Aug 31, 2009

Experts

The problem with jumping on the “Who’s Really a Social Media Expert” meme-- as so many have been doing as of late-- is that there’s absolutely no way to do so without coming off as a bitter, jealous failure.

And I’m often at a loss to understand the motivation behind those posts. Sure there are a lot of people out there whose ability to get themselves hired surprises me, but more power to them if they’re able to get work. If they’re frauds, they’ll get found out soon enough.

But I’ve been in this business long enough to know that sometimes just hiring someone for a certain role is all it takes to get the troops motivated. And that sometimes, someone who’s more motivational speaker than marketing expert can prove to be the right person for that role.

The “I-Know-Better” urge isn’t just limited to rooting out allegedly unqualified social media experts. It’s been playing out in the whole “Teens Don’t Twitter---Wait, Yes They Do” farce over on Mashable and Silicon Alley Insider.

It’s not the constantly changing tone of the articles that’s at fault-- writing on such tight deadlines rarely results in careful journalism-- it’s the (literally) hundreds of authoritative declarations on why teens allegedly forsake Twitter from commenters fully convinced that they alone know the true reasons and what’s more, that the world is just waiting for them to share this enlightenment.

Now I’m not really sure what feeds this need other than good old-fashioned insecurity: sounding like an expert (and/or declaring that others are not) makes us feel better about our own status.

And while that’s relatively harmless, the need to pontificate has a funny way of preventing us from doing the one thing that just about everyone agrees is most important online: listening.

Aug 21, 2009

Location, Location, Location


As Twitter announces plans to make location-based tweeting an option and as FourSquare continues to take off amongst the digerati, I’m reminded that there’s still a goodly number of people who view EZ Pass (the computerized toll-paying system) as a true invasion of privacy.

It’s possible they have a point.

The promise of location based social networking has advertisers all but drooling. They’ll be able to target consumers in context with ads that are relevant and timely.

The typical example given by boosters is that a consumer who posts that they are getting hungry can quickly be hit with a coupon from a nearby restaurant they’ve eaten at in the past, or where their friends have eaten in the past.

And that all sounds well and good: it’s lunchtime, I’m hungry and Green Garden Wraps, one of my favorite restaurants, shoots me a coupon. What could be better?

If I don’t know where to eat, I can see where my friends have eaten and when I announce I’m going to The Parkview Diner, I’ll find I’ve been sent a coupon for first time customers..

The problem starts however, when I start getting coupons from ten other restaurants. All of which I’ve (purposely or accidentally) given permission to. Some of which aren’t even particularly local. (Don’t think that’ll happen? Just look at the physical junk mail you get. And unlike emails, those letters cost cash money.)

Advertisers can’t be trusted to exhibit restraint. Certainly not all of them. And it’s not their fault: there will always be agencies and other practitioners who’ll encourage them to more or less spam customers. Because you never know when someone might want to drive 25 miles for a hamburger, right?

So rather than wind up with a useful system that provides me with ads-I-want-when-I-want-them, I now have a system that hounds me based on where I am rather than just where I live. I mean it’s not too hard to imagine some nightmare world where I sit down to breakfast and my computer starts trying to convince me to have Corn Flakes instead of Special K, and didn’t I really want a Chiquita banana with that?

An unlikely scenario, of course, but so is one where advertisers all act responsibly and with as much respect for the consumer as possible.

(And speaking of location, I'll be off on vacation at a very nice beachfront location next week, so catch you all the week of the 30th.)

Aug 17, 2009

SXSW Panel Proposal: Don't Suck


It's that time of year again when we get to vote on SXSW panel proposals.

If you remember, last year, this video of a panel I did with Brian Morrissey, Ian Schafer, Michael Lebowitz and Noah Brier (featuring a special guest appearance by Cam Beck) was selected for Extended Content.

This year, I'm hoping to make it to the big time with a live panel called "Don't Suck: Sound Strategies For The Social Web" and YOUR VOTE COUNTS.

You can read all about the panel and vote for it here. Even tell all your friends to vote for it. Maybe promote it on Twitter and Facebook.

Or not.

Here's a brief description from the SXSW site:
Success in social media boils down to two simple words: Don't Suck. What that means is that if people actually like your brand, they will rally to your defense when missteps happen and they will do your advertising for you. This panel will discuss ways companies can make sure their brands don't suck and offer up case studies of brands who have successfully used "not sucking" as a way to turn around a potentially bad situation.
(FWIW, you can see the original "Don't Suck" post here.)

Aug 14, 2009

Tweens On Twitter - The PowerPoint



The frequent appearance of tween oriented content on Twitter's trending topics list had me wondering what was going on: why, if few people under 24 were allegedly using Twitter, were Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers all over the twitter stream. Was it spam? Or something more insidious?

The presentation above explains it all.

Feedback welcome.

UPDATE: Check out the comments on Slideshare from noted anthropologist Danah Boyd, of the famed study pointing out class differences in MySpace and Facebook users (long before said differences became glaringly obvious). Great stuff and flattered to have her insight.

Aug 9, 2009

Mad Men No More


I found it somehow telling that the debut of the new season of Mad Men coincides with buzz around a party that showcases just how low today's Mad Men have fallen.

Ad men, back in 1962, were a pretty good catch. They made what my grandmother would call “a very nice living,” certainly comparable to that of other white collar professionals like doctors and lawyers. Advertising was considered a glamorous profession and working for an agency made you sort of a big deal.

How that’s changed is best seen in the above promo for a much-reported-upon party called “Fashion Meets Finance” whose goal is to introduce women in the fashion industry to men in the finance industry, because… well, because guys in finance are rich and successful.

A seriously mercenary take on dating, marriage and all that, but here’s the kicker: the tag line for the event (as seen in the screen shot above) is “Ladies, you don’t need to worry that the cute guy at the bar works in advertising.

Which is a polite way of saying “Shallow gold diggers, you don’t need to worry that the cute guy at the bar is a loser who’ll never make all that much money.”

And while discussion of whether one would actually want to meet the sort of people who attend these events is beside the point (I think we can all agree we wouldn’t) what’s relevant is that “works in advertising” is now cultural shorthand for “low-paid white collar loser.”

That’s a long way from Don Draper’s reality, where gold diggers considered ad men fair game and a reflection of where our business is heading.

You can see it in Erik Proulx’s excellent documentary Lemonade (check out the trailer here) about how laid off ad people are making new lives for themselves in fields only tangentially related to the ad business. And it’s not, as some blog commenters have suggested, because they weren’t really committed enough—it’s because the industry they signed up for doesn’t exist anymore and the jobs and skills they had no longer carry the sort of prestige and salaries they once did.

Which is not to suggest that I think we need to go back to that era. It’s over and done with and isn’t coming back. Ever. It’s just that every so often it’s worthwhile to take a pulse check. And the unlikely convergence of Mad Men and Fashion Meets Finance provides us with a very good reason to do so

Aug 5, 2009

Facebook Is Not Twitter. And Why That Should Make Us Happy


Two trends I’ve noticed lately: (1) the last stragglers seems to have given up having Twitter automatically update Facebook and adopted Selective Twitter or some other plan instead. Like so many of us who were active on both platforms a year ago, they’ve realized that their Facebook friends, an unlikely mélange of childhood pals, high school and college classmates, neighbors and work mates really don’t care what Mashable just said about Four Square. At least not on an hourly basis. Amazing what a bit of eye rolling, gentle ribbing and good old fashioned peer pressure can do.
Facebook has emerged as the place where all the disparate elements of your life converge. I find it oddly comforting in a warm and fuzzy sort of way when I’ll post a picture or something and get comments from a range of friends from different eras of my life who then start talking to each other. I don’t know about you, but I think it’s pretty cool the way Facebook can unite disparate threads of my life, and introduce people who actually know me on more than a superficial level.
Which is why I’ve not been surprised by trend #2: the expression of surprise over the fact that Twitter is a much better place to get traction for links of all sorts than Facebook.
You see the sort of people who enjoy sharing links gravitate to Twitter because it’s where they find people who give them the best links to share. Most of them have no idea who these people they’re following are: they’re merely vessels who provide them with the latest news stories and breaking memes on topics they’re interested in. (Said topics, in my experience, being invariably centered around the nexus of technology, marketing and social media.)
So it stands to reason they’ll find those links far more valuable than links provided by the kid who grew up next door to them, someone they spent most of their childhood with, but whose shared Facebook links are mostly to local news stories about her kids hockey team.
And you know, that’s all for the best.
For a while there, it looked like Twitter and Facebook might be converging, especially given the Twitter-like feel of the Facebook redesign, but now it looks like they’ve taken distinctly separate paths.
I remember noting back then that Facebook is about people you know and Twitter is about people you don’t know* and that the former is going to be the more popular proposition. That’s a distinction that still holds true and has, more than anything defined their divergent paths.
Yet another reason why evolution is just so fascinating to watch.
*Some people suggested making that “people you want to know” but I’m still not 100% buying it: while many people do use Twitter for networking, I think a lot more are more interested in retweeting their Twitter pals than in actually getting to know them


Aug 4, 2009

An Actual Reason For The Toad Stool Facebook Fan Page


I've been searching for an actual reason why someone would want to join the Toad Stool's Facebook fan page.

And I've finally found one: Posterous.

I have set up a parallel site over at http://toadstool.posterous.com

I will post shorter pieces on there, often comments on breaking news stories or similar stories that I found interesting for some reason or other and seemed to require more than 140 characters worth of commentary (plus the hope that you'll add some of your own.)

And if you're a Toad Stool fan on Facebook, those posts will show up in your news stream, giving you an incentive to actually become a Facebook fan. (Previously, all you'd get were the same posts you could get here, which really wasn't much of a value proposition.)

So check it out: you can become a fan right here.

PS: I put up for Posterous links today. That was mostly to experiment with the platform and see how the whole posting thing worked. Future output will not be nearly that bountiful.

Aug 3, 2009

Why We Need Marketing General Contractors


One of the most frustrating aspects of working in the agency business today is the client's insistence that the various agencies they've hired all figure out a way to work together without any sort of leadership or guidance. Or, even worse, being asked to work under the guidance of the client’s lead television and print agency, which is akin to letting the proverbial fox guard the hen house.
The solution here is simple. On paper, anyway: the client marketing department needs to serve as a general contractor. Or at the very least, hire one. The Marketing GC will be the one looking at the big picture and telling all the sub-contractors who does what and when. Assigning tasks and checking to make sure that the entire structure hangs together and looks like it came from the same place.
Because right now, the free-for-all is not working. It’s akin to hiring a plumber, an electrician, a mason and a carpenter and telling them you have $500,000 to build a house… what have you got for me?
So the plumber suggests golden faucets and the latest under floor hot water heating. The carpenter is all about teak cabinetry and Brazilian cherrywood floors. The mason is looking at antique Italian tiles and the electrician has an entire light show planned every time you enter a room.
Each has magically managed to come up with a plan that costs… $490,000. (Because it would be, you know, tacky, to charge the full $500K.)
And while the house has many impressive features, the sorts of things fellow plumbers, electricians and masons ooh and ahh at, nothing really hangs together and the house looks nothing like what the homeowner wanted.
Hence the general contractor. Whose role it will be to make sure that everything does indeed hang together. This may well be one of the new job functions of the digital age: a strategist with a strong marketing and financial background, who has a clear vision of what the final product should look like and what it costs to deliver it. Who’ll hire the best people for each job and make sure they work together and don’t overcharge or underdeliver.
The result will be an execution that looks and feels like it came from the same company. Something that we don’t see all that often these days.
Someone’s got to step up to the plate first though. Any takers?