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The Dark Side of Social Media And 5 Ways to Avoid It

PR blogs have been on fire the past week debating the Walmart blog fiasco with Edelman at the helm.  Some have taken a subtle delight in Edelman's failure (see comments on Richard's response post), while others have shared fears about what this means for the future of PR and social media.  At it's core, the Walmart case illustrates what is quickly growing to become the dark side of social media - the ease with which the truth can be manipulated.  More and more consumers believe that new blogs or videos posted online are real if they "look real."  Accordingly, there is an expectation from consumers that companies are using personal media to communicate more authentically with them.  As companies start to fail this trust by using personal media covertly for marketing or advertising, critics are coining terms like "flogs" and "astroturfing" to symbolize this emerging dark side of social media. 

Yet this criticism is not new when it comes to complaints about authenticity in marketing.  That debate has long existed, and in part this has led to a situation where most US consumers have become adept at filtering out irrelevant or outrageous marketing claims.  Unfortunately, consumers are learning that their built in radar honed over a lifetime of seeing (and ignoring) interruption marketing messages is now inadequate.  Consumers are being duped easily by phenomena like the LonelyGirl15 episode, where a seemingly authentic conversation turned out to be a publicity stunt.  Consumers are no longer as confident in their ability to spot a marketing message.  As a result, their guard is up.  Their radars are peaked and they are on the lookout for anything inauthentic.  They pounce on corporate missteps like the one from Walmart and blogs that raise the most hell or break the news get the most traffic.  It is the personal media equivalent of the journalist's search for the scoop ... the blogger's search for the dupe.

Looking at all these risks, some organizations might conclude that it is wiser to simply avoiding doing anything with personal media altogether.  This is a big mistake.  Despite the risks, using personal media for marketing can offer a chance for an authentic dialogue with customers, a chance to ask for and act on direct customer feedback, and a unique and human voice for what may otherwise be a faceless corporation.  In short, the benefits are worth it.  But how can any marketing team hoping to engage in personal media avoid the fate of Walmart, Dell and others?  How do we counsel our clients on using personal media in a way that engages people rather than offering them fuel for contempt?  Below are five lessons that may help in avoiding the dark side of personal media, and finding success in the blogosphere:

  1. Be as transparent as you can.  Transparency is key, as flogs and astroturfing are both based on marketing efforts that are dishonest and lack transparency.  Yet full transparency can make a campaign boring or give away too much too quickly.  The trick is to strike a balance where you maintain authenticity without necessarily giving away every detail.
  2. Don't be afraid to "admit" you are marketing. This is the single biggest myth that lots of marketing teams believe ... that if they admit they are marketing people will stop paying attention.  If a marketing message resonates- the fact that it happens to be marketing doesn't matter.  This is one of the central concepts behind WOM, that consumers are willing and often happy to support marketing and even become brand ambassadors for something they believe in.
  3. Understand who your detractors are, and assume they will always hate you.  One of the many concepts I picked up from Seth Godin that I am fond of quoting is that every customer has a worldview.  And this world view is nearly impossible to change.  Chevy Tahoe's viral promotion failed because people who hate SUVs are highly vocal, and people who like them are embarrassed to admit it.  The lesson here is to know who hates you and assume they will be vocal about their hatred.  The only way to manage this is if that group happens to be relatively small, or if you have a equally vocal group of people who love you.
  4. Make sure you have supporters that will fight for you. This relates to the point above.  When engaging in personal media, you can't succeed if everyone universally hates you.  You need to find a way to engage those people who like your product, service or what you are trying to do.  Ultimately, these voices supporting you in personal media will matter far more than anything you are able to release in your marketing.
  5. Listen, participate and respond. This may be fifth in the list, but is perhaps the most important.  If you look at every instance of personal media marketing horror stories, from the Kryptonite Bike Lock, to Dell Hell, to Walmart ... each could have been managed far better if the companies involved had listened, participated and responded to issues or problems raised on blogs.  This is important at all times, and particularly after launching new campaigns and marketing efforts as well.

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Monday, October 29, 2012

I Have Moved My Blog!

Hi there!

If you're seeing this message, you have managed to make it to my old blog.  In August, 2012 - I moved my whole blog over to a new website which you can visit here:

The last 8 years of blog posts are all available on my new blog, but let me know if you have any trouble with the new site or you have any suggestions for improvement!  Thanks for visiting and I hope you find what you are looking for.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

How To Launch A Successful Product: Lessons From the New Kindle Fire HD

I have been a fan of the Amazon Kindle device for some time now ... and I ordered the new 7 inch Kindle Fire the day it was announced. This weekend I had the chance to try it out, and have been fairly happy. What I didn't expect, though, was to take away quite so many marketing lessons from the announcement and launch of the device itself. In the leadup to the launch as well as after I had the chance to try out the device, there were a few extremely smart marketing choices that stood out to me - and should be useful for anyone aiming to launch a product or service into a highly competitive marketplace:

1. Set expectations strategically. When Jeff Bezos first announced the Kindle Fire HD, he admitted that it shouldn't be seen as a gadget. "The Kindle Fire is a service," he shared. Not only did this feel immediately believable based on Amazon's heritage as a retail brand instead of a gadget maker ... but it also was a great way to illustrate that the real power of the new Kindle Fire's are the seamless way they let you access Amazon's services. And if you don't plan to use all those services, then maybe this isn't the gadget for you.


2. Take advantage of dead space. One "feature" of the new Kindle Fire HD that is sure to annoy some users is that every time the screen goes to sleep and you want to restart the machine, you are delivered a new full screen ad for some piece of content or service (which you can choose to pay $15 to disable). So far, the ads I have seen have been beautifully designed, non-intrusive, and (dare I say) interesting. As long as this quality and relevance continues, it is a very smart way to add value, upsell and create another revenue stream for Amazon to serve ads.


3. Understand where you make your money. The new Kindle Fire HD is priced at $199, which many industry analysts are quick to point out may be at or even below Amazon's true cost to make and ship these. The thinking, of course, is that they will make their money back on users who seamlessly shop more often on Amazon with their new devices for products and digital services. So far, that gamble on that part has probably easily paid off in my case, with the apps and books I already purchased in the first two days of having my new device.


4. Create a cult around your core audience. The Kindle (and on some level Amazon itself) has always championed readers. With the new Kindle, one of the hottest features is "immersion reading" - the name given to the feature that allows you to hear a book read to you via Audible while you follow along reading the text on the device. Along with that, purchasing a Kindle book also gives you access to a public list of phrases from that book that other readers have chosen to highlight. As an author, this insight into what phrases of my book people found valuable enough to highlight was invaluable - and it was useful for me as a reader for several books I'm reading as well.


5. Release earlier than your competition. The holiday season at the end of the year is a busy time to launch gadgets. Many other players in the tablet space will likely be coming out in the next several weeks. By announcing the three models of the new Kindle Fire, and actually shipping the smallest one in mid-September, Amazon is poised to beat the rush and lock people into the Kindle platform early.


Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Surprisingly Simple Secret of Social Advertising

IMB_LaserTargetingThere is a military technique described by the acronym LTD which you should know about. It stands for Laser Targeting Designators and it is basically a laser light source which is used to designate a target. In other words, by "lasing targets" - you put a marker on something so that when you shoot at it, you are more likely to hit it. Marketing people are fond of using military terms like campaigns, targets and hits to describe what we do. For all of our militaristic language, however, most of us don't actually do a good job of paying attention to what elements of military strategy might actually help us to influence people to change behaviour, belief or buying patterns.

IMB_NYAMAEventLTD is that kind of idea - and it might just offer the real secret to succeeding with social advertising. Earlier this week I had the chance to take part in an impromptu panel discussion hosted by the New York chapter of the AMA and moderated by the effervescent Gemma Craven from the Social@Ogilvy team all about effective social media strategy. Jon Lombardo, one of the social media leads at General Electric, shared a philosophy that a growing number of smart and savvy corporate social media teams are using. It has four very straightforward (though not easy!) steps:
  1. Focus on creating valuable and engaging content. 
  2. Reduce lead time and create a lot of it. 
  3. Create an "early warning system" metric to identify content that your audience appreciates. 
  4. Double down on that content by purchasing social advertising to promote it.

Creating lots of content is the first step - and finding what works early is the social advertising equivalent of lasing the target. Then when you buy the social advertising to scale that content, you already know it is likely to work. In order to do it, you need to understand the difference between what I often describe as something going "microviral" versus something going "macroviral."

Microviral means you have a lot of views, sharing, commenting or some other form of engagement in a very short period of time. The volume doesn't matter at this stage - all that matters is the speed. If ten people like something within 30 seconds of your posting it, you have a sign of something going microviral. The numbers may vary depending on the size of your audience, but speed here is everything.

Macroviral is that point where you add scale to generate high volume of engagement. The most important thing to remember for this is that most things don't jump from going microviral to going macroviral without help. This is where social advertising comes in. When you have good content that people like, use your advertising to boost it and get more people to see and share it.

In a nutshell, this is the technique that GE has been employing to promote what is working. I have seen similar philosophies to content sharing and promotion being used by more than half a dozen of the world's largest brands that we work with as well. Not everything should be about "going viral" or creating short lived stunts. However, if your goal is to deliver your message at scale and reach exponentially more people with it - then remember the difference between going microviral and macroviral and create great content that is worth sharing and promoting.

Photo Credit: Rachel Caggiano on Instagram

Monday, September 10, 2012

Why Usability & Usefulness Are Cool Again

IMB_JakobNielsenNot a lot of people know this, but 2002 I did my Masters Thesis on the topic of web usability. It was the "appfication trend" of its day ... a topic that every business was talking about and spending more and more money to get right. Jakob Nielsen was a household name in web development teams - and "Information Architect" and "Usability Expert" were considered careers for the future. Then one day usability started to fade into the background. It became more of an afterthought. When is the last time you saw any job with "usability" in the title on any sort of list of jobs for the future?

The irony is that usability never became less important - it was just that marketing people moved on to promoting sexier things ... like social media and focused on buzzwords like "engagement" and creating "conversations." The after effect of this focus is still evident all around us:

United Airlines has a website that is a towering monument to what happens when no one listens to the usability experts. Tasks are impossible to complete without too many clicks, the interface is completely non-intuitive, and your logged in profile is inconveniently forgotten before any transaction.


Design and fashion brands like Marc Ecko and Cartier continue to use Flash centric sites to showcase product images and high resolution photography.


Packaged goods brands like Snickers create "experiential" sites that link to videos and try every trick in the book to capture attention.


Thankfully, there are signs of hope that the business world may be rediscovering the appeal of being useful and usable. The trend of responsive design in web development promotes the view that interfaces must be designed in a flexible layout so they work when accessed by many devices with multiple screen sizes. Apps often take the transactional part of web experiences and make them easier to complete. And open access to tools like Facebook and Twitter make it possible to streamline the signup process for new sites, and integrate multiple services all together. In addition, brands are finally understanding that providing a highly useful experience can be the ultimate way to generate positive word of mouth. There is no greater consumer benefit than saving someone time.

This past weekend, there were two automotive campaigns - one from Ford and one from Nissan that each focused on their aim to be more useful for their customers (see videos below). Ford promoted the "LiftGate" system that allows you to open the trunk of the new Ford Escape with your foot - for when you have your hands full. And Nissan promoted the new Altima, which has a built in tire pressure feature that tells you when the tire is fully inflated.


Meanwhile, home improvement brand Lowes continued to promote their highly useful feature online that helps you track all your purchases and save them in a virtual account.


So what does all of this newfound attention on being more useful and usable mean? Usability - and the entire idea of being useful above all else is finally hot again. Hopefully the age of focusing on flash over substance may finally be ending. Which is great news for anyone who is looking for less "engagement" and more help in saving time and just getting things done. You know, people like you and me.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

The Sexiness of Statistical Insignificance

People love numbers. We respect #1 best sellers. We believe in a product if four out of five dentists like it. And every week there is new Presidential election polling in the US to give the media real time numbers to spend hours "reacting" to in live talk shows. In today's world, numbers are used to prove anything to anybody. Why make an argument when you can find a number to do it for you? If a picture is worth a thousand words, the right number seems to be worth a thousand pictures.


This fascination with numbers, though, has led to a rather predictable problem. Many of the numbers we see used to make arguments on behalf of people and brands are actually statistically insignificant. A few weeks ago as I traveled through India, I saw the billboard above, which was meant to promote a brand of men's deodorant. In a country of a billion people, how significant are thousands of men agreeing on one product?

Amitabh-Bachchan-Facebook-PageThat same week, Bollywood's most famous actor - a man named Amitabh Bachchan, 69, finally started a Facebook fan page for himself. He gained more than 800,000 followers in 30 minutes and just passed 2 million fans in less than two weeks. In a country of a billion people, THAT is significant. As more and more numbers become readily available from apps that tell us how many calories we burned walking down two flights of stairs to deep analytics on every click you make while using the Internet - the challenge we all face is finding the significance in numbers.

Sexy-little-numbers-445x445Today a colleague of mine named Dimitri Maex just released his first book titled Sexy Little Numbers which focuses on exactly this topic. In it, he shares real world lessons of how finding the right data and insights can lead any organization to be more successful. It is not an overstatement to say that numbers indeed have become sexy. We all want to use them to make a point and influence others. The real trick is to go beyond "sexy" to uncover the numbers that have actual significance - and then use them to tell your story.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Airline Asks For Gas Money, Misses Golden Marketing Opportunity


Business is unpredictable, but its amazing how much time is spent in corporate marketing and PR teams trying to anticipate and avoid any sort of unplanned events. So yesterday when an Air France flight had to divert from landing in Beirut to an unplanned landing in the Syrian capital of Damascus. Unfortunately for them, payments for fuel in Damascus can only be made in cash - so Air France decided to ask their passengers for gas money.

As the story broke in media, which of course it would, here is Air France's statement:

"Air France confirms that it asked passengers if they had cash, as payments for fuel can only be made in cash in Damascus. Ultimately, Air France could pay the full amount itself, and passengers did not have to advance any cash. Air France apologizes to its customers for the inconvenience."

There isn't really a way to prepare for a situation like this - and businesses face these types of events every day. The problem is, most turn to the faceless prepared statement. It is a huge missed opportunity. There is a general awareness among businesses that customers appreciate honesty. It's why we hear so much about authenticity and transparency in communications. The problem usually is that the time when the truth is most powerful is in the immediate moments after dealing with a micro or macro crisis. Honesty works best in real time.

So when Air France with confronted with the unpredictable situation of having to find cash for fuel in Dasmascus - why not share the real truth instead of just waking up the lawyers to craft some meaningless sentences? Here's what they could have said: that they had an unpredictable delay and unforeseen problem, and their crews are trained to do their best to get you to your destination ... even if it means asking for gas money (which they ended up not needing, by the way). And then the next day, introduce a new policy of keeping a box full of cash right next to the black box in the cockpit so this doesn't happen again of course.

Photo Credit: Wayne Sutton - used from his related blog post about a local restaurant's efforts to encourage more tips!

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Go Daddy Teaches Brands How To Grow Up?

IMB_GoDaddy3Love them or hate them, there is no denying Go Daddy's sex-based TV commercials designed to create a splash and introduce their brand to the world have been remarkably successful. Every year they have made a tradition out of having ads prepared that are "too hot" for the SuperBowl and get partially banned from airing. Then they publish them online, invite people to watch the full versions on their website and watch the traffic roll in. It is the ultimate awareness strategy, and has worked so well that Go Daddy now has a predictable new challenge: they need to grow up.

Now that the Go Daddy brand has been promoted aggressively for several years as a domain name hosting company, they need to go beyond simple awareness ... and they need to establish trust. Sound familiar?  It is a situation many other brands are likely to face at some point in their growth as well.  Eventually, the most important thing shifts from getting people to know that you exist to something bigger. 

Like any other domain name and hosting business online, Go Daddy's success doesn't depend on selling more domain names, but rather in providing the extended services such as hosting and web development that they provide for customers.  The domains are a loss leader to jumpstart a relationship.  Once you register a URL, the upsell starts.  And the problem with the marketing is that it never did much to establish Go Daddy as a great partner who knows anything about technology.  It was just a cheap place to get domain names. 

IMB_GoDaddy2The tempting thing for any brand is to abandon a previously effective strategy and start something entirely new.  We see it all the time.  Anyone see Jared from Subway lately?  Yet for Go Daddy, their latest campaign shows that you don't need to throw away what worked in order to evolve.  Their latest "Inside Out" marketing campaign, takes a funny and realistic approach to pairing the hot women they are known for featuring, with the "hot for technology" geeks who actually do the real work at Go Daddy. 

Yes it plays up all the stereotypes, and yes it's still slightly offensive. But for a brand like Go Daddy - it constitutes growing up. The lesson any brand can take is that evolution doesn't always mean you need to throw out everything you've done in the past. If it works, keep it.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Olympics Newsflash: Social Media Isn't The Problem, YOU Are The Problem

OlympicSpoilersIt is just Day 5 of the "Social Olympics" and already social media has taken center stage in good and bad ways. For anyone who hasn't been as Olympics-crazy as me, over the past few days we have seen athletes thrown out of the Games for racist comments made on Twitter, Olympic level whining about tape delays from coverage in the US, people choosing to stay off social media in order to avoid spoilers, and indignation from social media believers about limiting social media usage by athletes in any way.

For all the complaints, though, here's a few facts to consider:

  1. Over the next two weeks, NBC will broadcast more than 5000 hours of LIVE competition online and on multiple television channels.
  2. Athletes are actually ENCOURAGED to use Twitter and social media to share their experience, as long as they don't promote brands or personal sponsors (which has led to a justifiable #wedemandchange uprising), but it certainly doesn't prevent them from sharing their excitement or real experience of the Games).
  3. Prime time in the US is still the time when the majority of working people have time during the week to watch the Olympics (even if it happens to be on a time delay).

Despite this coverage and access - many people are complaining about the many ways they feel the Olympics are being "ruined" by marketing, or social media, or NBC. Sure, some of the complaints are valid.  But what if none of these things are the real problem?  What if the real problem is you?

Well, maybe not YOU specifically - but "socially savvy people" in general. Socially savvy people are used to sharing every thought and impulse in real time. They expect content online to be free and always available. Everything must be open source, or else it isn't worthy of respect.

Sound familiar? You know people like this, I am sure. So do I. The problem is - their oversharing sometimes ends up poisoning all of our lives. Their desire to turn every one of life's moments into a status update means they may be missing the very moments they focus on capturing. Their steady stream of updates clog our life feeds and keep us from connecting with our more important but less active friends. The real danger of social media is the people who abuse it. It is no wonder some of the most respected people in social media are openly calling for an end to the nastiness with a single day of positivity in social media on August 14th.

So as the Olympics continue, instead of turning to social media as a convenient place to vent about your disgust for why swimming finals are broadcast on a time delay - how about following Athlete twitter feeds to read about their experience of the Games?  Or what about spending your lunch hour watching a great Olympic table tennis match on a live stream? 

The point is, there are plenty of ways to enjoy the global spectacle of the Olympics without spoiling it with your social media outrage and oversharing.  With the US Presidential election just a few months around the corner, why not save your criticism for the political ads and campaigns?  At least they deserve it.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Best And Worst Of London 2012 Olympic Marketing Roundup

NOTE - To see a full visual roundup of the best and worst marketing, visit my London 2012 Olympic Marketing - Best & Worst Pinterest Board.


IMB_savethesecretAs the world turn its attention to the Games in London today, I'll have to indulge my Olympic passion from afar this time around.  I've been a lover of the Olympics since I was in college in Atlanta during the games in 1996.  They were a big reason I moved to Australia in 1998 and I was in Beijing in 2008 helping manage the Lenovo Voices of the Olympic Games program where we had 100 Olympic athletes blogging their experience in a pre-Twitter world.  So yes, I'm an enthusiast.  

This time around, I am going to share my passion for Olympic marketing with a platform that I haven't yet used all that much - Pinterest.  As I spent the last week looking at some of the most interesting marketing efforts from around the world - I saw everything from P&G's emotional "best job in the world" video to British Airway's unexpected campaign to encourage Britons NOT to fly.  One of the best early stories, to me, was the #savethesecret campaign launched to encourage people not to share the details about the Opening Ceremonies so people will still be surprised in watching it - a worthy challenge that I accept (and so you won't find any spoilers in this blog post).

Throughout the Games, great marketing stories will continue to emerge ... and so I plan to collect and share them through my Pinterest board - London 2012 Olympic Marketing - Best & Worst.  Over the next three weeks, if you see any great marketing examples, I would love to see you share them there as well. In the meantime, let's all get ready for the international spectacle of the Olympics ... there really isn't anything else like it.

Monday, July 23, 2012

12 Big Trends Transforming The World Of Retail Right Now

Last week I had the chance to deliver a keynote presentation at a merchandising event put on for some of the largest retailers in the US by the trade association  I shared some trends built upon consumer behaviour and incorporating some startups that are getting a lot of attention right now.  I don't share many of my presentations as they are often custom created specifically for events that I participate in, but this is one of the few that I can open up to a public audience.  So below you can see the full presentation embedded from Slideshare (and you can visit my Facebook page to download the PDF).  I hope you enjoy it!