Be a Marketing Super Hero in 2010 - Part 1 - Build Some Muscle


As budgets shrink and headcounts freeze, there's greater pressure to do more with much less. In addition to managing traditional channels, marketers face the added challenge of learning to harness the power of new, low-cost social technologies - often with insufficient knowledge and resources.

It's not just the rapid pace of change and the evolution of new tools that impact the marketing cycle today that are daunting. There's a new language to learn and new communication dynamics exist. There's a need for more technical knowledge, channel expertise and core competencies not present in the current skill sets of the enterprise. There's not only a need for new talent, but a requirement that enables them to challenge the status quo, rock the boat, test and experiment that may threaten or intimidate co-workers. There's a need for increased cross-divisional and departmental collaboration -- juxtaposed with the reality that marketing is often either not empowered or respected enough to drive effective integrated, collaborative and coordinated delivery.

Today, it's more important than ever to work efficiently and effectively. Yet, for many, this seems to be an impossibility. This is not only because of increasing pressure and demand - but because in truth, marketing has fundamentally shifted. It demands new planning, skill sets and approaches to business that many people inside the enterprise do not yet understand. Breaking it down simply, it might look a little like this:




The unprecedented shifts of the last decade have left a host of traditional marketers and other executives very uncomfortable, and very afraid. Some companies are in denial. Other companies are stuck in a position of analysis paralysis -- unable to break out of the ice of inaction.

The truth is, denial, fear, and inaction are our worst enemies! They are dangerous to both individuals and the organizations they serve -- and they don't have to reign in your organization. There's a bright new future ahead - and while change is required - it's worth it. Breaking past the fear -- we find ourselves in a place of revitalization, with amazing new capabilities and stimulating new ways to learn, promote our products and services. We find ourselves closer to customers, and more able to understand their unique needs as well as market opportunities. To succeed, it's not necessary to become a new marketing guru overnight (P.S. overnight gurus are not gurus at all!). It's possible to take things one step at a time and retrench the organization in a way that creates some order in the chaos.  So let's get started.

Building Your Super Muscle:
  • DISCOVER YOUR SUPER POWERS  - It's easy to get caught up in "Aspirational branding." That is, the promises, stories and campaigns marketing creates. However, this is focusing on the wrapper -- not the candy. The good stuff is what your company does better than anyone else - this may be delivering unique products or services, or your ability to reach a unique market. There must be something your brand delivers better than anyone else. Examine your competitors. Study the customer and develop a clearer understanding of the pros and pitfalls of the customer experience. Define how your product or service makes life better for the customer. Write down your strengths clearly and succinctly, and keep a separate list of issues that undermine the customer experience so that you can address problems as you move forward.
  • EXPLORE SOME SUPER TOOLS -  Get on the learning track. Sign up for some courses, do some reading failures of others.  Get yourself and your team learning about the host of new technologies that are transforming businesses today. If you don't have the expertise in-house, hire a consultant with an established track record to help you. As you begin to experiment with new tools (not just Facebook, or Twitter) and channels, it's important not to think of the tools as "marketing tools." Think of them instead as valuable channels supporting the extension of sales, service, support on the web. Champion these ideas within executive ranks. Dispel myths about Social Media, and help executive leadership understand key shifts (see chart above) in marketing, and the opportunities present in the new economy. Use the more educated leadership to help garner internal support.
  • ESTABLISH MISSION CONTROL - Create an environment for collaborative planning, research, analysis, testing and strategy. This may be a center of excellence or a cross-organizational task force focused on improving customer-focused delivery. Focus less on ownership and control and more on support and facilitation across the enterprise. It's okay to fail - but fail fast and recover. Showcase key learning and present opportunities. With the help of executive leadership, invite other divisions to participate in proactive planning, research, testing and execution. Establish credibility by keeping the ego in check.  Develop tutorials and communicate best practices in a manner that facilitates and encourages engagement. Share openly and provide value-added information (articles, information, etc.) that can benefit the entire organization within an accessible knowledge base. Publish knowledge and key learning in a proactive, timely manner (perhaps using a few Super Tools like Yammer or a password protected Wiki). Communicate upward, outward and downward, and celebrate success with hearty approbation.
  • WIN (AND EARN) SUPPORTERS - Agencies and silos don't typically develop integrated customer experiences that drive long-term success. Long-term success requires winning the hearts and minds of divisions like Customer Service, Sales, Product Development, Operations, IT and other divisions to a new way of doing business. Hearts and minds are won best through servant leadership, consultative selling and listening - and Marketing can play a much more successful and influential role in rallying the organizations around the customer.  New marketing requires the breakdown of operational silos, which is threatening to many stakeholders. Start by engaging in open dialog. Listen first!  If they're already engaged in the use of new technologies, learn from what they are doing. If they're not already engaged, think of ways you can help, educate and facilitate. Discuss your learning, thoughts and plans in an open manner.  Demonstrate customer centric behavior.  Describe the potential and up-side of involvement in new, social channels.  Show and teach - rather than Stand and preach!  Repeat the call to "support and facilitate" and you will your organization through servant-leadership.
  • NEUTRALIZE YOUR FOES - Getting past denial, fear and inaction - it's time to tackle the enemies of customer experience within your organization. Create a "wanted poster" of the biggest enemies to consistently positive customer experience within your organization. Work with the front-line, sales, IT, operations, product development and customer service to resolve these problems. While other teams resolve issues outside your marketing's purview -- create wins by extending service through new, cost-effective channels where it makes the most sense. Consider how you may user the Super Tools to create improvements in the experience that are remarkable.  Respond quickly and with grace, celebrate positive feedback from customers. Work cross-organizationally to create a more integrated, cohesive customer experience that creates wins across-the-board.
Marketers who follow these steps will develop powers they didn't know they could have. They will find new courage and strength and build greater influence within the organization. Most importantly, they will be properly focused:   working proactively to improve and champion the customer experience, which results in a more positive brand identity and stronger outcomes. They will also begin enter the new era of Marketing, which is less about marketing and more about relationships, starting within the organization and working toward the best interest of the customer and the business.

Don't Be Social Media Shark Bait

I've been talking to several good industry friends, we are concerned about the social media feeding frenzy that has ensued of late.  Over the last few months, I've transitioned between disbelief to outrage several times over after seeing several self-proclaimed "experts" launch into initiatives like this.

So I feel compelled to get something off my chest that requires a brief personal retrospective.  I hope to honor your patience with something worth reading here, so let me know how I do:

1. A WAVE RIDER'S HISTORY

I formally started my career while boogie boarding on the "interactive / new media" surf in 1992, while I was still in college and working as an interactive designer / sales associate for a "virtual concierge" kiosk company that failed, never paid me and closed its doors. After graduation, I helped establish what became the interactive services division of 1-800-FLOWERS. We had little funding, worked on a ridiculous shoestring budget and we often pulled all-nighters. Our first "cutting edge" store was comprised of text descriptions of product - found within folder hierarchies of CompuServe. We offered 800 number ordering that we later converted to secure online purchasing. As rudimentary as it was, we sold product - thereby catching and riding the "Proprietary Online Service"  or ISP Wave successfully.

Very soon, we had created stores on every available online service, including Prodigy and eWorld and others. I remember the day Steve Case and Ted Leonsis came in to meet with our team. They said "We need your brand to build our own brand!"  We inked a multi-year deal to become the first transactional merchant on America Online and the exclusive floral provider on AOL. I still have my "1994 AOL Roadshow" T-shirt from that visit in a drawer somewhere.

As we experimented with kiosks, ITV, CDI/CDRom and PDA trials -- we saw something brewing that we thought would produce some really ncie waves. So, we grabbed our boards and paddled out to catch the Internet Wave.

Frankly, our initial ride wasn't all we'd hoped. Our 4A's agency was clueless about the Internet, so we hired a company we met at a conference to build our first website. The "company" turned out to be two geeks who were college roommates -- operating out of their Manhattan dorm room. Shortly after our launch, had a fight: One principal took the hardware -- the other took the software and they left us holding the bag.  We were wiser for getting bitten -- and we rallied with a better site. As we'd hoped -- our profit grew with the momentum of these waves. Within two years, we did $10 Million in sales in online commerce (a LOT of money back then) - and the number quickly grew tenfold.

As I progressed in on in my career, I rode a number of other waves in the .com boom, serving blue chips and startups riding the digital marketplaces, B2C, B2B and B2E portals, "virtual communities" and other waves. One day, it was all about "community." The next day, it was all about online marketing or advertising. The day after that it was about search and SEO ... But it was all about waves and ripples -- ripples and waves.

2. WAVES AND RIPPLES ARE NOTHING NEW

While the tide may have shifted a bit -- we're still in the same water, we're still riding waves and trying to describe the experience with new words. Today, we find ourselves in the waters of Web 2.0, Social Media, Cloud Computing the "Social Enterprise" the "Conversation Age" which looks toward the "Next-Generation Web" or (heaven help me for using this horrid term) "Web 3.0". The only difference is we've matured, along with technology - and there are more of us paddling around in the surf.

3.  WITH THE WAVES AND THE BAIT, COME THE SHARKS.

Those who have ridden enough of these waves can attest that historically, with each new tide, a different congregation of "experts" and agencies will surface. Some individuals are less smarmy and bottom-dwelling than others. However, they all circle the water like sharks, making it hard to distinguish the intelligent, harmless beasts from their more sinister counterparts.

If you're in the water, you might start to encounter few various breeds of shark :
  • The One Trick Wonder is all show and no substance, claiming broad expertise but proving to be narrow and limited
  • The Outright Liar is crafty and deceptive. He lacks the practical experience and knowledge to teach you what you don't already know and will cost you plenty until you figure this out
  • The Lifetime Consultant who has never owned or managed a business - yet claims to know yours and how to fix it
  • The Schmooze Puppy is handsome, fascinating and fun - and will selll you tricky projects that are equally pretty -- but also costly, time consuming, expensive and which provide limited ROI
  • The "Strategerist" cannot build or execute but knows how to create great looking power point documents with broad, sweeping goals. Typically attacks and retreats
  • The Builder who likes to build stuff -- that may not work with other "stuff" or in concert with a strategy
  • The Delegator can't build anything or deliver anything, but can talk a good game and "knows people"
  • The Glossy Analyst makes way more money than you do -- by asking you questions and writing about your success
  • The Mental Mentor is highly esteemed -- in his/her own mind. This hype driven expert creates other experts, through paid seminars, webinars, extended courses and certification in just "x" days for "x" dollars.
  • The Career Acrobat has taken Mental Mentor's course and has shifted careers to focus on (pick a topic above) and is now an expert and authority in all things
Further, observation shows that many of these sharks also have Egregious Self Promotion Disease (ESPD). This renders individuals unable to stop talking about how wonderful they are - and how wonderful others think they are. I have noted that ESPD also produces an uncontrollable compulsion to self promote within every available online or offline channel - often to the exclusion of doing any real work (Note: Outsourcing to India doesn't count).

4. SURF RESPONSIBLY
The bad news is this: There's nothing we can do about the sharks. Simply put, the chum is in the water and they're not going away soon.  The proliferation of so-called "experts," teachers, gurus, pipers, consultants, professionals, guides and mentors who want to help companies "DO" social media (or pick buzzword here) is growing proportionate to the rate of proliferation of apps, sites, services and tools. They are hungry to exploit the waves and make as much money doing it as possible.

The good news is this: They're only dangerous if you engage with them! Wise up, tuck in your arms and legs - and be careful to avoid them.  If you need help with digital or social media, find people or agencies that win a lot of work through word-of mouth, who measure their success based on what they've done for clients lately. Look for "seasoned surfers" from whom you can learn and engage the "young and talented" who are eager-to-learn and full of promise. 

Everyone you engage should be a smart, talented, passionate, excellence junky.  They should have some sort of proven track record in digital media (2 years of Facebook experience is not sufficient!). They shouldn't just be knowledgeable, but humble and teachable. Make sure they will roll up their sleeves to work for you and with you -- helping you understand how to balance and stand on your own two feet. Make sure they understand integrated strategy and can connect your online and offline experiences for success. These folks will help you surf with caution -- and when you get up on the board they'll enjoy the ride with you (and not just at your expense).

5. C'MON IN, THE WATER'S FINE! 

The waves are good. The proliferation of sites, apps and tools keeps things challenging, stimulating, fun and interesting.  The movement is opening up new ways to improve our businesses and relationships. The churn is fueled by cheap, accessible technology and the use of open source code.  The winds are blowing, and there's no signs of slowing soon.


So what's not to love?  Grab your board.  I'll see you in the water!

(Amazing photo (C) Copyright Kurt Jones 2003. And yes, I know it's a dolphin!  Check out his site at http://www.kurtjones.com/)


Aliza Sherman - Social Media Certification - Are you Kidding?

@alizasherman lets it fly on the topic of social media certification. Important topic. weigh in!

I'm warning you now. I'm on a rant. Just got wind a few days ago that there is a new certification program for Social Media Specialists. For the LOW LOW PRICE of
ONLY $2795 for platinum members!
*$2845 for premium members or $2995* for basic members
 NOTE: if it works better for your cashflow, we do offer a split-pay option!
Contact us for further details: isma@ismaconnects.org

WT*? Who out there thinks they actually know what it takes to be a Social Media Specialist to come up with certification criteria?

Dear Sony - A Break Up Letter



Dear Sony,

I recently purchased my fourth Sony Vaio - a custom FW390. It cost over $2200.00 by the time I upgraded to 80 gigs of RAM, a high speed processor, advanced graphics card and other features.

I thought you were a smart move. We had already dated for five years - and you were my fourth Vaio. You were sleek, handsome and you had a battery that could last a lifetime. And sure, maybe we weren't the ideal fit -- but a Mac with similar configuration would have been about $4,000. You were slim but powerful, reliable and a great traveling companion.

But then, you betrayed me. You made yourself over into a dysfunctional mess. Your new design proving to be an inconvenient, non-ergonomic nightmare of cables and irritation.
  • All USB and audio ports are located at the front right of the machine, interfering with the opening/closing of the Blu Ray disc in back, as well as my mouse..
  • This thing is designed so there are cables shooting out of both sides of the computer - which also takes up valuable workspace (Video cable is in the front third left of the computer? Duh.)
  • The control buttons on the screen are about 1/8 inch thick and wide - with counterintuitive labeling - they are hard to distinguish and impossible to read.
  • My energy saving LED display already has an artifact in it - squiggly red line
  • NO DOCKING STATION available - so I have to halfway shut my screen to use my 25 inch monitor.
When I got the computer I did call to express my disappointment. You told me "if you don't like it, call it quits and send it back".  My only option was to return it.  After a week of research and two weeks of extended business travel - I did have an extra week on the 30 day refund policy to return it and I didn't.  Shame on me.  Perhaps I just hoped I would get used to it.  Now, I'm left with regret, and the bill.

I did write Sony Style on Twitter to provide some helpful feedback -- and got no response. I put my feedback in a customer satisfaction survey also and heard nothing back. Perhaps an acknowledgement of the problem, a little sympathy, apology - proactive response would have kept me around for one more chance.

...but it occurs to me that your lack of response only underscores what I feared:  that you really don't care about me after all!

I feel a little silly, Sony. I mean, I write about brands and customer experience for a living. I wanted to love you -- I wanted to be your friend. But it dawns on me now that if you really cared, not only would you respond to my complaints -- you wouldn't have shown such disregard for the user when you designed this machine.

So, after more than a decade of being your friend, I am breaking up with you.

I've met someone new -- we dated several years ago -- and he knows how to deliver. His name is Mac and suspect we will be very happy together. I realize you're under warranty.

You might feel bad -- and you should.  It's not me -- it's about you! You shouldn't have taken me for granted -- especially in a down economy when every customer counts.  But cheer up.  Maybe you will find someone else, just as hopeful and clueless as I was. I hope she reads this letter.

Good luck,
Leigh

Social Media & Customer Experience - 1 Serious Question & 10 Truths

In the midst of client deadlines and work, a lot of us feel pressure to give more than we have --  provide more value than we might be currently capable of.  There's pressure to be everywhere at once,  friend everyone, attend every conference -- all while giving away lots of stuff for free. Because of my work schedule, and my family who needs me, I tend internalize a lot.  However, lately I've been walking away from meetings and interactions feeling a sense of unease. So, this is an attempt to process and purge some of those feelings and hopefully, to do something positive with them.

To put this in context, I started this blog in early 2005 to write down my thoughts on customer experience. My passion for CX stems from my love of people, combined with my roots in information architecture and design, as well as operations, CRM and business strategy.  This complements my natural interest in making make things better for people - inside and outside of the enterprise.

There's a lot of talk about customer experience today.  As I've said before, CX is an easy thing to become an evangelist for. However, delivering great experience isn't easy and the fact remains that very few companies do it well.  Even so, we continue to pile on more  -- do more...

This is relevant to the era of social media because the more channels and tools we use to communicate, the more difficult it is to create seamless, solid, positive customer experience.  Companies today become so enthralled with keeping up with the dizzying level of channel proliferation, they often lose sight of customer experience.  Facing a sort of "keeping up with the Joneses" pressure to engage actively on sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs, crowdsourcing sites, wikis and more -- they often proceed without proper planning or resourcing in place.

It's a mad rush -- and for some consultants and agencies -- it's a gold rush. 

But before we all rush ahead ... getting caught up in the frenzy, it's important to think pragmatically about what we're really trying to accomplish   To keep level heads, we should start by asking ourselves one simple question:

How will these activities improve my business?


In my opinion, if we are not making things better for employees, customers or prospects we are only adding to the noise.  If we're not applying these tools to make our business better and drive qualitative results -- we are also doing our companies a disservice.  Too many "social media experts" are pushing tools and "strategery" at the expense of common sense and solid thinking, contributing to perceptions about social media -- and ignoring the many best practices that have been established.

I was shocked recently, to hear Andy Sernovitz tell a group of  over 350 marketers that if they wanted to get started easily in social media they should do this:  "Go out and find the lowest paid person in your company who can type and put them on Twitter."  He later contradicted himself on that point, but the damage was done.  In my opinion, as stewards of knowledge and experience -- we can't afford to be talking out of both sides of our mouths!

So, to clarify what I believe to be some misconceptions about social media, here are what I believe to be:

10 Truths About Social Media
  1. If your base-level customer experience stinks, using social media tools probably won't help much.
  2. Social media isn't free. It is cost-efficient when planned for and managed appropriately, and like any investment that comes with a price, what you will yield is proportionate to what you invest.
  3. Web 2.0 and social media tools are merely a means to an end - what you do with the tools, and how you integrate them to improve the base business are what matters.
  4. If you are not using conversational media to drive some specific and measurable objectives you are probably wasting your time
  5. "Transparency" is an illusion. While conversational media increases visibility into your operations, you can maintain enough opacity to protect your sensitive underbelly.
  6. "Authenticity" is a terribly abused word. There are plenty of authentically bad companies and products out there. Strive to be authentically good and constantly improving and you'll win.
  7. "Influence" is relative term.  However, it generally belongs to people that consistently deliver positive, remarkable experiences -- across channels and over time.
  8. "Trust" is fluid and hard to measure. Deliver on every promise, exhibit high level of ownership / stewardship, be a mensch and gaining trust won't be an issue.
  9. If your senior leadership wants to relegate social media to an intern or agency -- resisting the notion that these tools may transform the enterprise, consider changing jobs.
  10. If you are looking for help, beware of snake oil. Strategists who can't execute are as dangerous as "one-trick ponies who only know how to use a single tool.  Find someone who can develop a solid strategic plan, execute, help your organization prepare, educate and stand by to help, if needed.
Going back to my roots, focusing on creating a better company, products, services and ultimately -- a better experience for prospects, customers and even employees is where we should focus.  Doing this well requires rolled up sleeves, attention to detail, a love for people and an understanding of best practices across an array of disciplines.  Pushing past the hype, and fixing our eyes on becoming better, wiser, faster, stronger, more responsive, authentically good  -- and using new technologies to accomplish quantifiable goals, we can drive success -- even in a rough economy.

Mixing it up in Chicago

I've got a follow up post in the hopper to my "Trust" piece - but have been waylaid with client work the last two weeks PLUS getting ready to migrate my site... so I haven't had a minute to write!  Here's a quick update.

Next week, I ship off to Madison, Wisconsin and then Chicago, IL where I'll be doing some one-on-one therapy and moderating a panel at the Marketing Profs Digital Mixer.  I'm excited to talk relationship building on Twitter with Ann Handley - one of my all around favorite people, author and Chief Content Officer of Marketing Profs. John Bernier, all around nice guy and head of Best Buy's Twelpforce will also be there - and I'm stoked to meet him in person...along with Monique Trulson, all around ebusiness whiz from Hello Direct who is now with Brady People ID.   There's a lot to look forward to, as Marketing Profs draws terrific speakers and creates a wonderful format for deep interaction -- and fun.  I'm also stoked to visit with other friends, including Beth Harte, Mack Collier, Jay Baer, Paul Chaney, Becky Carroll, Amber Naslund, the rest of Marketing Profs crew (especially Shelley Ryan) and others!  If you're near Chicago and it's convenient, check out the information about the Digital Mixer here.... and I hope to see you there, too!

On Plagiarism, Snake Oil and Prayer

Peter Kim and David Armano both posted on the subject of Plagiarism recently. I started responses to both -- but today's post is largely a response to Peter's post from yesterday.  Actually, this started as a comment and grew - and I'm warning you now -- it's a somewhat unedited rant. 

In truth, nothing is really free. There is a direct cost associated with research and the work we do as professionals. Our time is worth money -- so are our thoughts.  For excellence junkies like myself and many of my peers, there is also the emotional capital we invest in birthing original thought, visualizing something new and contributing something of value to our community.  

We rationalize giving "stuff" away with the argument that this will help build our influence, credibility, stimulate discussion and build relationships that yield specific business outcomes (gigs, sales, etc.).  By and large, this works.  So we do it because the trade off is, in some sense, profitable.  

This is true even when we deal with bad apples:  These are the copy cats and snake oil salesmen who skirt licensing and permissions and make unethical use of IP and content. We've all seen them at work and many of us have seen our work replicated and re-branded by others in a way that has been disconcerting - and even maddening.

In response to the snakes..n. I have always tried to maintain an optimistic perspective.  I generally believe what goes around, comes around... and that MOST people aren't jerks. I have held out hope that smart people will be able to recognize the copy cats and snake-oil salesmen.

In short -- didn't question the trade off, until recently...

In the not to distant past, I encountered a situation where one of my course attendees from a major university announced her intention to take my ideas and course materials and repackage them into a workshop, for which she was charging a premium.  Prior to taking my class, this individual couldn't recognize an ear from an elbow with regard to social media - yet the person's desire to reincarnate into a social media "guru"seemed focused and intentional.

I made the discovery two days before the class. While at first I was amused, I then considered the hefty, password protected companion website I'd created for the course.  It featured my own laboriously assembled class presentations as well as an array of fully accredited and referenced articles, how-to's, videos, research, case studies , etc. from a variety of sources (some of which I paid to license and others from respected sources and peers in the field).

Needless to say, the site took weeks to assemble - not including the months of collecting I'd done or the pre-course survey I did to make sure I had content tailored to specific types of business.  To be honest, if I'd counted those hours in my prep time, I didn't break even teaching that course.  However, in truth, I didn't put the site together for money.  I wanted to be open about sharing - promote the outstanding work of folks in my social media network -- and enable course participants (mostly SMB's) to help themselves succeed long after I was gone.  


I never considered that a course participant might build success by repackaging my work and charging others for it! 


After doing a sanity check with a few good friends, I responded by:  
  • Adding a Creative Commons License to the Wiki with legal disclaimers  
  • Adding a course segment on social media ethics where planned to address this type of issue and my practice of taking legal action against offenders. 
  • Praying to God for wisdom about how to deal with the problem.
    What happened next is something people have called "Divine Intervention."  My "copy cat" was stricken by a "freak illness" the day before class and ended up hospitalized during the days of the course. As a no-show, the person never gained access to the course materials - and I was relieved.

    Crisis averted...but BOY did it all make me think ...
    • Has this made me more reticent to trust? Yes Peter!  Absolutely.
    • Has it made me think more carefully about what and how I share? Yes - and I think I'm afraid I'm still too open for my own good ...
    • Is Plagiarism changing how I will proceed with monitoring and Creative Commons attribution? Yes.
    • Will the tools and monitoring and licensing be enough? No, Peter!  I don't think so - and here's why:
    In my opinion -- beyond the lack of proper awareness and education in this area, I believe the plague of plagiarism is a reflection of a larger crisis of ethics.  

    As we both know: You can't legislate morality.  

    Consider the fact that most people do not think twice about ripping CDs and sharing music and images in a manner that is an active violation of Federal Law. The sad truth is that the illegal use of material and especially digital assets is pervasive in our cultures...often "accepted" and practiced -- in households, businesses and even churches across our nation and around globe. While there are some who won't do this because of their own moral convictions -- It is likely that a large number of our readers do this without thinking!

    So, why should people view our digital content and IP any differently?

    I submit that they do not.  We'll see the results outside of business service offerings, white papers and blog posts in the term papers of the future.  And with the proliferation of media, it may be more and more difficult to figure out where people are getting their material in the future.

    Moving forward, what can we do?  Lots of good comments on Peter's post aboout this.  My thoughts:


    1. Each one of us must take initiative to protect our investments with the resources and tools we have at our disposal.  My tool kit includes many of the ones Peter mentioned... Many of these will mature over time - and get better and helping us monitor the "snakeosphere."

    2. We can leverage the law where it matters most.  Existing laws should help protect us, but I'll go out
    on a limb to assert that the law may be most useful for those with a great deal of time and money to spare. For a large number of us, using the law and the courts to resolve issues is likely to be "resource prohibitive." 

    3. We can find ways to empower the "Social Media Sphere" to police itself.   Community and peer pressure can often go far to change the behavior of the masses.  Many of us have asked questions about what we can do about plagiarism. The big question is how we can police ourselves without giving seedy people attention they may actually benefit from?  Stuff like mentions, site traffic, inbound links, etc.  Google doesn't penalize people for "negative" attention. ;-)

    To his credit, Peter "ousted" a few offenders in the comments field of yesterday's post.  It needed to be done. However, this is slightly problematic from the standpoint that publicly ousting a snake oil salesman from a high profile, thought leader's blog immediately creates traffic and links in to the web properties of the offender that can boost things like the "T-rating" "G-rating" and site traffic and comments. On the up-side, a least we know who to look out for! The problem is, this can result in greater visibility that might work in the individual's favor...


    Also to his credit, Armano didn't link to the guy who was ripping off his feed (at least I didn't see a link).  Incidentally, guy was ripping off feeds from other thought leaders, making up quotes and facts about himself,.  This guy even had the audacity to rip off his entire site design from Google, and swipe a commercial social media video created by Sprint, removing the brand name and inserting his own!   I'll admit that when I saw this guy at work, I wanted to "out" him to everyone I knew  -- "sicking the social media community" on his butt, so to speak... Perhaps we all did -- but we seemed to apply restraint so as not to give this guy any attention that might be used to his advantage. The problem with this is, we can't warn others about the snake oil peddlers this way.

    Moving forward, perhaps using a hash tag on Twitter like #snakeoil  - just  as a way to index this discussion. I'n not sure that would be highly effective as a policing method, though. A few people have suggested creating a "Snake Oil Wiki"  - and I'd say it would have to require people to submit screen-grabs of an accused person's offenses AND (in the interest of fairness) offer a forum for accused individuals to defend themselves.  This way - it's fair and the evidence remains when sites are changed (as they often are post-discovery). Not sure who wants to take that on, from a legal perspective...but it'd certainly require counsel and legal backup!

    In the mean time, I'll continue on...trying hard to provide value and trying to be an optimist.  I'll rely on the tools that are available -- in addition to applying prayer as needed when the jerks try to ruin my day. After all, as my story tells, it has proven to be my most effective tool, to date!   ;-)

    On Trust and Influence

    Last year at SXSW, Charlene Li gave a great presentation on Social Media Networks and how they will soon be "like air" (naturally, everywhere). She presented the following slide and the diagram got me thinking about trust.
    As context, Li was talking how, beyond the contact lists, implicit data helps fill in gaps about the level of closeness or intimacy individuals have with each other. She went on to talk about how this will change in the future based on usage patterns detected by Google and other social networks... painting a picture of a future "social algorithm."

    I don't disagree with Li's assertions at all - in fact I think she's spot on. It's the slide above that kept coming to mind. Taking that graphic at a literal level, I don't agree that the implicit data represented above really does help fill in gaps regarding people's relationships in any way other than a subjective one - nor do I think it reflects any kind of accurate indicator of an individual's level of "closeness" or "intimacy" with others (trust). Incidentally, I'm not sure Charlene actually asserted this... I believe the slide was used in a figurative manner.

    But it still got me thinking about both sides of the trust equasion. How do individuals (specifically with regard to social media) think about trust with regard to other people?   How do marketers look at Trust in the networked economy?

    For individuals, here's my take on what the trust spectrum might look like:



    Playing off the concept of "circles of trust", we see an outward radiation of trust and intimacy.  At the "inner circle" there is high trust.  In the outer circle there is "no trust"  In further examining trust dynamics, it's fair to assert that people tend to transition back and forth between spheres, depending on events, mood, conversation, disposition and other factors.   

    If you buy this concept, trust, or intimacy is therefore somewhat fluid. It's also device and technology independent (although the actions at the right of that diagram show how I might interact with individuals using social media terms).  We'll come back to this in at the end.

    Looking at individual trust from a marketer's perspective,  there are probably three core areas of consideration marketers want to examine when targeting "high trust" individuals.

    1. VOICE:  Understanding where an individual is trusted is an essential component of targeting. Voice examines an individual's level of engagement (posts, tweets, discussions, comments) across various topics (e.g. Frugal Living) and the overall sentiment of that engagement (positive, negative, neutral) over time.  In other words:  
    For example, I might trust Beth Kanter as an authority on non-profits and social media.  However, I might not trust her as a good referral source on which flat screen TV I should buy.  As such, voice is a critical area of examination related to targeting high-trust individuals.


    2. REACH: Examining the network of the individual is also an essential component of targeting. This includes an understanding of the person's online and offline influence, across traditional media channels (e.g. television, print, etc.).  In the online channels, reach examines the size and scope of the individual's active network within various sites and networks, as well as the frequency of communication that occurs. 


    Furthermore, examining how the communication and dialog flows across online and offline channels may be germane to gauging the efficacy of an individual's reach. 

    INFLUENCE:  There's been a lot of talk about influence today - and I don't want to rehash all that dialog. At a high level, and in simple terms, I see it as an outcome of a number of other considerations.  Primarily, I believe it is a measure of an individual's reach divided by the number of high trust relationships (see circle diagram above) times voice...something like this:


    If influence directly impacted by the ebb and flow of trust within an individual's network, it it's important to note that influence is also somewhat fluid and relative. And all of this is already measured as a factor of time.

    The sticky challenge is measuring the level of trust individuals have within their network. The truth is this: As outsiders, we can only gauge an individuals relationship on a trust spectrum based on a myriad of attributes, including length of relationship, messaging frequency, physical relationship, public/private discourse, "lists", discussion topic(s), sentiment, recent events, real-world connection and other complex and sometimes esoteric factors.  In the end, some of this data will be available and some will not.  As such, the outcome is somewhat likely to be somewhat subjective...depending on the time frame reviewed, quantity and amount of information analyzed (etc.).

    What do you think?



    The Portable Network & Social Media Loyalty


    I've been thinking about brand loyalty and social media lately, specifically related to some of the changes to features and interfaces that have shown up lately on Facebook and Twitter.
    Looking back, Amazon became the 800 lb. gorilla of ecommerce through performance and usability. They set many new standards for online shopping... facilitating simple tasks with superior usability and capabilities. This drove incredible customer loyalty, in turn. In contrast -- with social media -- performance and usability seem to take a back seat on many sites and services today, and there seems to be no overt linkages in this area with customer loyalty.
    If you get analytical about it, most social media tools and sites do only a moderate job of creating really ergonomic, usable experiences for people... yet they continue to thrive and grow at astonishing rates. As end users, we battle performance lags, the "Fail Whale" and grapple with the learning curve of using new tools. Jumping through these hoops can be frustrating, yet we continue to adopt... we use these tools, promote our presences on them, and even promote the brands themselves.
    Why? Perhaps we're more patient with experimentation and failure because the tools are free. Maybe it's because we know these tools are charting some untested waters... Perhaps we're more patient because many of us are experimenting and learning on some level, ourselves. Maybe some users just don't know better.
    Whatever the case, this higher threshold for poor experience doesn't explain why people tend to become more loyal to one tool over another (e.g. FriendFeed vs. Twitter), or why people abandon one network for another (e.g. from MySpace to Facebook).
    While there are a number of dynamics at play, the simple answer is this: Loyalty may be facilitated by the tool sets themselves, but our loyalty to various tool sets is largely driven by the unique networks we develop within them. In my head, this looks something like this:

    After all, it's the people that create the phenomenal experience... the interactions, the intimacy, the engagement, and the content shared and created on the fly, right? That's what we're there for.
    Diving deeper, it's easy to note five key factors that influence social media brand loyalty with lay users today (Note - these are not the same factors that influence early adopters...):
    1. The overall size and activity of the channel's network (established user base)
    2. The actual or potential size, significance of the end-user's in-channel network (my network)
    3. The ease of replicating a user's in-channel network within another channel ("portability")
    4. The tools base level of reliability and performance (base level functionality & decent "up time")
    5. The existence of other tools that help alleviate application shortcomings (e.g. Tweetdeck for Twitter)
    Collectively, these five factors make it more difficult for competitors to services like Twitter or Facebook to succeed and serve as a deterrent to a more competitive space today. The lead positioning of key services is, in turn reinforced by the exponential growth of leading networks. This is especially true for those applying best practices for the use of open source code, and making APIs accessible in a manner that encourages the organic expansion of the network and increase in in-channel activity.
    As a result, the leaders continue to grow exponentially with little competitive threat. At least, it's this way, today.
    But with regard to loyalty, I must question whether we stand by these tools because we love them (I'm sure some of us do) or because we have become, in some sense, willing captives of the networks, services and tools to which we subscribe. We've got a little flexibility, but our networks aren't "portable" in the true sense of the term. We don't "own" them -- the services we subscribe to do. Right now, comprehensively managing and controlling our network, groups, tagging, communication preferences today is entirely a tool-based activity. What if that changed?
    Sure, we can import our friend lists from various email applications within tools like LinkedIn. We can export our Twitter, Facebook, and email contacts into Friend Feed (although it doesn't always work perfectly). We can communicate from a single channel to multiple, popular channels (e.g. Ping.fm or FriendFeed, Tweetdeck). However, on a grand scale, we can't, for example, take our comprehensive network and apply it across sites, maintaining "tags" for various contacts, groups and other key meta data. We can't plug our networks into other applications, like Microsoft Outlook. We can replicate our network in a few places... but we can't APPLY our network across multiple services. As a whole, our social networks are, with rare exception, poorly integrated - and often fragmented - and holistically clunky to manage. This is especially true for early adopters who may not know the "tricks" many social mediaphytes have mastered.
    We can't really take our social network with us -- yet!
    Looking forward, I see a day when all the people we know are united in a seamless way; Where our social network follows us seamlessly from channel-to-channel; Where we are fully in control of how and to whom we communicate across channels; Where our entire social network can be controlled from a single destination, with robust privacy controls -- and even identity management and monitoring services built in; Where we are able to establish communication groups permanently or on-the-fly to control communication based on theme, topic, relationship and other factors; Where our social network is fully integrated with our real-life network - across channels, devices, the cloud and even desktop applications. This will usher in an era where our personal networks take on a much for more useful, meaningful, tangible, connected warmth that reaches across online channels to drive real world communication and activity.
    In this future, a better Facebook - or a better "Twitter" - might readily thrive, because there is no "penalty" for leaving. There is also no barrier to activating oneself within a new network or service - because re-establishing and redundantly managing one's social network within each tool will not be required. Our networks become stronger, more integrated, and we're better able to communicate to groups based on relationship, topic, intention, focus, group and other key criteria.
    This isn't a pipe dream - we're partially there now. I'd say Facebook, Google have the current upper hand, but FriendFeed, Linked In and Microsoft are obviously moving, too... The day is still young, and there's room for other companies out there to play in this space. It won't be easy - there are many practical and technological hurdles as well as practical challenges in gaining critical mass that are too complex to discuss here.
    One giant issue in this will be building user trust and preserving confidentiality and user privacy. Missteps in this area may represent the end of some promising tools, and are probably inevitable. This will probably be a good thing because it will raise awareness and hopefully, lead to the establishment of new industry standards for social privacy management.
    In the end, it's not likely to be one -- but perhaps several companies that will make our networks truly portable. The ones that accomplish this successfully will reap a windfall in the form of usage, adoption, data, IP, usage insight, power and profit.
    And, when the network becomes portable, loyalty triggers will shift - along with social media business models.
    In the future, It won't really matter what users subscribe to ... because it will be easier for users to be, in a sense, omnipresent, traveling at-will to use the "best" features of various tools, sites and services at-will. People may not migrate away from "favorite" sites like Twitter and Facebook - as they seem to be hitting critical mass. However, people will be more likely to have a highly redundant presence across various social media sites, tools, networks and communities.
    While this may be great for the user, it will be an uncomfortable reality for social media business. It's likely that we'll see a shakeout within the social media categories ensue, as some players fail, and other sites and tools partner, engage in acquisitions and mergers with other companies -- just like the .com and portal years. Membership numbers will be overshadowed by data that shows either a high level of "in-channel" user engagement - or the creative ability to market directly to individuals (Cost-per-individual marketing) themselves. As users become more active across an array of sites and tools, competition for eyeballs and clicks will increase, making effective advertising a more challenging prospect. Profit models for sites and networks will change with an emphasis on fee-for-service. While free services will continue to exist, we'll see more sites charging for "premium" access. Fee for use and micro-transactions will also play an important role.
    To justify fees - user experience will again take center stage, as users will demand highly ergonomic, seamless experiences with full features and functionality. Social media sites, networks, tools and channels will become more important for their features, performance and functionality (like Amazon was) rather than their ability to provide us with access and control over an in-channel network.
    When the smoke clears and the frenzy of social media tool proliferation dies down, we'll see different loyalty drivers at play. In the end, the winners will be the ones focused heavily on serving customer needs, providing a well integrated experience, preserving privacy and identity and providing outstanding performance. Privacy will take center stage as the public becomes more ardently concerned about the data available in the cloud. Customer loyalty will belong to proven trust agents...rather than ruddy pioneers.

    These 'aint your momma's channels

    Leveraging the same, tired traditional media tactics within emerging channels is like trading in a mule for a Ferrari - and then attempting to bridle it, saddle it, and ride it home while sitting on the roof.

    It boggles the mind that a lot of companies actually do this. However, it's an all to common occurence. In my experience, it seems that the ones that behave in this manner are also the same brands that seem to be experimenting in new channels in a way that may be hazardous to brand health.

    I've been thinking about this and there are a number of reasons this may be occuring... some more lame than others. Please add your own in the comments.

    1. We didn't know what we were signing up for.
    Truth be told, many of us have been caught off guard, but that's no excuse. There's enough information out there to test the waters of emerging channels in an intelligent manner. If you're still being caught with your pants down on say, Twitter -- the lack of preparation is your fault -- not a result on an untested medium.

    I tend to agree with Jeremiah Owyang's assertion that Twitter will become a CRM tool. I'd submit that we should be thinking about all emerging - or "agile" channels like we would think about CRM tools. This is important because the transparency created by emerging media naturally demand the resolution of key, customer-facing issues. This entails a unique mix of customer service, operational and/or IT skills, and a little PR... although some issues may be related to larger, operational challenges.
    Many stakeholders assigned to digital and social media just don't have the level of empowerment or create resolution or influence change at a level that might be necessary. When people are not empowered to answer and resolve tough customer questions in a timely manner in emerging media channels, it becomes highly evident to the brands social newtork.

    Unfortunately, instead of resolving this problem with better oversight, coordination and collaboration, many companies react by moving customer facing issues solely offline and manage the digital channels in a more opaque, non-relational manner: Treating the channels as outbound communications vehicles, rather than customer service medium, and limiting individual engagement with customers online. This is a huge mistake.


    Emerging media channels need structure and oversight -- but not at the expense of neutering the channel - or of applying common sense. Having thinking workers at the helm who can provide carefully worded and high enough level responses to diffuse risk, and make participants feel valued and respected are essential to keep the "flow" going in favor of the brand. Analysis paralysis is the enemy in what I'm starting to call "translucent culture" (Thanks to @bethharte brain hockey and comment). It's important to find the balance between enough structure to keep things manageable -- and enough flexibility to facilitate agile response.

    2. We didn't come along willingly
    I've talked to executives from a few major brands who feel they have far too many, vocal detractors and skeletons in the closet to succeed in the use of digital and social media. In fact, the head of customer analytics for a major airline laughingly described Twitter to me as "Pandora's Box" late last year. Many are hesitant to expose present business realities to a broad audience base. Others don't know if they want the exposure something like a blog, Twitter, Facebook or You Tube might create because they might just have more to lose than to gain. Some, frankly, feel social media engagement is a huge waste of time. The point is simple: digital and social media are simply not a priority to everyone.

    At the same time, many reticent companies (including the airline I mentioned) have become active in emerging channels anyway. Why? In some cases, a high level executive mandate was issued. In other cases, they were pushed hard by consultants, agencies, industry analysts and overzealous agencies. In some, they merely wanted to reserve user names ... and things cascaded from there.

    Whatever the case, the activity of these brands doesn't indicate a fully sponsored, well organized presence. It doesn't indicate alignment, or buy in. It doesn't suggest the individuals managing the digital media presence entered with an understanding of the potential up-side of participation, what they might be in for, or knowing how to manage things, well. It doesn't mean proper resources were allocated to doing social media the right way. Perhaps they came in kicking and screaming, and they're still reeling as they figure things out. This might be more common than you think.

    3. The wrong people are steering!
    • A lack of executive understanding, oversight and/or leadership of emerging channels
    • Poor interdepartmental alignment and coordination of the emerging media presence

    • Unempowered or unskilled individuals managing (and advising) the social web
    These are bad things. Why? Because the lack of leadership and oversight are plainly evident to every bright individual within a brand's social network.
    Case in point -- I recently audited the tweets and posts of a national brand that is a former client. I was disheartened to find the brand's formerly engaging, relational tweets and posts replaced by self-promotional, broadcast-driven messages, with no sign of interaction. I reached out to my contact to ask what happened.

    My contact reluctantly and apologetically confessed to me that the team was swamped and decided to pass the management of emerging media channels for the summer to an intern. After sucking in my breath to temper my response, we discussed the ramifications of their decision in rather frank terms. They assured me they'd turn things around. They certainly know better, and I hope they do get it right.
    Another interesting aspect to this story is that their executive management doesn't know any better and hasn't challenged the team on this approach. The executives think it's enough for the brand to be present on Facebook, Linked In, Twitter and blogs - so there's no pressure to engage or do anything differently ... no urgency to remedy the issue. It's important to understand that being present in emerging channels isn't the same as having a meaningful presence. Meanwhile, there are a myriad of constituents who have befriended this brand online who were hoping for more than a press release.
    This is just one tiny case study that demonstrates the points above. This brings me to the this next point:

    4. We jumped in with both feet, but had no plan
    It's easy to engage in digital and social media channels without a lot of forethought or up-front planning. This happens more than we might think -- especially in light of a strong internal executive push. However, make no mistake -- digging in one's heels and jumping in with reckless abandon can result in just that -- reckless abandonment. More than a few companies have been forced to refocus or retrench to properly manage customer communication in emerging channels, and in many instances, transparency was not a friend of the brand.

    When there's no plan in place that helps companies manage the digital footprint, build relationships, align resources, govern communication, oversee communication and monitor reputation and feedback, the presence becomes unmanageable, difficult to monitor, coordinate and measure. Unfortunately, many brands don't know enough to create a cohesive governance, workflow and management plan. Further, many of their agencies - while active promoters of digital and social media -- are unskilled and untested in the channels, themselves. So, the brands continue on auto-pilot, learning as they go -- often in an inefficient and unsustainable manner.

    5. We are really MOST comfortable doing what we KNOW...
    Preach all you want about the benefits of digital and social media. Train your team on channel best practices and how to build a successful network. Just remember this: these lessons are easily forgotten in light of a hectic schedule, competing priorities and the unanticipated number of hours it takes to manage the emerging media presence. Business stakeholders may fail to apply their training and revert to more "familiar" tactics. While these may vary from company-to-company, or even department-to-department... you might see the status quo in action, in the form of the following:

    • Working around problems, rather than fixing them
    • Resorting to spin, rather than engaging and managing meaningful conversation
    • Focus on broadcast "push" messages, rather than building relationships
    • Slapping constraints on the use of new channels, rather than harnessing opportunities
    • Staying within the "silo" rather than working cross-functionally to meet customer needs
    This isn't the kind of culture successful brands want to reflect to the critical public in emerging channels. This is another reason sticking to a plan, putting in proper oversight, and investing in continuous learning and reputation monitoring (read comments on this post, too!) are critical for success.

    It's time for a Reality Check!

    Sooner or later, the smoke clears and you won't fool anyone. For the brands that suffer from one or more of the symptoms above... take heart. You don't need to hold up mirrors and a smoke machine to mitigate risk and create positive impressions in emerging channels. It's time to get real about your digital media footprint, and the impression it gives.

    Your degree of preparedness is evident to customers online. While some executive leaders may not know the difference between being present and having a presence -- your customers will. Don't need to treat emerging channels like broadcast media - and don't allow ignorant people to narrow the emerging media presence so much, their potential is nullified. You need the right approach, commitment, tools, tactics, communication, expectations and management. That requires education by specialists who understand these channels.

    Applying old marketing tactics to emerging media channels is abuse - it hurts your brand, your customers and subverts dynamic channels. This doesn't work in anyone's best interest. These channels work best for building relationships, fostering dialog, promoting good will and generating brand advocacy. Winners know this and adapt!

    The truth is -- everybody's watching - and waiting, to see if you'll evolve in to a semi-transparent, customer-centric company, or stay stuck in the stone age. If you don't - people may shift to a brand who does adapt.

    You can make digital and social media your friend.
    The writing is on the wall. While medium of communication has never replaced other medium of communication, new channels do trigger consolidation and impact use and investment. While we still have signs, print, the phone, and recorded music... we also have television, video, video-on-demand and networked computing. New mediums and channels will continue pave the way to the future of interaction while the old channels continue to serve their perhaps more limited purpose. It's important to remember that emerging channels can work against us, becoming an enemy when they are ignored, abused, poorly managed or misunderstood. My advice? Make them your friends, instead!

    For a lot of brands, it's time to work harder to refocus and rebuild what may be a shaky foundation. It's okay. It's still early. Most of us are very forgiving... and often forgetful of past mistakes. After all, we've all made mistakes - especially in the online medium. We all face challenges! Want an honest example? This site design has outgrown its purpose... I'm working on a redesign between client obligations... and I can't move this along fast enough.

    Developing a digital presence that matters is so important -- much more than spin, or hype or words. Your dedication to customers and improving the business will translate across the social web in a manner that reinforces trust and builds brand affinity. Companies just have to ditch that saddle, and learn to drive!

    Authentic isn't always good.

    The last few posts have outlined some thoughts on the subject of Transparency. This generated some input from a few friends on the issue of "Authenticity."

    One buddy stressed how important it is to demonstrate authenticity within emerging channels - specifically within social media. I thought about this a little, and I have a slightly different take on the matter.

    I think we're already seeing a ton of authenticity in emerging media. For the observant, social media makes it relatively easy to piece together a somewhat realistic view of what goes on - or the thinking of various people and brands.

    The problem is, not all of it is authentically good. There are a ton of people and companies being real out there. I'm not sure people always want to see real... because sometimes, reality bites!
    • Hey, Cool Thought Leader: I don't want to find out you work in your momma's attic in your boxers and eating Cheetos as you crank out amazing insight. I'd rather have the illusion of a casual professional in an internet cafe or something.
    • Hey, "Expert": I don't want to hear you yapping constantly about how great you are - or telling me to find out for myself by buying your sensational eBook for just $29.95. If you're that great, lemme hear it from others.
    • Hey, Big Company: It's nice that you're fighting hunger in Africa with your $20 million dollar donation ... but you just laid off 5,000 American workers. :-(
    • Hey, Huge Brand: I don't want to know that your social media outreach is being run by interns who love Gossip Girl, reality television and clubbing.
    Seriously, some of what we're seeing is authentically bad stuff ... authentically ego-centric...authentically self-serving garbage. Further, too much reality can be a bad thing. We don't need more of this.

    Without a doubt, we all love authentic good: Especially when it's not misleading or a smoke screen for the bad; Especially if it involves daisies, puppies and children. Authentically good stuff makes people feel better about interacting with you or your brand. It brings them back for more, and encourages them to tell others about your greatness.

    At the same time, there are probably some authentically bad aspects of each one of us that might be better left unseen... or dare I say it -- repented of and remedied! ;-)

    In the end, I'm sticking to my assertion that in emerging channels, people only want a level of insight into you that makes them feel more secure and confident investing themselves as your friend. (Note: Investment = giving you their time, attention, follows, engagement, recommendations, ranking, referrals, sharing your content, purchasing, etc.)

    Strike this balance and you're off to a great start.

    Make Transparency Your Friend

    In my last post, I tried to define this notion of "transparency" as context for a few other posts. Smart companies understand that emerging channels demand a greater level of openness and transparency than we have historically provided to customers. They embrace the pressure to perform well in highly visible channels - using it as impetus to identify broken aspects of customer experience and fix things -- rather than continue the way they always have. They recognize the opportunity these channels present to serve customer needs, build stronger relationships and strengthen brand affinity.

    A number of brands do this well today. On Twitter alone, it's easy and fun to engage with brands like @zappos @comcastcares , @southwestair @virginamerica @dell and others. Check out Best Buy CMO Barry Judge's blog and the activities at both My Starbuck's Idea and Best Buy's Idea Exchange for crowd-sourcing and customer co-creation. None of these brands claim they get it right all the time. But when they do mess up, it's refreshing to them say, say "Hey - sorry we messed up!" "We're learning." "Here's what we're doing about this problem." and "Here's how we'll make it right.". It's awesome to talk to companies who embrace responsibility as they work to help create satisfied customers. For these companies, transparency is a friend.

    Unfortunately, conpanies like these are still the exception, rather than the rule in most emerging media channels. The truth is, many companies who have become active in social media (blogging, twitter, facebook, etc.) will privately admit to being terrified of having an increased level of transparency with customers.

    While it's natural to have a healthy fear of increased exposure, some companies become so preoccupied with looking transparent and authentic, they lose focus completely. In an effort to use these channels to generate PR and spin, they may fail to engage as the medium demands: becoming more open and accessible; harnessing the power of the tools to bolster service and support; building relationships and driving brand advocacy. For these companies, transparency becomes the enemy.

    We don't need to mention names ... Do a quick audit yourself of the posts, tweets and status updates of a few major brands. It doesn't take more than a page or two to figure out who's really tapped in to their network and who is not. Check for dialog. Check for responses, and look at how the posts are worded. Is there conversation? Resolution? Are they broadcasting 140 character versions of press releases? Do you feel like you're being force fed a marketing campaign in tiny little chunks? Are they attempting to buy followers? Are they focused on quality interactions? Do you recognize people? Does the chatter seam meaningful? It's pretty easy to tell where the brand is at. Next, ask yourself: "Would I follow this brand?" If you wouldn't -- take note of why and remember it.

    This isn't just about corporations, but the agencies that serve them, as well. Ad Age did a fantastic piece this week highlighting the hypocrisy of agencies promoting Twitter. And that's just scratching the surface of a pandemic of agency hypocrisy in emerging media. In many cases, the lights are on, but nobody's home.

    What surprises me is how easily companies and agencies forget that people don't necessarily want to have love affairs with brands. In truth, people care really care most about themselves and having their needs met. They care about being heard, and responded to. They want to feel valued and recognized. They want to know others care. They often seek relationships with other people who make them feel good about themselves. They love brands because they meet and exceed their expectations. These tools pose tremendous opportunity to meet those needs. However, it seems some companies think just being present is "good enough".

    To be clear, being present in social media is not the same as establishing an effective presence. Broadcasting messages en mass within intimate digital channels isn't going to win coveted relationships. Shucking off customer issues, suggestions and recommendations isn't going to win friends. Ignoring people or their comments, is in fact is going to alienate customers and prospects. Yet it's happening all over within emerging media channels... as the world watches. For companies who do this -- transparency is your enemy.

    Customers can see exactly where the heart of the brand lies by the focus, content and intention of their emerging media content. It's okay to approach these channels with caution... but the world is watching. Don't just stand there and spin... engage, provide service, add value, meet needs, co-create and give back. Turn that ship around and give people something positive and remarkable to discuss!

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    LEIGH DURST

    LEIGH DURST
    I’m Leigh Durst, a 20 year veteran in business, operations, customer strategy, ecommerce, digital & social media and marketing. Simply put, I’m a strategist that helps companies (start-up to blue chip) achieve business shift, create more compelling online and offline experiences. I also write, speak and teach about experience design and next-generation business. I’m a futurist, visionary, strategist, doer and connector with a passion for people and helping others. When I’m not on the road, you’ll find me in the San Francisco bay area, working, beaching it and hanging out with my family and dog.

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