Archive for September, 2009

Is social media the new corporate star-maker?

bewitched darrin

A few months back I did a fun interview with Susan Wassel, the social media voice for Sharpie pens.  Susan made me a believer. If you can bring pens to life over Twitter, just about anything is possible.

So here is a debate I have with my customers: Do you have a real person (like Susan) represent your company on social media or a corporate logo with a rotating line-up behind the scenes (like most companies)?

Susan represents the ying and yang of this argument.  On the positive side, she has built a faithful following of nearly 4,000 who tune in to hear the latest Sharpie adventures of her friends and family.  She is an enthusiastic, charming woman who has come to personify the brand online.

Now the downside.  Some day Sharpie Susan will move on.  Remember the feeling you had when they replaced the first “Darren” on Bewitched?   That was hard to take.  There was a pretender in the role.  I don’t want a SharpieKim or SharpieFred or even (gasp) SharpieDarren.  I want my SharpieSusan dammit.

This is the ultimate two-edged sword of establishing your company’s voice online.  What happens when a solitary person BECOMES the brand?  Where do all those followers go when your spokesperson leaves … and joins your competitor for more money?  Sure, the company will survive, but why make the investment in developing the talent when you don’t have to?  Avoid the risk.

If you’re a talented communicator with a great personality interested in being a corporate social media persona, this is great news by the way.  Becoming your company’s social media rockstar may be the ultimate job security.  Or, you might be sentencing yourself to social media hell. Do you really want to be the company Pat Sajak for the next 20 years?  Any way, we will certainly see a growing number of popular corporate bloggers whose importance and value to the company will grow exponentially.

To close the loop, my recommendation to my customers is to provide a real face to the world. Nobody wants to relate to a logo.  But I don’t have answers to the hard questions I’ve raised here, either.  Let’s hear from you on the subject …

The marketing genius of KISS. Seriously.


My son is a professional musician and has wanted to be a performer since he was a little boy.  Once I determined that this was his true life goal, not a “phase,” I figured I had better support him and do everything I could to help him succeed.  I wanted him to think a lot about the business and marketing aspects of the music business and I decided the best classroom for that was a KISS concert.

For any serious marketer, a study of KISS should be a required curriculum.  I just read where the glam-band has a new album coming out and are preparing for a world tour.  So here is the question every savvy marketer should consider:   How can a quartet of 60-year-old men prance about in high heels, sell out a 25,000-seat arena anywhere in the world in 30 minutes, hawk millions in merchandise, and attract a passionate legion of fans known as their “army” nearly FORTY YEARS after they picked up their first guitar and discoverered they had no talent?

Polish your boots, tune your guitar and turn it up loud.  We’re all going to the classroom of KISS:

1) Give your customers EXACTLY what they want.  When you go to a KISS concert, you don’t get breath-taking improvisation and cerebral lyrics. You get pyrotechnics, explosions, costumes and decibles of sound that make your heart pound out of your chest.  You know every note and every word and can sing along in a fun and predictable manner.  This is what KISS fans want and this is what the band delivers — every time. At one point the band abandoned the makeup, tried more serious stuff and spectacularly tanked. That was their equvialent of New Coke. Put the make-up back on, and the fans returned.   Consistent brand image is essential.

2) Then give them MORE of what they want. The new KISS tour promises one of the largest, most extravagant stage productions in history.  Bigger, badder and louder for a band like KISS is their version of “now with lemon scent.”  That’s what keeps the fans interested and coming back year after year — a chance to see what new tricks are in store!  So innovate, but don’t ever abandon your core brand promise or your core customers.

3) Develop adjacencies. An adjacency is a new product related to your core offering that can provide new revenue streams. KISS has relentlessly spun off new ideas in merchandise, video games, toys, television programs and comic books that have attracted their own devotees.  Of course Gene Simmons has a reality show in the U.S. and Jeremy Bramwell told me he has a different hit show in the U.K., too.

4) Develop a brand and ferociously protect it.  One of the most fun KISS stories: When the band was just starting out and broke, they would surround their stage with mountains of empty speaker shells — none of them worked — to give the illusion that they were bigger and more important than they were (I guess that is like Twitter followers today?).  Was this tricking the customer?  No less than getting somebody to believe that Coca-Cola stands for something more than colored sugar water.  To be the biggest band in the world, they had to ACT like the biggest band in the world!

5) Put customers above everything.  I can’t imagine applying that kabuki make-up in a different city every night and playing the same songs over and over and over again … the same way … for decades. I’m sure they get sick of it.  But somehow (money) they find a way to approach their job, and their brand, with fresh passion every show because they HAVE to. They’re well-rewarded, but they also sacrifice a lot for their fans.  Say what you want about them.  KISS knows their customers and ALWAYS delivers.

What do you think?  What other business lessons can we learn from KISS or your favorite band?

Connection without cronyism


In response to my post on the social media country club (perhaps ”fortress” would have been more apt?) many people agreed with the observations I made but also challenged, “what next?”

“We” can do nothing to influence the behavior of others except “unsubscribe,” which probably would not even be noticed.  The only thing I/you can change about the situation is myself/yourself.

I need to hold a mirror up to my own community and figure out what I can change about my role and accountability to create an inclusive and safe environment that promotes connection without cronyism. I know you will come up with much better ideas, but here are my own thoughts on this tough question:

If I were an “A” List blogger, what behaviors would I adopt to try to facilitate dissent, inclusiveness, accessibility, and innovation?

Humility.  First, I would never characterize myself as an “A” list anything.  That’s the beginning of the trouble right there.  This is probably easier said than done when your name is in lights. Remaining humble has to be a mindset and a daily objective.  For me, it is an element of my spiritual journey. When you see yourself in the really big picture, you have to be humble.

Leadership. When I first became a “boss” many years ago, I remember participating in a brainstorming session and learning a week later that all of my raw ideas were in some phase of implementation.  Why?  Because I was in a position of authority and people thought they were carrying out my wishes.  This made me uneasy.  I longed to remain part of the team with my friends.   But that was impossible. The way you act as a leader and the way you act as a follower is different.  Leaders have to lead.

My impression is that some of the social media elite have not come to grips with this.  After all, it’s at odds with the “authenticity” mantra, right?  If you feel “snarky” why not BE “snarky?”  It doesn’t work like that on this elevated level.  You can get away with it when you have 65 followers but you can’t when you are a representative of the discipline and a role model for many … which is what you worked hard to achieve.

For me, I accept being the leader of a blog discussion and conducting the forum in a way that is respectful and inclusive.  I need to try to be mindful that friendship and support are gifts, but undue favoritism is corrosive and disrespectful to those still finding their voice.

Discernment – One high-profile blogger works for a company that retains Chris Brogan.  The person wrote a glowing review of “Trust Agents” on Amazon.  Is this good business, devoted friendship, or a conflict of interest?  You could successfully argue any of these positions, but the fact is that there could be at least an impression of impropriety.  So I think a lesson and best practice  is to avoid even an illusion of cronyism that could deteriorate trust and faith in me as a reliable and accessible leader.

A safety valve – I was really impacted by the fear people expressed in the comment section about disagreeing with the establishment. If I lose my way and start creating my own country club, how will I know?  Who will tell me?  As I become an authority figure to some, how do I help them still feel safe to dissent?  The idea I’m considering is a place on the blog for anonymous feedback that would only go to me. Perhaps that would be a way to establish a mechanism where anybody could say anything and beat me down a peg or two when I need it.  Need to think about that a little more.

OK, enough from the amateur.  What do you think?  What example should you and I set that would be a model for social web leadership?

P.S. I’m ready to lighten things up again. This stuff is too serious.  Tomorrow I’m going to write about KISS.  The band. Seriously.

The social media country club

social media country club

I finally had time to read the Brogan/Smith book “Trust Agents.”  I thought it was “OK” at best —  I think it’s a good book for marketing newcomers.  But based on the take-your-breath-away reviews from the blogger community, I was expecting much more.

Why was my impression of this non-remarkable book so different than the biggest names in blogging?   Here’s my hypothesis:  The opinions were NOT much different than mine (based on what people actually SAY privately) — but they just wouldn’t say so publicly.  Why?  The “thought leaders” of social media marketing are a country club fearful of saying anything negative or controversial about another club member.

The real commerce of social media is trading favors, and a negative comment breaks the favor chain of reciprocity.

Brogan and Smith express this importance of belonging when they write in their book: “be yourself, which is to say, ‘be one of us’.”   They describe the clannish protectionism of those at the top when they say “(newcomers) don’t realize that we all know each other, that we recognize the new stranger in our midst …”

I understand the human nature present in this situation.  Someone who wants to make it as a blogger is not going to rock the boat with a powerful individual who can influence their success by turning favors.  We all want to belong. That’s the way the world turns.   So if somebody wants to be a sycophant, why should I care?  Here’s why.  The nicey-nice world of social media blogging creates problems beyond the walls of the country club:

1) Group think. If you are unfamiliar with this term, here’s a good definition.  Among the top social media bloggers, there is little or no substantial debate over ANYTHING.  Sometimes an individual outside the “inner circle” lobs a grenade, which is usually deflected by a member of the inner circle in defense. The result is that essentially everybody expresses and re-expresses the basic opinions of the leaders without serious challenge or innovation.

2) Myth-making.  A few weeks ago I wrote a post about social media myths.  The ideas I chronicled probably seem ridiculous, yet mantras such as “it’s all about community” have become foundational tenets of nearly every blog I read.  As I’ve entered this arena and observed participant behavior, I’ve been astounded by how many people tweet, praise and re-blog anything uttered by the primary thought-leaders, no matter how insipid. It seems Marshall McLuhan was wrong in this case. The medium isn’t the message. In social media, the messenger is the message.

3) Lack of credibility.  Take a close look at the credentials (if you can find any) of nearly any leading social media marketing “expert.”  How many have ever had a real sales job or have been actually accountable for delivering new value in a marketplace by creating, testing and distributing a product on a meaningful scale?   Very few.  Yet these are our marketing “gurus?”  In a communication channel already dominated by porn-peddling, get-rich-quick nimrods, it simply doesn’t help our collective credibility to have our most visible advocates spouting incredibly naive statements about marketing fundamentals they know little about.

4) An infrastructure of angels. If you get to the point where you are huge on the social media scene, shouldn’t you be able to pull enough strings to constantly surround yourself with enough positive tweets, reviews and testimonials to bury any authentic complaint?  The real strategy of Trust Agents is to build enough goodwill to call in favors, forever.

OK, so let’s not talk about what’s going on “out there” any more. Let’s bring it to the here and now, you and me.  What would better serve MY social media strategy … or yours?  To provide an honest opinion that might upset the favor-makers, or to join the country club?

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