Feature Video: Digital Citizenship

The .org domain recently produced a documentary about the use of the .org domain by what it calls "digital citizens."  While I'd almost rather poke myself in the eye than see myself fumbling along on video....I was honored that SXSW4japan was selected as a case study for .org success, alongside the Occupy Wall Street movement, Wikipedia and others.  I was interviewed along side my amazing partner in crime, Rob Wu this spring for this video, which explores how every day people have used the .org domain.  I thought it was really well produced -- and inspiring.   The slogan "Power to the People" comes to mind.  We are featured at around 14:20.

For some reason, I can't embed this but here's the link to the video.  Enjoy!

The Digital Citizen from CloudRaker on Vimeo.

On Values, Hypocrisy and Customer Experience

My friend Joel once pointed me to this incredible article “Do You Really Have the Balls to Change Our Food System.” The article provides a reality check for people who think shopping at Farmer’s Markets, Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s will make a difference in the way our food is grown and produced.  As someone who values the experiences those environments offer, I found the article pretty sobering — not just because what the writer is saying about our food system -  but because she suggests that if we really embody the values we claim to have, we must be prepared to pay dearly for them.  This may require us to work harder, sacrifice conveniences, lose some perks, change our habits, and even pay more for what we consume.

This hasn’t been the American way for quite some time now!

In a day and age where consumers have more power than ever before, we be should jumping for joy at our newfound ability to stand up, voice our opinions and join with others to introduce positive social and economic change.   At the same time, doing so does require that we stand up, first.  This requires the displacement of apathy and the exertion of effort.  It also requires us to take on an increased level of exposure.  With our newfound power comes responsibility.  So, we have to ask ourselves whether we are willing to do our part. 

But I AM active.  I’m socially responsible.  Really? 

But the keyword here is “KNOWINGLY,” isn’t it?

Chances are, you can easily get both of the items above from any local store or national retail chain. It’s it’s the knowing will either force us to change our behavior or defy the values we claim to hold.  Sometimes not knowing is just easier for us.  NOT knowing gives us permission to continue to take the path of least resistance.   Not knowing lets us complacently consume based on convenience, rather than by listening to our conscience.  Not knowing lets us continue in relative comfort, requiring no sacrifice.  Truth however, often demands change by searing the conscience.

With regard to your values, what do you DO know? 

First things first.  For starters, simply ASK YOURSELF whether you are living your values based on what you ALREADY know - by judging what's "in the bag."   For example, let's say you are totally against pornography because you feel it exploits women.  Do you buy goods from purveyors of porn?  Have you really checked lately?  It's everywhere. Ouch.

Think about other purchases that trigger your conscience - maybe there are environmental, labor practice or cultural or other concerns that you see being violated where you shop.  Do you buy from companies that support charities, religious or political leanings you are against?   Do you invest in companies that violate your values?  Do you purchase from companies that have policies you don't agree with?   Do you knowingly consume products that have unhealthy or unethically produced ingredients in them? 

When a brand supports exploitation, or promotes content that you find offensive, does that really impact the way you shop on a day-to-day basis?  Is it a short-term impact or long-term?  Maybe you are overwhelmed...and believe it's too hard to live your values this way, because the offenses are too numerous to count.

When you are offended, what do you DO?

This isn’t a preaching session here… if anything I’m processing as I write this article, because I’m struggling too.   As I type this on my MacBook Pro, checking my iPhone for a text, here's at least one immediate issue that renders me STUCK -- between the desire to stage a boycott and the desire to curl up into a ball.  Sound familiar?

Where and when do you draw the line?  When a brand assaults you, do you grumble privately? Do you boycott brands and flog them publicly in social media?   Do you call, write, post about the injustice or wrong you see?  Do you rally others to the cause?  It’s your right to exercise this freedom of speech and free market behavior… but do you exercise it?   Do you believe change is beyond you?  How do you choose your battles?  What motivates you to ACT?  When is enough really enough? 

Do you believe that your voice and behavior make a difference?

In an era of social media and rapid change, these are important questions to ask - and an essential ones for each one of us to answer.  Unfortunately, while we should be chomping at the bit to be heard, many of us roll over.  Many more of us are more content and comfortable in our ignorance.  However, as we proceed in this manner, we unwittingly tell others our values do not matter.  We unwittingly create markets for brands that exploit the values we claim to have and, in doing so, we leave room for nothing but exploitation and ridicule.  We create markets for what offends us by telling companies that our values just really don't matter.  And by turning a blind eye, we also encourage others around us to do the same.

What's so amazing is that it doesn't have to be this way.  Today, the power of one can be magnified by millions, if we only would do our best to really live out our values rather than rolling over.  This applies to all of us.  In an era where many people feel they are not represented well by politicians and lawmakers — perhaps the most empowering thing we can do is reclaim our power as individuals - and as consumers by standing up for deeply held convictions.  I believe, when our consciences are seared, this is a natural outcome because light, truth and knowledge will compel us to act with courage and righteous determination --> and hopefully with love and respect for others, as well.

What brands reflect your values?

We all have different priorities and values as well as different levels of tolerance for the values of others.  I don't want to debate those values here.  However, as a CX (customer experience) practitioner, I am keenly interested in the connection between human values and the brands humans love.  For example, Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty has brought the brand attention for its celebration of the female form regardless of weight, age or body type. Whole Foods voluntarily labels all GMO foods as a service to its customers. These are examples of values many people celebrate. These are examples of values that enhance experiences and forge bonds with people. 

So, I'll ask you, reader - maybe easier questions to answer.  What values to you celebrate?   What Brands seem to embody those values? Is your answer based on fact and research or merely a high level impression?    At your core, are you skeptical that Companies really live their values?   Have you ever considered, as a percentage of your spending, how much business you give to brands that support the values you claim to embrace?  

Hypocrisy goes both ways

As consumers, we often have little tolerance for poor experience and hypocrisy with Brands... but hypocrisy goes both ways.  For example - we demand that brands embrace our values -- but we can't always have goods CHEAPER that are BETTER (quality, sustainability, feature rich) at the same time.  Sacrifices are required on our part.  Our demands have a price tag.  Unfortunately, many people are not interested in making those sacrifices -- especially in a down economy.

Again, I'm preaching to myself. The values component of our consumption is something that each of us, as consumers - and even as citizens -  must begin to weigh.  As PEOPLE like us begin to do so,  perhaps that's when we will begin to stop exploiting people, grow and eat healthier food, think more humanely, take care of our fellow man.  Funny thing is, if our consciences are seared, change won't require extensive campaigning, government or legislative intervention  -- because as we stand together, we can collectively eradicate the market for the detestable and hidden things that shadow our world.

Why does this relate to Customer Experience, you ask?  It's because, when the detestable is gone, experiences become better for everyone - not just the consumer. 

Pottery Barn Kids - Email Program Lacks Common Sense

I recently moved to a new home. In the context of a week off I did some shopping for the home online and in-store.  I surfed Pottery Barn Kids for some things for my son's new room.  Unfortunately, I also signed up for email (to get a coupon) and that's when Pottery Barn began spamming me every three days.  Really?  Do people buy things at Pottery Barn every three days?  Talk about feeling their own importance.  Blargh.

However, the most annoying email I've been getting is what I will call "Big Brother Thanks You" emails.  I seem to get them after EVERY site visit, based on my browsing behavior.  They basically say this:
"Thanks for visiting our site and for your interest in (insert product of interest with link).  When shopping at potterybarnkids.com:  You can read product reviews by other customers and share you opinion;  Your satisfaction is guaranteed;  Exchange or return items for a refund or merchandise credit; If youhave questions, you can speak to one of our knowledgeable associates at 1.800.993.4923." 
The email includes links to other products that may be of interest, but includes no incentive (such as a discount or free shipping) that would compel me to buy said object.  Here's a sample:

Okay. It's pretty and while it may seem innocent enough - to me, the experience is off putting.  Beyond that, I betcha it's not real effective.  Here's why:

  • First, Thanks for following me around the store and watching my every move, and recording it in your database.  I don't really need to know you're doing this - and trust you LESS now that it's clear you do.  If an associate did this in a real store it would freak me out - so this isn't so different.  The first one made me uneasy - the fourth one made me angry.  Creepy!
  • Second, I looked at MANY items during my visit. If you check, you'll see a trend.  Why this one item was selected is beyond me.  I didn't favorite it, put it in my cart, etc.  Perhaps I stopped to answer a call and my time on the page was longer than others.  However, I was looking at BEDDING - not BEDS -and not even these items... So your picker is wayyyy off.   Irrelevant!
  • Third, your politeness seems ingenuine ... because it's basically an excuse to try and convince me to purchase something - anything!  Really. It makes me want to purchase. NOT.  Fake!
  • Finally, if you want to date me, you should get to know me first.  Then perhaps you'll be able to make me an offer I can't refuse.  Groping me on our first date won't get you what you want.  Ineffective!
Based on what I'm experiencing (because it really is all about the experience) the marketers at Pottery Barn Kids (and PB itself)... do a great job at creating pretty emails - and a poor job at knowing the customer.  Based on my observations, they don't seem to be looking at category trends, repeat product interest (they might - it's not clear to me) and purchase history for online shoppers.  If they did, they'd have made a sale instead of turning me off.

A better formula would be to pick up on my category trend. I was interested in bedding.  You'd probably note that over the course of my visits, I repeatedly looked at 2-3 specific sheet sets. You'd also find that I never pay retail - so you could have sent me a coupon.
  • We noticed you seem to like this bedding, here's $5 off, just for you!
  • We noticed you bought (insert product).  We hope you love it.  Here are some items that go with it!
  • We noticed your interest in (insert product). Just thought we'd let you know, it's now on sale.  Go to it, you bargain shopper!
  • You decide. Take $5 off any (insert item name - e.g. sheet set) for one day only!
  • We noticed you once added (insert item) to your cart. Good news is, it's now on sale. Come and get it!
  • Hey, Leigh.  We thought we'd let you know that all (insert product category) is now on sale!  

On the up-side at least PB Kids allows users to eliminate "information specific to my interest" emails.  I'd actually like emails like this -- but only when these emails are triggered based on information I volunteer.  It's rather creepy having PB Kids decide for me, and bad when they decide wrong.

Further, it's wise to reconsider the 3 day rule and let people choose email frequency.  I do want to hear from PBKids -- just not every 3 days.  With the equasion above,  my only choice is to unsubscribe to limit communications (I hope this works or I shall unsubscribe completely).

Really, this is a decent case in point:  Just because companies CAN do something (e.g. watch my every move and record everything) doesn't mean they SHOULD use that power in a way that feels invasive.  It's wise to think about what acceptable behavior is IN STORE and replicate THAT online rather than these kinds of tactics.  In the end - business hasn't changed that much. People like service, handshakes, rewards, incentives and quality. Building relationship and affinity and trust is so much more effective than hard sell tactics.

Rant over.  Think anyone will listen?

Adventures of a Stolen iPhone - A New Disney Tale

I took a little break from work this evening and noticed this shared post on my wall from my friend, Becky Caroll: 

I clicked to find this album, which was created by a girl named Katy McCaffrey.  I don't know Katy, but I like her style.  This album is called "Stolen iPhone Adventures".
In the comments fields, Katy gives permission for people to share this, so I thought I'd bring it out of Facebook.
According to her posts, her iPhone went missing aboard the Disney Wonder when she was on a cruise.  Recently, the phone began updating iCloud, with photos taken by the the guy who (apparently) stole her phone.  His name is Nelson.  He is a cast/crew member on the Disney Wonder.  Here he is in uniform:

Evidently, here is his girlfriend, who works at the Spa.  She is in many photos.

Here's a photo taken with the partying crew, including the Captain!

There are even photos from ports of call...
And of Nelson, at sunset. Awww.

So the question is, what is Disney going to do about this pesky little issue?  As of today, this album has been liked by over 7,000 users and it won't be long before major media gets a whiff.

I wrote a blog post, and Katy took the following action.

Good luck, Katy!  This reminds me of the time my colleague lost her phone and we tracked it to the cab driver's apartment building, using the "Find my Phone" application.  He returned the phone the next day - fortunately, he was an honest guy.  Yet another example of how tech can tell on us.


After last week’s article “Supercalifragilistic, TargetScrewed this Chat Up” I had an offline conversation about the piece with several people who were “in the know” about Target. This post references that discussion but I’m not sharing the specifics of that discussion in the interest of those involved.

I do try to be fair, thorough and detailed in my writing. It was pointed out to me that, in my analysis, I missed a few key and what should have been obvious links to the Target.com landing page for National Princess Week. Gaining access to those links may have altered the experience I had somewhat, so I felt it was necessary to follow up quickly with a few notes about this.

Wall Posts:   I did not see an obvious link to a page or area explaining what National Princess Week was on the immediate Facebook posts from the 26th.  My first place to find a link to Princess Week was scanning Target’s Facebook wall and post comments. I read through two large posts with Julie’s picture with links to the chat and expanded the comment fields. There was another post that linked to Princess Bedding, a princess survey and a princess name generator post.

Sufficed to say, I didn’t look at all of the week's earlier posts, and it would have been right to do so.  There were a few links to the landing page before May 26th.  Simply put, I missed these because didn’t feel the need to scroll farther than I did:  I was very much “in the moment” with regard to the day and the chat.  Further, the Julie Andrews graphics were rather tall and took up a decent amount of vertical space – especially with comments expanded (there were hundreds).  While I don't have a screen grab of the scrolling window I looked at...  Further, Facebook has the annoying pattern of shifting post positions within the left and right columns. In some views it also truncates the number posts that display with a “view more” link and as content is added, it  So, while I wouldn't blame any of that for my failure to dig more deeply into the week's posts....I'd assert these dynamics made it easier for me (and others) to miss things, especially left-column content due to typical eye-scanning patterns.  Just an attempt to explain my own context as I did this work.

Here’s the post from the 25th: 

Here are the two posts from the 23rd: 

Cover Graphic:  While looking for a landing or informational page, I also looked clicked on the Cover Graphic that showcased National Princess Week.  However, the comments there immediately caught my eye and I did not notice the link present above them in the description field (highlighted below). Such is the hazard of multitasking: 

I did have a screen shot of this graphic, but I inadvertently overwrote the master when I cropped it with the intention of calling out some user comments.  Simply put, this link did NOT catch my eye or register - and the omission was unintentional.  Not sure why I didn't notice the link --perhaps I was just distracted,  maybe I didn't have enough caffeine... perhaps my brain was doing some selective filtering or I was having a bad day.  Whatever the case, I should not have missed it.  It was one of the most logical and obvious places for the link to be present, and it was there.

So, I’d like to issue an apology to the fine folks at Target for not digging more deeply and missing these links.  While I honestly don't know that seeing those links would have altered much of my feedback, this was very unfortunate oversight on my part, and resulted in an article that was less fair than it should have been.  

Further, I need to make a clarification:  I made an assertion in my article that there was no information available on the Target.com website regarding National Princess Week.  However, this assertion wasn't made just because of the oversights I mentioned above.  I didn't just look on Facebook's wall for information.  When I couldn’t find a link to information within the Facebook wall posts I reviewed, I went to Target.com to find out more. I saw no obvious promotion or link on the home page, so I did a text-search for National Princess Week, which yielded this:

Further, as I mentioned in the article, the link to the landing page was not mentioned on the Twitter #targetchat hashtag, the posts of the day (the 26th), the online chat (before during or after) or promoted within the comments field of the day’s posts for users who had the same questions I had. 

So, taking this all into context, I did feel I jumped through more than my fair share of hoops looking for an obvious, easy to find link to the landing page with information about the event.  I was very frustrated by not finding a link, along with other folks. However, it appears I didn’t jump high or look hard enough.  Here’s a screen shot of the landing page for National Princess Week: 

  • The page frames the event in a relatively clear, highly merchandised and sales-driven manner. 
  • The brief video on the landing page from Julie Andrews touches on her books and core promotional messaging, which was a true missing piece in my experience.
  • The page is not indexed in Target search which is very problematic.
  • Embedding of the video is disabled, which is also less than ideal
In short, video could have been a linchpin piece of content for Target used in other channels. It would have nicely added more mission-driven context and conversation as embedded within posts, scoring more views, greater awareness and sharing. Disabling the embed code seems like an unfortunate choice, and I'm not sure what hurdles or barriers were present -- but I'm assuming there may have been some. 

In closing, during the discussions I had, I was more than willing to own my mistakes.  At the same time, I couldn’t help but stare at Steve Krug’s classic, sitting on my bookshelf, called “Don’t Make Me Think!.   While I stand corrected on my own errors – I agree with Krug. It’s never good to force users to go through hoops to get to your core message.  I do maintain my assertion that the lack of contextual link placement on the 26th made it too easy to miss Target’s core messages – especially within context -- and I stand by the article. 

Finally and in parallel, my experiences managing four events in 24 hours at SXSW recently brought home some realities to me that are relevant here:  There’s a lot that goes into managing any event – online or offline. When a person works hard to connect all the dots and create a great experiences, outside criticism can feel painful on the receiving end. It’s important for critics and targets of criticism alike, to realize that most of us want the same things. We are all swimming in the same ocean and dealing with the same challenges:
  • Immature tools and apps
  • Convergence of devices, channels and services
  • Managing internal conflicts and misalignment
  • Communication breakdowns and challenges
  • Coordinating diverse and sometimes difficult audiences
  • Managing multiple third-party relationships
  • Riding learning curves
  • Dealing with the unknown and extenuating circumstances
In short, there’s always much more going on behind the scenes than we may recognize or acknowledge. So, my feedback in no way an attempt to diminish the hard work of the fine folks at Target, or of Julie Andrews and her crew did.  We are all human, and stuff happens.   And much to Target’s credit, they care enough to own their mistakes too -- and to talk about them honestly and openly.  Kudos and thanks.

Supercalifragilistic Target Screwed This Chat Up: A case study in what not to do with online events

Let's start at the very beginning... a very good place to start .... Every now and then we find lessons in unexpected places. Last Thursday, having the first slow day in several months, I stopped to check a few Facebook messages and noticed this:
Live Chat with Julie Andrews – I LOVE HER!   Starting NOW?  Fun!

From Mary Poppins the Sound of Music, to her appearances on the The Muppet Show, and The Carol Burnett Show and her films, including Victor/Victoria  and even the Princess Diaries... I'd followed her all my life.  Since I also track how businesses use social media, participating sounded like it might prove to be a nice little case study to me... so, I clicked to chat.

The chat was obviously getting off to a slow start. I couldn’t see how many had joined, because they didn’t display this in the chat application.  Incidentally failure to show participant numbers not only violates commonly accepted practices; it’s a poor way to show the formation of a gathering.  There was also Less than one update coming per minute!  GRRR.... I almost left, but I really like Julie Andrews.

So I waited… A full 10 minutes and a mere nine (!!) posts later, part of me wanted to scream and the other part was rooting for the event and hoping things would pick up!  I jumped in and out of the chat window (easy to do because it was so slow, I didn't miss one update).  Leaving the browser window open, I sought some answers elsewhere for my outstanding questions. 

What was Julie Andrews' relationship to Target and why were they doing this chat?  A visit to the Target Fan Page reminded me that Target is promoting the first annual National Princess Week.  The image provided no answers.  It only triggered more questions (Right Click to enlarge).

"Okay, " I thought, "It makes sense to promote this event with the beloved, Academy Award Winning Stage and Cinema Actress, Singer ... and more recently, Queen of the Princess Diaries movies. Got it"  However, I still didn't quite understand:  What was National Princess Week, anyway?  Was it something Target made up to sell princess merchandise?  You'll note that I wasn't the only one who wondered about this.

There was nothing on the Target.com website about it.... Some people also complained that there was no retail-store tie-in for National Princess Week?

Eager to post a question or two, I went back into the slow grinding chat. Unfortunately, Target opted to use a third-party app that required me to log in with either my Facebook or Twitter handle. I am very conservative with apps on Facebook.  I wouldn’t opt-in, because I didn't like the blanket permissions Target's suggested third-party app offered, including posting comments to Facebook on my behalf. Yeah. No thanks!

Seeking an alternative route to ask a question, I visited the #Targetchat Twitter chat hashtag that was being **actively promoted** by Target.   I went as I thought "Really? They're promoting a twitter hashtag for a Facebook chat?  Maybe they've integrated Facebook and Twitter chat in some way... that would be cool.  If not, this is going to be really convoluted."   Convoluted, it was.  I saw less than 10 posts here -- and there was no Twitter-based response from Target (!!) for anything.  Twitter users are usually more tech savvy -- yet I wasn't the only one that was confused:

NEXT, I jumped back into the chat, which continued to grind painfully ahead. I learned nothing surprising. Lots of light questions with simple answers… Her favorite things include tea, roses, poodles, crunchy peanut butter, is proud of her daughters and delighted with her grand children. She has favorite moments, ice cream, etc. She seems enchanting and writes like I would imagine she speaks.  Lovely.

However, I wasn’t really learning anything deeper about Julie Andrews. I also couldn’t help but continue to wonder what her stake in this event was.... AND THEN... 23 minutes in to the 45 minute chat, Dame Andrews mentioned her writing with her daughter and posted a link to her website!  "Huzzah!"  I thought!  "Maybe I can find some answers there!"  I clicked immediately and here’s what I got:

Criminy!  A 500 internal server error message.  I refreshed about five times... and got the error each time.  I jumped back into Tweet Deck and did an @Target #Targetchat tweet, asking them to tell Julie about the problem.  Unfortunately, no one seemed to be moderating the promoted Twitter hashtag, so I have no idea if that comment was shared with Ms. Andrews' team, or not. I got the error for 5-10 minutes.

I was, at this point, rather flabbergasted by the mismanagement of this event.  From this unfortunate problem, to the very poor event moderation, to the chat application Target had selected, to the fragmentation of the experience between Twitter and Facebook, to the arduous and slow discussion going on -- it was all just so poorly executed!   The strategist in me did a forehead slap.

I jumped back into to the Target Facebook page, where I noticed more problems.  First, I noticed someone posting on Target’s wall that the chat application they used by “CoverIt Live” (by Demand Media) wasn’t working. 

Again, no responses from Target Community Managers (Hello?  Does Target even have them?!).  Next, I noticed a mounting number of COMMENTS in two of the Wall Posts about the Julie Andrews Chat. One post (an update to the one I originally saw) had 47 Comments, 1000+ likes and 67 Shares. The original one that drew me in had, at the time, 134 comments, 791 likes and 32 shares.

Okay, that sounds good, right?  A decent number of people sharing... commenting?  WRONG…. Here’s what I saw in the comments fields…

As if Chat Application vs. Twitter Chat confusion wasn’t enough – people were trying to use the comments fields within Target's Wall Posts as a kind of Chat Window - and Target wasn't monitoring or moderating any of this feedback to redirect people to the right place, either!!

Further, if you read through them yourself, you’ll see that many not only asked great questions, but others complained their questions hadn’t been answered - or were deleted!

A large number of people in this audience didn’t understand that they needed to click to participate -- or use the chat application.  People came - but they could not participate in the event! It would have been so easy to engage these people.  So much for community management! Fortunately, there was a least one tenacious user:

While the chat slightly improved the last six minutes or so... it never really got going to begin with. Ms. Andrews' answers were polite, positive, light and witty but they had little-to-nothing to do with  "National Princess Day”  -- so I still didn't know what it was all about.  I certainly wasn't alone, as this user graphically points out:

Outside of finding out that her favorite song in Mary Poppins was “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” (spelling), I just wasn't sure what we were accomplishing here.  Jumping back into my other open tab, I refreshed the link to Julie’s website and the site opened for me. FINALLY - 30 minutes into a 45 minute chat, I began to connect some dots.

While I found her site a bit difficult to navigate, getting into it made Target’s promotion with Julia make a lot more sense to me. That's when the true failure of this promotional effort became crystal clear.
Perhaps worst of all, the positive mission of Julie Andrews and her daughter, Emma, was completely LOST in the confusion… The goals behind the Princess movement have to do with the creation of self-esteem and self-respect within young girls.   Her site also promotes reading to kids and encouraging kids to read. These seem like such an important messages - yet they did not come out during the chat.  No one stepped in to help critics like the ones below understand these simple facts.  It was all terribly unfortunate, indeed.

In the 50 minutes that transpired, there were less than 1.5 comments per MINUTE. There were gaps of 2-3 minutes between posts, and outside of Julie and Target’s comments, there were only 36 unique active participants (active chatters who posted questions).  I have no idea how many inactive participants, or “lurkers” there were because this view was blocked by the chat application administrator. However, in parallel to the chat, there seemed to be hundreds posting on the Facebook wall and comments fields – all quite lost and unattended by Target.

This isn’t Julie Andrew's fault, at all. In fact, I’d say she was the spoonful of sugar that made it tolerable for me to hang in there for more than 2 minutes. I find her practically perfect in every way - to the point that I'm a bit intimidated to issue any criticism. less it be misconstrued by Ms. Andrews or her daughter. I don't mean to be ungracious, here.

Unfortunately for Ms. Andrews, due to Target's mishandling of this situation, they were unsuccessful in effectively promoting National Princess Week, her mission to help build self-esteem in young girls and to get children to read, or to make participants aware of products and materials that could make the celebration even better.  Further, the audience was unable to make those new, fresh, positive associations to Ms. Andrews, Target or Disney that should have been easy to make!  A missed opportunity, really.

I'm not saying this from a high horse... in this confusing era of apps and social tools -- we're all learning at some extent -- especially as these channels converge and complicate communication.  However, I expect that a giant like Target would have done the basics much better. I expected they would know better, and I hope they learn from the event instead of shuffling it under a reasonably priced Princess rug

The fact that I stayed on to write a post about this on a perfectly great beach day is a testament to the weak nature of this promotion.  It was such a good case study in "what not to do" for online event management, I may even write a follow-up post that highlights what can be done to make your online event a smashing success - online and offline.  But not on a day off...or when I have clients to serve!  ;-)  Back to the real work.

More on the Digital Garden

As I prep for SXSW, here's a virtual "Ode to Spring."  Sitting here anticipating springtime flowers in the midst of winter dormancy.... I was inspired to build on my last post, Paring, Planting, Pruning -- Managing Digital Growth.  Check it out if you want to see what inspired me, or for a picture of my dog, whichever interests you most.  Some more thoughts on Managing Digital Growth:

1. Your Digital Presence is like a Garden.  Left to itself over time, site messages, pages, conversations and "user paths" (set of pages/interactions which drive people to a desired end) can become overgrown, unwieldy and compromised.  This isn't just a result of the natural growth and "the elements" at work (people posting content and making modifications) over time.  The overgrowth and confusion, which produces areas that fail to thrive can also be a result of pestilence (ignorant people doing stupid things) or even neglect. Like our green gardens, digital gardens require regular care, watering, daily attention and oversight.

2. This Makes You a Digital Gardener.   Green content thumb or not, if you build or maintain a digital presence for yourself or your company, your job is to lay out paths, construct order, present your own array of natural offerings for all to see, cultivate content and community in a manner that best engages visitors and attractively displays your unique beauty.  Your job is to take people on a journey that is a sensory delight, which leaves them with a unique sense of who you are, what you stand for and what you have to offer.  All of us could use some work in this area, and to improve, we must embrace our role, and our own competencies and put them to work to our advantage.  This also means that where we are deficient (e.g. design, development), we need to find skilled support to help us. (Singing to my own choir right now)
3. Plan with Clear Intent.  Designing with intent means we always start with an understanding and keen knowledge of people you wish to reach, as well as where they congregate.   Understand what they need and value and want to accomplish - and then envision how you will serve them by defining the journey you will take them on.  How will they understand and experience your brand, products and services or other offerings?  How will you captivate them with relevant, useful and usable experiences that are lively, unique, memorable and pleasing? These are the questions of an Experience Architect.

For example, planning a garden with a cascading vista is a different task than planning a delightful tea garden in a courtyard or a modern outdoor dining experience. Whatever you are building, it's important to make sure that what you create meshes well with the landscape, looks as good from afar as it does close-up, is well engineered for the types of users who may visit (e.g. needs, ethnography, awareness, different-abilities), and what they want to accomplish.  It should also align to your brand in a way that is memorable, and personable.  So -- define the kind of personality you want your garden to have, and to make sure you build in mechanisms to accommodate the varied needs (e.g. rest, refreshment, interaction, help) of the people you are serving.

4. Create Access and Flow.   In a day and age where most people are using more than three digital "outposts" to manage life, work and communication, and multiple devices, it's important that we  accommodate user flow across different digital (and offfline) properties, devices and platforms. Creating connectivity or flow between the experiences offered across properties, apps, devices and channels requires familiarity - but not sameness.  We must make easy for people to find us, and maintain communications across a variety of systems or devices - wherever they are and whatever they're using to find your brand.  Further, from the entry points to the remote corners of the garden, it's essential to make sure all areas of your Digital Garden (mobile site, website, social site, application, etc.) are not only well tended and highly functional, they must be updated enough to properly serve the needs of the people who visit. That means they must always be able to find what they need, especially an outlet for satisfaction -  such as a real person who can offer assistance as appropriate.

5. Diversity Creates a Vibrant Ecosystem.  The best gardens have have plant and terrain diversity. That balance of life not only creates a more healthy ecosystem, it attracts more interesting wildlife -- creating a  more vibrant and stimulating environment for visitors. The zones and pathways in your own Digital Garden should carry the same diversity.  Regurgitating the same press release or post in every channel is tantamount to planting the same bush in every bed, and will not yield a compelling experience.  Instead, staggering and varying your offerings (content and functionality) to stimulate the audience found in each "zone" (e.g. Linked In vs. Facebook vs. Mobile) will yield a much more compelling result.  Tailor your design, functionality, messaging and content to build your own thriving digital ecosystem.

6. Prune, Water & Fertilize for Success.  Be methodical about pruning away clutter and trim down content to expose messages that are crisp and clear and compelling.  Reduce, reuse and recycle ... updating old content, cleaning out "dead" material and sweeping for on and offsite comments and mentions that may benefit from your attention.  Sprinkle your digital presence with fresh with new messages and content regularly.  Reduce information clutter.  Clear out visual clutter and make sure your properties "Draw the eye" and the user down key paths effectively.   Keep your presence fresh, relevant, accurate and compelling.  Finally, encourage growth and interaction by having friendly, knowledgeable people respond to visitors in  a way that best demonstrates your values. 

7.  Be Prepared for the Dirty Work!  Make sure you are prepared for sore knees and heavy lifting, as the ugly tasks (Digging, fertilization, hauling dirt and sticks, garbage duty, paving, building or breaking down fences, fixing stuff that breaks, plumbing for irrigation) require hard work.  In truth - it's rarely a one-person job, even if you are super talented.  Share the load to ensure the proper care and management of your garden.  Ensure that all hired resources work together to ensure all the branding messaging, content, promotions, campaigns your garden are cohesive, fresh and lovely in season.  Work hard to cultivate great content and present it in formats that grab attention and inspire action.  Apply oversight to carefully coordinate multiple development projects at once (e.g. Mobile site / web site / apps) to make sure they compliment each other and function properly.  Make sure that site refreshes are done with a strong eye toward maintaining a cohesive master information architecture, and conduct user testing to validate and improve task flows and customer service, in an iterative manner. 

8.  Manage Overgrowth and Other Pitfalls.  The Digital Gardener must fight overgrowth and keep the path exceptionally clear for the visitor --  removing stumbling blocks (e.g. technical, usability), creating new paths in response to user needs (new functionality, navigational paths), eradicating roadblocks and dead-ends  (customer service flow, etc.). If we ourselves haven't visited the paths enough (shopping, buying, finding information) we may find that we have blind spots about the journeys we have created or the impressions they leave with people. Taking walk around in the shoes of the people you serve is the best way to identify problem areas and improve things.  You can do this yourself by conducting your own user testing or audience research. You can also hire an objective third party (experience engineer -- information architect -- usability tester -- ethnographic researcher) to conduct analysis on your digital presence (or individual properties) to provide some healthy insight that will help you take things to the next level and drive better outcomes. This can be a great way to adopt fresh perspective and identify opportunities for improvement.

9. Get the Gloves On!   Simply put, it's very hard to lose by diligently managing and cultivating your digital presence. I know mine needs attention this year... and I also know I'm not alone. The work can be exhausting because the job is never done - but when spring comes and everything blossoms around me, I'm reminded that it's usually worth it.  In parting, remember that it really doesn't take a revolutionary action -- like a complete site redesign to drive significant gains in your digital presence right now.  Often, highly focused tweaks and edits will do the trick.  For example, right now I'm helping a client refresh some highly trafficked web landing pages to optimize user experience and way finding. We're also carving out a few new paths for users based on feedback we're getting on the site.  What we are "planting" now should produce a nice yield in the spring and drive some delightful gains for our users.  All you need is a little user empathy, determination and vision to improve things today.  So, put on those gloves, walk a mile in your customer's shoes and examine the paths you've created!  The opportunities you find for improvement may find may surprise you! 

10.  Imperfection is It's Own Kind of Beauty.   Rather than shooting for perfection (it's elusive), shoot for creating rewarding, valuable experiences instead!  Every garden has seasons of growth and death. In like manner, your Digital Garden will naturally be more prolific in some business seasons than others. Creativity is messy and involved.  You'll deal with branches, leaves, weeds and clutter... plants that go dormant and even ones that die.  In the end, you won't always "plant a winner."  and you won't always write something that people respond to positively.  Further -- life happens.  You won't always have time to update things as much as you may like (yes! that's me!).

Tolerate and acknowledge the imperfections.  Recognize your limitations.  Pare back as necessary (me again).  Focus on what's important.  Celebrate your successes and correct mistakes or shortcomings as you can.  Don't seek a magic bullet - just get better with your aim.  And finally.... please remember... when the chore of managing your digital garden outweighs the yield of it... rethink your approach entirely.  In the end, a garden's purpose is to serve the needs of the owner as much as it does the welcomed guests.

Happy pruning!





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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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