used Google blog search, Twitter search, and Technorati to see where those conversations were happening.
For hearing what people are saying about your company, products, and services, Brogan started plugging a company Radian6 that delivers as their CEO describes, “Listening at the point of need.” Radian6 is a dashboard tool that you can tweak and listen across multiple social applications, the Web, discussion boards, and communications services. Radian6 has many competitors like BuzzLogic, Nielsen BuzzMetrics, and Visible Technologies. Brogan argues that these services are too expensive, charging upwards of $50,000. Radian6 has some solutions that are as low as $500/month. The big difference, said Brogan, is with Radian6 you get the toolset, not just a report at the end of the month that tells you what’s happening. Other services may charge you for every requested change. Radian6 lets you change the terms and tweak until you see what you need to see.
Brogan said large companies respond well to the listening and that’s simply because listening is an easier sell than trying to push a big campaign that gets the company fully embedded in social media. Although Brogan admits not all companies can listen. “A couple of pharmaceutical companies I worked with had to decline because it turns out that if somebody says something gripey, anecdotal, or negative about their product, they have reporting requirements that say they have to hand it in to some federal [monitoring] groups,” said Brogan. In other words, pharmaceutical companies can’t afford to listen. Especially if boneheads are typing in random symptoms connected with some pharmaceutical company’s product.
Taking it slow with big corporations
“When I talk to a large corporation I look for a comfort level first,” said Brogan, “They all say the same thing, ‘We feel like we’re a little slow to get on this. We feel like we’re behind everyone else. We’re really not sure.’ And they’ll cite one of the bigger social media blunder stories of the universe (e.g. Wal-Mart’s RV bloggers).” Once he understands where their comfort level is, then he gets into a discussion about commenting and what it’s like to comment on a blog, or what news outlets and blogs they should read that have anything to do with the company’s vertical.
“If you’ve already got a blog out there in the space and you’ve already started to build small relationships, then if some kind of big news hits or if something sweeps out across the social media space, having a blog in place and having even a small amount of relationships in place certainly is a lot easier,” said Brogan. You don’t want to have to launch as soon as there is a problem, said Brogan. “Having a platform (e.g. a blog) is a nice step, it’s just never my first step,” Brogan continued. Brogan suggests listening and then commenting to get yourself acclimated.
How to get tons of comments
On Brogan’s blog, he can have some posts that get north of 85 comments. He says his norm is between 30 to 60 comments per post. Yet, there are some of his posts that will only get zero to two comments. Of the posts that get few to no comments, Brogan is pushing the reader off to another location to either read another article or to see a video. For the posts that get tons of comments, Brogan purposefully doesn’t finish what he’s writing. Leaving lots of issues unanswered is an invitation to readers to add their thoughts.
“I usually write my blog posts so that they’re not entirely finished. I leave a lot of open space for you to add your opinion. And the reason I do that is because I want you to feel like there’s some contribution and some give or take to the experience. I’m not writing thesis and essay and editorials. I’m writing things where I have something in my mind and I want to share it and get your ideas too,” said Brogan. He’s constantly asking questions in his posts to elicit answers. He asks lots of questions. It’s very strategic for him. People love to give their opinion.
Biggest misunderstandings about social media
“Join the conversation” and “transparency” are buzzwords Brogan can do without. They’re the terms that are constantly demanded as requirements if you want to get into social media. But Brogan realizes that businesses can’t be completely transparent because private company information is a competitive advantage. You don’t want to be giving away trade secrets. It’s more of an issue as to “what” should be transparent. You don’t put your company strategy on the Web.
What most people mean by transparent is let’s not have “Wal-marting across America” again. That was the case where bloggers traveled across America in their RVs staying at Wal-Mart, never revealing they were hired by Wal-Mart. There wasn’t any disclosure and there should have been. “Transparency would be better said as disclosure and that’s where people get it wrong all the time,” said Brogan, “What we’re really saying with transparency is, is be open and honest about situations where there might be a prior relationship that would cause you something of an upsetting nature to happen should someone reveal that information.”
I referenced what Chris Shipley said in an interview (select the video) with me about not being able to control people’s opinions. You can only disclose and people will form their own opinions as to what that means. So if you say you’re working with some company, some will think it’s great that you’re getting inside information, and others will think you’re a shill for the company and that’s why you’re writing about them. Brogan referenced Robert Scoble when he was working at Microsoft as being a great example of the former way of thinking in that he was very open about who he worked for, but had no problem talking about the company positively or negatively.
I asked Brogan how somebody pulls off what Scoble did. Work for a company yet still talk negatively about them in a public forum. In Brogan’s upcoming book in May called “Trust Agents” co-written with Julian Smith, he talks about how to be open and honest on the Web. In the Scoble case, he wasn’t being negative strategically about the company, but rather he was “being one of us.” He was saying what many of us were thinking, but he said it with more authority because it was coming from someone within the company. He may have received plenty of internal heat for comments like that, but he got tons of props from the community at large.
Scoble could get away with his pro and con opinions about Microsoft because he had an audience, and that audience has value. “If he’s got an audience, then Microsoft wants to know what that audience thinks, and that’s better than paying some girl in a mall with a clipboard to get your opinion as you walk by,” Brogan said.
For companies looking to offer up the same freedom Robert Scoble had at Microsoft to its employees, yet not let them go over the line, Brogan suggests first opening up your company’s email policies. Ninety percent of blogging policies mirror a company’s email policies. The additional part is to add information about not being disloyal to the organization. You could say you want products to be a certain way. Brogan gives an example of how Robert Scoble might talk about how he prefers Firefox over IE. “There’s a big difference between Robert saying, ‘I wish IE would take some hints from Firefox’ than him saying, ‘IE will never be good. I can’t believe this company is bothering. I think we should drop this browser line entirely,’” explained Brogan.
With all that advice, Brogan still admits it’s not a science and company blogging is a live and learn situation.
As for the phrase “join the conversation” Brogan believes there are far too many opportunities to get this wrong. Some companies come in with a bullhorn and start talking. What you need to do is listen first and comment on what’s being said. “Being part of the conversation means actually learning the language and being more of an appropriate immigrant to this new digital community,” Brogan said.
As you begin to comment around the Web, it’s a good idea to take advantage of a commenting tool. Brogan recommends Disqus which allows you to track all your comments all over the Web. I use a service called Cocomment that does much of the same thing.
I asked Brogan is there are any large companies engaging in social media that really impress him. Excluding the way Whole Foods’ CEO, John Mackey, handled himself in the past, Brogan’s impressed with what the company is doing currently. They have a lot of online content, blogs, podcasts, video, and even Twitter. They have a Twitter person of the day where they just find someone who’s doing some good online and they give them recognition and an award which is usually a Whole Foods product. They’ll also talk a lot about community events going on in and near local stores. What he likes most is they’re putting a human face on Whole Foods and also trying to create that local market feel using social media and Twitter.
Don’t assume that social media doesn’t exist until you arrive
Brogan admits he’s made some massive blunders in social media. One case was when he reached out to the New England podcasters’ bulletin board and said he was going to invite all the social media rock stars to come to Boston for Podcamp. Nobody responded to what he thought was a generous offer until he saw a response on the board that said, “There are a lot of rock stars in Boston and it’s kind of offensive you got to import them from other places.” Brogan learned from his mistake. Wherever you go on the Web realize there’s been a history. Don’t assume you know everything and discredit what’s been done before you arrived, Brogan said.
“Social networks allow us to assume familiarity a little too fast,” Brogan said, “We presume by having these two way conversations on the Web that the other person knows and is comfortable with our interactions with them already. And so we sometimes overstep accidentally what we could request or make a joke that isn’t appropriate to that level of interrelationship.”
For the individual businessperson that wants to put their best social media foot forward, Brogan offers this advice, “Make sure you dress up your profile and who you are on the Web and how you’re representing yourself through these platforms appropriate to the space where you are and be human about it, instead of just putting the bare minimums of an account together just so that you can observe and be part of something or try to extract value before you’ve shown yourself there to be a persona.”
Photo credit: Daniel Alexander/Framesmedia.com
October 14th, 2008
Bill Ryan is the cofounder of Mandala, a branding and messaging services company. I sat down with Bill Ryan in his home in San Francisco to talk about how his business architects all the pieces of a company’s voice from branding to PR to messaging and to marketing.
- Companies poorly communicate their story to those that need to hear it (e.g. analysts, bloggers, journalists, and customers)
- Nobody wrote a check because they thought your company was “interesting.” You need to get them to the point where they say, “cool.”
- You need to sell the problem or the opportunity before you sell your solution.
- The lenses for which you and your audience look at your company are completely different.
- You need to be out in front telling your company’s story before your audience does it for you, which may not be to your advantage.
- If you have a situation where there’s no market, then you need to evangelize the space, bring interest to it, and own it.
- Increase discoverability by getting to every point on the influence chain. The further back you get, the more powerful it is.
- The biggest complement you can pay to a writer is to demonstrate that you’ve read what they’ve written.
From the individual up to the company level, we all tell stories. A company lives inside a story. The problem is there are many people who work in a company, and if you talk to five different employees, you’ll often get five different stories. That discontinuity within the organization is inevitably carried outside-to people who get pitched (e.g. press, bloggers) and everyone else.
Bill Ryan, cofounder of the branding and messaging services firm, Mandala, wanted to know how well companies communicated their “story.” Ryan talked to story recipients (e.g. analysts, VCs, and journalists) and asked them, “What percentage of companies have the ability to come in and tell you ‘what they do, why they’re different, and why you should care’ in a quick and efficient manner?” Sadly, the average response was 10% with the highest being 15%. Bad for the companies in question, great for Ryan who is in the corporate clarity business. Ryan is also a senior member of the marketing services company, Comunicano, where he leads their Words & Stories directorate.
Most people don’t have their story in place and just keep echoing their five message points, said Ryan. The most you can hope for is a long hour and a half discussion where they’ll inevitably get to the point and you’ll finally discover their story.
How fast can you get them to say, “cool”?
“Speed to cool” is Mandala’s own internal benchmark to determine how good someone’s company pitch is. During a pitch the listeners will often just nod their head and say, “Oh, interesting.” But as Ryan pointed out, “Nobody wrote a check because something was interesting.” What you’re going for is the moment in the presentation where it shifts from them saying, “interesting” to them saying, “cool.” That’s the moment they get it. Their body language changes, and they’re eager. It’s the point when the presenter can shift from just pitching, to closing. “Speed to cool is how fast can I get that audience to the point of saying, ‘cool.’ How can I get them beyond ‘interesting’ which is out of their heads and into ‘cool’ which is into their emotions and it’s all based of real value,” explained Ryan.
A solution without a problem or opportunity is irrelevant
“If you haven’t sold the problem, the fact that you have an elegant solution is irrelevant,” said Ryan, “It has to start with a sense of relevance.” There’s relevance in the sense of are you solving a business problem that they know they have. The flip side of relevance is opportunity. The Internet itself created all new opportunities. “You either have to sell the problem or you have to sell the vision of opportunity, first,” explained Ryan, “If you haven’t done that you will always stay in ‘interesting’ land.”
You have to give them a taste of the opportunities and you have to be willing to give a little bit of the secret sauce that is making you successful or as Ryan refers to it, “the gift of knowledge” marketing. Go so far as writing a book about what you know. For the person who fears giving away too much, Ryan reminds us that “management would rather bring in the consultant who wrote the book than have to actually read the book and try to implement it themselves.”
People look at your company differently than how you look at yourself, yet no one pays attention to those differences
People look at your company through five lenses. Companies look at themselves (from the inside out) through three different lenses. Bill Ryan summarizes the differences:
A company’s identity is defined by their:
- Vision – What’s the core belief that started the company and what continues to drive its innovation.
- Position – Where the company sees itself in the industry ecosphere as determined by who is the customer, how are we different, how are we pricing this thing, etc. The big vision is made practical around positioning.
- Brand voice – How you express your brand to the world. That’s not necessarily your vision because your vision may be a competitive advantage and you don’t want to share.
The world looks at your company through the following lenses:
- Relevance – Do you solve a business problem that people already have?
- Superiority – Is yours the best solution according to the criteria the customers use to make a buying decision? That can be very different as to why you think you’re the best.
- Ecosystem competency – Are you the company everyone wants to do business with? Are you a follower, or do people not know of your existence? Ryan points to Microsoft here, explaining that they score very high in this area, but not in innovation as version 1.0 of all their products IS usually poor. Later versions are where general adoption is at its highest. More importantly, Microsoft controls the environment. How savvy you are as an ecosystem player gives the perception of the strength of your company.
- The team – Who’s running this show? The strength of the company’s team plays a lot in how the company is perceived as a player in the world.
- Sustainability – Do you have what it takes to stay in business for the long haul to service your customers who will need you to be there for them?
Bridging this gap between how you define your company and how the public defines you requires you to be out in front telling your company’s story to the world. It’s a brand narrative, and you better be able to do it correctly before your audience does it for you, which might not be to your benefit. This isn’t like the old days where you just courted journalists and analysts. There are far more voices out there and it’s important that you’re out there telling your story, or as Ryan puts it “Be the shepherd of your story.” More specifically, he believes that your CEO needs to be the super shepherd telling the company story and why it’s relevant to customers.
There are two ways to tell you story, and it all depends on whether there’s a market or not. “You can either evangelize hygiene or you could sell soap,” said Ryan. If you have a situation where there’s no market, then you need to evangelize the space, bring interest to it, and own it. It’s a common mistake to only sell the product and not the market. It’s easier to just sell the product because it’s something you know. You don’t necessarily know the market. Or if you do, you definitely don’t know it as well as you know your own product.
A great example, Ryan pointed out, was McDonald’s “You deserve a break today” campaign. The campaign didn’t sell burgers. It sold the idea of eating out, specifically towards moms with kids. They were trying to grow that specific market, moms with kids eating out. Since McDonald’s already owns a percentage of the “eating out” category, they can grow their own business if they simply grow the entire category of people eating out.
Ryan is one of the earliest Internet PR players. One of his earliest clients was Yahoo! when they were still at the address www.yahoo.edu. In the early days of the Internet, nobody could see the Internet’s value. So one of Ryan’s first marketing strategies for Yahoo! was to evangelize the Internet and make the two words synonymous, Yahoo! and Internet. Jerry Yang’s early appearance on Terry Gross’ Fresh Air did not discuss the technical architecture of the Internet and search, but rather how the Internet was going to revolutionalize communications. And Yang told the story of how he got his grandmother up on email and how his relationship with his grandmother grew because of it. Ryan saw the value of that story, even if he’s not sure if Jerry had a living grandmother at the time. The net result of this positioning caused Jerry Yang and David Filo to become the poster children of the Internet. And any time anyone wanted to do a story about the Internet, they needed to get those two, or it wouldn’t be a complete story.
Be more discoverable by finding the connectors and influencers
If your company is not already on the consideration list when people are deciding to purchase a product or service in your category, you need to increase your discoverability. And doing so requires you to understand your audience and go where they live. More importantly, said Ryan, is to determine who are the people that influence them. “You want to get to every point on the influence chain. And the further back you can get, the more powerful it is,” explained Ryan.
Bill Ryan actually brought up Ken Rutkowski of KenRadio who I’ve mentioned multiple times as the ultimate connector in the tech and entertainment space. Rutkowski hosts meet ups and dinners where he brings people together. He is the connective tissue. In fact, Bill Ryan and I met during a Ken Rutkowski dinner just a few months ago. And then we were reintroduced virtually by Ken’s cohost, Andy Abramson of Comunicano, yet another connector.
“The trick is to find the Ken Rutkowski’s of the world in your particular marketplace that are creating those connections between the people who are influencing the market and the people who are actually creating the innovation. [You have to start] getting those connections made and gauging those people in thinking about your business,” Ryan said.
“You need to understand the chain of influence in your ecosystem.” While that may still involve taking a journalist out to lunch, it also involves understanding the influential bloggers and understanding how their connections fit into the sphere of influence.
“The biggest complement you can pay to a writer is to demonstrate that you’ve read what they’ve written,” said Ryan, “It has nothing to do with you agreeing with what they say. In fact, a good blogger or a good journalist will fall in love with you faster if you disagree with what them and you have a good heated argument and you talk about it, and you really go back and forth, and you listen to what they say…Let them talk, listen to what they say. They may teach you things about your business you never know about before. And if you do that, they will fall in love with you, and they will respect you,” Ryan said. The end result is you’ll learn more about your market and better be able to define the problem, the opportunity, and your story.
October 13th, 2008
Ross Mayfield is the cofounder, chairman, and president of SocialText, a social business software platform.
Summary (Ross Mayfield):
- You can’t dictate collaboration within an organization. Find a small area where it would excel, introduce it, and then roll it out in concentric circles to other groups that have interest and can provide unique value.
- Collaboration needs a clear business purpose. You can’t have collaboration without a goal.
- Take all content out of email to build a company knowledge base of the revolving door of employees, plus a back channel on what the company thinks on a given issue.
- If one significant person changes their process to be more collaborative and open, it can change the process for an entire organization
- PR has evolved to add value in conversations and be agents for collaboration. It’s not just about connecting clients with press.
- When you ask for permission to market to your audience, immediately offer some value in return.
- Even if someone’s collaboration intentions is purely to promote themselves, still engage if there’s a connection to your brand.
- Collaboration needs to involve multiple individuals within an organization and not just one person, because that one person is just a resume away from leaving and taking that company goodwill with him.
Pushing close to 5000 followers on Twitter and a popular blog, Ross Mayfield has been a leading voice in the creation and development of collaborative media. He’s the cofounder, chairman, and president of SocialText, the first wiki developers back in 2002, said Mayfield. Today, SocialText develops and sells a social business software platform.
When Mayfield first started SocialText, before he even incorporated, he wanted to share the process of building his company by launching a company-wide blog. His coworkers had already been comfortable blogging as individuals, but now they were going to use it as an open development platform which was very rare back in 2002.
“I say ’share the process’ because one of the mistakes most people do is they think about blogging as an activity of promoting outcomes,” said Mayfield, “That’s a very different thing. It’s a press release mentality to say, ‘We have achieved this, we’re launching this, here’s the big bang message we’ve been carefully working on in the laboratory, and now it’s ready for the mass consumption.’”
You can’t dictate collaboration
Collaboration doesn’t just happen by you announcing, “OK, it’s time for everybody to collaborate.” Mayfield advises companies to find a location within the business where a public social software deployment would really excel, by prototyping in private. Meaning, what internal project can you put a social platform on top of to get people into the groove of using collaboration software and see its benefits.
The example Mayfield points to is IBM who wanted employees to engage in public blogging, but before they did, they asked employees within IBM as to what their blogging policy should be. Instead of starting an email thread that someone would have to edit, IBM set up a wiki which acted as an editable document. It also established the all important company back channel.
“If there’s a crisis communications event that happens publicly, they will first turn to that back channel, privately inside the company, before airing things out in public,” said Mayfield.
Getting people to start using a new communications tool the way you want it used is not easy. I asked Mayfield what tricks he’s seen work to increase adoption of his tools and get people more involved.
“First, you need a clear business purpose. There’s no such thing as collaboration without a goal,” said Mayfield. We both attended the Enterprise 2.0 conference and this realization was often echoed during the sessions at the conference.
In addition, you have to invest some time and money in how the tool is going to be introduced. Some people are going to need training to get comfortable with editing their thoughts on your new software in public.
Social networking: from cheating to business collaboration
People take to the software differently, depending on where you deploy it (e.g. sales and marketing vs. engineering) and who you deploy it to (e.g. baby boomers vs. the Net generation).
“The Net generation just entering the workforce. They grew up doing their homework on Facebook and that’s called cheating. They come to the workforce, that’s called collaboration,” said Mayfield.
Recognize the differences for the environment that you’re adapting the software, said Mayfield. But as you’re training internally and getting people comfortable with the software, start rolling it out in concentric circles over time. An internal group that collaborates on a project will obviously have interest in that project. But there’s also a group outside of those creators that will have interest, and can provide their own unique value. Keep an eye on those groups and over time roll it out to them. Let them participate, and then look for the interest and the connection to roll it out to the next group. This is how collaboration can just grow and grow.
One person’s process change can change that of an entire business
Over the past six years, SocialText has evolved from a wiki-only type collaboration environment for knowledge sharing to a more vertically integrated process implementation for collaboration. Mayfield explained that SocialText’s software is deployed in a way to help them more productively get their work done, and knowledge sharing is a byproduct of getting their work done.
A video game news company called 1UP.com used to handle all of its communications and processes via email. A simple request to an art director to create a graphic could be an endless thread and flurry of emails. That art director decided to change HIS process. All he did is ask that all requests and edits for his work be placed on his wiki page. When the job was done, the person would be notified with a link within the wiki page as to where to find the files. That art director created a process where there wasn’t one before. He became so successful inside the company that he went on to publicly blog for the company as well.
Take content out of email so it has value and life beyond the inbox
One of the other huge advantages of taking content out of email and onto the Web is that it has a life and value when that person leaves. There’s so much knowledge and information that’s locked into each individual’s personal knowledge management systems. Companies need to break free of each person having their own “system” and set up one that everyone is comfortable with and has value for the whole company when employees are and aren’t there. “All of Web 2.0 is just taking things out of email that existed before and adding backlinks, pings, and restructuring them in a more transparent discoverable way,” said Mayfield as he admittedly oversimplifies the Web 2.0 environment.
As a personal example, I used to work at an ad agency and I produced a ton of content for them. Proposals, ideas, concepts, etc. All of that information lived on the hard drive of my computer at work. When I left, they simply formatted the hard drive instead of saving the information for later. They later called me asking for it, and I told them it was on that hard drive. Unfortunately, they erased my three years of information I created for that company with that move.
“People are sharing more than ever,” said Mayfield, “There’s new patterns of sharing by default. You see it particularly in the ‘net generation. Cause that’s how they’ve grown up, that’s what they’ve always done. They don’t necessarily see the reasons not to.”
Mayfield brought up the CIA who presented at the Enterprise 2.0 conference (I wrote about them and conducted an interview with them as well.). The model of the CIA is the complete opposite of open collaboration-type thinking, yet that’s what they’re doing. Traditionally, the CIA has operated under a “need to know” philosophy, they are slowly switching into a “need to share” culture, yet still with levels of security clearance.
Don’t let one person in your company possess the “King of Collaboration” title
Culture change can’t be the goal of a collaboration initiative. It has to be a byproduct. Those who share will be rewarded, and those who horde will be at a disadvantage, Mayfield said.
During my interview with Dana Gardner of Interarbor Solutions, he stressed the need to build a network of individuals to develop your industry voice. That it was detrimental to leave that up to just one person because they’re one resume from walking out of the company with all that built up goodwill. Mayfield continued that line of thinking by repeating results from studies that show that people trust individuals within a company more than they trust brands (source: Edelman trust barometer, six out of ten countries trust individuals as peers rather than institutions as reliable and credible sources of information). In addition, half of all individuals trust a rank and file employee more than a CEO of the same company.
PR has evolved to provide value in conversations, not just connecting clients and the press
Mayfield believes that the role of PR is actually increasing and not declining. “You have a much more decentralized, fragmented media landscape that organizations need help understanding,” said Mayfield, “You have a new role of a PR person as a public actor in the conversation.” PR persons are no longer agents to allow conversations between their clients and the press, but rather people that are providing value and developing relationships within the conversation. And PR is no longer relegated to training top executives to hit the top message points, but also the entire company who has interactions at lower levels like support or developer relations.
“An overall social media strategy needs to be diverse in its tools. It needs to be diverse in its empowerment of different individuals,” said Mayfield. While most of the social media being presented by the media and pushed is very public, Mayfield sees a trend to more intimate type relations like a social communications network between PR firm and client. Or maybe new relationships between PR agents and those that they’re contacting. For example, instead of setting up two separate interviews with two different analysts, why not get both of them in a room as you’re giving your presentation and see what new rises from that interaction. For more on the importance of developing a relationship for communications, see episode #3, Build your audience by sharing their ideals and beliefs.
As I implored Mayfield to give me stories of what it takes to get people to collaborate, he straightened me out by explaining, “There’s no collaboration panacea,” said Mayfield, “It really just takes some conviction to identify what the true collaborative problem is and get agreement from a group to try to solve it and with what steps.” To start that off, Mayfield suggest looking for those people that have already taken to online collaboration outside of the organization (e.g. say they started a local social network of cat lovers). These are people that feel comfortable with social tools and are passionate being a community manager. Let them lead the charge.
Permission to market to your audience
As you’re developing a relationship with your audience, when you ask them for information like how to get a hold of them (e.g. contact information), you need to immediately reply back with some value (e.g. an invite to an event, or a trial of a product).
“[Ask yourself], ‘What can I give away to let people distribute, reuse, attribute, bring sources back to you, not just find on the Web, but carry forward into social networks,’” said Mayfield. It’s also not just your direct business, but the goodwill you bring to the environment. It’s something Mayfield has been doing for years, and he’s hoping it’s what is going to keep him afloat.
Even if people just want to promote, engage in conversation
When I asked my traditional, “What are the worst mistakes you’ve made?” question Mayfield admitted that he didn’t initially see the value of engaging with people who were obviously just interacting with him for their own ego and to push forward their own initiative. People would come on, self promote, and Mayfield would ignore them. Today he realizes “You really want to engage with every conversation that relates with your brand,” Mayfield advised, “Even if you don’t want to necessarily draw attention to the existence of a competitor.” How open is your discussion about your competition is an issue Mayfield still wrestles with today. It’s different industry by industry. A general rule of thumb about sharing information is to share the process, not the outcomes.
Your audience doesn’t care about you. They care about themselves. What are you going to give them? – podcast
August 27th, 2008
Episode nine of the “Be the Voice” podcast stars online media mogul Susan Bratton, co-founder and CEO of Personal Life Media.
Summary (Susan Bratton):
- Podcast production: deliver exactly the same format consistently gives listeners the comfort that you’re there for them.
- Have an individual in mind (ideally a thought leader) when you’re asking questions during your show.
- Personal Life Media’s network of 25 programs have taken off thanks to the network effect which we all know by the other name of social media.
- Don’t be afraid to approach someone yourself if you think you’re the ideal candidate.
- Ad agencies need to follow UGC, not try to control it, and encourage engagement.
- Your audience doesn’t care about you. They care about themselves. What are you going to give them?
- Bloggers are not journalists, but some are. Proceed with caution.
Susan Bratton is the co-founder and CEO of Personal Life Media, a podcast and blog publishing company that produces 25 weekly programs on the subjects of personal growth, relationships, longevity, and spirituality. One of those programs, DishyMix, hosted by Bratton herself, is a series of one-on-one interviews with leading members of the digerati. With each interview Bratton hopes to find out what these thought leaders are doing that makes them so special and what can her and her listeners do to copy their behavior?
DishyMix is just one of dozens of programs that make up the Personal Life Media brand. To build the brand’s editorial, Bratton sought out top notch voices that fit under her editorial umbrella of “personal life media,” and taught them how to podcast. Using a “MadLibs production format” as Bratton called it, she rattled off a “how to” list that was obvious she has said many times before. Bratton explained her production formula for a great Personal Life Media podcast.
- Introduce yourself, the show, and your guest
- Explain who your guest is and why they were invited to be on the show.
- Go over the top things you’re going to cover.
- Play the show intro with music bed.
- After the show is edited, put highlights of that show immediately after the intro with music, so the audience knows what they’re going to hear.
- Once again tell the audience what you’re going to talk about so they know what you’re going to deliver.
- Do the show.
- Have a break.
- Wrap it up and say thanks.
“I do that exact same format every single week so my listeners know what I’m going to deliver for them,” said Bratton, “I think that consistency of always delivering in exactly the same format gives the listeners the comfort that you’re there for them.”
If you’re not of interest to other thought leaders, then you can’t be a thought leader yourself
Those are just the mechanics of producing a show. To deliver great content you have to keep the individual listener in mind. Its best to think of a real person you know that would be the ideal audience for your podcast. For Bratton’s DishyMix show which is filled often with social media thought leaders, she speaks to Andy Sernovitz, author of “The Word of Mouth Marketing” book, and a leader in conversational media. Andy becomes the representative audience member that she thinks about when she does her show. It’s something she didn’t believe Andy knew…until now.
The reason she picks a person like Sernovitz is because he’s a though leader in the same space for which she’s interviewing others. As she’s preparing and interviewing a guest, she always thinks about Andy. Would Andy find this interesting? Is this the kind of information that would help Andy’s business? “It just gives me someone to talk to and think about so that my thoughts are collected at a pretty senior level when I’m doing my show which is my intent,” said Bratton.
Building an online media network allows you to take advantage of “the network effect.” Remember that? It’s also called social media.
Podcasting for Bratton is “The Global Microphone.” For Personal Life Media, “[It's] an ability to connect with an audience on a weekly basis and take them through a process of self empowerment in any given category. Whether it was your relationship or your weight or your body image or whatever it might be,” said Bratton.
Each host has their audio show, their blog, and their community. And they make money through advertising and given the similar nature of their media, sponsors will typically sponsor a minimum of five up to all of the shows across Personal Life Media. No one show makes or breaks the network, but each one helps each other grow because they actually like each other, enjoy being part of the Personal Life Media community, and cross-promote each other’s programming. As a result, in just a little over a year, Personal Life Media’s entire 25 program network has between 400,000 – 500,000 listeners, with each show having a listenership somewhere between 2,000 to 80,000, said Bratton.
Bratton understands how important it is to hold on to those listeners and nurture those relationships. That’s why the hosts of the shows also have blogs and contact information so they can engage with their listeners. Bratton is in the process of building out a community site for Personal Life Media and they just began offering a widget from Gigya that allows listeners who have blogs or profile pages on social networks to put the audio playing widget on their site so that they and their visitors can listen to the show in their own online space.
Susan Bratton isn’t scared of David Spark
I’m thrilled that Susan Bratton introduced herself to me for the Be the Voice podcast. She found my content online, realized that she would be an appropriate interview, and offered herself as a potential interview including a bio to show that she is in fact a leading voice for her market. I was so impressed by her approach and then I realized during our interview, this was far from the first time she’s introduced herself as being perfect for the job. In fact, that’s how she became a member of the board at Ad:tech.
Attending the Ad:tech conference back in 1996, Bratton was enthralled. She walked up to the founder and said, “I love this and I have ten ideas for you.” His response was, “You’re going to be on my board.” Since that first meeting Bratton’s programmed many worldwide events for Ad:tech and is still chair emeritus today.
How to deal with the ad agency question of “How many people am I going to reach and how much is it going to cost me?”
Given Bratton’s background in advertising, I asked her a question that always made pitching to ad agencies difficult for me. Ad agencies boil down everything to “How many people am I going to reach and how much is it going to cost me?” Because that’s how they buy media, in known quantities. When you’re dealing with an organization that knows its audience and its size, like a TV network or magazine, then you can answer that question. But the realm of social media doesn’t allow you to answer that question.
Bratton split her answer into two parts, first discussing user generated content where you don’t have control of the audience’s take on your brand, yet you still need to keep an ear to what people are saying. She recommended Andy Beal’s book, Radically Transparent and Pete Blackshaw’s book, Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3,000 for an understanding of how to get a handle around your online reputation.
The second part, as Bratton sees it, is social media, which is not about how the public is going to trash your brand, but rather “What more can I do to play with my customers, to listen to my customers, to give them some experiences with my brand rather than buying media and looking at impression measurements,” explained Bratton. There’s so much more engagement that can happen as people take your content and forward it or discuss it with their friends. “You might have to widen the aperture of your lens on how you measure impressions, [but] impressions can still be very aptly measured in the social media space,” Bratton said.
Honey, I want you and I to go to the next level. I want us to begin a campaign
Bratton agreed with me that the term “campaign” is dying as a term to associate with social media. Because social media is about relationships, and you can’t put the kind of effort you put into a campaign (which is a lot) into a relationship with your audience. It’s too costly and too exhausting. Social media tools like Facebook and Flickr allow you to create ongoing and sustainable relationships. Something a traditional ad campaign simply can’t do.
The initial cost of a social media engagement doesn’t end with the creative push. You have to be prepared with staff and funds to manage the feedback. Because while you may predict everyone’s going to love what you put out there, people are still going to have questions and criticisms of what you’re doing. Think about what your end goal is and make sure you’re “leaving room in your budget to have the time and the energy to really work it all the way through to customer satisfaction with any program you do in the social media realm,” advised Bratton.
The problem that Bratton is still having with social media is how she scales while she manages individual relationships. It’s a problem she continues to face when she sends out a well intended message to two hundred and fifty hand picked friends from a database of 8,000, and still gets messages back telling her to “take me off this list.”
The other issue she’s having is trying to find the right balance of communications with bloggers who are “being really prickly right now,” said Bratton. It’s a response I’ve heard before, of which I remarked, bloggers come in all shapes, sizes, and levels of ethics. Many don’t have to adhere to an editorial mandate from someone else, and most don’t get paid for what they do, so often they feel they can do what they want to do.
Getting started the Susan Bratton way
Like her steps for producing a great podcast, Bratton advises wanna be online voices to begin developing in the following way:
STEP 1: “You have to understand what you represent to someone else,” explained Bratton, “Why they want you and why they care about you. They don’t actually care about you. They only care about themselves. What are you going to give them?”
STEP 2: With every blog post, podcast, or video, show that you can deliver on that objective.
STEP 3: There’s never such a thing as an overnight success. You have to keep plugging at it and build your audience. Realizing this, Bratton delivers consistently on the production of her shows.
STEP 4: Don’t try to do too much. Meaning, don’t try to do a podcast, Facebook, Twitter, blog, videos, etc. all at once. Pick one to start with and be really good at it.
August 17th, 2008
Summary (Chris Heuer and Peter Hirshberg):
- A company with all its employees blogging and talking with customers is more powerful than its sales force.
- It’s important to give employees great work experiences, because they live in social networks and they will communicate that to others.
- “Tofu” are PR-crafted messages to bloggers that are targeted correctly, but have no basis for a relationship.
- Blogger relations is like a cocktail party: listen first and find a commonality to begin a relationship.
- You have to share the ideals and beliefs and what your audience cares about.
Driving up from a dinner and panel at the Building Blocks conference in San Jose, Chris Heuer of Social Media Club and The Conversation Group and Peter Hirshberg also of The Conversation Group and chairman of Technorati talked with me about engaging with your community. Both offer some amazing insight with regard to developing your voice, caring about what your audience cares about, and NOT just being an agent to deliver a message for a brand or company.
Traditionally, clients are major brands and through traditional advertising, marketing, and PR, they would create one-way positioning. The problem is brands in of themselves don’t create a voice. Rather individuals within an organization become the voice associated with the brand. Examples are Robert Scoble and Microsoft or Bob Lutz and GM. It puts a face on what is often a faceless or unapproachable organization. “Customers love to hear from the experts within brands,” said Hirshberg.
“The reason Sun loves it when all of its employees are bloggers is their view is ‘well if we have all of these touch points between our employees and our customers that is a hell of a lot more than our sales force or what we can do in broadcasting,’” said Hirshberg. Heuer admits that when The Conversation Group deals with clients that aren’t as advanced as Sun, they are hesitant. They’re concerned to support an environment where they have 50,000 employees speaking to their customers and they aren’t speaking on message.
Watch what you say around the office. Your coworkers are talking about your when they leave the office
But the environment has become Enterprise 2.0: social media tools being used for communications inside and outside of the enterprise to improve communications and relations. As Hirshberg explained, employees can no longer be viewed as cogs in a machine. Your staffers live and breathe in social networks. And even though people talk about wanting to keep their work life and personal life separate, they really don’t and as a result it’s hard to keep those two worlds apart.
“One of the big things companies are beginning to understand is since your employees are always talking, you need to do great things to keep your employees excited and thrilled, so that’s what they project to the world,” Hirshberg advised, “Because if your employees turn on you, you can’t shut it up, the word will get out.”
It’s not new explained Heuer, “Individuals have always represented their companies. With social media it just becomes more visible.”
Your PR team has no relationship with bloggers, so why are they talking to them?
“If you want people to contribute and get involved, you need to ask them things,” said Hirshberg.
One thing that The Conversation Group does is blogger outreach, communicating with people who are creating content online that would have interest in the conversation or content The Conversation Group is producing on behalf of its clients. Heuer reasserts that the most important part of blogger outreach is the relationship, not just the relaying of information.
Heuer brings up two concepts, “tofu” and “bacon,” that have been bandied about in the blogger outreach community. “Tofu” is the process of studying the person’s blog and crafting a tailored message so that the communications is sound. It’s a common practice among PR agencies who send emails on behalf of their clients. The problem with “tofu”-style communications is there isn’t a basis for a relationship. “[Tofu] is crafted, it’s personalized, it’s made nutritious, but people don’t like the taste of it anyways,” Heuer explained. Conversely, “bacon” are the messages commonly seen on social networks that are a little big fatty and a little bit tasty. You’re drawn to them because they’re attractive to you personally, but only initially. So messages like “somebody just added you as a friend” or “somebody just posted a picture of you” are considered “bacon.”
“The first thing is the person who is doing the outreach better have his own reputation as someone who cares about the community and is an individual. Because if you’re just reaching out as an agent on behalf of an agency on behalf of another corporation and you don’t have a presence for people to turn to and say, ‘Oh, wow I really like this person,’ you’re really not going to be as effective,” advised Heuer, “Blogger outreach in general doesn’t work as effectively as people think it does. You really have to have those relationships within that community and an understanding of what those people care about.” Bloggers hate press releases and they hate being talked at.
Politics, the latest with Paris and Britney, and more conversation starters with bloggers
Hirshberg explains blogger relations is like going to a cocktail party. You don’t just barge in and announce who you are and what you’re doing. Rather you listen, and find a point of commonality and a reason to relate.
Bloggers write about what they care about, and they often do it for free. They’re not beholden to some other editorial mandate that dictates what they can and can’t write about. That’s why they respond positively to people who show interest in their work and develop a relationship with them.
“As soon as it’s me talking to you, trying to get you to do something as opposed to me just talking to you, it changes the dynamics of the relationship,” warned Heuer of the traditional PR process of “flacking” bloggers and press. You need to extend invitations to participate, and return the favor by letting bloggers know what you’re going to do for them and their readers in return.
“The question is how do you build something that folks care about and will naturally spread as opposed to something that people feel like they need to be badgered into doing,” asked Hirshberg, “At the end of the day, all this outreach stuff is like kindling. You work very few people and you hope it will multiply.”
Chris Heuer brought up the issue of the “end of messaging” which is an issue that Chris Peterson of Chautauqua Communications (now part of the R2C group) agrees with. But Peterson believes it’s all about story. Heuer says it’s all about how do we get the “gist” across. It’s beyond the message, and it’s the goal of the story. That’s because depending on who you speak to, the message needs to be tailored differently because each person or category of people have different needs.
What’s “The Big Ideal?”
Hirshberg brought up Ogilvy’s theory of marketing that we’re trending away from “The Big Idea” to “The Big Ideal.” “‘The Big Ideal’ has to do with the fact that to break through clutter today you actually have to share the ideals and beliefs and what your audience cares about, because people really pay attention to what they care about,” said Hirshberg, “If your communications is based on siding with, amplifying, supporting, throwing attention on the ideals of what your audience cares about, they’re more likely to pay attention to you and spread the message.” Most common in this space today are companies that rally around “green” issues.
It’s beneficial to your bottom line and it can reduce costs. “The more excited they are the less your advertising budget needs to be because they’re going to do the advertising via word of mouth for you,” explained Heuer. This is what happened when Nike+ created an environment for others to communicate. It was so successful reaching their audience that they were able to cut their TV ad budget by tens of millions in one year.
August 4th, 2008
Episode two of the “Be the Voice” podcast stars enterprise collaboration consultant, Oliver Marks.
Summary (Oliver Marks):
- Competitive enterprises fight collaboration. People don’t like each other and they’re competing for funding for their divisions.
- An open internal and exteneral editorial environment is necessary.
- C-level people aren’t reading blogs, but the people they trust are.
- Collaboration projects die because they don’t get the funding or credibility of the organization.
The full article:
I sat down with blogger and enterprise collaboration consultant Oliver Marks at Cafe Flore in San Francisco. Marks is omnipresent in the enterprise collaboration space with his high profile blogs at Collaboration 2.0 for ZDNet and Inc. magazine.
Working as an independent consultant today, Marks recently left Sony Playstation where he was developing their collaboration environment. The plan was to create an engineering portal allowing offices in Japan, Europe, and USA to collaborate. Marks admits it’s sometimes an oxymoron to have collaboration in a large organization because they often set up competition among groups in an effort to drive innovation. And this is especially true, said Marks, in the game industry.
Sony had bigger plans, explained Marks, “The president of world wide studios demanded a collaboration environment be set up. There was an expectation that the synergies of having people work more closely together would both save money and be more efficient.” Marks admits that’s the politically correct answer. “Being very blunt,” the reality said Marks, “In large companies a lot of people basically don’t like each other and they’re competing. You have to overcome all of that.”
A lot of information was top secret, and there was plenty of information you couldn’t talk about. The use of permissions (your role within the company) defined what people saw. Sony had no open editorial environment beyond just news being gathered from all around the world.
What’s an enterprise collaboration consultant to do?
Once Marks left he could actually start practicing what he was preaching-collaboration.
The power of many people collaborating has a greater impact than just an individual telling his or her experiences. “It’s a much more powerful experience for people if they’re aware you’re constantly interacting with others and gathering more and more information,” said Marks
Marks is trying to liken his consulting style to that of Stowe Boyd. Boyd tells clients that he’s only available 10 days out of the month and the other 20 days he’s doing research which involves talking to vendors and subject matter experts. “That is the value that is essential. Otherwise you’re selling canned information which is basically a year past its ’sell by’ date,” explained Marks.
What do you expose and what do you protect is the main question Marks is asking himself. “There is an interesting division between what you’re sharing for free to your audience and what is actually something you’re selling – in my case is a fairly substantial amount of money – which are the last few pieces of the jigsaw in a way that make the business model work,” said Marks.
With his blogging and consulting, Marks is aiming towards C-level people. It’s a tough hill to climb as I’ve had clients say to me, “But C-level people aren’t reading blogs.” To which I argue back, “But the people they trust are.” Marks’ blogging is around strategy and tactics which are elements that will be carried out by the trusted employee network of C-level people.
“So many collaboration projects die because they grow out of mid-level or even grass roots people. And they don’t get the funding, they don’t get the credibility in the organization, and there’s no coherent strategy or organization around them,” Marks explained. For example, an enterprise may try a pilot collaboration project among 300 people. That does well and so the enterprise immediately scales it up to 3000 and it fails. When it grows to that size, it becomes a different animal and you need to look and plan for it differently. You can save a lot of costs by planning things out well and thinking them through, which as Marks explained, “Is what I do.”
People not talking to each other or collaborating with each other are not new problems. Web 2.0 technologies are not a magic wand that will force people to collaborate. Tools can make it easier and make people want to collaborate, but often people are fearful of how long it will take and will it change their work/home life.
Everyone in large companies wants to be told what to do and told that what they’re doing is right. Yet Web 2.0 technologies like Twitter and instant messaging are often being initiated and used with no top-down approval. Marks is aiming at C-level employees because he knows convincing them has the best chance for enterprise-wide success. He’s trying to get top-down understanding and deployment from top execs.
What Oliver Marks has personally learned using Web 2.0 tools
Marks started using Twitter and Facebook to meet people. And he’s admitted that networking in the Bay Area is truly unparalleled.
Whether in person (ideal) or online, you’re building a rapport. A common multi-Web 2.0 technology scenario for Marks begins with a public conversation in Twitter, it then goes private, then there’s an invitation to talk by voice over Skype.
“It’s amazing how much you can respect somebody’s opinion through hearing what they’ve been saying, even micro blogging like Twitter,” said Marks. Twitter is great to know what people are thinking in the moment.
Mistakes: Marks admits as he’s learning and exploring he can get heavily distracted and take on too much. It’s good ‘ole fashioned curiosity that sends him in multiple directions.
Advice: A little new agey, but Marks said to speak from the heart and be genuine. You can’t fake sincerity. It always comes through. If you put out canned press releases and sales patter, people simply won’t respond. People feel when you’re being yourself. Getting that level of sincerity is such a critical component.
August 4th, 2008
Summary (Alec Saunders):
- The “Holy Grail” of “Be the Voice” communications is to build thought leadership using your own product.
- Give people the opportunity to see in action an applicable and fun use of your product.
- The best description of a product can’t beat a demonstration of your product.
- On developing his thought leadership in Voice 2.0, Saunders said, “I’m pushing others in the industry to adopt these technologies because when they do, it becomes easier for our company to do business.”
- The alternative to spending money on marketing is developing your industry voice. It’s cheaper and long lasting.
- Saunders’ blog traffic jumps correlates with jumps in his business site’s traffic (iotum).
- Frequency of content wins. Saunders went from 300 visitors a day to 200,000 a month in just one year solely by writing three posts a day, NOT engaging in social media.
The full article:
Alec Saunders is the author of the VoIP-centric blog, SaundersLog, and also the roundtable tech podcast, The SquawkBox. These are the avenues that he uses to expose his wisdom and engage others in conversation about VoIP and also technology in general. For the past year I’ve admired the dedication he’s put into developing his industry voice through his blog and podcast. It’s why I asked Alec to join me in a conversation about how he’s used blogging and podcasting to become a leading voice in telephony and VoIP.
In addition to blogging and podcasting, Saunders is the CEO of Iotum, a voice call management technology that operates on BlackBerry devices and on the Web. Out of Iotum, he also launched a free conference call tool, Calliflower, which he uses to record his SquawkBox podcast.
Building thought leadership using your own product
What really drew me to interview Alec is he’s accomplished what I think is the Holy Grail of “Be the Voice” communications. He is building thought leadership using his own product. People who are interested in being a participant in Saunders’ daily SquawkBox recording simply join the Calliflower conference call which is recorded and then posted on his blog. The daily podcast varies between a roundtable discussion of the tech news of the day, or Saunders invites a guest to talk about their new product offering. Personally, I’m so impressed with the process that I’ve volunteered to be a substitute host.
It’s not always possible for someone to use their own product to build their own public voice. But when you can, you’re giving people the opportunity to see your product in action. And when people see it, can participate in it, they see the value of it, and then there’s no need to actually invest in marketing or have a formal sales pitch. As much as you describe a product, no description can even come close to seeing a product in action. The value Alec Saunders brings to his company Iotum and its product Calliflower is by recording a five-days-a-week podcast.
Calliflower’s first iteration was a Facebook application simply called, “Free Conference Calls.” Iotum took advantage of Facebook’s pre-built listings because as Saunders said, “The emergence of social networks is going to drive all kinds of changes in directories.” Saunders still believes that’s going to happen, but it’s not happening at the pace he thought it would happen. That’s why when Iotum rereleased the product as Calliflower, he kept the Facebook application in tact, but he also took the product outside of the closed social network and allowed anyone to join.
Becoming the voice of “Voice 2.0″
Three years ago Saunders wrote the “Voice 2.0 Manifesto” arguing that there’s going to be an intersection between the openness of the Internet and the closed limited functionality of the telco industry. It’s a world that communications providers have been forced to participate in for years, but given the Internet’s ability to build lightweight communications applications on top of Internet protocols, like HTTP, Voice 2.0 communications removes the traditional constraints of business.
Within twelve months of writing his manifesto, “Voice 2.0″ became a meme that spread throughout the world and there was a conference launched by the same name. Saunders didn’t try to own the name as he knew its value had greater value to the community. “I’m pushing others in the industry to adopt these technologies because when they do, it becomes easier for our company to do business,” realized Saunders. As of writing this post, if you do a search for “Voice 2.0″ on Google, Alec Saunders’ blog appears in the top two results.
Saunders explains his rationale for building so much online voice. As a start up, Iotum simply doesn’t have the marketing budget of his competitors. The most effective promotion they do is the blog and podcast, Saunders said.
Why blogging critical to your business
It’s difficult to show a one-to-one correlation between blogging and sales, but Saunders can still demonstrate the value of blogging using a tool called Alexaholic (now called Statsaholic as required by Amazon). The tool allows you to compare the Alexa traffic for various Web sites. Saunders showed one friend the traffic of Saunderslog vs Iotum demonstrating that when his blog traffic spiked, so did his company site.
Saunders repeated the process using his friend’s business site. He could see a handful of tiny bumps where the company issued press releases. But that was it. There was no continuing interest in the company like what Saunders had developed over the long term with his blog. The difference between Saunders and his friend, is his friend was spending all kinds of money on promotional marketing and nothing was happening. Saunders didn’t spend any money on marketing. He just blogged. Said Saunders, “I’m just out there talking to people. The difference is [with blogging it's] palpable and apparent.”
Saunders gets calls from people who have heard or participated in the SquawkBox podcast and they want to become users of Calliflower for free conference calls. Saunders provides the answers they’re looking for and they return as users.
The biggest tip Saunders offers to anyone else wanting to jump into blogging or podcasting is frequency. Lack of it during his early days of blogging was his biggest mistake. Saunders began blogging only when he felt he had something to say, which could be weeks. “There was a period of time several months went by and my traffic went down, and down, and down, and down, and people weren’t coming by. And they never had a reason to return because I wasn’t publishing anything new,” said Saunders.
A mutual friend of ours, Andy Abramson, also a VoIP blogger and owner of the public relations and marketing firm Comunicano, advised Saunders to blog three times every day. Saunders was shocked at the advice, but he did it, even on weekends, for an entire year. The result is his traffic went from 300 people a day, to 1000 pretty quickly. By the time the year was over he had 200,000 visitors a month. Blogging was all he did. He didn’t take advantage of any of the social media tools. “A lot of people invest in everything in social media. I decided to focus on one thing really really closely, and that was content,” said Saunders, “You don’t get the comments traffic until you get the content for people to comment on. You don’t get people returning over and over again or commenting on what you wrote on other blogs until you’ve got the content.”
Saunders’ blog created enormous interest from carriers who were very interested in what we were trying to do. It was that interest that led Iotum to building its BlackBerry call management product and Saunders writing the “Voice 2.0 Manifesto.”
“Blogs are great marketing tools,” said Saunders. Blogs create lots of content and lots of links and that’s exactly what Google look for. Static Web sites won’t ever be able to do that.
“If you’ve got the ability and the desire to write you can create a very valuable promotional tool for your company,” advised Saunders.