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.

Mar 14, 2010

SXSW Panel today: Sarah Palin Is Your Media Role Model

If you are in Austin, check it out in room 19B at 3:30 PM Sunday, March 14th.
Here's the link

I'll be doing the panel with Brian Cain from Campfire and will definitely bring up NASCAR Blindness.

Mar 4, 2010

RSVP Site for Hive Awards

Just a note for Toad Stool readers, to let you know that if you're planning to be in Austin at SXSW for the Hive Awards for the Unsung Heroes of the Internet, you can sign up at the official RSVP site hosted by KickApps and make sure you're not shut out.

Hope to see many of you there.

Mar 2, 2010

Possibly Addictive, But Worth It: If I Can Dream

I'll start this by admitting that I'm good friends with the partners at Poke and that I do a lot of work with them. But I had nothing to do with their latest project, If I Can Dream, and it's well worth checking out, for the breakthrough factor, if nothing else.

If I Can Dream is an online reality TV show that tracks 5 hopefuls: a musician, two actresses, an actor and model -- who live together in a Hollywood Hills mansion and watches as they try to break into show business.

Produced by American Idol creator Simon Fuller, the catch here is that the reality is online at all times: you can see in every room of the house and follow the actors around from room to room 24/7. You can also spin the camera to look at virtual versions of their rooms, where the Pokesters have created digital versions of the actual furniture on the other side of the camera complete with photo albums.

And since it's 2010, you can also connect with the characters on Twitter, Facebook and MySpace.

Fuller and 19 Entertainment have a history of tapping into the popular zeitgeist, and they've put a lot of time and effort into this.

Curious to hear what you all think.