Dec 15, 2010

"Suck Less" Works Too

Engineers and techies hate Verizon. They’ve got a list of complaints a mile long about the cell carrier, ranging from its insistence on filling phones with useless branded applications that duplicate superior third-party ones to the overall inferiority of its product line.

Marketing pros marvel at what I’ve heard described as Verizon’s “death wish” – the fact that the carrier has passed on opportunities that many have felt would have put its rivals out of business. (The iPhone, for example.)

Consumers, on the other hand, don’t seem to mind. They’ve focused on the fact that a Verizon phone generally does what a phone is supposed to do: make and receive telephone calls, far more reliably than any of its competitors. (This is especially true in major cities like New York and San Francisco.) For many people, that’s proven to be a far more important factor than the model of their phone or the clunkiness of its apps.

It’s an interesting paradigm: in an industry where consumers have little love for any of the major players, the company that’s focused on the basics has proven to be the gold standard.

That “best of the worst” theory doesn’t make for a sexy marketing strategy, but by actually doing the groundwork, Verizon has established enough word-of-mouth buzz to overcome its rivals marketing-based efforts at stealing the “best coverage” crown. And while no company should strive to be the least lousy player in the market, there’s a lesson in there about sticking to the basics.

Dec 9, 2010

Do Location Based Check-Ins Have To Be Real Time?

One of the biggest hassles of location based services like FourSquare is the actual process of checking in. You arrive at the restaurant, your friends are already waiting at the table and there’s not really a socially acceptable way  to whip out your phone and begin the 5 minute ignore-everyone-at-the-table-and-stare-at-your-phone process that a check-in often entails.

But what if check-ins weren’t real time? The original reason for making them real time was so that your friends could find you if you were out in a nearby bar. (It also played into the whole badge/mayor game thing.) Which is one reason to use an LBS, but far from the only one: more often than not we’re checking in from our office or the supermarket or a client lunch and no one’s really looking for us at those places.

What if location based services evolved into recommendation engines: here’s where I was today, I ate at Elm Street Café and recommend the artichoke soup. I bought a Calvin Klein sweater at Macy’s. They’re on sale this week.

Most of the time when I check in to FourSquare (or Gowalla, or Facebook Places) the results I’m seeing from my friends are several hours old anyway. So at lunchtime, I’m finding out where they had breakfast or drinks the night before.

A location-based service that was not real time would seem to have a number of benefits:

  1. Ease of Use: I’m thinking most people would be more prone to “check-in” at the end of the day or whenever they had a spare 5 minutes alone and could input the highlights of their day rather than the random stops that comprise most people’s LBS check-in log. It also stops checking-in from interrupting a fun experience and forcing us out of participant mode and into reporter mode (e.g. the restaurant scene I laid out earlier.)
  2. Deeper Engagement: Rather than just a rushed click to let the world know “Hey! I’m at the dry cleaners!” someone doing an end-of-day check-in is more likely to add tips and recommendations too, especially given that they’ve had some time to reflect on the day’s experiences. 
  3. Increased Loyalty: If I’m bothering to check in at Elm Street Café after the fact, chances are I’m a fan of the place. And if they were to send me a coupon for a free artichoke soup, chances are I’d use it next time I went. That’s a lot more appealing than getting hit with random coupons from a store I’m already in, particularly if I’m checking in as I’m waiting on line to pay. (Which is often where I find myself pulling out my phone - not, as many have postulated, upon entering.) 
  4. More Valuable Information: When checking in becomes thoughtful rather than random, informed rather than scattered, marketers (and other users) are provided with more useful information: did Bob check in from the dry cleaners because there was someone in front of him on line and he was bored, or did he check in to give them props for the way they iron his shirts? That sort of information is much more likely to be offered during a non-spontaneous check-in. 
There are still plenty of situations (concerts, conferences. etc/) where real-time check-in can be a valuable tool and I’m not proposing that sites eliminate it. I’d also think these sites would want to set some sort of limit (24 hours?) on how much time passed between visit and check-in.

I think eliminating the requirement that all check-ins be real-time would greatly enhance both the appeal and the value of location-based services.

If nothing else, it would make the process a whole lot easier.

Nov 28, 2010

How Many Friends Have I Really Got?

Facebook recently introduced their version of email, pointedly called "not-email" which is intended to let users talk with their friends in real time via email, text, IM and messaging.

A noble attempt, but one i suspect is doomed to fail. That's because it's all but impossible to separate out our "friends" from the rest of the people we know. This is not a technology issue, it's a psychology issue: people we consider friends may only consider us acquaintances and vice versa. And once we open up that can of worms, we're talking about a group much larger than our actual friends.

Remember Plaxo? It was a LinkedIn style platform that tried to get us to segregate our friends into three seemingly easy groupings: Friends, Work and Family. Only it wasn't so easy. One day you got an invitation from Bob, who you considered a casual work acquaintance, asking you to connect as a friend. Fair enough. You were likely flattered that Bob considered you a friend. But if Bob was listed as a friend, then Arun, Maria, Dave and Kevin, all of whom you had listed as work connections, needed to be made "friends" since you were certainly closer to them than you were to Bob, and it wouldn't make sense to have him as a Friend and them as mere co-workers.

And that's the problem: friendship is never as simple as a math equation. The people most of us consider friends rarely have us on an equivalent plane of friendship. So the potential for hurt feelings is quite high. And the second I give my Facebook email to an acquaintance is the second its value as a communication device with my inner circle diminishes in value 100%.

It's human nature and I'm not sure if technology can fix it. The best bet seems to be to maintain various levels of communication and allow water (or friendship) to seek its own level. That way we're not forced to declare our level of friendship with someone based on our communication vehicle.

A bit more complicated, no doubt, but ultimately less stressful.

Nov 23, 2010

Missed Opportunity For Yelp

Yelp just announced that it was giving restaurant owners the opportunity to “incentivize repeat checkins and reward patrons with three different offer types: percent off, free or fixed price offers.” (emphasis added)

It’s the “repeat” part I have a problem with: Yelp is blowing a prime opportunity by putting the emphasis on repeat check-ins rather than first-time check-ins.

I’m guessing that most Yelp mobile users are somewhere away from their home base: either in another part of town or out of town all together. If they are using the mobile service as a way to find a local restaurant, an offer of 10% off, a free soda or prix fixe dinner may well sway them towards one of two or three equally acceptable (albeit unknown) options.

They’re unlikely to use the mobile app to check-in to a restaurant they frequent because there’s no reason for them to be on the mobile app: they already know where the restaurant is and aren't likely to use the mobile app to look up new reviews. If the restaurant pushes the offer (via in-store signage or something on the menu) repeat customers might take advantage of it and check-in, but that sort of activity does nothing to help sell-in Yelp’s main advantage, which is as a restaurant review site. (A free restaurant review site, at that, which showcases the tastes of twenty-somethings versus the paid Zagat sites whose audience skews older.)

Allowing restaurants to lure in first time users would not only solidify Yelp’s reputation, but would also possibly give more gravitas to the check-ins if they are pushed out to other social media sites: a user has no incentive to say something positive about a restaurant they are eating at for the first time, particularly once they’ve received their free root beer.

The missed opportunity here is yet another example of brands jumping on the bright shiny object bandwagon and letting the cart drive the horse rather than thinking about what their ultimate value proposition is to the consumer and how to use social media tools to support that proposition.

Nov 10, 2010

RockMelt: Initial Impressions

Like all the rest of the usual suspects, I was able to get my hands on the new RockMelt  browser the other day in its pre-release beta version. (Thanks to Bill Green of MTLB for that one.


It imported all my info from Safari pretty seamlessly (though passwords and permissions  don’t automatically install.)

It’s fairly simple to set up. But you do need to set it up for it to be useful. That means deciding which of your friends/family members get the 14 coveted widget slots on the left side of the browser, and which sites with RSS feeds you’re going to select as widgets on the right.

The widgets all appear as pop-up windows over the browser (though you can change that in the settings) and you can even detach them and drag them to a far corner of your browser.

One cool feature of the widgets is that they are outlined in blue when one of your friends or websites has new activity so you don’t have to keep checking.

When you Google something from the toolbar, the results shows up as a separate widget-like. ad-free, pop-over window. That way you get to check out the suggested sites without having to leave the results list. I’m still not 100% sure this is more efficient than opening up every link that looks like it might be relevant in a separate tab and rifling through them, but I’m willing to give it a shot.


You can @reply and retweet from the Twitter widget. Even share to Facebook. But if you want to write your own original tweet, you need to open up That’s not overly efficient. (UPDATE: Seems you can post to Twitter or update Facebook by clicking on your profile pic in the upper right. Though that still takes you away from the Twitter app, so my original comment holds. Sort of.)

The Friend widgets are ultimately not all that useful: the Chat function is Facebook chat. Which lots of people don’t use (or have permanently hidden) because unlike AIM or Skype, Facebook chat can be highly interruptive, especially if you’ve just jumped on for a quick Bejeweled Blitz break.

My other options with the Friend widget are sending Facebook messages or writing on their Wall. Which some people will no doubt find useful, but since I rarely use either feature, it renders the widgets sort of pointless.


RockMelt works well as a social browser. There are some features that need to be ironed out, but the basic idea is solid and it functions well as an actual browser.

The problem is that all the social stuff is very distracting when you’re trying to actually do work. I mean if you can always shut down your Twitter app and navigating to Facebook is a conscious decision. The little side widgets very quickly start to make you feel like your friends are standing outside the house waiting for you to finish your homework so you can come out and play. That’s not all that conducive to getting work done.

Off-hours, it’s not a bad toy. RockMelt definitely helps keep the social experience front and center and the “share” button on the browser makes it easy to post whatever it is you’re looking at to either Facebook or Twitter.

But ultimately, it’s not that special. There are plenty of plug-ins for Firefox and Chrome if I want to access Facebook all day long. Plenty of people download them. I never have. I use TBuzz or Amplify to share links straight from Safari.

Widgets and widget like objects are great for quick updates, but they pale beside the  actual website. So when I realized I’d been spending much of my time on RockMelt on, I knew what my verdict was going to be.

Nov 1, 2010

The Value of Integration

So the 800 number at the bottom of the ad was replaced by the website address, which in turn was replaced by the ubiquitous Facebook URL. And brands are investing heavily in their Facebook pages, giving users the chance to do everything from having “conversations” with the brand to ordering pizzas and airline tickets to entering contests and games.

Which makes sense at first blush: you want to be where your users are and Facebook’s got 500 million some odd users.

But... (and there’s always a but)

All that data about all those users is going straight to Mr. Zuckerberg’s servers. Not yours.

You can make assumptions based on what you can find out about your “fans” from looking at those parts of their profiles they’ve elected to make public, but that’s about it.

What’s more, you’ve got a website somewhere that’s going underutilized, a site where you can actually collect user data and control content, plus customize the look and feel to your heart’s content.

Plus you’ve got more and more users who primarily interact with you on their mobile devices where they can’t really do a whole lot with your cool new Facebook tab.

Which is why brands need to look at ways to integrate all their various and sundry touchpoints. That doesn’t mean that they all need to look identical, but rather, that all your content needs to live on a single platform based around your brand site where it can be ported out to social media’s walled gardens and open APIs (and vice versa) without your brand losing control over user data.

And while your immediate goals may not call for any sort of social CMS, there’s a good chance that as social media becomes more ubiquitous, more like Charlene Li’s famous analogy “like air” there’s going to be a lot of value in knowing who your “fans” and "followers" are and how and where you can reach them. (Facebook and Twitter are great, low-barrier ways to initially attract users, who can then be funneled over to your site for deeper engagement. But funneling them is a whole lot easier when you already know who they are.)

An integrated approach has other benefits as well. Various social media will come and go. At some point Facebook will become AOL. (It wasn't all that long ago that ads ended with "AOL Keyword: Compaq") Mobile apps may give way to some other platform. But your brand’s URL is a constant. It’s the one place consumers will always be able to find you, the one place you own.

Now of course creating a platform with the ability to host all your content, and making your brand site the nexus of your digital presence is exactly what my current employer, KickApps does. But that’s precisely why they are my current employer: we share a vision of the web where user data is paramount and brands act like brands, not buddies. (aka “Your Brand Is Not My Friend.”)

As the social web becomes just “the web,” the ability to quickly share and control content will become more and more important. Which is why having a single, integrated platform makes so much sense.

To me, anyway.

Oct 13, 2010

Kindle vs iBooks: User Experience Comparison

I would have bet a three figure sum of money that I would not wind up being a fan of e-books. An avid reader with fairly quirky tastes, I really liked the feel of the pages, the sense of getting to the end of a book, etc.

Or so I thought.

I got my first e-book as a freebie - it was something I'd planned on buying anyway, so I figured nothing ventured, nothing lost.

I was hooked. The advantage of being able to read anytime, anyplace (I was using Kindle on my iPhone) trumped the small pages and lack of physical product. Plus the whole opening-the-book-up-to-where-you-left-off thing was a huge plus to an inveterate bookmark loser  like myself.

Having recently had the chance to experience Apple's iBook service (on both an iPad and iPhone) I'm finding myself partial to the Kindle, with one major reservation.

The Kindle does synching much, much better, especially between the iPhone and iPad. iBooks was always messing up or not synching at all, which is a huge hassle since you can't really thumb through an ebook. Not sure what "Whispersync" (Kindle's name for its service) is supposed to refer to -- is synching particularly noisy?-- but it works.

As does Kindle's tap'n'turn functionality. The iBook's page turn thing is visually great, but it's sort of a pain in the butt after a while - pages don't turn immediately on the iPhone and even on the iPad it's too easy to move ahead an extra page or two by accident.

Kindle recently introduced two column reading on the iPad, so when you have it sideways it looks like an open book (a feature iBooks already had) and that's a big plus - it's easier to prop the iPad case open on my lap sideways and it makes me feel like I'm making more progress;)

The one area where iBooks is way ahead though is the in-app screen dimming feature. When I read at night, I keep the lights off so as not to wake up my wife, but in order to do so, I keep the screen dimmed as far as it will go. (It also makes reading in the dark easier-- a bright screen is really bright in a dark room.)

iBooks have a button that lets you dim the screen right from the app and only for the app. With Kindle, I have to open up the iPad or iPhone Settings and manually adjust the brightness (and then re-adjust it in the AM) which is definitely a bother.

That said, Kindle's superior synching ability is putting it ahead for me right now. The interface may not be as cute as iBooks, with its page turns and bookshelf, but for now, I'll take being on the right page.

Oct 3, 2010

Creating A Two-Tier System of Customer Service

One of the things that often gets overlooked in the debate over whether companies should use Twitter for customer service and whether it’s just catering to the loudest whiners, is the difference between the types of people likely to be manning the corporate Twitter accounts and the corporate phone banks

The former are likely to be college graduates with an interest in marketing and social media who have a direct line to the powers that be. DItto the people tweeting them: they are likely to be more educated, more prominent and more savvy than your average consumer.

So is it fair to compare the relative value of the two until they’re more balanced? Right now, Twitter is a toy that marketers get to play with. Complaints that come in through Twitter are infrequent enough that the clever marketer makes a big deal about them, playing up what a great job they’re doing with customer service via Twitter, while ignoring the other 99% of their complainants, who are being sent to a call center in Bangalore.

It’s not a foolish move short-term: the company gets a lot of buzz for their excellent and caring responsiveness, people are impressed with their web-savvy, and points are scored all around.

The problem is when there’s no action taken as a result of the Twitter-based customer service. When what happens on the web turns out to be a Potemkin village, and the average customer is still treated to an inferior experience with no attempt made to improve it. That’s admittedly a cynical view of how many companies are using Twitter, but it’s likely an accurate one: too many companies are too busy listening to the people telling them to use Twitter and other social media to “listen” to their customers, but they are too busy or too distracted to actually take any action about what they're hearing

And that’s the thing: all the well-intentioned listening in the world won’t make a difference unless you fundamentally change the way your company does business and start respecting your customers and giving all of them a voice and a chance at a satisfactory experience. Creating a two-tier system, wherein well-connected social media mavens have their complaints treated by well-trained representatives with the power to take concrete action, while the hoi polloi deal with unempowered overseas phone voices with the power to do nothing more than apologize profusely is not the best way to take advantage of this new medium.

Sep 24, 2010

Credit Where It's Due

We spend a lot of time pointing out what brands are doing wrong, so it's nice to be able to point out something they're doing right.

Maui Jim sunglasses, whose corporate address is a sunny 1 Aloha Drive, despite being located in Peoria, Illinois, is the perpetrator of a recent random act of corporate kindness.

A few weeks back, I accidentally broke a pair of glasses I had (sat on them and snapped the armpiece.)

I called, and they said for $10, they could replace it. I filled out the online form, headed down to Mailboxes, Etc., and sent it off.

Not a whole lot of time went by. I wasn't at the point where I was wondering if they were lost. But I came home to find a box with my (repaired) glasses, a brand new case, and a note apologizing for having taken so much time to do the repair, so much time, in fact, that they were going to waive the fee.

So there you have it. A delay that couldn't have amounted to more than a day or two, and Maui Jim fixed my two year old sunglasses for free. And they included a nice, personalized ("Dear Alan...") note as well.

You can bet I'm going to get my next pair of sunglasses from them. Well done.

Sep 22, 2010

First Post on iMediaConnection

Building on my iStrategy presentation "Why Your App Will Fail" is this piece in iMediaConnection with the more workaday title "Best and Worst Practices For Building Branded Apps."

Same general premise, but in article form. You can check it out at iMediaConnection.

Sep 16, 2010

iStrategy Today

I've been in Chicago the past few days, meeting with agencies and socializing/networking at the iStrategy conference. Met a lot of great people and was forced to up my knowledge of KickApps and what it is we actually do ;)

Today I am on stage to give a talk on "Why Your App Will Fail."

The answer is all the usual reasons, beginning with the most basic one of never asking "why?"  As always, my goal is to make it light and interesting and let the audience have some fun. Thanks to the folks at Euro for sitting through a dry run of it yesterday, as a preamble to my "Why KickApps" pitch.

10:55 AM CDT at the Allegro Hotel in Chicago.

Sep 12, 2010

New, from the Rutger's Center for Management Development Blog

This fall, I am going to be joining a number of well-known bloggers and other digital media types are going to be teaching the Social Media track at the Rutgers Center for Management Development, an innovative "mini-MBA" program that's been getting a lot of press.

Among the names you might know who'll be joining me are Christina "CK" Kerley, David Berkowitz, Ian Schafer, Dr. Augustine Fou, David Polinchok, Beth Harte and Mark Schaefer (among others.)

The center has gotten permission to start a blog for the faculty and you can find my first post, "TV is Social? Or is it?" up right now along with some other thought provoking posts.

Definitely worth bookmarking the site and adding it to you RSS feed.

Aug 30, 2010

The Sweet By Design Experiment

Author and Euro CCO Steffan Postaer is trying an interesting experiment with his latest book, "Sweet By Design."

He's posting chapters online, inviting comments and also allowing anyone who is so inspired to post their shot at the book's cover.

Postaer reports that the experiment has succeeded beyond his expectations, drawing over 10,000 in 25 days. Pretty impressive, given that only the first quarter of the book is available and the book cover submissions are (by and large) polished and professional looking. (The prize for the winning book cover is an iPad... and the chance to get published. That sort of crowdsourcing has drawn much debate, but Postaer does not seem to be hurting for submissions.)

As for the amount of traffic: this is not Postaer's first published novel, and fans of his previous work may account for some of the traffic, but as the author himself notes, it's still pretty remarkable. On the other hand, Dickens published his books in installments in magazines (which likely upped the anticipation level) so perhaps Postaer is on to something.

You can check it all out here.

The Value of Entertainment Value

One of the most notable things about television advertising over the past several years is how bad it had become.

From a pure entertainment perspective, anyway.

Whether it was fear from clients, a lack of effort from agencies or just a general mood that precluded creativity, most of what was on the air was something of a wasteland. Yes, the usual suspects had the usual clever spots, but most of the time we seemed to be fast-forwarded through pods of pharma commercials with attractive 50something women doing tai chi.

So it's with great pleasure that I am sharing two spots that have made me laugh over repeating viewings and--- in a feat that's not all that easy to accomplish-- seem to appeal to the whole family. (e.g. it's not the sort of hipster humor that wins ad awards but leaves Grandma scratching her head.) And that, I'd have to say, is the real achievement here: two clever spots that can pretty much run on anything from ESPN to Disney Channel to Lifetime without skipping a beat. That's a huge accomplishment. And, I'm hoping, a signal to brands that this sort of across-the-board humor is indeed possible.

The first is from the long-running Geico campaign, but this is definitely one of the best. The casting and script are just brilliant.

The next is from a new campaign for Chef Boyardee, a childhood favorite that's gets pushed to the wayside as kids hit their tweens and teens. What's nice about this spot is that you can sort of see the brief (if you work in the business, anyway) but the spot is just so clever, you don't mind.


Aug 25, 2010

Living In Twitter

There was an article in the Times magazine a few weeks back on how much the notion of "living in public" affects our lives even when we're off line. The author was recounting how she found herself ruining a sweet moment with her daughter reading books out on the lawn by thinking how she would phrase the tweet... or if she even should tweet about it.

I've noticed myself doing this in a number of situations ever since and I suspect many of you have as well.

It's the downside to living a web-enabled social life and I do wonder how the experience eventually affects everything we do if, after a while, no one sounds truly authentic, but rather like a self-conscious public version of authentic.

Particularly because so many people don't do self-conscious very well. At least not yet. All too often there's some cringe-inducing verbiage signaling the speaker wants to remind us that they're a truly deep thinker. The underwhelmed endorsement of something the endorser suspects they should be heartily endorsing. Or the blatant attempt at currying favor with someone whom the supplicant thinks will make them seem hipper or at the very least smarter.

And these are people, not brands.

What do brands get to sound like, especially because they do need to be eternally self-conscious?

For many brands, spontaneity is not an issue. They are in more or less perma-response mode, answering questions/dealing with problem from their audience and providing a "helpful" response. We have zero expectation of spontaneity or authenticity from brands online, though there are admittedly times when we'd like to see someone do a Steven Slater and tell a difficult customer where to go.

But since that's not happening, all we're left with is the nearly identical voice of brands all trying to be cheerful and helpful and likable leavened by the occasional rogue CEO (think Gary Vaynerchuk or Mark Cuban) who've made themselves the brand.

I'd argue that's still a big improvement: I'll take the uniformly perky voice brands adopt online today over the deafening silence of the last hundred years.

As for people... it may all go back to the "village" theory, which basically says that for thousands of years we all lived in little villages where everyone knew everyone else's business 24/7/365 and that it was only the brief period following the Industrial Revolution where that rhythm got disrupted and that our current American lives, filled with anonymity and reinvention are not that healthy and actually somewhat deviant.

And so it may just take us some time before we get used to living in "village" mode again and not caring that everyone is going to know what we're up to before we regain our ability to live unselfconsciously, albeit publicly.

Aug 20, 2010

Why Doesn't This TV Have A Pause Button?

The NY Times Sunday Magazine is running yet another story about those Wacky Millennials and how darn ornery they are.

Though at least this time the author has the common sense to admit that (a) similar stories citing fairly identical attributes have been written about every single group of twentysomethings since World War II and (b) all these stories tend to focus on upper middle class kids, since they’re the ones with the financial resources to take their time settling down and starting their adult lives.

(Sidenote: given Google, you'd think the people who write the myriad "millennials are changing the workplace/world" articles would do their homework and reference the identical articles that were written about Xers and Boomers back in the 60s, 70s and 80s.)

From where I’m standing though, the biggest shift in the white collar workforce happened sometime in the mid-late 1980s or thereabouts, when PCs were introduced as standard equipment. Suddenly, no matter what industry you were in, you had people who could compose directly on the computer and print out their own documents. (Prior to this, you were either composing with a pad and pen or you were dictating. If you’ve ever tried to dictate a letter, it’s definitely a lost art and not an easy skill to learn.) This meant an end to mad typing skills, and, ultimately, the “typing pool” -- a room many larger organizations had where the fifth iteration of a document was retyped quickly and flawlessly.

But corporate structure aside, the ability to conceptualize on a computer screen, even a black one with amber or green type, was a huge shift in the way people worked with and thought about media in general - screens had previously been a place where we watched video as part of a shared experience, so reading and writing on them was a huge leap. Trite as it now sounds, word processing in many ways set the stage for our comfort with the internet, another place where we interacted with type on a screen.

The next paradigm shift in media is likely to come from the generation that’s currently in elementary and preschool, kids born after the year 2000. Many of whom (the upper middle class American ones, anyway) don’t remember a world without 3G internet connectivity from mom or dad’s smart phone, which means that for them, the internet truly is “like air” and they see it the way the rest of us see electricity or running water. That means everything lives in the cloud for them, nothing is locked into a time-based schedule and that’s got to signal a shift in how they experience the media they're consuming.

That shift, what it means and how we can start preparing for it, is the topic of my proposed SXSW panel this year, entitled “Why Doesn’t This TV Have A Pause Button?”  You can see all the details around it and vote for it here (voting counts for 30% of the decision.)


Aug 10, 2010

The Next Part of the Journey

It was three years ago that I first wrote a blog post entitled “Your Brand Is Not My Friend” that proved to be the launching pad for my career as a strategist.

The premise behind it was that people primarily use social media sites like Facebook for socializing and don’t want to hear brand messages when they’re on there. (There are exceptions for “Prom King Brands” - brands with a cool factor - and for brands that have managed, a la Old Spice, to provide something uniquely entertaining.)

So it’s with that thought in mind, that I’m announcing the next step in my career. I am now the Managing Director of Social Media Strategy for KickApps, helping to start up their strategy consulting practice.

KickApps, for those of you unfamiliar with the company, lets brands build, maintain and manage custom social media solutions. That means everything from Facebook integration to video to comments to community, all of them residing right on the brand’s own website. My charge is to add strategy to the mix, to help KickApps’ clients figure out the “why” in addition to the “what” and “how.” In that endeavor, I’ll be joined by the very able Justin Chase, a Digitas veteran who tweets as @JC6451 (in case you wanted to start following him or something.)

I’ve known the team at KickApps for some time now and have spoken at a number of their events (along with the likes of Charlene Li, Mario Armstrong and Sandy Carter.) So I’m excited to be starting up a strategy consulting arm for them, as in many ways this a logical next step for me, particularly because their focus on letting brands own their own social media data is something I really do feel strongly about.

On the off chance you were worried, I will not be abandoning this blog (if anything, I’ll be posting more frequently) and I wanted to thank all of you for your support over the years: the readers, the retweeters and above all, the commenters. You’ve been what's kept me going and what makes writing this blog so much fun.

I hope you’ll stick around for the next part of the journey.

PS: You can find the full press release here, if you're interested in that sort of thing.

Aug 3, 2010

The Overthinking Trap

One of the more notable things about the Old Spice social media videos is the speed at which they were produced.

This is a credit to everyone involved: the actor, director, agency team, even the client, because pulling off something that good under such a tight deadline is no mean feat. That said, I'm sure there are dozens of things the agency creatives would have changed if they'd been given an extra 24 hours.

There are always are. It's in the nature of creativity to never be satisfied with the final product.

Which is why one of the more radical changes wrought by digital culture is the notion of the acceptability of the imperfect, the idea that being first is better than being flawless, because flawless is nothing but an unobtainable ideal. It's why the thirty-third iteration of a script or headline rarely looks any better than the sixth. Different, maybe, but rarely better.

Which is not to say that anyone should be embracing mediocrity. Just that in a medium like advertising where every impression is purposely fleeting and impermanent, the notion that we are looking at version 2.1.4 of a video campaign should not seem any odder than looking at version 2.1.4 of a mobile app.

It will be interesting to see if this is a trend or an anomaly: video is notoriously expensive to produce, so I wonder how many marketers will feel comfortable giving up their traditionally lengthy production cycles.

Jul 16, 2010

Old Spice: Who’s Buying It?

While like most readers of this blog, I am thrilled, delighted and more than a bit jealous of the brilliance behind the new Old Spice campaign (the social media portion in particular), a couple of business stories I’ve seen have raised the question of who the campaign is actually targeted to and whether, say, followers of Guy Kawasaki would actually ever buy something from a brand that seems mostly geared towards younger teenage boys and older men.

It’s a valid question: while the Old Spice campaign has been frequently compared to “Subservient Chicken” one could make the argument that just about everyone eats at Burger King (whether they admit to it or not.) Old Spice, however, is a fairly unique market.

The counter-argument to all that chatter though, is that Old Spice is not some hipster upstart, but rather an established P&G brand, and that P&G always does things for a reason, with numbers and research behind the reason, so clearly they have something in mind with the way they are running this campaign.  Overall awareness for a brand that’s mostly slipped off the radar is one possible theory. So is seeding the ground for line extensions that would be aimed at more upscale consumers or even women. And the final argument is that not everyone using social media is a Silicon Valley professional, and that social media's reach (YouTube in particular) is much broader than we realize. (Then there's the final, final reason: seeing this campaign actually boost sales would make my life much easier, especially in the “convincing clients this stuff actually works” department.)

So I’m curious what you all think: would you ever consider buying an Old Spice product? Does anyone you know currently use the brand? Would you be open to a more upscale line extension?

While I realize my readers do not a valid scientific sample make, I'm curious as to your thoughts and experiences. And if anyone has a link to sales stats, that would be awesome: are they up? down? Or is P&G not saying?

Jul 1, 2010

Have A Little Faith

I admit I rarely watch commercial television. Most of what I watch on TV is either on demand or DVR’d. The rest is mostly live sporting events, primarily basketball.
The NBA mostly attracts beer advertisers (plus T-Mobile’s “Fave 5” campaign featuring an array of NBA stars.) And beer advertisers can’t say all that much so they can’t really lie to you. It’s all about how refreshing the beer is, or, if it’s an import, how cool you’ll be if you drink it.

Relatively harmless stuff and beer is, for all intents and purposes, a refreshing beverage and many people drink imported beer for the cool factor.

But the other day I wound up watching a couple of hours of actual commercial TV. And the one thing that struck me was how much of what I saw left me with the impression that someone was trying to trick me. Or at least had a very dim view of my intelligence.

There was an ad for one of the telcos that was all about their revolutionary new voice-activated search feature. Which, if you’ve picked up a smart phone lately, you know is (a) fairly ubiquitous and far from revolutionary and (b) still in its infancy and overwhelmingly inaccurate to the point where using it is more of a hassle than it’s worth. But the commercial was portraying it as a feature the entire family easily used and all I could think of was what would happen if someone googled the feature. (That’s the whole theory behind The Real Digital Revolution – consumers can fact-check ads.)

In addition to the voice recognition ad (which really jumped out at me as pretty much not true) there were a slew of ads for household products which also seemed chock full of overpromise. Stains don’t come out instantly. Mopping isn’t fun. Kids just don’t get that excited over cereal.

I mean I realize packaged goods advertising is challenging and that it’s not easy creating excitement over a small improvement, but I wish so many of the ads didn’t sound like someone was trying to snow me over.

Having been distanced from that sort of advertising for a while, it’s striking how little faith so many advertisers have in both their own products and in their consumers. It makes it very clear why brands that do have faith are so successful: consumers tend to draw a straight line from the way a brand treats them in its advertising to the quality of the product.

That’s as true online as it is on TV: brands that use the social web as yet another place to push “here’s what we want to say” messaging at consumers (versus giving consumers the information they want to hear and/or starting a conversation) create a negative image for their product. Because what they’re really saying is “it’s all about us, not you.”

And that doesn’t work in any medium.

Jun 28, 2010

Maybe It's Me

Just read another article with yet more gushing about people "sharing" things that I'm not so sure I want to share.

This time it's books and how people will soon be sharing their favorite passages and notes and cutting and pasting the good parts and all that.

Not so fast.

If I'm reading a good book, particularly fiction, part of what makes it good is that I'm inside the world of that novel. It's what the late John Gardner (with whom I had the honor of studying in college) called "a vivid and continuous dream."

So why would I want to pull out of the vivid and continuous dream I get while reading an incredible novel by stopping to check which paragraphs John Szalewski from Toledo, Ohio (Handle: JohnnySzal345)  thought was awesome? Particularly if I don't know John. (Or even if I did.)

No matter what the medium is: video, audio, print, or digital, a story well told is not something anyone wants interrupted. . You may want to discuss it afterward, but if it's that good, you won't have time or inclination during.

Now there are many instances when we do want to interact and share. When we're watching the Super Bowl, for instance, or the Oscars: two events with numerous pauses and opportunities for discussion. Ditto reference books or certain types of non-fiction. What all those events have in common is a disjointed narrative, where a certain number of interruptions and pauses are expected and considered to be part of the experience.

Confusing the two is wrong and incorrectly assumes that we experience all types of stories the same way. But Gardner's vivid and continuous dream lives on, despite the world of interruptions at our fingertips, precisely because a really well-told story is just that good.

It doesn't mean we won't share it: literary criticism predates the internet, as do highlighters and notes scribbled in the margins of library books. But there's a big difference between "during" and "after."

(Stepping down from the soapbox.)

Jun 24, 2010

The Benefits of Real Time Search

I've admittedly always been a skeptic as to the value of real time search, e.g. including Twitter and (public) Facebook updates in Google and Bing results. My thought was always that if I wanted to search out what was happening in regards to a major news event, I'd do a full-on Twitter search from, rather than relying on a handful of results on Google.

But a recent event made me rethink that.

I had started to download the new iPhone OS4 to my 3G iPhone. As the hour-long back-up was starting, I had a vague recollection of reading that not all the new features would be available for 3G phones and decided to Google it to see what the story was.

Good thing I did.

The search results page showed a number of people retweeting an Engadget story warning of problems with the iOS4 upgrade on the 3G, along with an @ message from someone agreeing with their friend that their 3G phone now ran much slower.

Thus alerted, I did a full Twitter search, found that problems seemed to be the rule rather than the exception and aborted the upgrade (for now), thus saving me a considerable amount of hassle.

And proving the value of real-time search.

Jun 22, 2010

What You've Been Missing

A few weeks back I spoke at KickApps SME2010 in San Francisco. You can see the video and SlideShare above. (In case you've ever wondered what I sound like in person.)

This was one of the best seminars I've been part of and KickApps managed to capture everything on video. (Big hat tip to Stan Adams, who coordinated the whole thing.)

Go to to see the other speakers: KickApps CEO Alex Blum, Dell's Heather Burnett, IBM's Errol Denger and author and Altimeter founder Charlene Li

UPDATE, JULY 6: The slideshare has almost 4,000 views thanks to a number of key people posting and tweeting about it, most notably, Faris Yakob of MDC Partners.

Jun 20, 2010

In Defense of Experts

The other day, I read an article from a well-known tech blogger who was positively gushing over the notion that he’d soon be able to use location-based services to narrow down travel reviewers to those who’d say, been to Sonoma six times, and who, he felt, would be the best source of reviews on Sonoma restaurants and wineries.

And it made sense for a minute or two until I thought of all those people who’ve been to New York City a dozen or more times who’l tell you that Carmines is the best Italian restaurant in town and how it’s so convenient to have a Friday’s right there in Times Square.

Which is why the wisdom of experts is sometimes preferable to the wisdom of crowds.

More often than not, I want to hear from people who know more than I do, who present well thought out reasons for their opinions and who’ve managed to put out reviews I agree with more often than not.

The larger my social graph is, the less likely I am to trust it. I know what kind of food my very close friends like and I’m pretty up on their tastes in books, music and travel. But that’s maybe a half dozen people. The hundreds of others I know via Twitter and Facebook may have some smart things to say about marketing, but I have zero knowledge if their taste in film matches mine. Which is why I’m more prone to trust a reviewer I know than a few hundred of my closest Twitter followers.

To be fair, there is one place that crowdsourced reviewing has proved enormously useful: range. Before sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor (or even Zagat, which was pre-internet) there was slim likelihood you’d find any sort of reviews or info about local diners or pizza places or out of the way hotels and resorts. In that way, the wisdom of crowds has been a valuable tool and helps us to feel more in control of our choices: even if we’re not 100% sure we trust the review, at least we’ve got something to go on rather than absolute silence.

But that’s about as far as it goes for me: if all I wanted to read were NY Times Best Sellers, if all I wanted to see at the movies were that week’s top-grossing pictures then I’d be happy relying on crowds. But I want book reviewers who feel their job is to ferret out the rare gems. Restaurant reviewers who aren’t fooled by the trend-of-the-month. And movie reviewers who aren’t put off by subtitles.

I’m not getting that from my social graph. Except maybe as a retweet.

Jun 16, 2010

OMMA Social Panel: Using Paid Media to Drive Earned Media

I'll be hosting a panel at OMMA Social tomorrow (Thursday, 6.17) called Using Paid Media to Drive Earned Media: The Latest Tips, Tricks and Tools

Here's the description from the OMMA website:

It’s now commonly accepted that in order to be successful at earned media – giving people the kinds of brand experiences that they willingly share – marketers need to invest in paid media too. As the social media world keeps evolving, though, the strategies for investing in the right paid media have to evolve as well. Is it still wise to buy portals, or does buying inventory on an ad exchange at niche targets provide better ROI? How has the practice of seeding changed with the explosion in new platforms, from Twitter to mobile? A look at how to convert dollars into social media-generated distribution.
Panelists are:
Richard Jalichandra, President & CEO, Technorati, Inc.
Kristine Shine, VP, PopSugar Media
Tom Troja, Founder, Social Symphony
Josh Warner, President, Feed Company

If the pre-panel discussion is any indication, things should get pretty lively- it's a fascinating topic and I suspect five people with strong opinions could talk about it for hours.

Any input or suggestions from the peanut gallery is warmly welcome - shoot me a tweet, an email or just leave a comment down below.

We're on at 9:45 AM at the Millennium Broadway Hotel, 145 W. 44th, in the heart of Times Square.

Bonin Bough from Pepsi is the keynote and other familiar faces on stage include Cathy Taylor, David Berkowitz, Ian Schafer, Max Kalehoff and Mike Germano.

Jun 4, 2010

Cool Doesn't Work Anymore

It’s hard to have a conversation with someone who’s convinced that they’re much cooler than you are.

But that’s exactly what I see far too many brands attempting to do on a daily basis.

Call it Award Show fever, NASCAR Blindness, or just plain hubris, but too many brands are speaking to their consumers in a voice that drips of upscale, urban, 30something hipster rather than the voice of the brand’s decidedly less hip consumers themselves.

And that Nike World Cup video (above) is not going to help.

With its millions of viral views, brand managers and creative directors worldwide are going to be viewing it as the gold standard.

Which is a huge mistake.

You see Nike is a Prom King brand. A brand people like because Nike’s discovered the secret sauce that makes people view them as “cool.” So they’ll want to pass around a Nike video because they get some sort of cool points for doing so.

Add the World Cup to that equation. Another Prom King brand, and, for anyone who remotely likes soccer, another source of cool. Factor in too the fact that the young male demo likes to share video, particularly video from brands that have a strong cool factor and you’ve got the perfect storm.

Which is not to take anything away from the actual video, which was exceedingly well done, but reality check: even a really bad Nike World Cup video would have gotten millions of hits. Having a really well done one probably doubled or even tripled what was destined to be a very large number.

The bigger problem, as I stated earlier, is that brands are going to start wanting “something like that Nike World Cup video... you know, the one with Homer Simpson in it.... it got 90 million viral hits.”

It’s the same speech an earlier generation of marketing and ad people got about the Apple 1984 spot.

But if you’re advertising corn chips or diapers or a cellphone service, you’re never going to get a Nike World Cup video. You’re just not cool enough. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

The people who’ll pass along a Nike video are probably not as engaged or loyal as the people who’ll pass along a diaper video. Ditto joining a diaper brand Facebook page or or Twitter feed. Not that it’s hard, mind you; it’s just requires a little more courage than signing on with the World Cup and Nike

Now the easiest way to get someone feeling brave enough to pass on a diaper video or join a corn chip Facebook group is to speak to them in their own language, and show them the sorts of things they find amusing or clever.

While that should be glaringly obvious, it always amazes me how often it’s not: charged with coming up with “the next Nike World Cup” video, both agencies and marketers will roll out content that has the same sensibility and vibe as a video that successfully targeted young men and sports fans. Even if their target is old ladies who love gardening. (It doesn’t hurt that award shows tend to favor anything with this hipster sensibility.)

But that’s where the social web is different. Because unlike traditional push media, no one has to watch a video, let alone share it or post it to their Facebook wall. They have to want to do so and brands have to see it as a way to initiate a conversation. Not a literal “hi, how are you?” conversation (people get hung up on that) but a “you liked our funny video, maybe you’d like to vote on what our next flavor corn chip should be” conversation.

If you’ve been talking to the consumer in a voice that sounds like your brand, there’s a good chance they’ll say “why yes, thank you.” But if you’ve been talking to them in a voice that sounds like Nike World Cup soccer, they’re not sticking around long enough to even hear the question.

Jun 3, 2010

Getting The Right Hands On The Spigot

One of the biggest challenges of the next few years is going to be finding a way to take all the data we are collecting on people-- both wittingly and unwittingly-- and do something with it that won’t make us feel like we’ve walked onto the set of a latter-day 1984. (The Orwell novel, not the Apple ad.)

Many of the scenarios I’ve seen laid out are sort of creepy and user-unfriendly. Stores that text us to ask how we liked those jeans we bought a few months back the second we walk into the store. Restaurants we've eaten at that try and lure us in with lunchtime discounts sent via text message just because it’s 12:30 and we happen to be nearby.

What’s scary isn’t so much that these scenarios are being put out there; it’s that they’re more than likely, given the overzealous nature of many marketers and their strong desire to push a controlled, pre-scripted message to consumers (albeit in the guise of a conversation.)

The push-pull here (both literally and figuratively) is going to be who is in control of when and why the information gets delivered. If it’s lunchtime and I am looking for a place to eat or if I’d like to see which of my favorite restaurants has a deal for me, then I want to be able to push the “lunch deals” app on my phone and see what’s available. (I’d even be open to an exchange where, say,  I posted a message to one of my social networks in exchange for a 10% discount. Particularly if I really liked the restaurant.)

What I do not want are random assaults.  I don’t mind seeing advertising messages when I am actively looking for something. But often as not, I know exactly what I am in the mood for at lunchtime. And I’ll gladly pay the extra fifty cents that undiscounted slice of pizza will cost me and have zero interest in receiving a stream of ads all touting their amazing discounts shouting at me like some digital carnival barkers.

Same way when I walk into the Gap, I’m either there for a reason or I’m killing time. If I’m looking for suggestions or directions, I’ll ask. But a database is never going to feel like a person. A person can usually read my body language and know that I am not in the mood to chat or receive follow-up questions or upsell attempts. But the hypothetical database John Battelle suggested in a recent post is a regular Chatty Cathy, bugging me to buy a sweater for my kids, pointing out items on sale and otherwise making a nuisance of itself.

The key to success on the semantic web is going to be finding a way to be unobtrusive. To let customers call the shots and tell you just how much input they want-- to let them have their hand on the virtual spigot so they can increase or decrease the flow of information from brands-- even brands they like-- because people rarely want an unimpeded flow of commercial messaging.

Or, to put it more succinctly: we want to hear from brands when we want to hear from them. Not whenever they feel like chatting.

Sort of the same reason there’s caller ID.

May 26, 2010

Words Matter

One of the more remarkable things about the whole Facebook/privacy debate is how few people (and journalists) seem to have an understanding of exactly what information is being shared and why it's now out there for public consumption.

Yes, people are pissed that, as my friend Rob Saker tweeted  "My profile info was captured by X firm because FB privacy is weak." But many of them, as Danah Boyd pointed out in her keynote at SXSW this year, have no idea that things they're posting are available for public consumption, especially since they'd actually gone through the trouble of adjusting their privacy settings.

Or so they thought.

My instincts tell me that much of the noise around this is the result of how annoyed people are with Facebook's baffling user interface and how embarrassing it is to think that you've set your privacy settings correctly only to find out otherwise.

Which brings us to semantics: it seems that one of the major culprits here is people's interpretation of the word "everyone." To Facebook, that means "everyone on the internet." To many (most?) users, it means "everyone I am Facebook friends with."

Big, big difference.

Now of course there are more fundamental issues, primarily around what the default privacy setting should be. (e.g. should you have to turn privacy settings on or off.) But to the many users who thought they correctly protected themselves only to find out they'd chosen a far more inclusive "everyone" -- and that the Gap now knows they love the color red-- semantics are the crux of the issue.

We often dismiss simple word choices like that as a "six of one, half a dozen of another" type decision. But where half a billion people are involved, it becomes way more than that. Because I'm guessing if the option was  "everyone with an internet connection" versus just "everyone" the amount of personal information being shared would be considerably smaller.

Words matter.

May 20, 2010

San Francisco Seminar, Thursday May 27th

I'll be speaking at the KickApps/Akamai seminar on Thursday, May 27th along with Alitmeter's Charlene Li, Dell's Heather Burnett and IBM's Errol Denger.

It's at the Hotel Vitale, 8 Mission Street. The session runs from 12 - 5PM, I go on at 1:30.

Register here.

May 17, 2010

The Case For Amplify

I’ve become a big fan of Amplify, a new service that sits somewhere between a blog and Twitter. It’s just to the right of the space that Posterous and Tumblr own, but is focused more on words and ideas than on photos.

The set-up is pretty straightforward: you set up your own Amp Blog to which you can post either an entire URL or relevant clips of an article. The site allows you to simultaneously post to Twitter or Facebook, but the link goes back to your Amp Blog.

So why not just post directly to Twitter? Because Amplify lets you comment on the article you’ve just posted. In as many characters as you’d like. And it lets your friends provide threaded commentary as well. (Think with threaded commentary.) That’s a huge plus in terms of certain types of articles—Amplify is very big in the political community, so much of what gets posted and debated on there is actually fairly substantial (e.g. a far cry from “10 Ways To Use Location Based Services”) and the ability to share thoughts about things that don’t necessarily have to do with social media or marketing is a huge plus.

For me, Amplify has become the third place – not pertinent enough to the Toad Stool to devote an entire blog post to, but interesting enough to be worthy of more than 140 characters worth of debate. (You can, for the record, use Amplify to write posts from scratch and even microblog. But most users seem to use it to post and comment on existing articles.)

You can check out my AmpBlog at

PS: Sorry for the long delay between posts. A lot going on, but I have vowed to be more consistent moving forward.

Apr 26, 2010

New BeanCast Podcast: The One About "Likeability"

I'm on the Hive Award-winning BeanCast podcast this week, discussing Facebook's new "like" button with host Bob Knorpp, Joe Jaffe, Darryl Ohrt and John Wall.

It's a good listen, but if you are not so inclined, my take is that it's a smart business move on FB's part, because they will be setting a standard and gathering lots of (valuable) information.

My only question is that I wonder how many people outside "The Bubble" will want to actually "like" things. Particularly because most of the time there's nothing in it for them. (Yes, Pandora can set their playlists more accurately, but not sure that's going to change the behavior of millions.)

And it all goes back to my theory in the previous post that there are many people who are just not hard-wired to share any sort of information on their likes and dislikes in a public or semi-public or even private setting.

This isn't really a huge problem for Facebook-- even if they get 15% of people using the "like" button off-site, that's huge. It's more a question about our assumptions that everyone is a participant, whereas, as one of the other guests (I think it was Mr. Knorpp) pointed out, the 90/10 split you find on YouTube is a more likely scenario. (90% of YT users are consumers, 10% are creators.)


Apr 13, 2010

Is Twitter Over?

While today’s New York Times describes Twitter’s growth chart as looking “like a hockey stick” I'm starting to wonder if we aren’t at the end of the line in terms of Twitter’s growth. Because four years into it, I can’t but think that the appeal of Twitter is largely based on personality and that the extroverts (and their fans) have already been converted.

Facebook, which in some ways is Twitter’s main competitor, is a lot less immediate and public than Twitter. Meaning that if I am an introvert, I can still put up pictures of my family, get back in touch with old friends, fan my kids school and play Scramble™ without feeling like I am “putting myself out there.” I don’t need to ever update my status, thus avoiding the question of “why would anyone care what I have to say and what do I care what they’re eating for breakfast?” (You can argue all you want about “useful information” and “fascinating feedback” but that is exactly how most unbelievers view Twittter.)

I would also not discount the rear guard action from location based services like FourSquare or Gowalla, which provide a more socially acceptable way of telling people where you are and what you’re doing.

Follow me on this one: with Twitter, you have to actively type in “Having coffee at Westville Mall Starbucks with @SocialBob and @JaneDoe” which, outside of The Bubble, sounds a whole lot like either bragging or oversharing. But if you check in with Foursquare or Gowalla then the apps themselves are doing the bragging for you - you’re just playing along and, if we buy into the hype, allowing friends of yours who are also at the Westville Mall to find you.

So it becomes a more socially acceptable way of announcing where you are and what you are doing-- particularly since the revenue model on LBS seems to be heading towards some sort of monetary reward for checking in (e.g. coupons) and you can’t fault people for wanting to save money. Additionally, people seem to be following a much tighter circle on the location based services due to privacy concerns, and so the assertion that the check-in is aimed at your actual real life friends actually has some validity.

Circling back to Facebook, I’ve started to see something interesting going on there too: people who do not use Twitter putting up status updates that resemble tweets in both their frequency, brevity and currency, but for the fact that they have nothing to do with anything work related. They’re all about movies, politics, restaurants, weather, kids, sports... all the stuff people outside The Bubble talk about. (As opposed to say, the Apple vs Google showdown.) What’s more, they’re getting a lot more feedback (in a threaded and easy-to-follow format) from people they actually know and whose opinions they tend to care about. 

And people like Facebook. Or at least they don't hate it the way so many seem to hate Twitter and everything it stands for. It's a puzzling reaction to a fairly innocuous platform, but it's out there.

Now I am in no way claiming Twitter is kaput or that’s going to implode. Just that it’s reached the natural point where it’s got to mutate significantly if it’s going to appeal to a broader group of users.

I can see Twitter easily becoming an indispensable adjunct to other types of web use, rather than its own unique platform. The ability to harness real-time search is pretty powerful, especially if you combine it with the new ad system Twitter is unveiling this week. Together they make it possible for me to see both the latest news about and offer from Starbucks. Which is useful and all, but not really a reason to get someone who’s resisted Twitter thus far to get out and start tweeting.

That’s why Twitter’s future seems to be as a platform where the many consume the output of the few. And while there will continue to be numerous subgroups who use the platform to network and connect with outsiders, the core proposition-- meet interesting strangers by putting your own thoughts. pictures and discoveries out there for others to find-- seems to have run its course. The extroverts are all signed up and the introverts.... well, they're just not interested.

Apr 3, 2010

Consumption vs Creation: The iPad Dilemma

Upon further reflection (and a number of reviews that circle the idea without ever hitting on it directly) it seems that with the introduction of the iPad, Apple is asking consumers to buy into the notion that there are now two types of devices: one for consuming and one for creating. It’s at once extremely logical and extremely radical and it’s definitely something of a gamble.

It’s logical because if you were to start out now, in 2010, with computing being what it is, you would not likely come to the conclusion that the machine you created complex spreadsheets on was also an ideal place to watch movies or read books. And so you’d come up with something just like an iPad to consume media and something like a netbook to create it.

But it’s radical because that sort of set-up is exactly what we’ve become accustomed to and once these patterns are established, it’s hard to break people of their habits.

So the question I have is, what’s Apple’s follow-up act? Is it a netbook type device that runs iWork (and Microsoft Office) and email? That would help people to wrap their heads around the bifurcation and give them a reason to have two distinct and separate devices. Though it would diminish the laptop market and leave these high-profit-margin devices as the province of the tech-focused power user.

Time will tell.

Mar 31, 2010

Why You Probably Don't Need A Social Media Department

This started out as a reply to a post on AgencySpy about what ad agencies need to look for as they staff up their nascent social media departments and turned into a full-fledged blog post.

Maybe I'm too cynical, but my fear with creating a department specifically to oversee social media (rather than making social media a part of the overall marketing scheme) is that it then becomes yet another piece of what Brian Morrissey aptly calls the "matching luggage" and a passel of social media ideas get trotted out at every meeting alongside the TV spots and the print ads and the banners and the microsites and the iPhone apps whether the client needs them or not.

Smart agencies get that many clients don't need any kind of social media ideas.  Their products just aren't interesting enough to generate a whole lot of buzz and/or they don't have the budget or inclination to create any kind of buzz.

Many brands don't have the resources (e.g. time and money) necessary to properly maintain so much as a Facebook page (let alone an entire social media program) and you don't need to be a "guru" to know that having a Facebook page that gets updated once every three months is a lot worse than not having one at all.

But once you add a "social media department" to an agency’s roster, it becomes too easy for the agency to fall into the trap of expecting their new social media department to contribute something to every pitch or client presentation, even when it makes no sense.

Because otherwise what exactly are they paying them for, right?

Even worse will be those rare times when a heavy social media plan makes a lot of sense - brands for whom social media should be the bulk of their marketing effort - and the agency can't let that happen because that would be giving the social media department too much power and influence and so the politically expedient move is to trot out the matching luggage yet again.

Social media works when the client gets why they’re doing it and has practices and structures to support it. That’s a really important distinction that gets lost in the shuffle: Zappos (to use an easy example) is “good” at social media because they have really amazing customer service. Not the other way around. That’s why people talk about them-- because they’re impressed with the customer service, not because Zappos has a cool page with all their Twitter streams.

Hiring people to force clients who don’t get what’s needed to be successful in social media (better business practices, better products) to adopt social media programs that are doomed from inception is in no one’s best interest.

Mar 27, 2010

New Look

Trying out one of the new Blogger templates - just getting bored of the old one.
A little scare with comments getting lost at first, but now all seems well.

Just wanted reader to realize that they were in the right place ;)

Reality Check

So I've been managing my son's Little League team this year and decided that I'd take advantage of some simple 2.0 tools to make everyone's life easier:
  • A very basic Google Blogger blog where I could put up practice schedules, rules, game notes, etc. and where, by dint of tagging the post with their team name, other managers in the chain could also post updates.
  • Invites off Google Calendar for practices. (The chain is using Google Calendar to manage scheduling for seven teams, so we don't all wind up on the same field at once.) And I'm talking literally just sending invites via email off the Google Calendar app once I'd scheduled a practice so that parents could enter it into their calendars with just one click.
I am 0 for 2.

The blog, which uses one of Blogger's attractive new templates, has been complimented for being nicely designed, but I'm not sure any of the parents use it and certainly none of the other 6 managers have even touched it. (This despite my sending out fairly explicit illustrated instructions on how to post, which, if you've ever used Google Blogger, is remarkably simple.)

The emails sent from the Google calendar, are getting caught in spam filters, by AOL in particular (a number of families still use AOL as their main email address) and so it's decidedly not the effective "you can put it on your calendar straight from the email and Alan can keep track of who's not going to be able to make practice" tool  I had hoped.

Now here's why this is important: The parents in question here are all highly educated, affluent C-level types in their 30s and 40s: exactly the sort of people you'd expect to be familiar with and/or open to these kinds of tools. But they're not: it's just not all that important to them right now and they're not feeling like they're missing anything by opting for a simple group e-mail as their preferred method of notification/communication.

We tend to get all hopped up about the new tools available to us, and since most of us spend our days surrounded by people with similar priorities and web use habits, it's important to remember just how far ahead of the curve we really are.

Which is not to say the rest of the world won't eventually catch up, but it's not happening as quickly as the conventional wisdom inside the bubble says it is.

Mar 19, 2010

What Location Based Services Need To Do Next

While location based services like FourSquare and Gowalla have been all the buzz this past year, their continued success is likely going to depend on how easy they make it for consumers to “check in” and interact with their service.

Checking in with your LBS of choice (or, for many, your LBS’s of choice) is currently a somewhat onerous act: you need to pull out your phone, find and open the app, find the check-in tab, wait till the app loads the geolocator, find your location from a list of nearby locations, figure out if your current location is in there or if the geolocator has messed up (again!), select your location, decide whether to write something for twitter and hit enter.

Which is all well and good if you’re alone, but if you’re with people, it’s pretty awkward.

LBS’ are great for conferences and large events like SXSWi, where everyone has a vested interest in finding each other, which is why those events are many people’s first encounter with LBS apps. Upon returning home, however, they quickly discover that it’s both inconvenient and socially awkward to whip out the phone and check in everywhere they go. And features which may seem useful down in Austin don’t really translate to the daily grind back home.

But all is not lost.

As the FourSquares and Gowallas grow, they’ll need to figure out ways to make it easier to check in. That can be anything from auto-check in alerts you set yourself (e.g. “You are at Starbucks again? Do you want to check in?” to sponsored auto-check in alerts (e.g. “You are at Starbucks again. Do you want to check in and save 50 cents?”)

Accuracy is another issue: GPS is still really awful in many parts of the country and it’s not clear how long these services can keep relying on their users to make up for that. (Or not: one of Gowalla’s big downfalls is that unlike the scrappy FourSquare, it relies exclusively on GPS and so winds up stopping people from checking in at home or at work because the GPS insists that they’re at some place a quarter mile away.)

But GPS is only going to improve and in the interim, the services may consider making broader use of maps, the way Minnesota-based upstart Toodalu has done or increasing the radius of the check-in as my friend C.C. Chapman has suggested.

And of course, LBS’s value as a teenager-tracking device for parents have yet to be fully appreciated.

Circling back though, it’s the ease of use thing that the people who make the apps are going to need to figure out. Make it as close to one-touch as possible, and you’ll get all the people outside the tech/media world, people who are more likely to be at the supermarket on a Sunday afternoon than at some trendy restaurant enjoying brunch.

And give them a reason to want to check in that goes beyond "because it shows I'm social media savvy" and/or the whole mayor/gameplaying thing (it's going to be next-to-impossible to steal the mayorship away from early adopters, or collect more Chinese lanterns, given that many of them have a year or two's head start.)

Otherwise, it’ll just be one more toy no one’s really sure what to do with.

UPDATE, AUGUST 2010: Thanks to an app called Future Checkin, FourSquare users will indeed be able to check in automatically. TechCrunch gives the details here.

Mar 15, 2010

Sarah Palin Is Your Social Media Role Model: What We Learned

This past Sunday, I co-hosted a panel at SXSW Interactive with Brian Cain of Campfire (and Blair Witch Project fame) on Sarah Palin’s successful use of social media. For whether you agree with her or not, the fact that she can post something on Facebook and get 3,000 comments in 3 hours is pretty remarkable.

We opened it up to the audience as a conversation and let everyone weigh in. We had an incredible range of opinion (and a Texas-sized hat tip to Rory Cooper of the Heritage Foundation for weighing in with the conservative POV.)

What we all managed to agree on (more or less) was that Palin’s social media strength had three components:

A) A Consistent Message:  She does an excellent job of staying on point on not straying from her core message and storyline.

B) A Strong POV:
Palin does not try and please everyone. She does not worry about what people outside her core constituency think and has very definite opinions on things that she is not afraid to both express and defend.

C) A Feeling Of Familiarity:  Palin’s supporters often view her as “my friend Sarah, the politician.” You can see this in the very personal tone of many of the Facebook comments, which are written as if the poster was speaking to an old friend. (NB: This is a not uncommon scenario with celebrities of all stripes in social media, where the intimacy of the medium creates a false sense of connection between the celebrity and their audience.)

We then turned the question over to the audience: what would it be like if brands with loyal fan bases took a strong POV on issues, rather than trying to please all constituents. We wondered what the fallout would have been if, say, Southwest Airlines told Kevin Smith that he was welcome to fly Delta from now on, because they had their policies in place for a reason, that it wasn’t fair to the other passengers to have someone that large impinging on their space, and while they were sorry he was embarrassed, he knew their policy going in, thank you and good luck.

It’s an interesting exercise and no one was quite sure what the response would have been. Curious what you think would have happened: can brands take the sort of strong stands politicians do?

Note: I am not suggesting that this is what Southwest should have done or that it would have been a good idea. The exercise is merely to ponder “what if brands took strong stands like some politicians do?” And while you may be thinking “it’s pretty obvious you're not advocating that Alan”... well, you’d be surprised.