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community marketing

Know Your Audience: John Oliver Schools Edward Snowden

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Know Your Audience: John Oliver Schools Edward Snowden

Spotted Dick Pic by slgckgc on Flickr In a recent Last Week Tonight, John Oliver flies all the way to Russia to meet with Edward Snowden, whistleblower, for an exclusive interview. Only...the interview turns into a poignant lesson about audience development.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XEVlyP4_11M

First off, I should reveal that I have a bias. I think that Snowden was heroic for exposing the truth. He took a huge risk and threw away his career and freedom to reveal the truth to the world. I was a fan when the news first came out and I became even a bigger fan after watching CitizenFour.

So, unlike the people who LWT interviewed during the segment, I DO know who Edward Snowden is and what he did.  But even though I know respect what Snowden did, I am in the audience of people who do nothing to change it. I don't even change my own behaviour!

That is why I found Oliver's advice to reframe the argument so incredibly brilliant. And one that Snowden should definitely heed.

Reframing is one of the most elegant tools in the Audience Development box. Your message not getting through? It's probably how you are framing it.

Global warming? That sounds too nice. Try climate change. Want to scare people away from public health care? Reframe the bureaucracy as a death panel. It's not a diet. That sounds awful. It's a lifestyle change. That sounds way more do-able. Need to sell some old stuff? Label it as retro.

You may think reframing is a fancy word for spin - and some of my examples toe the line - but the difference is that this isn't about tricking someone, it's about intentionally put the audience at the center of the argument.  John Oliver's suggestion that Edward Snowden reframe his arguments to focus in on something everyone can understand - in this case Dick Pics - is about simplifying and personalizing something very complex and foreign to the audience.

The more complex your message is, the more important it is to ground it with something your audience is familiar with. Don't lie. Don't spin. Just empathize. Put yourself in the shoes of the recipients and find common ground.

The next time you find your important message falling on deaf ears, reframe it in relation to something your audience cares about.

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How to be Creative

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How to be Creative

fairydust_vert
fairydust_vert

My work is fundamentally creative. There are loads of analytical pieces, but at the end of the day, marketing is about making a connection with human beings who are not as predictable as marketers would like to think. Yes, there are lots of studies on consumer behavior and human drive and we can move the needle by tapping into those things that motivate buying behavior, but so is everyone else and the companies that 'win' the loyalty and sales are the ones that are more creative.

Content marketing, which is the focus of my current consulting, is all about being creative. There is a good amount of noise out there: companies writing blog posts, producing video series and posting regularly to social media channels, and most of it really doesn't matter. It follows formulas and delivers the same old same old that we've read a million times before. There is nothing to distinguish one inspirational quote from another. There is no point of view.

So I am to dig deeper. Provide something different. Something valuable. Something thought provoking. I shoot for remarkable.

But thought provoking, valuable and remarkable take time. They take long hours of thought. And, frankly, most brands don't want to pay for that. We just got them to the point that (many of) them are realizing that content is important and some of them are willing to pay something for it, but that's only a small piece of it. Stopping there would be like giving someone a bathing suit and expecting them to swim across the Atlantic.

Francis Moran, a colleague of mine, recently likened the current state of content marketing to the early state of radio. Anyone with access to the tools could claim expertise in radio, but as it evolved, it was apparent that there were very few examples of radio shows that could hold an audience. And you need an audience to pay the electric bills.

One of the shows that stands out to me is This American Life with Ira Glass on Public Radio. There are very few radio shows that I can listen to for a full hour each week and even fewer that I will go back to listen to multiple times, but this is one of them. There is just something so incredibly entertaining and thought provoking about it.

And then this weekend, another colleague of mine, Mitch Joel, pointed out aGoogle Talk with Ira Glass in which the interviewer asks where he comes up with the programming week after week (for >18 years!) and Glass' answer is amazing:

Somebody will pitch a story that we all feel very excited about and that doesn’t go with any of the themes we have going on at the time, so we’ll just say “Let’s use that story as an anchor for some show” and then we’ll concoct a theme that could plausibly contain it. And sometimes we’ll come up with 2 or 3 different themes that could plausibly contain it and we’ll have other stories left over from other shows that we couldn’t use and see if we can glue anything to it and then we’ll start on a search. And that search could take up to 3 or 4 months often and sometimes even more. Finding ideas for stories is very inefficient.

One of the things when you start to do creative work that nobody ever asks is, “Where are ideas going to come from?” And you have this idea that they are just going to be sprinkled on your head like fairy dust…but you just have to surround yourself with a lot of stuff and a lot of ideas, because ideas lead to other ideas. So at one point, we’ll just go on a massive search…

Then he goes on to describe a very complex process with all sorts of questions and nuances that are unique to every story and every episode, including having to kill about 1/3-1/2 of every thing they start. And he adds:

You really can’t tell what’s going to work until you start to make that thing. It’s like you want lightening to strike as an industrial product (in the same spot) every week, and to do that, you just need to wander around in the rain...a lot. 

This is the key to creativity. It's not a linear process and it's not predictable. You need to give it space and lots of encouragement. If you are held to pumping it out like a factory, you are probably not going to nail it. And it doesn't come to you at the most opportune times.

In one of my favorite TED Talks ever, Elizabeth Gilbert describes a fantastic story where poet Ruth Stone would hear a poem thundering over the hills while she was working and have to "run like hell" to find paper and pen to capture it in the moment.

Creativity requires:

  1. Surrounding yourself with inspiration, stories and ideas. I'd say that most of those ideas should be on-topic (if you are trying to come up with a great story on wearable tech, surround yourself with conversations, articles and experiences on wearable tech), but you should also step outside of the narrow topic to get inspiration (think about it from the perspective of parenting or fashion or education, for instance).
  2. Space to breathe and  grow. You'll go down a million paths that will lead you nowhere. There is no fairy dust.
  3. A purpose. You need a direction. A point of view. A raison d'etre. For Ira Glass, it's the constant search for stories that will change people's perspective. Having an end goal or a point of view will help focus you enough on what you want to convey. Then you just have to deal with the how.

As you are probably already thinking, this process is far too free-flowing and unpredictable for most companies out there. It's why most artists are starving and why the world is full of mundanity.

The good news is that there is a happy medium to be struck between completely unleashed creative, interesting content - that is "inefficient" as Glass puts it - and completely lifeless outputs of formulaic, mundane content. But the current pendulum favors the efficient (while complaining that the ROI is less than desirable on this particular output). What we need to work on is the message that it isn't just any content that works. It's content that actually adds value (a term that is understandable to organizations). And adding value takes more thought than a 2 week RFP or a couple of brainstorms.

(The last creative agency I worked with operated on last minute series of brainstorms to come up with ideas for clients. I added some sanity to this by bringing market research to the meetings and presenting insights, but the output was still horrifying enough for me to back away from the whole circus. In an ideal world, agencies would work as partners with clients and evolve ideas over time rather than be given a creative brief, then expected to go into their creative cave and come out with brilliant ideas.)

And brilliantly out of the blue, Jeff Bezos' wildly popular appearance on 60 Minutes provides a fantastic example of a company that is winning and will continue winning by having a purpose, taking time and surrounding itself with inspiration (they spend a good deal on R&D, a dying department). Bezos asserts of their crazy sci-fi drone idea that it'll be 4-5 years before it is reality. But their incredible commitment to customer-centricity helps them get creative in their approach. It's how they became the market leader and how they will stay there.

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No, Social Media Doesn't Drive Sales...but that's not the point

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No, Social Media Doesn't Drive Sales...but that's not the point

socialmedia_notwhatitmeans
socialmedia_notwhatitmeans

Okay, maybe I'm overstating it. Some sales are driven through social media channels. I know I've bought books and songs and contributed to Kickstarter campaigns many times because a friend shared a link and I thought, "Hey! That's awesome! I should buy that!" I've even tipped a bigger purchase in favor of a friendly recommendation on a social network. But I can count on one hand the number of times  I've bought something pushed to me by a brand I follow on Twitter/Facebook or the like.

But that's not the point.

The point is that social media is a teeny tiny reflection of what happens in day-to-day life. In Jonah Berger's Contagious, he makes the salient point that only 7% of word of mouth happens online (other studies say 5%). I'm not sure if all of that even belongs to social media channels, either. I'd guess a bunch of it happens over email and private chat.

There are hundreds of ways that your customer will find you (or not find you) online and offline. However, when it comes to spreading a message, word of mouth has always been the most effective way of marketing messages spreading. But these messages become ineffective when they aren't authentic. But the most salient point here is:

You cannot force word of mouth.

It doesn't matter the media or the amount you spend on it...some stuff just doesn't spread. And though marketing impressions make a brand awareness difference - whether it's a billboard or a paid tweet - it's never guaranteed to work.

So I'm continually bowled over when I hear people complain about how their social media marketing doesn't work. Usually a few questions helps me realize what's really going on:

socialmediastrategyinfographic
socialmediastrategyinfographic

What's really going on here is that companies think that paying for marketing is some sort of silver bullet. It's not. It never was and it never will be. Hell, some super bowl ads go unnoticed - and that audience is one of the biggest captive audiences in the universe!

You are probably asking yourself, "Okay then, why would anybody in their right mind pay for marketing?"

Good question. I sometimes wonder myself because not everyone is ready for it...and sometimes they are too late for it.

But why pay for marketing when the results aren't guaranteed? Because, like I said before, there are hundreds of ways your future customers will find you (or not find you) and it's better to be findable than not. And good marketing means that you will be more findable AND have more credibility (if the branding is done right) when people do find you. And all of that helps with what you want: sales.

There are all sorts of wonderful things built into social media marketing that you won't have built into traditional one-way channels. There are:

  1. analytics - you can't really tell who paid attention to that television ad, but you can tell who watched your YouTube ad all the way through...and who liked it...and who shared it...etc etc. The data available on how people interact with your content is AMAZING.
  2. feedback - it's right there in the comments. It's also there on Twitter. Oh...and you can find out what people are saying on Reddit and their blogs and in forums and...well...that is invaluable. Read it. Report it back to your team. Improve your product with it. Respond to it with thanks. Hell, you pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to get this feedback from focus groups each year and here it is for you for free. Completely raw.
  3. relationships - you aren't going to strike up a conversation through the TV or radio. But that two-way conversation is built into social media platforms. It's really awesome. You can find out so much about your customers and start to really build a bond.

What really baffles me is the demands that brands make of social media marketing when they pay a fraction of the price to use it. They'll hire interns and junior staff to run it, they'll lowball agencies and consultants ("I pay you whatfor a couple of FB posts?! I can get my kid to do that!"), they get impatient and want instant results without being willing to invest the thought needed or take risks, they'll tack on a social media strategy (which has no strategy) to a made-for-television and magazine ad campaign thinking that it's yet another direct marketing channel (which is a limited medium, too).

All of this and the brands ask for stellar results. They look past the amazing insights and feedback and potential for relationships that no other traditional marketing medium every had and they say, "Meh. Social media doesn't work for me."

And completely miss the point.

You want to know the ROI of social media?

Number one. It's the ability to listen. It's priceless. Not with some damned tool that measures sentiment or finds influencers, either. Really listen.

Number two. Serendipity. It's opening yourself up to constant and amazing opportunities to participate and by participating, you will find numerous opportunities to lead the conversation and make a great impression. Oreo's dunk in the dark tweet is a great example of this. They are doing a really great job of being a relevant brand again by seizing opportunities like that. Do they do it every single day? Nope. But when they do, they nail it.

Number three. Community instead of merely customers. The difference is incredible. If you have patience and build a community instead of just a customer database, you will have finally tapped into that magical word of mouth network you wanted to buy a few months ago. But this time, it's real and authentic and it spreads.

(and there are dozens more...but you get the point, right?)

So PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF DOG stop thinking of social media as a direct marketing tool or some sort of silver bullet that will drive sales through the roof. Stop reading those case studies where Facebook...no...Pinterest...no...Polyvore...no Snapchat drove millions of dollars in sales from a viral campaign.

That's not the point.

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5 Things Customers Don't Want to Hear...EVER

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5 Things Customers Don't Want to Hear...EVER

Notlistening
Notlistening

Oh companies. Relationships are SO much easier than you make them. In fact, there are only a few things that you need to do in order to make your customers significantly happier. Or rather, there are a few things you must stop doing and saying that will change your customers' experiences drastically.

I've compiled a short list for you (though there are more). Here are some things you need to stop doing and saying:

1. "It's our policy."

Now, you may use this and think: "Why is this wrong? It enables a fair way to treat customers across the board."

The problem with trying to treat customers the same across the board is that not every situation is cut and dried. And, frankly, some policies are antiquated and outdated. The moment you have to let a customer down by saying "it's our policy," you are failing that customer.

And yes, I know that you don't want your customer service staff running all amok with bleeding hearts and breaking your bank, but that is why you need to train them properly and empower them to help your customers. A good customer service policy is to:

a. train your agents on multiple scenarios and then;

b. give them a buffer allowance each month and;

c. give them all sorts of ways to help the customer instead of shutting down the conversation.

If they have a certain budget to play with each month where they can make a decision on whether to give a customer a break or take a return marked "no refunds", they can use their training to decipher a reasonable response and then be empowered to make it. Here is an example:

A customer calls their cell phone company and says, "My bill is outrageous! I didn't realize that going over my data would cost me an extra $200! I can't afford this!" The agent then can walk through a customer's bill and figure out if the mistake was made in earnest and then either undo the $200 OR adjust the bill a smaller amount (maybe cut it in half), but talk the customer into a more robust ongoing data plan (which can help the company make the money up in the long run).

Of course, if a customer doesn't know what to expect, this is an issue in itself. Which leads me to #2.

2. "It was in your contract."

Newsflash: nobody actually reads contracts. I'm not sure why anyone uses a big long legalese document to give customers upfront information about a service. It's the worst way to present information in the universe. You may as well write it in Sanskrit on a stone tablet.

I'm not saying your customers have no responsibility to read what they sign, but when you are excitedly signing up for a new service or website or whatever, the last thing you do is to sit and read a long document. And the salesperson moving the sale through doesn't really give you much of a chance either.

Why not present limitations and terms and conditions in a readable, fun manner? A great example of turning boring, mandated information into something people will engage in is Virgin America's awesome in-flight safety video. Everyone knows that when those safety videos come on, our eyes glaze over and we focus on the book or magazine or anything else. But not when you are on a Virgin Flight:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DtyfiPIHsIg&w=420&h=315]

Right? You don't have to go to that level of production, but why not make it readable and enjoyable? This way, you will never have to say, "It's in your contract." Your customers will know. In fact, they may even be able to sing it back to you.

3. "See our answer here [with link]."

Why not just talk to me? Seriously. If I ask something that is too long for a tweet, answer me with a few tweets. That's cool.

Scenario:

@myhandle: Hey cable company! Why am I on hold for over 45 minutes today? WTH?

@cablecompany: @myhandle Sorry for your inconvenience. Go check our outage schedule here: [link to website]

Grrrrrrrrrr. A wee bit of effort would help a whole lot here. I have probably already gone to your website to find your really hard to find number to call to be put on hold. I'm trying to use Twitter to get some answers and be more efficient. Don't make me click something else!

This would be better:

@myhandle: Hey cable company! Why am I on hold for over 45 minutes today? WTH?

@cablecompany: @myhandle Sorry for your inconvenience. I see you are calling from Toronto where there are lots of outages. Can I help?

@myhandle: @cablecompany Yeah. Do you happen to know what's wrong? When the cable service is expected to be fixed?

@cablecompany: @myhandle I just checked internally. It's a weather issue. :( It may take more than a few hours. Sorry! Time for a good book? :/

@myhandle: @cablecompany LOL. Okay. Maybe it's the universe telling me to hit the gym. LOL.

@cablecompany: @myhandle Hit the gym for me, too! Oy! ;) Sorry again!

Even if it doesn't go as smoothly as above, it's a MUCH better interaction. I can hang up the phone with a bit more information and reset my expectations. I also feel taken care of even if the representative couldn't give me a definitive answer.

4. [Insert Lame Company Excuse Here]

Just recently, we had a ISP tell us that their service was bad because one of their partners (the people who owned the fibre) were playing dirty.

Really? I couldn't give a damn. Fix our service. I don't need to get involved in your business drama. I've just paid you $300 to get my internet installed. I'm not your mediator. Guess what happened? We canceled, asked for a refund, then went to the partner in question. They seemed to have the upper hand and get things done. We wish we knew that in the beginning.

Your company woes are YOUR company woes...and quite often they are the result of bad decisions/deals you've made (short-term thinking). Your customers don't care, nor should they. They just want to get the stuff they paid for. Don't make excuses. Fix it. If you can't fix it, own up to it and refund your customers. Apologize and hope that they will forgive you and come back when you've fixed your stuff.

The customer experience should be seamless and simple. The mess and duct tape and hoops behind the scenes? Invisible to the customer's eye.

5. [Silence]

It's late 2013 and 72% of customers expect a response within the hour on Twitter from your brand after they complain. And it doesn't really matter if it's during business hours or not.

I, personally, have a black list of companies I will no longer buy from after getting radio silence to a concern or complaint. I'm sure I'm not alone.

Even the most angry complaints can be handled. People are just upset and need to be heard. One of the best pieces of advice I ever heard was to respond to an angry complaint like this:

A. Identify B. Apologize C. Assist

@myhandle: @restaurant FU! I will never eat at your awful overpriced restaurant again! 

@restaurant: @myhandle Oh no! What happened?

@myhandle: @restaurant After waiting for a table FOREVER, your server treated us like crap and the food was cold by the time it was served. Grrrr.

@restaurant: @myhandle Oh man, it sounds like you had the WORST experience. It's not what we aim for. Is there any way we can make it up to you?

@myhandle: @restaurant I don't know. I don't want to feel that way again. But I appreciate your response. Maybe it was just a bad night.

@restaurant: @myhandle I know you don't want to take my word for it, but it sounds like it may have been. Let us know if you want to try again. We'll set you up. :)

@myhandle: @restaurant Okay...well...I'll consider it. Thanks again. I feel kind of bad for being so angry now.

@restaurant: @myhandle I would have probably felt the same. Glad I could help.

Identifying completely diffuses a situation. Trust me on this one. Even if you can't help someone, just identifying and apologizing will help. And that customer will feel a bit bad for blowing up at you online. If they don't come back, they'll certainly tell the story differently. This time, you'll be cool...not a jerk that doesn't listen.

...

So there you go. Simple ways to respond to customers in a way that will help you build bonds and loyalty and probably a few more sales rather than letting angry customers fall through the cracks (and tell everyone they know about their awful experience).  In fact, take some of that billboard and other outbound advertising spend and put it into your inbound/customer service channels so you can totally empower them. It doesn't have to be a lot, but I guarantee you that these interactions will benefit you far more than that extra month on the billboard.

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If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything.

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If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything.

followtherules
followtherules

[title quote attributed to Alexander Hamilton as well as Malcolm X in various forms, image bought from Shutterstock]

I've been trying to put my finger on the problem with so much of the social content brands put out into the world. Why does it seem so damned flat and soulless? Sure, they post the occasional uplifting quote I can get behind, but mostly I just skip over the rest. And it isn't just that it's too self-promotional (though much of it is "me me me"), it's something more.

And then today it occurred to me:

ENGAGING SOCIAL CONTENT HAS A POINT OF VIEW.

The un-engaging stuff (pretty much everything else) just follows formulas and schedules and feels as alive as a silk plant. They get so close, but when you lean in to take a sniff, something is off.

But the stuff that we connect with, the stuff that makes us cheer and like and share and remember the brand, that stuff has a point of view. And that point of view is something WAY bigger than the brand.

Oreo's audience was merely humming along with their 'cookies as a character' campaign until one day, they posted this:

gay-oreo-cookie
gay-oreo-cookie

...and all hell broke lose. They chose a point of view that was both unpopular AND wildly popular.  They may have lost a few of their homophobic customers that day, but they gained a LOT of new (and renewed) customers who had long forgotten the brand.

And Coke, one of the most 'liked' brands on Facebook (baffling to me) has a dismally small amount of interactions with this type of post (which they do all too frequently):

Screen Shot 2013-10-19 at 10.43.33 PM
Screen Shot 2013-10-19 at 10.43.33 PM

But when it comes to this type of post...their engagement blows through the roof:

Screen Shot 2013-10-19 at 10.45.10 PM
Screen Shot 2013-10-19 at 10.45.10 PM

441 likes/53 shares (small from an audience of nearly 75 MILLION) compared to 5,081 likes and 274 shares. (though still lower engagement than I Fucking Love Science, whose most popular posts get tens of thousands of shares and hundreds of thousands of likes)

And though they aren't my cup of tea (so to speak), Red Bull has a VERY strong point of view and has built an incredibly loyal audience (and business) from it. And it isn't just about having a strong voice/tone. It's about knowing who you are and not being afraid to stand up for something you believe in. Standing for something.

Because if you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything.

And I see this happens to lost brands all of the time. You can smell a brand who is following a formula or just follows advice and 'best practice' guidelines. Their voice is forced and weak. They won't take a position. They are afraid of what others think. They define themselves by what they ARE NOT, but refuse to own who they ARE.

One of my favorite people in the world, Nilofer Merchant, describes this in her concept of Onlyness. She describes it like this:

Each of us is standing in a spot no one else occupies. That unique viewpoint is born of our accumulated experience and perspective and our vision. This is your onlyness—the thing that only you can bring into a situation.

When you own that unique viewpoint, nobody can take it away from you. They can disagree. They can dislike it. But they can't deny that you own that space. And what will surprise you is that you will find new allies when you own your onlyness.

But how do you figure it out? Is there an exercise? A set of steps? A workbook? A tool you can pay $24.95/month to figure out your onlyness? Can you hire a creative agency to craft it for you?

Nope. You have to do this work yourself. It's your accumulated experience. It's YOUR point of view. You can hire someone to help coach you towards it, but you can't pay someone else to do it.

This is why, while social media gurus are a dime a dozen, social media is still so damned hard to do well. It's not something you can outsource, automate, hire an intern to do for you or even get your marketing team to create a plan for.  If you are the founder or a senior team member, you need to be involved.

Screen Shot 2013-10-20 at 12.30.16 AM
Screen Shot 2013-10-20 at 12.30.16 AM

And for those of you who think this is lightweight and a waste of time? Keep trying all of that other stuff that isn't working while you lose market share and talent to that other company whose success you can't quite understand because your product is superior. I'll bet if you look real close, you'll smell something different. That's the scent of onlyness. They stand for something. They know who they are. They haven't read a best practices article in their lives because they don't have to. They inherently know what to post and come up with great ways to connect beyond pushing out messages. They probably even like to hang out with one another on the weekends. And they don't worry about who talks to the press, because everyone can articulate passionately what their brand stands for, who their customer is and why they love what they do. Nobody needs a laminated poster to remember the company's core values.

If you want to keep copying companies with mediocre results to keep achieving mediocre-er results, go ahead. And by all means, read more articles by 'social media gurus' who haven't ever built a community or a product. Continue to spend the time you need to figure out your onlyness on random useless noise making.

Screen Shot 2013-10-20 at 12.31.36 AM
Screen Shot 2013-10-20 at 12.31.36 AM

But you have a choice and it's right there in front of you. You can stand for something. You can lead and be the example everyone wants to decode.

Be the case study, not the company that reads it.

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Marketing's REAL Beef with Facebook

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Marketing's REAL Beef with Facebook

EDGERANK CONCEPT handwritten with chalk  on a blackboard
EDGERANK CONCEPT handwritten with chalk on a blackboard

Yet another article has come out yesterday on how Facebook is a waste of time for marketers because posts only show up for 8-16% of their followers. As someone who has been in marketing for over 15 years (online marketing for 14 of those), these posts irk me. To me, they show a low understanding of how human beings engage with media and demonstrate that old perceptions of customer ownership persist, even through the Social Era.

General Facebook Stats

First off, here are some basic statistics on how people use Facebook. The average Facebook user has 229 friends and likes 40 brands. They spend an average of 1.5 hours/week on Facebook, accessing it from 7,000 different devices. 58% of Facebook users return daily. And 65% of people who like brands on Facebook do so for the coupons/savings they can access. (source + Facebook Insights 2012) There are 50 million Facebook pages that post 36 times per month - 2.5 million of those that are promoted through Facebook ads. (source) And 40% of people's time spent on Facebook is on their newsfeed, while only 12% of their time is spent on profile and brand pages. (source)

image from PhotoDune
image from PhotoDune

If you haven't figured it out mathematically, Facebook is NOISY for most users. I'm a super user (outlier), so I'm not the best example, but I have 3,233 friends (I try to weed them out to only people I've met from time to time, but it keeps growing), like 898 pages (don't know when THAT happened, oy), am part of 49 Facebook groups (some are SUPER active) and have a public page where I've grown 64,864 followers (who can comment, like and otherwise engage with my profile unless I limit visibility on a post). Facebook's Edgerank helps me a great deal. Sure, I don't see everything and I'm sure I'm missing all sorts of uber important life events and sales and launches, but it makes my experience on Facebook a little more sane.

My Mom, who defines herself as a luddite, has 174 friends on Facebook, 6 likes and is part of 1 group. She doesn't have a public profile, so doesn't have 'followers'. She still finds the amount of posts and news on Facebook to be overwhelming at times, so she created her favorites so she would always see what's happening with her family as we post items. She has created a filter ON TOP OF the Edgerank that Facebook provides to help her manage the posts from all of her friends.

I can understand that a brand who thinks that every like is an undivided attention endorsement would think that 8-16% of their followers seeing their posts means that Facebook is ripping them off. But anyone who thinks a little bit and understands how this works should get that Edgerank IS FOR THE USERS not for the marketers.

How Edgerank Works

edgerankformula
edgerankformula

Edgerank isn't some plot against brands who don't pay for advertising on Facebook. All it does is favor posts that are popular and relevant, whether it is a personal profile post or a brand page post. It also understands what users have engaged with previously, so if you spend a lot of time liking and commenting on certain friends' posts, those friends (and brands) will show up more often.

Here is a frequently passed around definition of how Edgerank works:

"EdgeRank is an algorithm used by Facebook to determine where and what posts appear on each individual user’s news feed in order to give users relevant and wanted content.

The three variables that make up this algorithm are:

  • Affinity Score - Facebook calculates affinity score by looking at explicit actions that users take, and factoring in, the strength of the action,  how close the person who took the action was to you, and how long ago they took the action.
  • Edge Weight - Facebook changes the edge weights to reflect which type of stories they think user will find most engaging.
  • Time Decay – The determines the time passed, if they’re old they probably don’t appear."

(source)

And, yes, a brand page can use advertising to improve their Edgerank. That's how advertising works. You pay for the ability to cheat the system. As the saying goes, "Advertising is the price you pay for having an unremarkable product," but I would also add that advertising is the price you pay for an unfair advantage. It's the way of balancing the universe. You can pay to be at the center of it. ;)

Why Marketers Really Hate Edgerank

There are several reasons why marketers* hate Edgerank:

  1. There is no instant gratification - even if you are a content maestro, it takes time to build an audience without advertising. For my clients, I use advertising to underscore great content instead of in place of it.
  2. Retro TV Commercial
  3. They think a 'Like' means the Facebook user is endorsing undivided attention - the truth is, there are all sorts of reasons why people like brands on Facebook and, since the average user likes 40 brands and has 229 friends, there is no such thing as undivided attention (or if there is, it's rare...and a bit odd). The reason your posts aren't showing up on their newsfeeds is because they aren't engaging with them.
  4. Marketing people aren't generally content people and vice versa - I sat down with a journalist friend of mine who has been hired by a big fashion retailer to do their content. She's really brilliant at it, but had very little knowledge as to how to use the tools and how to promote the great content she was producing. They wanted her to do both content AND marketing and didn't understand that those two talents are very different and usually require two roles. People conflate them all too often and though you may find the rare individual that can do both well, it's best that you split the role for maximum oomph.
  5. Most marketers are still stuck in the old one-way paradigm - helloooo! It's the social era! This means that even old one-way mediums (billboards, television, radio, magazines, etc) need to get more multi-way in order to survive. So stop treating the social tools as bullhorns. Seriously. This is why you are failing at them. Facebook should be 50% listening, 25% responding and 25% talking (more or less).
  6. Campaigns should be part of content, not the other way around - content done in brief spurts and ebbs and flows just doesn't work (see #1). It takes time to build an audience, engage them enough to keep them coming back and delight them to the point of wanting to share to their own friends (they have their own audiences and goals). I've talked about how content bursts with long silences between hurt your audience on YouTube, but it works the same way in many social mediums and Facebook's Edgerank is one of them.

Marketers have to learn to work with content people (photographers, videographers, writers, journalists, graphic designers, artists, etc) on their strategy. Creativity and strategy are intertwined. In fact, the strategic process should look something like this:

Screen Shot 2013-06-02 at 3.28.26 PM
Screen Shot 2013-06-02 at 3.28.26 PM

...and you should enter this loop at learning. (note: I usually remove the launching/promoting part until a few cycles of learning, planning, implementing, learning, planning, implementing...)

The beauty of Facebook is that it is inexpensive and content rich and sky is the limit when it comes to creating engaging content AND everybody is there, hanging out, looking for great distractions. In addition, I don't believe there are many brands that do it right, so you have every opportunity in the world to raise the bar. Don't blame the tool, especially when it's implemented features that benefit the users you are trying to reach. Take a closer look at your own content. Are you engaging? Are you creating content your fans would be excited to share? Are you creating value? Improving knowledge? Lives? Are you making your customers' lives simpler, less confusing, less alienating, more efficient, more meaningful and just plain better? Or are you just adding to the noise?

Abandoning Facebook would be like cutting off your nose to spite your face. It's a great tool if you understand that it isn't a billboard. And remember, it's much less expensive and gives you all sorts of ways to hear from your audience and understand who you are hearing from (which is very difficult with a billboard).

So stop writing 'woe is me' posts and start respecting the medium and your audience. Trust me, you'll change your tune.

------------------

* I really shouldn't lump all of us in the same boat. I love Edgerank and think it's a beautiful and user-centric feature for Facebook. It just makes me work harder to create engaging content and I love a good challenge. I know there are great marketers out there who get this, too.

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The Content Marketing Mix

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The Content Marketing Mix

So now that you've been inspired to try your hand at social content marketing, and you understand your audience and what kind of content may appeal, it's time to plan out your content mix. Understanding the content mix that works for your audience is incredibly important and many companies get this very wrong. I break content down to four very general categories:

Content Mix
Content Mix

A. PRODUCT

Product type content is the stuff that most people understand as self-promotional. These are posts about your product itself: the features, the benefits, the comparisons and the contrasts. It's the who, what, when, where and how of what you are selling. If you are doing content for a cosmetic company, it's the scientific study that shows a 25% reduction in crows feet. If you are doing content for a rockband, it's posting the concert dates and new singles. If you are doing content for a dental office, it's posting the specials on cleaning and whitening. If you are doing content for your consulting business, it's posting where you are featured as an expert in the Washington Post.

Product posts are the "me, me, me" posts. They are the ones that most resemble the traditional marketing one-way message, though many companies are trying to create interaction with these by adding a sharing, liking or commenting incentive (share to enter a contest, like to get a coupon, comment to let us know how you would wear this, etc).

These types of posts are essential for communicating what it is you are selling, where people can buy it, how they enjoy/use your product, when it is available or goes on special, who is behind the product (slightly crosses over to brand, which I'll explain next) and why people should buy your product. However, a content schedule made up of too many of these posts will not be interesting to anyone other than already devoted fans - and even they will be less and less interested as time goes on.

B. BRAND

Brand type posts still relate to your product, but focus more on the "why" by empathizing with your audience and connecting with them on a more emotional level. Brand posts answer the question, "Why would YOU give a damn about my product?" but they don't list the features and benefits, they talk more about the customer and how they serve the customer's needs. This is where the content gets social. It listens and learns and evolves with the needs of the audience.

Brand type posts are answering how you are making your customers’ lives simpler, less confusing, less alienating, more efficient, more meaningful and just plain better. If you are doing content for a fashion retailer, this is where you focus on the outcomes of looking and feeling great wearing the clothes (quite often done visually and in a fantasy setting). If you are doing content for a public figure, this is where you showcase the issues and ideologies that people can connect with in order to support that person. If you are doing content for a sports team, this is where you can connect with the audience's competitive instincts, providing tools to help them show their team colors.

Brand type posts are still product related, but they speak to how the customer connects to the product rather than the awesomeness of the product itself. These posts evolve over time as you interact with the audience and understand what makes their lives simpler, less confusing, less alienating, more efficient, more meaningful and better. They can even help you improve your product. This will give your audience a feeling of personal investment in the product, which will lead to a deeper relationship and long-term loyalty.

C. LIFESTYLE

Lifestyle type posts don't directly relate to your product, but they do speak to your audience. They are posts that recognize memes, holidays, current events and pop culture. These posts connect to your audience by recognizing what else is going on in their minds and show that your company gets the audience.

The controversial cookie post.
The controversial cookie post.

When Oreo posted the gay pride cookie, the image went viral because of many factors, but the biggest was that they took a risk. Oreo took a risk with a holiday that divides many (as gay rights is widely contested), leading to a wide number of supporters and detractors discussing and sharing the ad. The image itself was fairly innocuous with the rainbow colored filling between the iconic chocolate wafers and the word 'PRIDE'. It didn't say, "support gay rights" or stand up for anything in particular, but a family focused company giving any recognition to the gay community was enough to set the right wing audience off, which led to setting the left wing audience off to counteract the ire. The next thing you know, a cute, sleeper campaign turned into national news and Oreo cookies were top of mind for people again.

Lifestyle type posts are simple to fall back on. There are severalsitesonline that list all sorts of fun holidays (i.e. Talk Like a Pirate Day on September 19, or Best Friends Day on June 8) that could tie back to your product easily or creatively or speak to your particular audiences. However, don't overdo these as they could start to look like desperate attempts at content ideas and pandering. Memes can be a clever way to connect with your audience, but make sure the memes are known enough and current. A 'yesterdays' meme will make you look out of date (posting a Harlem Shake video today, for example) and a too obscure meme may go over the heads of your audience and may offend. Many brands do well aligning to pop culture, but be careful with the rights to images.

Unless you can be creative about it like Oreo (without looking like a copy cat), it's probably best you keep these posts a small percentage of your content. Occasional Lifestyle type content posts will pack a good amount of punch if you post them sparingly. They tend to get shared quite widely as people can use them to communicate their endorsement of the holiday or meme by simply posting to their own walls.

D. COMMUNITY

Community type posts focus on your customers and audience. These content posts highlight customer stories, ideas, feedback and lifestyles.

The Halloween Face-Off Contest by Mac.
The Halloween Face-Off Contest by Mac.

An example of a community post for a fashion retailer would be street style photographs where their customers talk about what they bought and what they are wearing. When doing the Justin Trudeau leadership campaign, we collected supporter stories on how people came to meet and support Justin. We used these stories in a post, and interviewed and highlighted the really unique ones, posting them to the blog, Facebook and Twitter. These posts weren't the most shared or liked, but they were meaningful and encouraged more people to share their own stories. Many cosmetic brands will hold contests for their audience to do makeup tutorials. Mac did a wonderful 'Face Off' campaign for Halloween in 2012 where they posted some amazing Halloween makeup tutorials and invited budding makeup artists to submit their own. The results were incredible and some of their most popular posts (good example of using lifestyle - Halloween - and combining it with community).

Community type posts are very good at involving your customers in the future of your brand, but don't get too complex. One of my clients was asking for their audience to submit a big design project, which required too much work. When they reduced that ask to a before and after photo, they got many more submissions.

Community type posts most likely won't be your most shared or liked post, but they empower your customers to be involved with your brand, which is important for relationship building.

THE CONTENT MIX

These four classifications aren't black and white. A product post can have lifestyle and brand type elements. Community posts can also be brand. The mix also varies depending on your audience and your own goals. Oreo Cookies, for instance, do almost exclusively lifestyle posts (that have a brand bend) and people love them, but this approach wouldn't work for everyone.

Some of the popular Oreo campaigns where they dress up the cookie to represent cultural celebrations.
Some of the popular Oreo campaigns where they dress up the cookie to represent cultural celebrations.

And remember, these four classifications I've outlined are very top level and only to be used as a guideline for your initial content planning. As your content evolves, you will break down types of posts even more finitely. Decotheca, a client of mine who provides design inspiration and guidelines for Canadians who are designing or redesigning their rooms and homes, have focused most of their energy on brand type posts, but have broken these posts down to: DIY projects, Design Style Overviews, Color Inspiration, Design Terminology, Accessories, etc. When assessing content, we look at the type of post and the type of content of each post to determine how to adjust and balance going forward. Currently people love the DIY projects the most, but overdoing these would reduce their effectiveness.

But I recognize that sitting down in front of a blank calendar to create engaging content can be daunting and I've found the four types of content to be a good exercise to get started. From there, you should let your audience and their engagement and feedback determine how it evolves. Your content planning will move from a daunting, laborious task to a fun and learning experience.

The overall purpose of content marketing is to build and connect with your audience, get feedback to improve your product, grow loyalty though involving your customers in your evolution and then help your loyal, loving audience spread the word for you, bringing in a larger audience. Ultimately, this leads to you being top of mind and increasing your sales or supporters.

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Let Me Wave my Magical Content Wand

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Let Me Wave my Magical Content Wand

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15387919_m

It usually starts something like this:

Hey! Everyone I know is on Instagram! We should start an Instagram for the company!

The suggestion in itself isn't wrong per se, it's just not made with much of an understanding of how these social platforms work. It takes less than 5 minutes to set up an Instagram account (if you have an iPhone or an Android). That's the simple part. But then the real work begins.

Screen Shot 2013-01-10 at 8.43.16 PM
Screen Shot 2013-01-10 at 8.43.16 PM

People who rarely use social networks love platforms…even when they, themselves, admit to not having enough time to use them. That's pretty much what they see: platforms and the numbers. "Why aren't we on Pinterest/Foursquare/Tumblr/Google+/You Tube/Instagram/etc?" they'll ask. They'll tell you about all sorts of other companies who have set up multiple accounts on multiple platforms and how they read about it on Mashable. They'll hint at being concerned about your expertise or ability to execute because you haven't created accounts everywhere. They may even say, "It takes 5 minutes to set it up!"

But what people who don't use social networks much fail to understand is that picking a platform means that you need to create ongoing content for that platform. Content requires a strategy and ongoing production of said content. And monitoring, measuring and tweaking of that content (and strategy). And community management of the inbound reactions to that content, especially if, heaven willing, you do a great job of the content and your account on said platform gets very popular. And all of these things take a lot of time and deep understanding of your audience, your competitors, your product, the overall trends, current events, knowledge of the industry (and surrounding industries), analytics, what are best/worst practices, gathering of ideas, photoshop skills, camera skills, editing skills, a good eye for a shot skills, writing skills, translation skills, people skills and technical skills.

Screen Shot 2013-01-10 at 8.16.05 PM
Screen Shot 2013-01-10 at 8.16.05 PM

Creating content for a brand (company, organization or individual) is like running a news room...but even more complicated because it needs to be interactive. You need to plan out a certain amount of content (ideally daily for weeks in advance) for each platform like you would for each segment, then you also need to be on top of current events and issues to be able to switch it out on the fly to seize opportunities in the moment. You need to keep people entertained and continue to grow with your audience. You need to be relevant and entertaining, but create enough deep engagement that you are building a solid loyalty base.

In addition to this, you need to achieve your own goals through the content. If you are selling something, it's number of sales leads. If you need sign ups to your app, you need to drive people to your site (off of whichever social network) to sign up. If you are raising money for a cause, you need to compel your followers to go and give money. There are several things you need to balance: building an audience and driving people to your goal (often off-site) and the two are mutually dependent. If your content isn't entertaining, you'll lose your audience, and have nobody to build loyalty and long term sales with, but if you only entertain and never convert them to buyers, you are wasting your time. And the balance is tricky.

Screen Shot 2013-01-10 at 8.57.50 PM
Screen Shot 2013-01-10 at 8.57.50 PM

And I haven't even started to talk about how each platform needs to be approached from a different angle with unique content strategies. Cross-posting content between platforms rarely works. There are different rules (Twitter, for instance, is limited to 140 characters, while blog articles can go more in depth to make a point). There are different tones (Tumblr is fun and casual with a hipster flair for design, while Google+ takes a more information sharing and analytical tone). There are different audiences (Pinterest is dominated by women, while Reddit is male-heavy). There are different functions (Foursquare is great if you have physical locations to promote, while Quora is a fantastic way to show your expertise in an area). Different platforms work better with different media (YouTube is all videos, while Instagram is all images). And some platforms are richer than others (Sure Twitter allows for posting images and video, but the real time rapidity means you should focus on the text, while Facebook posts thrive with images and other 'sharables' and text falls flat).

Screen Shot 2013-01-10 at 9.01.22 PM
Screen Shot 2013-01-10 at 9.01.22 PM

All of this is to say: content doesn't just appear magically out of thin air with a wave of a magic social fairy wand. And there have been many of my colleagues beating this drumfor years, but their message is more and more prescient over time as every brand is expected to be on practically every platform, but have no idea what that means.

Why they hire interns or outsource to people to create this crucial content that is SUCH a crucial part of their marketing and customer relationships is beyond me. But part of it is education and part of it is the plethora of 'gurus/ninjas/polkaroos' who know the buzzwords and how to copycat content, but not how to create relationships. People, you get what you pay for. But why should I be surprised? Companies spent decades outsourcing their customer service - the point of the best opportunity to create a lifelong loyal customer and evangelist - and have focused on new customer acquisition over the more lucrative current customer retention and growth opportunities for as long as I've been on this earth.

/rant

Screen Shot 2013-01-10 at 9.16.10 PM
Screen Shot 2013-01-10 at 9.16.10 PM

What I mean to say is: CONTENT IS IMPORTANT. And there is a specific skill and finesse to doing content well that may seem like magic to most people. It requires left/right brained people with sharp critical thinking skills. The type of people who have big libraries of books (that they actually read) and are constantly checking their mobile phones for the latest news and world events. This person consumes more content in a day than most people consume in a year. S/he has so much knowledge in her/his head from so many different industries and disciplines that s/he will connect dots you would NEVER think to connect and sometimes the connection is only clear in her/his head (but it is usually innovative). This person studies people and networks and gets giddy when the data uncovers counter-intuitive evidence. Her/his instincts are sharp even though s/he can't fully explain where her/his idea comes from. This is not a full or completely accurate description of this person. But it's a start. And that person should really be internal to your organization.

The thing is, it IS magic, but in the Arthur C. Clarke way ("Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."). It rarely takes years of school to hone this skill. It's not brain surgery or rocket science. But it does take years of life* (and some severe ADHD). And most of all, it takes a huge amount of respect...for the customers, the importance of content, the brand and the media.

There is a magic content wand, but most of the world are Muggles, and those of you with the magic should understand that it's not so simple to describe magic to a Muggle. (so if you circulate this post, remove this last bit)

* I, by no means mean years as in one has to be older to be good at this. I know lots of 20-somethings that have 'the knack'.

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A Company is the Sum of its People

Microsoft Company 1978! by Brajeshwar on Flickr Thanks so much to my friend, Jay Fichialos, now on Ma.gnolia and sending me awesome links like this one that say things like:

...the one thing I have been able to extract as the core and essential principle is the fact that people are the singlemost important elements in a company. When you think about it, "company" implies that one person is in the company of another. Or an "organization" is a system of people, and certainly not a bunch of computers or other inanimate objects. Human resources are the critical factor to winning a game of basketball (not the basketball itself), to taking a company public (lawyers are people too), to fixing a great bowl of chicken soup (the ingredients do help, but it takes a person to collect those ingredients), and so forth.

This reminded me of frustrations I had a couple of years back and an equivalent frustration I experienced lately when a dear friend told me she couldn't attend this amazing conference on Customer Service/Satisfaction (by the good folks at Satisfaction), which would not only be an excellent boon for her knowledge on the subject, it would also benefit her employer greatly because they would have an incredibly plugged-in, cutting edge thinker on the team. This is not to mention that the customer service executives from every cool company in North America will be hungrily networking there to meet those plugged-in, cutting edge thinkers like my friend.

My frustrations occurred in a couple of different marketing positions I held at various companies, where, even though I was in charge of building community in one particular case, I was expected to hold regular office hours with the rest of the staff. Ducking out for an afternoon meetup or other community-type event was seen as 'frivolous' and something I should do on 'my time'. This was an absurd idea to me and I continued to defy the notion that I should be sitting at a desk creating marketing plans rather than actually going out and meeting people face to face who are part of the community I wished to reach.

Compound this with a very astute tweet by my friend Chris Heuer (another budding author) a couple of weeks back:

Companies don't really have conversations with customers, their employees do. People talking to people is real, beyond marketing and spin... 10:56 AM November 01, 2007

...and something really profound occurred to me: A Company is the Sum of the Social Capital of its People.

When I think about the really 'cool' brands out there there is always at least one person who we know and admire...who has influence and who has reams of Social Capital. You dig deeper into the company employees and you see that really dynamic and growing companies have loads of employees with smaller, but strong networks they influence. Apple, of course is a really great example of this. Who doesn't want to be Steve Jobs, really? I mean, he even has someone who IS his fake self. But there are Apple employees who are influencers everywhere, even if they don't appear in an official capacity all of the time. And how about the influence of the Geniuses and other Apple Store employees on people's interaction with the brand? HUGE. [hat tip to Lloyd for that great link] I would take a leap and attribute a good portion of Apple's fantastic growth in the past couple of years to that one-on-one interaction between employees and customers.

Of course, none of this is news or anything. It's been pretty obvious to many people for a long time that sending your employees out into the world to build relationships with customers and potential customers is really good for your brand. D'uh.

So, why is it that my friend and many others are still expected to clock in at 8:00 a.m. and clock out at 5:00 p.m.? Why aren't social gatherings, community involvement, courses, conferences and events and general networking encouraged more? Why isn't everyone encouraged to blog, be on IM, have Facebook profiles and post their running commentary on Twitter? Why aren't we encouraging every one of our employees to go out there and build the hell out of their Social Capital?

I have a theory. Tell me if I'm wrong.

We don't value non-crappy, paper-heavy, numbers-driven work. As soon as we see someone enjoying their work, we accuse it of not being work at all. If someone takes an extra long lunch to go to a social event where they are meeting industry peers, we say things like, "Must be nice to be able to take such a long lunch break" as if that person's extra 1/2 hour should have been spent sitting in front of their computers, working on some spreadsheet or something that would have been actual work.

Now, OF COURSE there should be some sort of definition of activities and measurements in place to ensure that everyone is accountable. I like to trust my coworkers as much as the next person, but I've worked with enough people to realize that loose, under-defined goals like, "Build Social Capital" are bound to lead to equally under-defined actions. If I used this new structure to hang with my same friends each and every day, it ceases being useful Capital.

According to theorists, Social Capital comes in two forms: Bonding and Bridging Capital. Bonding Capital is what we do with good friends and family: we build deep relationships of trust and care. We can count on those we have Bonding Capital with for our survival. Bonding Capital is essential to our individual survival (so these days when my 14 year old is rude to me, I tell him that he is threatening his survival by testing our Bonding Capital - works like a charm) and is what emotionally fulfills us.

Bridging Capital, on the hand, is the type of Social Capital that helps us grow and builds our careers and businesses. Bridging Capital is what you are building when you go outside of your normal group of friends and meet new people. It's what you do when you go to conferences that have people you don't always hang out with there. It's what you do when you leave your office and meet others in your industry. According to Robert Putnum (Bowling Alone):

(Bridging connections) are better for linkage to external assets and for information diffusion...(and provide a)...sociological WD-40...(that can)...generate broader identities and reciprocity. (Putnum 2000: 22-23)

But even though these definitions and measurements are not currently in place, businesses can start by recognizing that a certain amount of bridging activity is necessary to encourage for all of their employees - not just those in sales and marketing. Benefits?

  • The creation of Bridging Capital that will positively effect the influence of your company
  • This puts your employees in the perfectly right position for coming up with awesome ideas to please your customers
  • The flipside of that, which is the ability of your employees to recognize potential problems and be proactive in averting them
  • The creation of plugged-in, cutting edge employees in general
  • A happier, more fulfilled group of employees who feel part of their company's growth (which they are)

I really hope that my unnamed friend shows this article to her employer and is able to attend said conference and that it resonates as well with many others. I look forward to your feedback and stories.

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