I always get a lot of interesting looks from people when I wear a particular t-shirt. It was made years ago by my friend Brad Abare who runs Church Marketing Sucks, a site dedicated to helping churches suck less in their messaging. Brilliant stuff. Brad’s take over the years is that The Church has a good message to share, but generally falls on their face when they try to deliver it. They are overbearing and off mark, and tend to alienate those that they are trying to talk to. Does that sound like any company you know? I’m sure it does, just that statement “overbearing and off mark” makes me think of a half dozen organizations; I’ll let your imagination fill in the names, I won’t do so here.
As it relates to social media, I think a very common mistake that many companies make is doing things the same old way. Especially with large brands, once PR, HR and a few corporate attorneys get their hands on the social media marketing plan it starts to look like…well, what they’ve always done. Carefully crafted letters and press releases are posted in new mediums and are then called “social media”. Let me make something perfectly clear: the use of a social media channel does not mean that you are in fact engaged in social media.
For social media to be effective, old ways must be shed. No longer can you preach (pardon the pun, given the opening paragraph) to your audience about your product from a podium. Filling your Twitter stream with an RSS feed that is only pushing content out isn’t enough, because the podium doesn’t exist anymore. Instead you are in a social circle, with people all around, talking, questioning and interacting with your brand. If you don’t engage in a personal and likable way, your brand is doomed to fade into obscurity on that channel.
“But that’s the way we’ve always done it”. I know, I understand. It’s hard to move into a new arena without HR, PR and William from legal looking over everything that goes out…but it’s going to be okay. In fact, it’s going to be more than okay, it’s going to be liberating. You will find that once you break the bonds of “that’s the way we’ve always done it” you will find new freedom with your brand and your messaging, and ultimately that will turn into a nice bump in revenue.
Of course there are guidelines for everything that is done publicly, but that is another post for another time.
Those of you that have been following my adventures for a while know that I put my heart, soul and mind into social media. Since writing my own blogging platform a decade ago (the billion dollar idea that I never capitalized on…) to my almost-obsessive fascination with brand interaction on channels like Twitter, YouTube and Facebook, I am constantly observing and strategizing ways to make the interaction and engagement between companies and customers better through social media. I have spent quite a bit of time over the last couple of years consulting businesses of all types and sizes regarding their engagement (or lack thereof) within these online communities. From Fortune 100 companies that distribute hardware all around the world to non-profit agencies that are doing their best to make a difference in the world, I have worked with groups to lend insight, support, ideas and action to social media programs. Given all of that, I’m quite pleased to announce that I have taken a new role within the industry.
UPDATE: It seems that the artist in question, Lily Allen, has deleted her anti-piracy blog after getting too much heat about areas she had infringed upon copyright laws. For a complete update, check out this article on TorrentFreak.
Two interesting items came to my attention today, both related to copyright issues on blogs and/or websites. One relates to a new company formation using the acronym of a larger (but unrelated) organization in their name and website, the other is the seemingly hypocritical case of a musician that steals blog material to make a point about musical piracy. After exploring both of these at great length, it became clear to me that most people (myself included) don’t fully understand copyright usage as it pertains to online publications. I’m going to post some thoughts here, but please understand that I am not an attorney, so this is not legal advice. Consider this your daily dose of common sense in social media.
I noticed something strange starting earlier this hour…many people that I follow had their avatars changed to the new Twitter default avatar, a colorful variation of a bird. At first I thought some were doing this for fun, but soon it became obvious that it wasn’t intentional.
I pinged some of them via Twitter, and not only had their avatar been changed, but some had lost their background image as well! I’ve been seeing a lot of changes to the CSS and general design of Twitter today, so I’m assuming this is an accident and will probably be reverted back automatically. As a precaution though, you may want to check your page and re-upload the images you use. I don’t see any apparent link or common trait of those affected, so I can only assume that this is a system wide failure/issue.
For many people, particularly those of us in the United States (and especially those on the East Coast that were so close to all of it), 9/11 is a day of remembrance, of tragedy, of persistence and of hope. There are many ways that people “honor” today. Some write about what the day would have been like had social media been as prevelant then as it is now, and some consider this day in silence. I don’t know that there is a right or wrong way.
I’m choosing to spend this evening at Twestival San Francisco, a tech event that is helping to raise money for a great cause, Operation Smile. I attended the 140Smiles event in San Francisco a few months ago, and I think it brought some great awareness to a global issue. Twestival is a global effort, a remarkable grass roots movement that takes place all over the world and it generally put together in local areas by volunteers. It is Twitter based (here’s to hoping we don’t see the Fail Whale tonight), so the information that passes around is fast and world wide. The San Francisco Twestival is being coordinated by my Twitter friend Krystyl, and it sounds like she is doing a fabulous job!
If you are in the Bay Area, please consider coming to this great event. Here is what you need to know:
I’m often asked about online behavior and how businesses can tap into certain market segments to find new customers, whether for their services or products. It’s interesting to me that so often the online world seems so foreign to those that haven’t used it for much more than paying an electric bill on a website, and the questions I am asked usually end up being some variant of “what exactly does the online person look like…who are they?” These questions come to me from seasoned business professionals that have sold tangible goods or services to people in real life; people they could see, talk to, shake hands with and ultimately sell to. Why then, would they presume that the online community is so different?
The “real world” primarily consists of three groups of people in the goods and services lifecycle: creators, reports and consumers.
The Three Real World Groups
Creators represent the smallest segment, and most people that come to me for business and marketing consultation are in this group. They are the makers, the business leaders, the companies that are producing something that they want to get into others’ hands. In the virtual world there are a few standouts like Amazon and Zappos (or is that now Zamazon?), but there are also millions of smaller players, and they aren’t necessarily distributing products; many service companies now what to sell you ideas to make your life better or service professionals to do work for you. It doesn’t stop there; non-profits have hit the scene with causes and social ideas that they are creating and distributing through social networks and other online venues. The creators make the things that we need…or think we do.
Reporters represent the pundits, the talking heads, the reviewers and the public square criers. These are newspaper sites, blogs and other groups that tell us about what the creators are doing, because frankly most creators are pretty lousy at getting that information out themselves. These groups usually have massive audiences (distribution channels) and produce content rapidly, in short and easy-to-digest segments (most readers lose interest before they hit the 600 word mark). What is interesting to me about this group is that they are often hailed as collective industry leaders, change agents and cultural guides…yet very rarely do they produce any original content beyond a pithy opinion at the end of a press release usually written by the a creator.
Consumers by far represent the largest of the three groups, yet are the hardest to talk to. As creators and reporters argue back and forth about how the one needs the other more, the reality is that neither group can survive without the consumers and they know it. The consumers read the blogs, try the goods and ultimately spend the money that keeps the other two going. If you were to look at the online world as a cocktail party, the creators and the reporters are making all the noise and seem to be the life of the party, but they are surrounded and outnumbered by the consumers on a staggering scale, though usually the consumers will only sit quietly by, observing and occasionally writing something in the comments section.
That was the world before social media.
The New Class of Hyrbrid
Now things are different, and in a dramatic fashion. You see, no longer do these three groups need to be so separated…there are a couple of new groups that have entered the scene: hybrids of the existing classes.
Creator/Reporters: whereas the old mom and pop manufactures (those that didn’t have massive PR and marketing budgets) were really confined to smaller, local markets and relied heavily on personal word of mouth advertising, now they are able to reach a global audience with the same ease as their seaminlgy-overwhelming big box competitors. In the real world, a small company that makes mismatched socks in sets of 3 could probably only survive on a boutique street in a trendy neighborhood. Thanks to the web, companies like Little Miss Matched can not only survive, but thrive! They can use outlets like Twitter and Facebook to spread the word about their products, then let the users from around the web continue to comment, report, review and react to their brand.
Reporter/Consumers: up until recently, consumers didn’t really have a voice. I grew up in a small town, and the only way one could praise or condemn a company was either a letter to the editor in the newspaper or a chat with the neighbors at the park. Seriously. Now what do we have? Consumers can (and will) set up blogs, Twitter feeds and Facebook pages with just a few clicks of a mouse to share these same thoughts, but usually on a much larger scale. Sometimes the “reports” of the consumers are circulated around a small group of friends on Twitter, and sometimes they make big waves around the world, such as the case of “United Breaks Guitars”. Big or small, it doesn’t matter…the ability for the consumer to report is incredible and powerful, and should never be taken for granted.
People that are stuck in the first model, where the groups are in three distinct buckets, are missing the point of social media. No longer is there merit in a company complaining that they just don’t have the ability to reach out like the big companies. While there are some obvious truths to a complaint like that (have you seen the prices of Super Bowl ads?), for the most part a little bit of time and money can produce incredible, far reaching results and allow you to skip right over the previous middle man that was the reporting and communicate directly with your customers…or future customers!
Likewise for the consumer, bad customer service and shoddy craftsmanship in overpriced products really should not be tolerated any longer. This is not to say that you should constantly complain on Twitter about every little corporate pet peeve or bad experience you have…because I do not personally advocate that. It does mean that you are closer than ever to the companies, and you likely have the ability to reach out to them. I try to stay positive online and praise companies far more than I condemn them, hopefully this is no different than life outside of the keyboard and monitor. Before I rant about bad service online, I do what I can to reach out to that company. Sometimes this takes place on the phone, but hopefully now I can reach most folks on Twitter.
With the new connectivity that we are experiencing globally, leverage the opportunities that are before you, whether you are a creator or a consumer. Jump into the conversation and tell your sphere of influence what you think…what you like, dislike and hope for. That, my friends, is the joy and responsibility of social media.
(Photo used under Creative Commons License http://www.flickr.com/photos/purpletwinkie/ / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
I don’t even know the number of times I’ve tweeted something like, “so frustrated with my bluetooth headset in the car”, because I’m sure it’s been too much. I have one of two problems: either I can hear the other person fine but they can’t hear me (such is the case with the Jabra sets I’ve tried), or they can hear me just fine but I have a hard time hearing them (such is the case with the Jawbones I’ve tried). A few weeks back Jed Hallam saw one of my cries for help and replied with a direct message, “can I send you a Sony Ericcson bluetooth headset that I think you’ll like?” Of course I said yes, but was skeptical. I’ve been trying to find a decent bluetooth for years, and so far nothing has worked well. Given that California, the state in which I reside, requires hand free devices for all drivers using mobile phone you can imagine how it’s more than a little maddening at times.
I got the Sony Ericsson HBH-IS800 package (in which Jed was kind enough to include a NA-friendly charger since he’s from across the pond) and was immediately impressed with the small size. Jed didn’t tell me what he was sending, so I was quite happy to find two ear buds, no larger than what I normally use to listen to music, attached with only 1 cord. Beautifully compact, these fit in my backpack or pocket quite nicely.
Yesterday I watched President Obama’s speech about his ideas of national health care reform. One thing he talked about that has always been interesting to me is centralized medical records. It’s not a new idea coming from him, this premise has been around for a long time, but privacy and security issues have always been a killer for this conversation. This post isn’t about politics, it’s about technology. Today, less than 24 hours after watching that speech, I came across a new Microsoft service called HealthVault.
Microsoft HealthVault (currently in beta) is working to that end: centralized medical records. I’m sure the Microsoft jokes will abound, but my personal feeling is that they have the resources and know-how to pull this off properly…so much so that I signed up for an account. I have a lot on my plate for the rest of the summer so I’m not sure that I’ll be adding records anytime soon, but I like the idea. I’ve embeded the video below that explains (with cut out cartoon characters) what HealthVault (in theory) does. Do you know what else made me smile? They’re on Twitter.
Remember the movie Minority Report with Tom Cruise? There were some creepy, big brother themes throughout, but there were also some very cool things like billboards that interacted with the characters. “John Anderton, you could use a Guinness right now”, chimed the advertisement at Cruise’s character as he went by. I actually remember my thought upon seeing that part, “wow, that is the future, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to think it will be soon…and I’m excited for it!” Just a few years later I’m seeing technology created that is wonderful and amazing; that good kind of interaction is coming!
Geodelic is a company that I became aware of earlier this year, and as I tracked whatever information I could find about them I was amazed at what they were doing: creating mobile applications that interact with users in a very non-traditional and non-intrusive way! The idea seems simple enough, but the execution is extraordinary…help users find things they need that are nearby.
Late last night I switched my primary domain, MattSingley.com, to a new host after receiving a lot of messages yesterday that my web site was displaying “Service Is Unavailable”. Although I get traffic spikes from time to time, this blog doesn’t pull so much traffic that it should shut down with modest increases, even after mentions by the L.A. Times and Mashable. Given that, I have selected Media Temple as my new host to see how things go. I’ve been impressed with other sites’ stability that are hosted there, I love the fact that they talk about easy scalability and recognize that spikes in traffic do happen, and I’m particularly impressed with their Twitter team. It sounds like a winning combination to me!