Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Seth Godin is nearly right

Check out this interview with Seth Godin in a great post on Josh Spear's site. A flash of Seth-iness:

"... we’re seeing a stampede by traditional marketers into ... social media. They ... have no clue at all about the role of corporations in social media. Here’s a hint: You don’t get to ask, “How can we use this to grow?” It's not yours to use. It belongs to the people who are in it, not to greedy marketers who believe they have a right to ride along. The opportunity is to have a tribe, a group of followers, loyal people who are connected to each other ..." [Emphasis mine]

I think Seth is pretty much right, although there's a little too much of the polemic in the actual quote. It's important to be very user-focused, and social media are certainly not something to be owned. But neither were magazines or newspapers when they first emerged in London hundreds of years ago, and PBS proves that you can have independence at the same time as sympathetic marketing.

My personal opinion is that if you set up the environment in the right way, what you're doing is creating a conversation. And enabling that conversation gives you the right to listen, talk, energize, support, and embrace the tribe [if you have a Forrester account, download this document]. Those are all action verbs. Provided that you're seeking to be a part of the conversation - and not to dominate it - you are "in it".

Avoid gimmicks, and make sure your initial set-up includes figuring out how you're going to let people know you appreciate their point of view. Human relationships are not about arguing, and nor should your social media execution be "all feed and no feedback". Sounds simple, I know, and it is.

Thought for the Day: Relationships are all about commitment and genuine sharing. Maybe your social media should start from the same perspective - who knows, you could just end up meeting your perfect customer "partners".

P.S. I've had some e-mails asking me just how to execute on some of the high-level ideas I've been rattling on about! Good point - look for an occasional series starting soon about setting up for your own social media adventure.

Are you ready for a relationship?

I was at an Internet Task Force meeting yesterday working with some others to come up with sensible recommendations for GoJ on the Internet Economy ahead of a major legislative and regulatory review in the summer of 2009. We've got a way to go yet, but the tone is constructive and a long way removed from the "friction" stuff we're all accustomed to seeing.

Interesting to hear a range of perspectives on what might constitute a positive online business environment - but little discussion about what might be best for Japanese users. Sure, letting the market decide is one approach ... but that's what the investment gurus on Wall Street said before it all fell down around their knees. Shades of Alan Greenspan being partially wrong!

If you read this post by Jeremiah Owyang, you'll notice some good observations about the state of play here in Tokyo. But the big takeaway is something else - while the entrepreneur and developer community may not be joined at the hip yet, the social media user community is clearly focused on what they expect. Think convergence around devices so that the transition between mobile and PC is seamless. Think communicating with peers rather than commerce. And think "always-on" as a minimum requirement.

While identity in the West is principally individual and can been seen as the sum of the brands we consume, in Japan identity is much more the sum of the relationships we have ( this metaphor thanks to Dave McCaughan, EVP McCann Worldgroup). Japanese expect a bigger bang-for-relationship-buck that most Western companies are familiar (and comfortable) with. That's why trust is such a big issue here, and why companies go out of their way to apologize when things get pear-shaped. Because it's personal.

So the key to success in the Japanese social media space is to enable relationships in a way that directly parallels the offline world, yet reinforces identity inside the relationship construct. That's why Mixi is so powerful - it's based on invitation-only communities where relationships are easily mapped yet vast volumes of information can be parsed in a single session.

Mixi resists search engines with a passion, and is very reluctant to share anonymized data. Why? Because it's the guardian of millions upon millions of relationships with gazillions of personal linkages that define contemporary Japan in a way that researchers and marketers can only begin dream about. Let alone replicate!

Thought of the Day: If you want to engage a Japanese person via social media, you'd better be prepared for lots of commitment.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Are people talking about me?

Time and time again, I'm asked about negative comments that "might" appear if a company launches a social media initiative. While I certainly understand the motivation behind the question, it also shows a misunderstanding of the way the paradigm has shifted.

Trouble is, there are people who have a negative view about your company or organization. They may be misinformed or - worse still - they may be right, but they are out there. That is an undeniable fact. They will express those views somewhere, even if you're paranoid enough to moderate all negativity out of your content. And their postings will surface in search engines regardless; my (instinctive) feel is that these will rank higher than your own given the passion associated with negative emotions.

If we think about Jeremiah Owyang and rest of the Groundswell team's very clever structure of objectives (in this post), we learn that the first step in the action hierarchy for social media is listening. As mature people, we all know that the first step towards a real relationship is the willingness to hear other opinions and acknowledge the other person as having a valid perspective. Same goes for social media. After all, it's all about people.

In my experience, companies that acknowledge negative comment and take sincere steps to deal with it almost always experience a fall in negative advocacy and a rise in trust across the community. One blog zone in my company got an almost 200% fall in negative "noise" and considerable gains in positive advocacy just by responding in an open and transparent way to people with concerns.

Of course, you need rules - no offensive comment, equal air time, etc - but my experience is that the community will police itself once you establish a fair playing field. And that gives you the chance to listen in and join the conversation ... a conversation that is likely happening already.

Of course, you could ignore negative comment like Sony did with its exploding laptop batteries. Or pay for comment like Wal-Mart was accused of. But for me, these are not positive brand-building strategies.

Thought for the Day: Maybe listening to people is a good way to understand how your customers perceive your brand, as opposed to how you perceive your brand.

Monday, October 27, 2008

What does SOCIAL mean?

Some people have told me it's difficult to understand what all the fuss is about with social media. The common theme seems to be "what's so different?" So I made up this little acronym to help explain:

Sharing: Social media is all about sharing contributions and getting feedback, while also being available for consumption by anyone who is interested. Most importantly, it transforms the relationship between media and audience by removing distinctions. Trad media is typically one-way.
Openness: Provided people follow the community rules, anyone can both create and consume content. And pass judgment on other content. The keys to acceptance are transparency and fairness. Trad media has strict rules about who can and can't participate, and what constitutes authority.
Conversation: Just like offline communities of interest, social media involve real conversations between real people. Think “audience” instead of “target”. Trad media is more one-way where a brand “broadcasts” to a target group- think "soap box".
Interest-Driven: Instead of a single brand message, social media encourages communities to aggregate quickly around common areas of interest. Think about “what's in it for you” rather than “what's in it for me”. Trad media assumes aggregation around the media itself.
Advocacy: Social media provide the opportunity for people to get passionate about ideas and brands. This advocacy provides a genuine human voice that stands in contrast to one-way corporate advertising. People prefer opinion to propaganda. Trad media only permits "canned" advocacy, and never negative advocacy.
Linked: While the Internet is focused on hyperlinks between content, social media concentrates on links between people. The value of a contribution is based on how many people can share and co-create - how broad it becomes. In trad media, the value of a contribution is its impact on a target audience - how narrow it can be.

Hopefully this little acronym can help you respond to people who maybe don't recognize the power of conversations. Or maybe, help them understand what's important outside in the real world 5:00 pm to 9:00 am.

Thought for the Day: Human relationships imply social interactions. Real relationships require give and take. Maybe you're better off engaging people in a conversation, than forcing things down their necks.

The POST Methodology

I've been promising for some time (well, a few days!) to talk a little about the POST methodology suggested in the Groundswell book, and explained by Jeremiah Owyang at a recent event in Tokyo.

While it sounds simple, this approach is actually counter-intuitive for most marketers who've become aware of social media because it enforces a very productive discipline. Too many people get hyped on the technology piece, which is a sure sign of an OK-decoder-ring approach. If you hear a discussion start from technology, search frantically for the garlic and holy water.

P = People, who after all are what makes the thing "social". The key message here is to understand who you're talking to (rather than "at") - and while most of the discussion in the 'sphere is around technographics, it is vital that you also add the traditional weapons of demographics and psychographics to make sure you really capture the essence of your customer.

O = Objective, or what you are trying to achieve in the social media. I posted before on the powerful metaphors that Groundswell suggests. Marketing 101 - determine what you are trying to do before you start doing it! But unless your objective is fundamentally 2-way and involves a human relationship, then this would be a good place to stop.

S = Strategy, or figuring out what will be different once you're finished. If that sounds like putting the cart before the horse, think again. It's about imaging about what success might look like - say, people are talking positively about Company X - and then figuring out how to get there.

T = Technology, or deciding which social media tool best suits the people, objectives, and strategy you've decided to pursue. Putting this step last makes sure you don't get all screwed up with the latest shiny toy before you commit all that money. I'll post again soon about which tools suit which executions.

I'm not going to say it's easy to follow this discipline - Heaven knows I'm the first person to be swayed by cool! But if you imagine you're spending your own money rather than someone else's, a structured and logical approach will probably mean you're not going to stumble.

Thought for the Day: If you find yourself rushing head-over-heels pursuing the latest technology, try the POST methodology to bring some method back to your madness.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Why use Social Media?

I was staggered yesterday when someone asked me why use social media instead of the traditional tools marketers have used - newspapers, TV, radio, direct mail, online advertising etc. There must be a conspiracy to keep me from posting about the POST methodology, but this is fundamental. Here goes ...

While the Cluetrain Manifesto reads like ... well, a manifesto, it makes a very clear point - the Internet essentially enables one ground-shaking thing. Conversations. Between people. People like you and me.

Traditional marketing media enable essentially one mind-numbing thing. Unilateral statements. From "somebody-san". Who can't possibly know me, let alone be like me.

So take off your marketing beanie, and think about it. How do you relate to people? Do you stand on opposite corners of a football field from your significant other and shout out intimate intimations of passion and desire? Probably not. There's a place for it, like some people propose marriage via the scoreboard in the South Stand at the HK Sevens. But it's pretty impersonal and you could easily be misunderstood.

So when traditional company-consumer relationships are shape-shifting before your eyes, it's probably not smart to only use traditional media. I don't advocate just using social media, but I am a champion of only using smart media - where I'm informed by deep demographic, psychographic, and "media-graphic" data about the person I'm trying to talk to.

Regardless of which particular social media technology you're thinking about, the plain reality is that your customers are out there somewhere in the pond. And to quote Jeremiah Owyang, you've got to fish where the fish are.

Thought for the Day: Having conversations with people when, where, and how they want seems to be a good way to start a relationship.

P.S.: If you look at this post from Michael Brito, you'll find some really interesting data from Cone. Michael's post goes on to make some sensible suggestions about the ways social media users (a majority of the population) want companies to interact with them. That data is North American, but you can bet that the responses are portable across borders. Particularly when Japan shows higher levels of Creators, Critics, Collectors, and Joiners.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Help! The sky is falling ...

Just as we set out on this irregular journey through Social Media, the landscape seems to be littered with SM proposals that didn't survive the last budget cut or that are waiting for the financial meltdown to fizzle out. I understand how those decisions were made, and why they were made.

Point is, I don't agree with some of them. Apart from dumping the “hey we need an SM thing” no-brain-cells-damaged-in-this-decision orders from the C-Suite, they’re mostly dumb decisions. Jeremiah Owyang said in a presentation here in Tokyo recently that (1) he expects social media consumption numbers to go up during the downturn, and (2) that community and networks become more important when people are under stress.

If anything, this is the time for smart companies to be out there engaging with their customers. I appreciate people being there during the tough times, and I'm sure most of you do too. Provided they're not in my face. Provided they're being honest. And provided they're prepared to listen. I don’t need the cavalry, but I’d love to see my bank looking human.

I also think that pricing on social media builds and campaigns is going to get pretty compelling. Sure, there’s still some latest-brightest-trinket mentality but the initial fever is over. When the big guys are warning us that online advertising may suffer a temporary hit, my bet is the people who sell that real estate will get moving on filling it. Less money is better than no money, after all.

And more compelling – I see talent coming onto the market. Talent that otherwise would strain at a Fortune 50 client brief, or work themselves to death at a start-up. Bright people, with great ideas that let companies with a little courage get the jump on their more timorous competitors.

Thought for Today: This may be a good time to tell your customers you care via a social media play. ‘Cause when the good times return, they’ll remember.

The Whole Technology Thing...

As Jeremiah Ohwang said a couple of days ago, "you can't base a [social media] strategy around technology". Why? They're changing almost every minute, and I'll be darned if I can keep up here in Japan let alone globally. Yet people seem mesmerized by the glittering array of technology and services. And sure, there is money to be made in delivering technology to hungry users but success rates are really challenging.

Another thing people seem to get hung up on is devices, especially here in Japan. "Should this be a web thing, or a mobile site?" seems to be the first question people ask. And there is a stack of different opinions around - most of which don't matter a lot unless your have some fairly tight age demographics requirements ... say teenagers 14 - 19. The real answer is that you have to do both: maybe not exactly at the same time, but sooner or later you're going to realize that device usage is increasing a TPO (Time, Place, Opportunity) phenomonen rather than a mutually exclusive choice by users.

Here's the deal - devices are converging from a capability perspective. And if you listen to Ted Matsumoto from Softbank, you'll understand that the mobile telephone provides ubiquitious access for a commuting population. Of course, given the long commute times here that means a lot of use - but at the same time, people increasingly switch on PCs when they get home and most households have broadband connections. OK, rant over!

The right way to approach social media is to understand your audience. Sound familiar? Marketers have been trying to do this for years - starting with demographics which help us understand who people are (and sometimes what they do). Psychographics give us insight into why people do things, and technographics (see Forrester for more information) are the mechanism that lets us see how they do things in the online environment. I find the creator, critic, collector, joiner, spectator, and inactive profiling strangely intuitive and familar. Which role do I adopt in which environments? How does my behavior morph across devices? Interesting questions which we'll talk about another day.

Sufficient for now is to say that all three types of data are vital to building a picture of who your audience is and what they're likely to want. If you understand that piece, then we're well on the way to building you a social media strategy. Next time, we'll figure out what you want to achieve.

Thought for the Day: Don't start thinking about your Social Media strategies from the technology perspective. Start by thinking about who you want to talk to.

What's in a word?

Companies are beginning to understand that social media are a game-changing disruption to the tried-and-true way that they interact with customers. Like Jeremiah Ohwang said at the ACCJ presentation, this is not a trend or a fad. The online behaviours that define social media are not going to fade away, and will likely not be diminished by life stage or lifestyle changes. The challenge for marketers is to morph their selling behaviour into supporting people's buying behaviours.

People are now more likely to trust the opinions of their friends and colleagues - people "like me" - than the corporate sales pitches that have characterized the post-war mass-media modalities of marketers. One key to success in social media executions is to stand back and let opinion leaders - even brand icons - emerge naturally from the conversations we foster.

Sure it's hard to let go, and the urge to intervene is sometimes more than most CMOs can bear. But my personal experience is that when companies take a deep breath and wait for that urge to pass, the results are almost nearly always positive. And it's way better than ignoring problems ... think Sony batteries, and you'll understand where I'm coming from.

I really like the way that Jeremiah and the Forrester team have defined objectives for social media in terms of existing functional roles at most companies. You should probably buy the Groundswell book to learn more about this, but the metaphors are very powerful and the resulting objectives:

Research = Listening,
Marketing = Talking,
Sales = Energizing,
Support = Supporting, and
Development = Embracing

provide a lightning rod for decision-makers against which to test ideas that come forward from staff. As an executive in a pretty big consumer goods company, I can tell you that unless people can define their goals in one or more of the words in italics above (instead of one of the departments) I will not be supporting their idea. A function-based approach almost always brings with it competing interests, and the company in Japan that can get true synthesis rather than one-size-fits-all is rare indeed.

So the thought for today is this: can you describe your social media objectives (it's OK to have more than one, but the degree of difficulty goes up exponentially!) in one action word from the list above? If not, maybe it's time to change your perspective away from the title on the office door, and more focused on the people that count - customers!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

What a way to start!

I've been thinking for some time that I needed to add to my blog list with something that was socially acceptable... so welcome to Socially Ept, where we'll share a journey towards understanding what the social media dislocation means to business today, and just as importantly what it doesn't mean.

And what a way to start - today I had the chance to spend some time listening to Jeremiah Owyang courtesy of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan and Forrester Research. He impressed me early during the "stand-around-and-mingle" phase when he responded to a question about getting the time to blog - "it's sort of time management. I blog first (for 2 hours a day), and then I get around to the other stuff". You know, that's a pretty good world view (and a fine sense of personal branding).

Jeremiah's presentation focused pretty much on the Groundswell phenomenon, although the Q&A started to get more interactive and - go figure - penetrating. With many self-proclaimed experts in the room, Jeremiah was able to make complex issues clear and to provide nuggets of actionable insight. Let's face it - the advent of social media marks the greatest dislocation to marketing since the invention of the printing press. And he basically told them to get over it, move on, adapt.

I agree - the needle has moved and it's no good trying to figure out how to turn this back into something the CMO can control. I like to think about this transformation in terms of operating systems - sure, MS-DOS was a great little number but you won't find it supporting many global enterprises. The operating system for engaging with customers has changed. You either upgrade, or perish.

In tomorrow's post I'll focus a little more on Jeremiah's presentation. So why don't you join in?