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


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


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:


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 Snapchat drove millions of dollars in sales from a viral campaign.

That's not the point.


Meritocracy is Almost as Real as this Unicorn


Meritocracy is Almost as Real as this Unicorn

While living and working in San Francisco many years back, I learned a new term: Meritocracy.

It sounded like such a lovely thing - the idea that people are celebrated, rewarded and advanced by the merits of their talent and hard work. If I worked hard and produced great stuff, I would benefit the same as anyone else who did the same. And those who weren't getting ahead? They just weren't working hard or smart enough. And the poor saps that lack the talent and skills they need to rise to the top? They would still be recognized for their input.

But as time went on, I noticed that reality didn't quite match this romantic idea of meritocracy. Only a certain type of person seemed to get ahead again and again. And there were plenty of talented, hard-working people who were left behind.

But I still wanted to believe that the system worked. It just sounded so amazing! So I had some theories about the discrepancy between idea and reality:

  1. Those same types of people who kept getting ahead in a meritocracy had more time and resources to hone their skills and contribute. For example, a young single guy from a wealthy family could afford to work more on an open source project than a middle-aged woman with kids.
  2. There was some unchecked bias that was leaking over into this merit-based system. All we needed to do was check our bias at the door.

I was so naive. When I brought up the first theory, I would get the, "So, what are you proposing as the solution? That we reward people differently? That goes against the idea of a meritocratic system!" When I protested that we ARE treating people different by expecting 80 hour work weeks, thereby eliminating anyone with any sort of responsibilities, they accused me of being one of those socialist types that discouraged hard work.

The second theory was harder to prove - the very idea that meritocratic types had bias was offensive and any example I brought up was defensible - but lucky for me, a study came out a few years back (Dec. 2010) that looked into bias and meritocracy and guess what it found?

Not only is bias a factor that renders meritocratic rewards decidedly UN-meritocratic, it actually exacerbates bias!


In three separate and controlled studies with 445 participants (pre-screened to have deep managerial experience), they found that time and time again, the participants rewarded male employees significantly higher than their female colleagues (in the same job, with the same supervisor, with the same performance evaluations). And even more interesting was that, when they controlled for a non-meritocratic condition, the female employees were rewarded slightly higher.

Wow, right? So those that strive for this utopic, egalitarian ideal of meritocracy are actually MORE biased. And why was this?

"Uhlmann and Cohen’s (2007) argument that  a sense of personal objectivity moderates the extent to which individuals act on their beliefs, including stereotypical beliefs, would also predict the paradox of meritocracy in employment settings. They showed that when people feel objective, they become more confident that their beliefs are valid, and thus more likely to act on them." p.27 (emphasis mine)

In other words, the more you believe in the soundness of the system, the more likely you are to leave your bias unchecked. It reminds me of when people say, "no offense but," then follow it with something incredibly offensive, believing their initial statement removes the speaker from responsibility for the statement.

The only way that meritocracy could actually work is in a world where:

  1. we are all starting from the same position of advantage. Time, money, ability, education, etc. [bonus: read The Invisible Knapsack of White Privilege]
  2. we had checks and balances on our biases.

In other words, a world in which unicorns and leprechauns exist. In other words, not in this world in 2013.

So let's please stop fooling ourselves that those that get celebrated, rewarded and advanced are the most deserving. We should know better by now.


Interview: Nilofer Merchant, Author of 11 Rules for Creating Value in the #SocialEra

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Interview: Nilofer Merchant, Author of 11 Rules for Creating Value in the #SocialEra


I've known Nilofer Merchant since 2009 when I met her at the TED conference in Long Beach, California. I knew of  her before then, but little did I know how amazingly warm and friendly she would be. I knew her as this mogul of an agency founder who worked with the big time. Turns out, she is not only smart and accomplished, but she is also one of the warmest people I've met. Over the years, we've grown to be good friends and Nilofer has been my mentor and advisor on both professional and personal issues. I'm particularly excited about her new book, 11 Rules for Creating Value in the #SocialEra, where she applies many years of experience teaching the 600 lb gorillas to be much more social and agile. I highly recommend picking up the book - it's a fun, easy read and packed full of great insights - but I'm also honored that Nilofer agreed to answer a few extra questions I had.

1. Give a little of your background just in case my readers don't know how rich it is.

I've worked for major companies like Apple, and ran a big division Autodesk, and startups in the early days of the Web (Golive/ later bought by Adobe).As a high-tech executive who hated internal corporate politics, I ended up starting my own consulting practice, which quickly grew up to be the strategy team of choice for  Logitech, Symantec, HP, Yahoo, VMWare, and many others. We helped them do new product strategies, enter new markets, defend against competitors, and optimize revenues. And, I'm probably one of 5 people on the planet who can say they’ve fought a competitive battle against Microsoft and won,which I did for  Symantec’s Anti-Virus $2.1B annual business. I've has personally launched more than 100 products, netting $18B in sales, mostly in Europe and US markets.  Today I serve on corporate boards for both public and private companies.

I think that makes me a business grown-up.

2. How did you decide to write #socialera?

I'm looking at joining a few more corporate boards, and so I've been sitting in board meeting and realizing that social is viewed as this thing you do with marketing rather than a way to think about organizational design. All these companies are struggling to be fast / fluid / flexible and yet they keep doing things that are slow / bureaucratic / and self-serving. As I studied the companies and situations, what I realized was that these are not bad people but they've only been taught the stuff of Porter's Value Chains and then they're trying to fit in newer ideas into that existing framework. They are trying to tweak their way into the future. And so one day I was doing a follow-up note on a topic and wanted to share this perspective by linking to a few known thinkers... but none of them had written something about how Social could be the backbone of the business. So I did first as a 5-part series on Harvard Business Review's blog and now this ebook. There's too much at risk in all these organizations if we don't reimagine our organizations.

3. I loved the obituary for old school marketing. Do you really think it's deceased or does it merely require a heart transplant? ;)

The obituary was meant to be provocative. To point out 5 specific beliefs that are firmly held as true, when they don't apply as broadly anymore. So no. I don't think it's deceased. But I do think we need to learn to adapt. I wrote about this in the book. That we need to learn to think and learn and unlearn what doesn't work:

"Adaptability is central to how organizations and people thrive in the social era. In psychological language, the key to adaptability and personal growth is resilience. In biology, the equivalent term for adaptive skills is plasticity. In financial language, the term we might have used in the industrial era was liquidity, because it could measure how an organization was able to withstand the unexpected. In the Social Era, the term to use is flexibility. Our goal is to learn our way into the future. Instead of viewing strategy as a set end point, it becomes a horizon to aim for. Instead of asking employees to each simply man their own oar, we must encourage their capacity to navigate, to tack and adapt as conditions shift. Instead of perfection and getting it right the first time, innovation can be continuous, and core rather than episodic."

 4. You have something many social marketing consultants don't have: experience with the 'gorilla' sized companies for many years. What are the core lessons from #socialera aimed at these giants who, as we know, aren't inherently social?

There are 3:

One is that scale shifts from "big" to "with".  You can create value through openness. Here’s an example from technology. Most organizations used to do their own development. Within the last ten years, open source software went from being a programming lark that organizations like Oracle or Microsoft made fun of to one that is the default choice for corporations from IBM to Google. Even Microsoft has found a way to open its Xbox Kinect controller so it can be a platform for artists and roboticists. As a result, the platform contributions have far surpassed what Microsoft could have created alone. And let's be clear: Openness is more than “open source” – it is a way to engage ideas. The value created by platforms that enable many people to contribute ideas can surpass the value created by organizations trying to control each piece. What is created by individuals (without pre-approval, or vetting, or even by defining the exact outcome) can both surprise and delight. Instead of companies trying to achieve scale by all by themselves, scale can be achieved through and  with community.

Second, consumers can be a source of value creation. Fifteen years ago, The Cluetrain Manifesto  was prescient when it taught us that markets are conversations, and that was a great starting point. “Conversations” can go deeper if an organization allows them to become central to how you work, rather than leaving them on the perimeter. And Tara, your own book gave us many solid examples of companies doing just that. But how many companies have figured out how to shift from old-school “supply chain management” to the more modern idea of capturing insights and integrating them directly into product design, distribution, and delivery? Because that’s the point. Instead of a buyer at the end of a value chain, more and more companies are embracing consumers as “co-creation” partners in their innovation practices. This collaborative model fundamentally shares power, improves speed, and shifts the value equation.

Third, Purpose can become an alignment system. When companies think of social media, they hope to get consumers to “like” them or “fan” them, as if that increased connection is meaningful. Again, that captures the marketing aspect, but completely misses the strategic point. The social object that unites people isn’t a company or a product; the social object that most unites people is a shared value or purpose. When consumers “love” Apple, they are saying they love great design and the shared idea that “thinking differently” is valuable. By “loving” Firefox, the Web community is saying that it believes an open Web browser is valuable to the world. By loving TEDx, a volunteer army of people is saying it believes that smart ideas that get people to think more about their world is a cause worth putting energy into.Purpose aligns and scales in a way that "command and control" telling people to do certain does not.

5. When you look around you and apply the #socialera lens, what is your favorite example of a company that gets it? And why?

I have a ton of examples throughout the book of companies that get it and companies that don't. There is no one company I could find that is doing Social as a backbone -- across all parts of their business, so i got a chance to highlight the "best of" across industries. But let me share one example of an idea that is changing lives and embodies the #SocialEra.

A website called PatientsLikeMe was cofounded about ten years ago by three MIT engineers. The brother of one and friend of the others had been diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) at the age of twenty-nine. As they began searching worldwide for ideas that would extend and improve the person’s life, they built a health data-sharing platform that allowed patients to manage their own conditions, change the way industry conducts research, and improved care. Unlike most health-care policies that worry about privacy, PatientsLikeMe focuses on openness. They believed that sharing experiences and outcomes is good. Why? Because when patients share real-world data, collaboration on a global scale becomes possible. New treatments become possible. Most importantly, change becomes possible. And ultimately this leads to the greater purpose: speeding up the pace of research and fixing a broken health-care system.

In this way, PatientsLikeMe shows us another lesson about the SocialEra. When you collaborate, you can make something better for everyone. And, the real key is that an open approach can get to new and better ideas—and a lot more of them—faster, as a system opens up. #socialera is about allowing anyone, anywhere to contribute. Not the people you think “can” or even the people that you think “should,” but from the abundance and diversity of many people’s experiences. As each person stands in a place only she sees, she can bring her onlyness to solve whatever problem she sees closest to her.

This is the hallmark of the #socialera: it strengthens not just the direct act, but the indirect acts of community, of speed to create new solutions, and certainly of new solutions to old problems. Those add up to the reasons why I think this is important -- for organizations of all sizes.

6. Speaking of companies who get it, I've been floored by the rise of Oreo in the social space. They are now the #3 most loved brand online - even after their controversial support of the LGBT community with their Gay Pride Oreo. Applying #socialera to their success, could you give your assessment of this brazen food brand?

I love that as a marketing example They are building real relationships, not just transactions. They are allowing customers to co-create. And in being real and vulnerable, they are getting commitment in the process. Most marketing language talks about "winning the customer" as if it's a win-lose proposition but Oreo is showing that like any relationship, co-creation is a different level of commitment for both the product and the brand.

7. You and I are both fans of fashion and, more recently, I've seen these gorillas making bold moves into the Social Era. What are some of the examples of your favorite fashion gorillas that have 'gone gazelle'? 

Oh, by far, Burberry is doing amazing things. A few seasons ago, they invented the category of tweet walk, where consumers (not just the fashionistas and editorial powerhouses of Fashion Week) to give immediate feedback on the line. This week, they opened up a digitally integrated store in London that uses the combined power of online and instore experiences. And today, customers can customize products so that the killer jacket you want is one that very few people will have. Which, as you know, Tara is worth something. We all want to exercise our own style muscle. And a brand that can do that with you is going to use technology and social behavior to feed its bottom line.

8. Of all of the rules, which ones are your favorites and why?

Oh, you ask such hard questions! Well, the people who have read this book keep highlighting this one sentence: "Not everyone will, but anyone can". And I think that's the central idea. The foundational element of all value creation starts with celebrating each human and, more specifically, something I’ve termed onlyness. Onlyness is that thing that only one particular person can bring to a situation. It includes the skills, passions, and purpose of each human. Onlyness is fundamentally about honoring each person, first as we view ourselves and second as we are valued. Each of us is standing in a spot that no one else occupies. That unique point of view is born of our accumulated experience, perspective, and vision. Some of those experiences are not as “perfect” as we might want, but even those experiences are a source of ideas and creativity. Without this tenet of celebrating onlyness, we allow ourselves to be simply cogs in a machine—dispensable and undervalued.The organizations that know how to take advantage of that will thrive. And so will humans.

 9. Anything else to add?

Well, one thing. I could just as easily called the book "the unrules". While I've drawn plenty of distinctions to give language to the working notions of the Social Era rules, the key is to figure out how to create value in a demanding, ever-changing market. Don’t assume any set of rules is fully baked. Accept that each of our jobs is to stay alert to what happens next to figure out what assumptions need to be tuned. Listen, learn, adapt.These are the skills we must all own.

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With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

greatpower So as any of you who visited HPC yesterday know, it was attacked by a malware hosting site. I'm not sure how they do it, but somehow they get in and implant iframe code to serve up malicious software for unsuspecting visitors. I think it may have been a security hole in WordPress combined with my own laziness around passwords (now fixed). Either way, it wasn't a good day and I spent many hours cleaning out this bad code and trying to figure out what the heck was going on. Many hours were also spent by Ivan Storck (of Sustainable Websites - my host), William Dodson (from OBX Designworks) and my friend Mathieu (developer in Montreal) in helping me through this. By the time we got all of the malware attack cleaned out, Google had blacklisted my site (which led to a series of blacklisting by all the sites using Google's indexing API). Yuck.

I wasn't attacked personally. This happens randomly all of the time. Somehow there is money to be made in ruining the internet. However, I find it very odd to think that one would wreck the very thing that provides them with a steady stream of income. I compared the action to the self-replicating Smith on the Matrix. (spoiler alert) Imagine if Smith would have won - he would have taken the machine down and everyone would have died. There would be no point in him existing anymore.

Which brings me to my point: where did we go wrong in the world to encourage the Smiths? The malware hosts? The scammers, spammers, frauds, grifters, etc? Those that would pollute the very environment they need to exist in? These people are obviously gifted with the ability to problem solve, code, think up elaborate schemes and strategize. If they used this talent for good and not for evil, imagine how AWESOME the world would be!

It's a tragedy of the commons, where selfish thinkers abuse the common space for their own gain. Of course, this thinking - if truly strategic - assumes that not all will follow the selfish path. The tragedy occurs when everyone thinks selfishly and the commons is ruined and unusable, leaving nothing for anyone to exploit any longer.

If instead human beings thought truly strategically - and this is the basis to my favourite book in the universe The Origins of Virtue: Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation by Matt Ridley - and contributed to the commons, we would all thrive! But this selfish, short-term thinking hacking away of small pieces of the pie happens and we all suffer...including the hackers themselves eventually.

This happens because - as Ridley says in The Origins of Virtue - the system is set up to encourage such selfish, short term thinking. Narrow view competition, multiple times removed culpability and a focus on short-term rewards have encouraged this. For instance, there are corporate structures, with their quarterly reporting (short-term view) and lack of social responsibility (the responsibility is with the shareholders who are far removed from the decision making as well as the consequences of that decision making). Copyright and patents also contribute to the attitude. I would argue that almost everything about surviving in modern society has to do with removing ourselves from responsibility and giving us the individual task to survive one day at a time (but that is a different post).

Thus, we encourage a great deal of tragedy in the commons themselves, costing billions of dollars in security, fraud protection, insurance and damages every year to those who try to live their lives on the up and up.

So, how do we stop this insanity? Like Peter Parker in the picture - whose tragedy was focusing on his own selfish needs resulting in the loss of his uncle - we aren't recognizing the long term consequences of our actions. I really think this needs to be forefront in our discussions around this stuff. We also need a good dialogue and understanding of the butterfly effect - how one action leads to effecting so many others. It may seem small and insignificant to cheat here and there, but it adds up and changes the system we are part of. And finally, and I know this type of thinking isn't popular amongst Americans, we have to imagine how we can contribute to the commons to mutually benefit (instead of one or two people benefiting, leading to the suffering of others). It's not socialism, it's smarter thinking. Just think of the costs we will save on our taxes alone when we don't have to pay for the inefficiencies of a system full of people trying to cheat it.

We do have great power here. These tools can be used for great things. Solving hunger, poverty, creating peace, boosting economies (in countries where most of the spammer/scammer stuff comes out of), finding cures for bad diseases and all of the other social pitfalls we've created by thinking too short term for our world. So...where do we start?



What I 'Do' For a Living

The most common conversation I have when I go to an event goes somewhere along these lines: New acquaintance: "Tara, I see your name everywhere, but I still don't quite understand what you do."

Me: "Well, I make a living as a marketing consultant, specializing in online communities and strategy, but I spend more of my time these days as a community organizer and armchair economist. I also have a book coming out in April of 2009, which also makes me an author, and I travel around the world speaking at conferences on the online marketing and strategy work that I do."

That's sort of it in a nutshell. But my background is varied and so are my interests, so I believe that leads to a great deal of confusion for people as to what exactly I 'do' for a living. Even though my 'about' section as well as my resume outlines my experience and expertise in the area of marketing strategy (both online and off in less 'traditional' types of marketing), I admit that I spend more time reading, thinking and writing about a much broader array of subjects.

I'm deeply interested in social issues and how economics underpins much of our social world. That is what got me into the study of social capital. The current understanding of economics tends to be pretty simplistic and focused on personal wealth - that is, what is in my bank account at any given moment and what the damned government is taking out of it at the end of each year. I think this is a most unfortunate situation as economics is complex and cash money isn't the only wealth we accumulate or distribute over our lifetimes that is of value. Certainly, we cannot pay our rent or eat if we don't have cash money in the bank, but how we get it in there and how it supports us is what interests me a great deal. I also think it's changed over the years, especially with the advent of the internet.

So, what I 'do' for a living - marketing consulting - is made possible because of my social capital, which is the culmination of my:

  • connections
  • reputation
  • influence
  • bridging capital - the number of connections you have across to different industries, social strata, etc.
  • bonding capital - the depth of your close connections (how close and how much you could ask of your connections)
  • access to ideas and talent through your connections
  • access to resources through your connections
  • “potential” access to further resources (more distant, but very legitimate)
  • saved up favors (reciprocity is huge - which is why doing good stuff matter alot with social capital)
  • accomplishments (slightly different from reputation, it is the more fungible form of SC - resumes, awards, etc.)
  • and the Social Capital of those who you have relationships with (Bordieu’s ideas on the French elite talk about this)

Added to this is my accumulation of cultural capital, which "is the knowledge, experience and or connections one has had through the course of their life that enables them to succeed more so than someone from a less experienced background."

Both my social capital and my cultural capital are intimately woven into my economic capital. All three types of capital support and foster the growth of one another. I meet people (social capital) and learn things (cultural capital) which help me meet potential clients who see my experience as an asset (social capital) and hire me (economic capital), which produces more experience (cultural capital) and, if I do good work, opens me up for new lucrative relationships (social capital), which turn into more work (economic capital).

I think it may be tough for some people to understand the diversification of work, but I know very few people who can sum up their careers in a single word. Personally, I don't believe humans were designed to be singularly focused, I believe we were designed to be innately curious and questioning of how the world around us works. And those of us who push the boundaries around the definition of work help innovate and pioneer new paths for new job definitions.

In regards to what I do NOT 'do' for a living...well, I don't consider myself a social media consultant, the new term for someone who uses the online tools well and helps spread buzz through online communities (I think that's accurate). Of course, that is part of my function, but I consider myself more of a strategist. When setting up Citizen Agency, I thought long and hard about how to define what we offered and came up with the idea of the tripod of strategy: environment (that's where research comes in - understanding the market well), product (product development, innovation and designing for what you know about the market and where it is moving) and community (mostly the customer community, but also how you fit into the wider business community). Once again, all three of these, like the legs on a tripod, have to be balanced and working together towards a solid strategy. So what does Citizen Agency do? An organic strategy. I won't take on projects where I'm asked to come in and slap together social media band-aids. I won't advocate for a client until I believe they will be beneficial to my community of followers and friends. But I will help them get to the point where a social media strategy and community advocacy is part of the overall plan.

So, what do I 'do' for a living? Well, mostly I think too much about stuff and produce loads of content that, I hope, helps others come to positive conclusions and helps create a smarter marketplace. But if you want to boil it down to a pitch, I am a marketing strategy consultant.



The True Value of Social Media Consultants

The other day, I was in a meeting with a group of very smart people and we were talking about how to discern a 'great' social media consultant from a 'mediocre' social media consultant. I've never really considered myself a social media consultant, though. I've always thought of myself in a more integrated way, since I've spent my marketing career working online AND offline and being part of product development as much as promotional campaigns. Even the term 'community marketing' that I usually use to describe my practice falls short. Even so, I believe the job of Social Media Consultant entails using the online social media tools available to spread the word - much like PR does for traditional media - to pick up steam for the brands they represent. This, of course, is a very smart business to get into, especially during these turbulent economic times. Social media tools are inexpensive and are quite easy to measure impact for. I particularly like tools like HubSpot and Google Analytics for measuring impact of social media campaigns, as well as tracking word of mouth through Twitter's search and Google Blogsearch. There are many other tools available, as outlined here by my colleague, Jeremiah. This makes a Social Media Consultant a sound investment as an adjunct to any other form of marketing you are embarking on. It's also a safe bet when budgets get cut back as it is more cost effective than many other types of marketing.

Still, how does one know who is a 'good' consultant and a 'mediocre' one? I think it all comes down to Whuffie.

Much like a PR person worth her weight in gold has many contacts and a good reputation in the traditional media circles, a social media consultant (SMC) worth her weight in gold has many contacts and a good reputation in online communities. This doesn't necessarily mean that the SMC has the MOST contacts, either. It's how people talk about her, how she interacts and how the things she posts are spread around. A good SMC will have high Whuffie on the web. People will trust her opinion. Other influential people will value her expertise. The reason that quality is as important as quantity is that her Whuffie will rub off on her clients. If she is trusted for what she talks about, her connections will be more likely to check out who she is representing.

Anyone can be a SMC, really. There are millions of people of all ages using the online tools and hundreds of thousands of them use them effectively. But to be a kickass SMC, you need to be an influencer yourself. This isn't much different from PR. And, in both cases, it matters who you represent.

Social media, just like any other type of marketing, is only as good as the response you get from customers. A good SMC knows her stuff and understands what the market will respond to. She will be honest with you in early meetings if she knows your product needs work to delight potential customers. You deserve that. You don't want to spend a bunch of money and energy on a campaign that goes nowhere. You should be spending that time and money on building a really awesome product. And, a good marketing professional, social media or not can help you in that realm as well. I've actually spent more of my career working on product development and innovation than I have on the promotion of it. The truth is, great products need less promotion and 'stick' when you do promote.

Lastly, an SMC you want to hire practices ethical marketing. Much related to the point about having influence in a community, ethical marketing practices maintain and build integrity within communities. Anything that smacks of lying or tricking people will be found out and both your company and your SMC will pay the price Whuffie-wise. Future campaigns will be looked upon as suspect and time and money spent will be for naught.

I take great care in working with clients - who I'm working with and how I'm promoting them. I make sure that what I'm delivering is of value and that my connections won't feel spammed or get tired of the type of media that I'm sharing with them. If my own quality slips, the interest from my connections slips and I become less useful to current and future clients who deserve the positive word of mouth. There are clients I have taken on who have potential, but were not ready for promotion - so we focused on product and getting to the point where we could both be proud of what we were sharing with our connections. Other potential clients who wanted the promotion, but wouldn't do the work to make sure people I introduced to their products would be delighted, had to be passed over. In today's competitive landscape, I was sorry to see them pass up the opportunity.

Thus, if you want to have your SM campaigns go further, assess your SMC on these three measurements:

  • How much influence does he/she have in online communities?
  • Does he/she understand market trends? What kind of feedback does he/she give on your product? Are there good ideas in there?
  • Does he/she practice ethical marketing? If he/she suggests that you can pay people to digg up an item, probably not.

Other than that list, an SMC has to understand how to use the tools, know how to measure impact and how to get creative to get through the noise that is the thousands of campaigns already inundating people in online communities. But it isn't necessarily getting through that counts. It is how that message is received on the other side. That outcome is going to mean results or rejection.



Incentives: the good, bad and the unfortunately necessary

Wedding Incentives on Flickr I know I need to approach this topic with kid gloves because there are many of you out there that either perform good deeds entirely selflessly or many of those that truly believe that you do. I used to be part of the latter group. Then I read The Origins of Virtue: Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation by Matt Ridley and realized something really significant:

Just because a good deed is performed to someone's benefit, it doesn't make the deed any less good.

In fact, as Ridley points out, in the absence of personal incentives to positively contribute to a community, the majority of people would not contribute at all. And there are incentives, even if indirect, to performing good deeds. Even if all of you are in the 0.01% of people who perform good deeds entirely selflessly, think about all of the people you've met in the world you could only convince to give more, do more and care more. Those are the people need incentives - for better or for worse.

I think about how current incentives work. I was chatting the other day with another Matt, Matt Langdon of the Hero Workshop. He was saying to me that he was setting up the Hero Workshop as a non-profit because he would feel bad about making a profit off of this work. Really? Why, I thought? There are plenty of people getting rich off of doing nasty stuff like making cigarettes and selling drugs and lobbying governments to keep us oil dependent. And there are even more people making millions from just producing a load of crap we don't need. Why should the people contributing positively from the world have to take the martyr road? My second thought was, "No friggin wonder it is an uphill battle to get people to do stuff like Matt is doing!" Matt's are rare. Dedicating your life for the betterment of others is a beautiful, amazing thing, but if you can't pay the bills or provide financial security for your family and your future, you will probably end up getting burnt out really fast.

There is no reason for us to be holier-than-thou about our contributions (not to mention the very essence of holier-than-thou points to the fact that we want recognition, which means the act itself is not, after all, selfless). Good for those of us who have sacrificed ourselves for the benefit of the wider community, but we should never become martyrs because of it. We should, instead, be thinking of ways to create more of us to do the work...'cause at the end of the day we have to make a living...or at least I do.

I'm personally overjoyed that people are making gazillions off of the green movement (as long as it's not a hoax). The fact that you can do good AND do well is an amazing incentive and, I think, the tipping point for people to actually start giving a damn...through consumption, yes, but if that's what it takes, I'm all for it. This is America after all. We vote through our consumption...that we have a choice to vote for positive change is awesome.

I've been thinking a great deal about incentives and I think that people like Jane McGonigal and Austin Hill are doing amazing work in this area, incentivizing acts of kindness through gaming techniques. Ethically, people may have a problem with gaming human nature, but I don't. To game towards the good is helluvalot better than to incentivize people towards acts of exploitation, waste, corruption and greed. And, believe me, the long-standing dominant atmosphere favors the greedy.

For the upcoming HeroCamp, I'm going to be concentrating on incentives. Having a 15 year-old who is not in that 0.01% has been eye-opening for me. He's a good kid and very talented and I love him, but whenever I speak of heroism or positively contributing to the greater good, he rolls his eyes at me and calls me lame. What incentivizes him? Well, money is the biggest thing unfortunately, but he also plays games like World of Warcraft, where I watch him sacrifice himself and his points constantly to move his tribe forward. And when I asked him to come to HeroCamp and be our Lame-Meter, he agreed. I incentivized him with a voice...a chance to influence an outcome...a chance for him to shine. Okay, and a few days off of school, too, but that was less of an incentive than the rest. I asked him to be himself and told him that would be a key role in what we're working on. The incentive is ego.

I believe that raising Whuffie is also good incentive that encourages positive contributions. However, I am not so blind as to ignore the way that people exploit this as well. There is an upside and downside of everything. We need to figure out better ways to reward those that are doing good in the world (and sometimes this means that they need to make money from it) and remove the incentives for people to exploit influence in the networks (by making it harder for them to make a living - refusing to buy their goods or read their blogs).

So, in conclusion, I believe that making a better world comes down to building in positive incentives (beyond 'it's the right thing to do') for good deeds and removing the incentives for bad deeds.



You can't eat Whuffie (but it's getting harder to eat without it)

How to Monetize Whuffie The last couple of times I've come across the border to apply for my TN1 Visa (NAFTA Visa between Canada and US), the border officers have Googled me. And, to my surprise, have actually told me that the results were good enough to back up the resume I handed them. One official actually said, "You should state on your resume that you are very Google-able!"

This isn't new, really, and it has certainly been the practice for many savvy recruiters over the years. I worked for a spell at an HR organization in Canada and met many who ended up hiring the candidates with the most impressive online presence...especially when it came to more senior positions at organizations. The more results one has that points to professional accomplishments, the easier it was for them to determine if what was in the resume was accurate. It helped even more if those accomplishments were from websites and blogs other than the candidate.

I believe Google is probably the closest thing we have today to a Whuffie meter. Whuffie, for those who are new here is (and this is my definition):

The sum of the reputation, influence, bridging capital and bonding capital, access to ideas and talent, access to resources, potential access to further resources, saved up favors, accomplishments (resumes, awards, articles, etc.) and the Whuffie of those who you have relationships with.

The term, itself, was coined by Cory Doctorow in his amazing Sci-Fi book, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, as the currency of the future. The generalized definition gleaned from this book is:

Whuffie has replaced money, providing a motivation for people to do useful and creative things. A person's Whuffie is a general measurement of his or her overall reputation, and Whuffie is lost and gained according to a person's favorable or unfavorable actions. The question is, who determines which actions are favorable or unfavorable? In Down and Out, the answer is public opinion. Rudely pushing past someone on the sidewalk will definitely lose you points from them (and possibly bystanders who saw you), while composing a much-loved symphony will earn you Whuffie from everyone who enjoyed it.

So, you can gain Whuffie through being nice, networked or notable. This is not science fiction. It's becoming more and more relevant today.

Competition is fierce in the world. There are billions of people working to get ahead. Hundreds compete for jobs. And that is just the individual. When it comes to starting a company that provides a service or a product, you will also be in a position of competition: customer attention. Without differentiating yourself somehow, the battle to make ends meet gets tougher.

This is where you figure out that you CAN eat Whuffie...just indirectly.

Google is powerful because companies and individuals alike know that if people find them online, they will have a better chance of getting the business or the job. And, if they find them in a positive light reflected through the eyes of other customers and contacts, they will have even a better chance than that. Online tools that help customers voice their satisfaction with your product will help boost your Google ratings and instill a sense of confidence in a potential customer making a decision. This is no different than pinging someone's Whuffie, as Cory describes it in his book. When you get that new customer or you get that better job because of your positive online presence, the money to buy that food follows.

I've been thinking of this ever since Michelle Greer posted "No More Whuffie Please" on her blog. I totally see where she is coming from. She has added up a great deal of Whuffie in her social capital bank account, but hasn't found a place to spend it yet. I certainly hope that Michelle doesn't give up the amazing work she is doing to make a name for herself in the community, but raising Whuffie without spending it is also a mistake. I generally don't work for people for free unless I see an opportunity to cash in my Whuffie at a later date. This isn't mercenary, it is smart and it is definitely part of the reciprocity that ties community together. 'Cause if valuable community members like Michelle aren't able to pay the bills, we lose them and nobody wins.

So, Michelle, you are totally right. You can't eat Whuffie, but it is getting harder to eat without it, so keep up the good work and look for opportunities to raise Whuffie where you can cash it in at a future date. Pick events to work on where potential clients or employers can see the good work you are doing. Let your expertise shine through the content you are producing. People will notice and then you can cash in that Whuffie and pay the bills.

:: Very cool...Dean (@thedudedean) Bairaktaris showed me his post where he pretty much directly cashed in his Whuffie for a new MacBook Air!