Jun 27

Why Do Corporations Struggle with Social Media?

I see a lot of larger companies who don’t seem to get how social media makes things cheaper and well, just better. It’s a direct communication tool, like a cell phone. Big companies seem to just snuggle with Web 2.0 rockstars and then call it a day. That’s lame. That doesn’t make me want to throw you my money. I just want to know that you aren’t going to hose me or my friends and then we are cool.

Here are some tips for large companies on how they can cut costs, improve their products, and well, make the world a better place by using social media:

1.) It sounds harsh, but evolve or die.
Look folks, I’m not making this stuff up. Social media and in particular Facebook is a global revolution. Imagine a country that grows to 400 million people in six years. That’s Facebook. Twitter was founded in 2006, and studies show that 37 percent of journalists already use it. 59 percent of them already blog.

Yes, it sprung up on you, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take it seriously. If 37 percent of journalists are on Twitter, how easy is it for pissed off customers to hit them up with a juicy story about your company?

What am I saying here? It means 1.) Your communications people need to do their homework, 2.) Your senior leadership needs to do their homework, and 3.) You need to come up with a plan and a budget, and you need to revisit them frequently. Don’t just ignore it because the word “Twitter” sounds kind of dirty.

2.) Social media is not a marketing tool. It can be used by your entire company.
Social media tools like Twitter are merely communication tools. When I advise people about them, I use a term from the movie “The Matrix”:
There is no spoon.

This means you can use Vimeo not just to spam people with ads, but to instruct them how to use your product. You can use Twitter to follow potential business development opportunities or get feedback for your product teams. There really is no rigid “use” for social media. If you give it to the marketing team, you are essentially telling the world, “The only way we would like to communicate with you is to sell you something”. I suppose that’s within a company’s right, but there are many more useful ways to use social media to cut costs and make things happen in a short period of time.

3.) You are playing with fire when you outsource it to someone else.
Your customers are going to ask you all sorts of things.
Can I get a job at your company?
Fix this issue or I’m calling my lawyer.
Why hasn’t this tech support rep answered my email?

Can you really trust some 24-year-old at a marketing agency will get a tweet from a journalist or a very angry customer and is going to represent your company in a way that doesn’t get you in trouble with the SEC or the press? I don’t really understand this model of using social media. I’ve tried it and it doesn’t work. Agencies can create good marketing campaigns using social media and can provide guidance for sure (see this and this), but they shouldn’t really represent your company’s presence online.

Again, trusting it just to the marketers means you are missing other opportunities to save money, like using these tools for tech support or product development.

4.) You let the lawyers take control even though they think “blog” is a drink you have on Christmas.
People seem to think lawyers know everything about the law. Here’s a secret: THEY DON’T. The law is very expansive and constantly changes. No lawyer knows everything about it and if they do, they are just big lying liars.

Lawyers should not be able to set policies on tweeting and blogging if they don’t have any familiarity with the mediums and in particular, the concept of Creative Commons. It just makes employees nervous and distrustful and then they do their own thing on the side anyway. Just like senior leadership should do due diligence to learn about social media, so should the legal department.

5.) People aren’t convenient numbers. They are people. Now they can form a “corporation” of their own, for you or against you.
This is perhaps the point where big companies struggle the most. You’ve got the bean counters who expect certain amounts of leads, profits, etc, whatever. They are used to a Cold War game, where you just outgun your opponent with huge shock and awe figures.

The game has changed. This is not a trend. This isn’t a fad. That game is gone and lost forever.

What the Cold War mentality isn’t considering in a new media world is that these numbers can all ban together and decide you rock. They can ban together and decide you suck. They now have easy access to each other. You can’t just hose a bunch of people and think they don’t know any better. It’s not the way it used to be. They are all talking about your company and comparing notes.

In a new media world, you just have to be honest and reduce your risk for IEDs, snipers, and the like. You have to win the hearts and minds of people and then ask them to spread the word.

It’s not that corporations can’t be agile enough–it’s that often the people in charge simply don’t get it. They didn’t get where they are at using it so there is no use dropping what works for some “fad”. A little research and a holistic strategy about social media could mean wonders for them. I don’t how you can look at social media tools and figure that consumers will ever stop using them to reach out to each other. They just help people make informed decisions.

Frustrated because your company fits this bill? Leave a comment for how big companies can improve what they are doing. You can use a fake name like Awesome McAwesomePants or something outrageously cool like that so as to not incriminate yourself.

Jun 24

When Closing More Leads Can Actually Hurt You More

Marketing. It’s often considered a spin doctor-ish, slimy profession intended to deceive people into buying something they don’t need.

Marketing as it should be done is actually a very noble profession that can improve people’s lives. However, not only is pursuing “anyone and everyone” at the expense of their happiness unethical, it is stupid and costly to your business.

Bazaarvoice is a company that allows companies to increase and measure reviews about their products. Here are some stats they’ve gathered about word-of-mouth:

*The average consumer mentions specific brands over 90 times per week in conversations with friends, family, and co-workers. (Keller Fay, WOMMA, 2010)
*90% of consumers online trust recommendations from people they know; 70% trust opinions of unknown users. (Econsultancy, July 2009)
*Users put great trust in their social networks. One-half of Beresford respondents said they considered information shared on their networks when making a decision—and the proportion was higher among users ages 18 to 24, at 65%. (eMarketer, October 2009)
*Consumers trust friends above experts when it comes to product recommendations (65% trust friends, 27% trust experts, 8% trust celebrities). (Yankelovich)

Why are these statistics relevant? These along with reputable game theory studies show that people trust other people they know more than they’ll trust you. If you are doing the slimeball marketing tactic by focusing on sheer numbers and quotas, you aren’t focused on who is actually buying your product and if these people would actually enjoy using it.

LET’S DO THE MATH:

Let’s say that your manager wants you to meet a quota, and so you sell 10,000 widgets like you were asked. Because widgets are rather obscure, you sort of fudged the benefits of the product and now only 25 percent of the people who use them are happy with the product. That’s 7500 people who now hate your widget and probably you for selling it to them. According to a study cited by the social network DoctorBase, if these are social media users, a negative review from them will reach 130 people. That’s:

7500
* 130
975,000 people who now think you deceived them

Now let’s say you do this more responsibly. You ignore your manager’s quota and you say, “I won’t get 10,000 sold now, but I will have 3000 sold in six months, and 75,000 sold in a year, and I will do it in a way where we can spend much less in marketing and much more improving our product for the future”. How do you do this?

1.) Understand what your widget is, how customers use it, and how it compares to other products like it in the industry.
2.) Instead of figuring out how you can preach your product far and wide to everyone, figure out how you can get it to 3000 who would be insanely happy with it. This is a lot easier to achieve than finding 10,000 happy customers but requires a bit more homework.
3.) Make those 3000 people insanely happy with your widget. This may or may not cost money in product development, but that’s often what it takes to make people insanely happy.

Let’s be very conservative here. If you make people insanely happy with your product, asking them to tell their friends about you is actually quite easy. They feel like they are doing their friends a favor. So let’s say those 3000 people only reach out to an average of 25 people and convince them that your widget will totally change their lives.

3000
* 25
75,000 people bought your widget and love it.

That’s 7.5 times what your General Manager asked you to sell.

By marketing to those 10,000 instead, you now have to do damage control for your brand’s reputation. You have to spend more money sustaining growth because people aren’t talking about how awesome you are. You have to spend money on customer acquisition and retention. That means less money for product development. This hardly seems sustainable.

By being a marketing sniper versus a cannon, you can trust your community of users to do the marketing for you. Plus you can sleep at night, which is always a plus. ;)

May 17

Evolve or Die: Content Sharing and the TechCrunch/Fortune Debacle

So Fortune released a book entitled The Facebook Effect and asked Michael Arrington from TechCrunch to endorse it. Which he glowingly did because he respected the author.

Before asking, the people at Fortune gave Arrington excerpts from the book to use in his post. When he published the post, the author and some others at Fortune thanked him for it. Then suddenly, they proceeded to ask him many times at very random hours to take down the post, as they had not intended to have the full excerpts published on the web. Then they sent in the attack hound lawyers on him, which prompted him to write this scathing blog post to them.

To me, this seems a case of the people at the bottom at Fortune executing an order, thinking things were done. Then the higher ups (and probably more traditional folks) looked at it and freaked out. The people at the bottom didn’t want to fight it and just complied by sending in the lawyers.

Would protecting these excerpts sell enough books to justify the negative press in both TechCrunch and the Huffington Post, which are arguably the most powerful online publications in the world? Does this incident make you believe that Fortune truly understands the social web and therefore applications like Facebook? It just seems so senseless. Who knows–maybe they get more press regardless this way to sell more books. Maybe they are smarter than they look and this is just an effort to bring attention to the fact that the author David Kirkpatrick wrote a good book. It certainly doesn’t reflect very well on Fortune though.

Do people in senior positions at major publications just not understand the concept of Creative Commons? Can we educate them before the cheapness of web publishing makes their paper magazines go away or will it just prompt a changing of the guard? I like good content and would just assume open it up the way the web lends itself to anyway.

Dec 20

Technology that Will Fuel the Real Time Web in 2010

Being around so many talented professionals in the online space allows me to see what’s coming down the pike sooner than the average bear. I’ve been exposed to some projects that can only leave me optimistic for what the future has in store since working for Rackspace Hosting.

2009 was the year Iranians stood up to Ahmadinejad for all the world to see on YouTube and Twitter. 2009 also featured the first president to communicate via email lists and YouTube. We saw Sarah Palin leading the charge against him via Facebook. News like the Fort Hood shootings is regularly broken on Twitter far before it hits CNN.

Anyone who thinks social media will ever “slow down” or “go out of fashion” is simply ignoring empirical evidence to the contrary.

I often don’t talk about the technical side of this phenomenon. Since I don’t see many who do, I figured I would this time. Here are some trends that will fuel social media adoption and groundswell. If you think of others or have any additions/corrections to these, please comment.

1.) Dynamic frameworks like Tornado or Hadoop. Social networks are actually pretty hard to build. Why? If they get adopted, there is a lot of simultaneous traffic going on at once. Friendfeed decided to create a web application framework called Tornado to handle their traffic. They then were bought by Facebook, who decided to open source it for others to use on their social networking projects.

2.) Non-relational databases like Cassandra. A traditional database language like MySQL has a hard time handling all the calls back and forth from a web application. Remember the Fail Whale? That’s because when Twitter took off, there really wasn’t a lot of technology accessible to the average startup that could handle all the data going to and from their servers. As non-relational databases mature, it will be easier for social networks to handle heavier loads of data transfer at the same time.

3.) Cloud computing, cloud computing, cloud computing. If you build a solid application with a solid database, but your web hosting can’t handle the traffic, your site goes down. There is no such thing as unlimited hosting for a finite dollar amount. Cloud computing allows you to handle the spikes associated with the real time web without downtime or having to overbuy. If your site is pummeled by Twitter traffic, it will now be able to handle it.

4.) The software community builder that is the API. 2009 saw LinkedIn open its API. Facebook developers also gained ground into the walled garden that is Facebook and Twitter saw an explosion of applications utilizing their API. The easier we make it to digest social networks and use them the way we want (mobile or otherwise), the more they get used.

5.) Silos like Gnip. There is a lot of data going in and out of a social network. A single API can’t handle it, so applications can use silos to better handle all the people wanting access to data. For example, if you want to build a social network that pulls tweets about only certain topics, you would pull the data from Gnip who is pulling it from Twitter. This fuels niche social networks only looking for data about certain things.

Nov 23

You Just Can’t Hide: YouTube and the Police on the BART

I caught this video of a BART police officer slamming a drunk man’s face into a window from Marshall Kirkpatrick’s Twitter feed:

While I understand that police work is extremely stressful and often requires officers to make life and death situations that I will rarely make in my lifetime, this looks like a scene from a bad action flick. I’m glad BART officials have decided to investigate.

This video was shot on a cell phone video camera. It goes to show you that you are never in control of your message unless you decide to operate in a complete vacuum, which will never happen.

There are so many blogs about how to use social media to promote your business. There seem to be more experts everyday. If it were up to me, there wouldn’t be social media experts. There would be “here’s how to make your customers rock with your product” experts. A social media expert isn’t going to teach your organization to care about what they do everyday.

This video is an example of someone caught in a rough situation who did the wrong thing. The BART officials could have put everyone on Twitter, taught them best practices, and this still could have happened.

Care about the people you deal with every day. Sympathize with what they are going through. Nothing will weather the storm of social media better than understanding the human condition.

Nov 01

Game Theory and the Use of Social Media

I’m reading a book called The Origins of Virtue: Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation by Matt Ridley. I found it on Trey Ratcliff’s book list, which is quite good and I recommend highly.

The book features a perfect study to point out when someone says “Why should I waste my time with Twitter or blogging?” In the study,

“Adam is given £100 and was told to share it with Bob. Adam must say how much he intends to give to Bob and, if Bob refuses the offer, neither will get anything at all. If Bob accepts, then he gets what Adam has offered. The logical thing for Adam to do, assuming he thinks Bob is also a rational fellow, is to offer Bob a derisory sum, say one pound, and keep the remaining £99. Bob should rationally accept this, because then he is £1 better off. If he refuses, he will get nothing.

But not only do very few people offer such a small sum when asked to act Adam’s part, even fewer accept such exiguous offers when playing Bob’s part. By far the commonest offer made by real Adams is £50. Like so many games in psychology, the purpose of the ultimatum bargaining game is to reveal how irrational we are and wonder at the fact. But Frank’s theory has little difficulty explaining this ‘irrationality’, ven finding it to be sensible. People care about fairness as well as self-interest. They do not expect to be offered such a derisory sum by someone in Adam’s position and they refuse it because irrational obstinacy is a good way of telling people so. Likewise, when playing Adam, they make a ‘fair’ offer of 50:50 to show how fair and trustworthy they are should future opportunities arise that depend on trust. Would you risk your good reputation with your friends for a lousy £50?”

Ridley continues by explaining this simple truth: when experimenters try the same exercise but each party suddenly becomes anonymous to each other, the person in the giving role more than often gives £1 to the other party.

Why is the simple acknowledgment of identity so important in fair dealings between two parties? Why are we so much more giving to those we know than we are to strangers?

Identity introduces the concept of accountability. Social media tools allow us to bring our identity and our networks’ identities to the forefront. Basically if you hose somebody, they can now call it out to your friends and followers, which they would not be able to do in the often anonymous world we used to live in.

So you can say you “don’t have time for social media”, but bear in mind that you may end up receiving £1 when you could be getting 50.

Aug 26

Is Your Company’s Social Media Campaign Merely Gilded?

rottensocialmedia
When we think of the poster child for social media, we think of Zappos. The online department store (yes, it’s beyond shoes) puts all of their employees on Twitter and openly shows off its culture online. Apparently it paid off, because it caught the attention of Jeff Bezos of Amazon, who bought Zappos for $928 million.

I’m not a Zappos customer, but I do applaud them for putting their employees on Twitter. Why? Because if I buy something from them, I know I’m not supporting a dysfunctional company that has one person who actually bothers with Facebook and Twitter and 100 people who are miserable because their boss doesn’t respect them.

While I would actually handle their campaign a bit differently by actually accentuating the fun of buying new clothes and shoes and hiring people who understand this, there is no argument: it is easy to wrap your head around what kind of company Zappos is. When we enter a business and see a bunch of miserable teenagers who don’t care to answer our questions, we assume the owner has no pride in his or her business. When we walk in and see a bunch of people who are passionate about what they do, it tends to rub off on us. We focus on the quality of goods and services versus just the price.

The online space is no different. When we see a company Twitter page, we assume they went to some social media seminar or saw it on CNN and decided to give it a whirl. We don’t assume that a company is ethical or actually has good products. When we see that other employees happily use their Twitter feeds and associates their online identity with the company, we can get a clearer picture about how that company works.

Mark my words: the companies that see the greatest ROI by using social media will be the ones who focus on providing the best service instead of getting the most followers or being seen standing next to Jeremiah Owyang. We don’t care if you are social media famous– we care if we get value by using your goods and services. By listening and valuing our customers whether it’s via social media, the phone, or in person, we can foster sustainable brands that will always survive in the future.

Aug 17

How the Real Time Web Will Naturally Sort the Weak from the Strong

Real time web. Mention it at a tech function and you will all of a sudden sound smarter. A lot of people are talking about the real time web happening, but few are mentioning what it will do when it’s in full force.

The real time web in Twitter search and whatever search Facebook decides to build with the FriendFeed guys, changes the game for everything. Even Google seems to reward fresher content with its new Caffeine update. It means essentially that a dissatisfied customer can drop a bomb on you and watch in splendor as it trends in Twitter, in Facebook search, and possibly lists high in Google. It means that one trend can swell to be very big and then die just as quickly. The fact that Google will be more dynamic and Facebook will probably have FriendFeed’s search capabilities means that it will be easier than ever to find what people are currently saying on the web.

Why am I just now blogging about the real time web when ReadWriteWeb covered it earlier this year? Because the only former “real time web” search platforms were Twitter and FriendFeed. Relative to the rest of the web, these are influential but still very obscure services. You can’t use FriendFeed to find reviews of local restaurants or find out the latest football scores. Google is the #1 most used website on the web and Facebook is now #4. That’s a lot of content to index. We will see more perspectives on a range of topics (welcomed or not) than we will have ever seen in the history of mankind.

It’s looking like any one of Facebook’s 250 million plus users will be able to log into his phone and blast a negative or positive review of your business. Then, that review can easily be found by people all over the world by a simple Facebook search. Are you ready for that?

Aug 11

Why Facebook’s Acquisition of FriendFeed is Culturally Significant

Today, Facebook acquired the social network aggregator FriendFeed. Some people on Twitter didn’t understand why I cared. Here’s why:

I have done everything I can to make social networks “user friendly” and mainstream. I don’t WANT tweetups to be cliquish and I have never tried to exclude my circle to just people who have a lot of followers. Whether it was the Blood Drive Tweetup, Twestival, a NameCheap contest, a GeekAustin meetup or another one of my social networking exploits, I’ve always tried to provide incentive for people who normally considered social networking incestuous and lame to try it out. People meet and then actually have something to talk about besides social networking.

Most people groan when you mention another social network. They’ve built their contacts and they don’t intend to spend all of their time rebuilding a network. When someone mentioned FriendFeed, I did the same thing. But then I saw how easy it makes organizing your contacts and how it facilitates conversation across social networking lines. FriendFeed is an aggregator of social networks. People who post on Flickr or YouTube can easily communicate with people who like Twitter without sacrificing the functionality they like. That’s the beauty of an aggregator like FriendFeed–it allows you to see the sum of the parts without having to tear them apart or jumble them into an unusable mess.

Bloggers like Robert Scoble and Louis Gray like FriendFeed for the chatting and real-time search capabilities. You can search a topic on FriendFeed and it will comb through any content from any network, so long as that person uses FriendFeed. Again, very awesome.

Here’s the issue though–very few people actually used it, and those who did were social media early adopters. So it was easy to fall in love with the platform, but the community itself was very limited. This limits the amount of useful data someone like Scoble would get for search, and it means I can’t really follow all the people I would want to follow because they are too busy being interesting and not setting up social networks like FriendFeed.

Steve Rubel pointed out that lifestreaming is finally going “mainstream” by this acquisition. This is my favorite part. Instead of having networks of Twitter users or network of Flickr groups, we can have groups that are united not by their platform of choice, but by their ideas. After all, most people who use social networks do indeed use Facebook. If FriendFeed’s capabilities are integrated into Facebook (which they can be already but most people don’t do), someone who takes pictures of Iran and posts them to Flickr can easily find and track a blogger from the region via Facebook. One artist can post a YouTube video of him playing a Beatles song, and another can put up a blog post of himself singing the same song. A simple FriendFeed search of the title connects them both. Facebook has essentially taken out the 400 pound gorilla that is actually marketing a social network for FriendFeed.

Will this be an issue for the security of our data? If enough people complain, they will change, because there is always the threat that someone like Google will come along and do it better.

Jul 05

How to Make the Most Out of Sacrificing Your Health for Your Startup

Apparently Jeremiah Owyang, Mark Cuban, and Jason Cohen have all sacrificed their health for the sake of their business. I too understand this. At one point, I was doing so much working and blogging, I checked in to a doctor to see if there was any medical reason behind my exhaustion. Turns out I was just working too hard and had to cut back. And I had to learn to say no. It happens.

I understand that in a competitive landscape and in a recession, you have to dig deep and make sacrifices. Here are a few health tips that are easy to execute and will help you stay positive and focused:

1.) Exercise helps you sleep better, and sleep helps you concentrate. There is no point in working harder when you can simply work smarter. If you aren’t getting enough sleep, you could be missing a lot of opportunities to be more effective. I’ve found 20 minutes of swimming to be the most efficient way to get a workout without the injuries you get by running. If you can’t make it to the pool or gym, start by taking the stairs at your office or walking somewhere whenever possible.

For thousands of years, your ancestors probably worked very hard physically to survive. Or they conserved their energy because they had no food to eat. Do you think your body can evolve to be a pile of cheeseburger-eating mush in front of your computer? No. Thousands of generations before us have not evolved to do this and you haven’t either.

2.) Avoid heavy amounts of caffeine. A cup of coffee in the morning stimulates brain activity and actually can be good for your blood pressure. Any athlete will tell you though–caffeine dehydrates you and gives you energy in spikes. Eventually, you’ll come down again and will need more. For a steady stream of energy, try eating dark chocolate, and by dark, I mean 70% or more. Dark chocolate was actually consumed by the Aztecs before battle to give them energy and suppress their appetites.

3.) Take time to stretch. I hate my laptop computer because it makes me hunch over. This hunched position prevents your lungs from breathing at full capacity, which means you have less energy. To reverse the effects of this, try a yoga tabletop position, the wheel, or a handstand against a wall. Any position that essential stretches your pectorals and engages the muscles between your shoulder blades will help.

4.) Skip the soda in lieu of water. Honestly, soda is disgusting. It’s water, high fructose corn syrup, a little bit of flavor and caffeine. And if it’s diet, it’s full of a chemical which is banned by most of the world. Hmm. If you aren’t a water drinker, try drinking iced tea or see if you can find things sweetened with Stevia, which is 1.) an acquired taste just like all diet drinks are, but 2.) is 100% natural and has been used for centuries.

Our ancestors couldn’t get a hold of sugar and fat, so your taste buds are rewarded to encourage its consumption. Guess what? You don’t work as hard as your ancestors did, and fat and sugar aren’t as rare for you. Avoiding overconsumption will mean you won’t “bonk”, i.e. crash, sometime in your day.

5.) Get your veggies and whole grains. Meat. It’s everywhere in Texas. Lions eat meat, and guess what? They are one of the laziest animals on Earth. After it eats, a lion’s energy is directed to its stomach so the huge chunks of fresh can actually be digested. They lounge or sleep all day. As lovely as lounging is, you can’t effectively work that way.

Being fresh can mean you are better in a time of opportunity or crisis. It can mean the inspirational ideas come with less work. You will have the stamina to get through the times when stuff just sucks. You are not some superevolved species of a human being that can look like the Simpsons comic book guy and still be effective (and why would you want to be)? Put 40 hours of awesome work into your day instead of 60 hours of coffee-inspired, YouTube plagued drivel. Take the extra 20 hours and clean your house, see a movie, or just chill.