Archive for September, 2010


This is why you will have a career in social media

I’m about to make a prediction that surprises even me.

Social media management will not be absorbed into most company marketing departments and instead will emerge as a stand-alone professional discipline.

I know I’m sounding like some wild-eyed social media hype master here but hear me out, OK?

I’ve been around long enough to see how emerging technologies are absorbed and deployed by corporations.  Believe it or not I can remember a day when I worked without email, let alone websites and search engines.  And over time, the buzz subsides, the technology standardizes, and these new ideas become part of the daily routine. We don’t have “email departments” or “website departments.”  These tools are assimilated by the organization and leveraged by individuals as needed.

So I assumed this is what would happen with the social technologies too but I am begninning to think I’m wrong. Here’s why.

Observe.  In the past four weeks,

  • Twitter announced a major change to its user interface that has significant implications for marketers and many third-party applications.
  • Google unveiled an enhancement that some say will obsolete 80% of conventional search engine optimization strategies.
  • LinkedIn rolled out not one, but four upgrades.
  • Foursquare changed about 50% of its user interface and added new social functionality.  The newcomer also secured a major round of funding and both Facebook and Twitter sought to aggressively enhance their location-based offerings.

In the social space, it’s not just the technology that is changing constantly, it is nearly every rule of engagement.  It’s as if you have finally equipped your tank in time to discover that you’re fighting a battle in the ocean tomorrow.

And to me, that is a very, very big difference compared to any technological integration that has challenged a marketing department before.  There will be relatively few companies who will want to fund their own team of social media experts to stay on top of the daily tsunami of change and provide consistent, meaningful counsel. Over the long term, it will be more economical for companies to hire consultants who are paid to study this stuff day and night and then tell them what to do next.

Simply stated, ”social media management” will emerge as a stand-alone career discipline because it will be the most economical and effective way for companies to compete in a world of hyper-change.  It may take some time for companies to realize this, but in the long-term, that’s my forecast of how it will shake out.

What do you think?

Social media and the big conversation “fail”

I am feeling sad and a bit ashamed of myself.

Something happened — a wake-up call about this notion of social media “community” and “conversation.” It’s making me pause and reflect on what we’re really all about here on the social web. What I’m about.

Last year I collaborated with a bright young woman named Jenn Whinnem.   I didn’t know her at all and in fact I kind of pulled her out of thin air to help with a post on sexism on the social web.  She had made a random Twitter comment to me about women and blogging and I suggested that she write about it instead of talking to me about it … and one thing led to another, including a great post called “Is Blogging a Man’s Job?”

Since then, Jenn and I have been regular Twitter buddies and she has been a frequent contributor to {grow} through her comments in the community.

She recently revealed on a guest post on Jayme Soulati’s blog that she has a terminal disease, cystic fibrosis, and suffers every day.  Until this moment, I had put Jenn in the category of “friend” but realized I did not even know this single important fact that dominates her life, in fact dominates every breath she takes.   I hadn’t even talked to her on the phone. I would have heard the coughing. I would have asked her about it. I could have, and should have, known.

I lost sight of what it means to be a friend. It’s a word that has been social-media-cheapened and distorted for a new generation and I got caught up in it too.

While many of us pontificate and debate about the heralded Age of Conversation, I’m realizing we’re not having conversations at all.  Twitter is not a conversation. Commenting on blogs is not a conversation — it’s usually just a comment.  We see these little smiling avatars each day without really having a clue about the person behind the picture.

Isn’t it ironic that a thousand blog posts have been written about the importance of “the conversation” and more truthfully, the social web enables us to avoid conversations through status updates and other non-invasive procedures.

After a speech last week, I hung around to meet people and answer questions.  One young lady had some in-depth questions about how she could improve her business. Obviously I could not effectively answer the questions with 10 people waiting in line to talk. So I gave her my card and said, “Look, just call me. We can talk next week. I’ll try to help you.”  She looked like I had just hit her with a club. Funny how a phone call is regarded as something extraordinary these days.

I’ve decided that I want to do better. I want to have real conversations and make real friends.  I have gained so much from actually talking on the phone — and even meeting — the people on {grow}.  And yet, most of you are still strangers.  Want to talk?

I’ll trust you to handle this in a sensitive way, but if you’re interested, I would love for you to call or Skype me. Seriously. Let me know who you are and what we can do to help and support each other. My phone number is all over the website.  And who knows, I might just randomly call you.

In fact, I think I need to start with Jenn.

Is it time to bury your website?

I’ve had fun attending and presenting at Cincinnati’s progressive Digital Non-Conference (#dignc) this week and a highlight was the spirited debate provoked by Pete Blackshaw, executive VP of NM Incite

His presentation “Do you still need a website?” played off of a now slightly-famous article he wrote for Ad Age about a month ago.  Pete upended much of the social hype and defended websites, as long as they continue to evolve to be more timely, adaptive, and content-oriented:

A smart website feeds and refreshes the brand stands. It anchors the brand database, arguably the most coveted asset, and sets the tone and standard for the brand’s ethos and attitude about feedback, expression and service. Put another way, it establishes that first critical (often unforgettable) impression. A great website also smartly syndicates, re-circulates and curates social content from the brand stands.

Based on the comments from the social media-saturated crowd, many disagreed with him, with one gentleman stating flatly that all he needed was for somebody to “like” his brand on Facebook and he had all that was required to market to them.  Several people declared in side coversations that websites are dead and that many businesses can function just fine with only a presence on the social web.

The presentation was certainly lively, the time was short, and I had been left wishing that I had a way to comment more fully on the talk.  Oh wait.  I do.

Pete and I are aligned in our view of the website and its changing role in the era of the social web. In fact, I am presenting today on a subject that will compliment his discussion quite nicely. **

However, in the entire hour-long discussion, the most important reason for a sustaining a website was entirely neglected:  This is the place where you ask people for their money.

Sure, social media is great for engaging and listening, customer service and research, creating loyalty and telling stories. But rarely do we ever use it to really, truly sell stuff.  In fact, selling is the antithesis of social.  But at some point, we all need to make a living. Yes, customers can be our Facebook friends, but they still have money and we want it. 

In fact, I think the best social media marketing strategy is to systematically populate outposts (or “brandstands” as Pete calls them) that direct people BACK to a website that asks, “Hey Bub, how about buying something now?”  And that’s one of the primary reasons why most organizations will always need a website … to ask people to give you their money, sign up for your webinar, donate to your charity, enroll in your university or whatever else you need them to do. It is where the action takes place that sustains your organization.  You can’t feed a family with tweets or page views. 

Now of course quite sophisticated eCommerce systems are emerging on Facebook and will probably show up in other channels too. But I have to ask you, do you really want to hand the family jewels to Facebook?

During the conference, a new friend told me the story of a brand that spent $20,000 on a glorious eCommerce application for their Facebook site.  A day before the site launched, Facebook changed the underlying technical requirements, obsoleting the entire development initiative. It could have been worse — the brand could have already launched and had the connection to their revenue stream go down indefinitely.

The point is, we don’t have to be “social” about everything. Sometimes mission critical processes like collecting money from people should reside in the cozy confines of your good ol’ IT department.

In the end, the only thing you really own on the Internet is your website.  Let’s not be too quick to bury it. 

** I believe a podcast is being made of the event and if I’ll let you know if and when it’s available.

Can social media change your company’s culture? I doubt it.

Mitch Joel mentioned to me in a recent exchange that he thought social media was changing corporate cultures.  As I pondered this possibility, I’d like to suggest that this scenario is very unlikely, and in fact the opposite is true — company cultures are radically changing the social web!

Anybody who has ever worked in a large company knows that corporate culture can be a very mysterious, powerful, and difficult thing to deal with. Culture may stem from:

  • The values and personality of a company founder (example: Richard Branson, Walt Disney, or Larry Ellison)
  • Rules, regulations and customs of an industry (defense contractors, law firms)
  • Complex brand identity issues (think of McDonald’s or Coca-Cola brands and the impact on culture)

To give you an idea of how deep and entrenched a culture might be, I once worked for a company whose identity and policies were driven in part by a lawsuit that happened in 1945.  Another customer I work with has policies posted on the walls of their HQ building that were created by the company’s founder … in 1938!  I don’t think this is unusual.  Company cultures are forged over time, change slowly, and come to define how a company shows up in the marketplace, even as technologies and channels change.

And like a human being, the psychology of an organization may be derived from a complex history and set of circumstances that determine behavior in ways we may never even truly understand.

So the idea that you could transform a company culture just because it needs to create a Twitter account or YouTube channel is probably fanciful. I believe the companies who are succeeding on the social web are doing so because they already have a company culture that would enable and reward that success.  A well-managed, market-oriented company with a legacy of customer-centricity is going to do well with social media — and any other marketing innovation that comes down the line.  If you look at a list of the most successful companies on the social web, there really aren’t any surprises are there?  Their cultures are pre-wired to succeed.

But a company that is slow to change, entrenched in bureaucracy and resistant to customers setting the pace will carry that culture through to whatever market challenge they face, too.  And pressuring them to set up a Facebook page isn’t going to change that either!

In fact, I will argue that strong corporate cultures are actively and powerfully changing the social web. Think about …

  • How blogging has changed from “journaling” to a search-engine-focused marketing tool.
  • How Facebook has transformed from an exclusive college social network to a multi-billion-dollar marketing powerhouse
  • How grainy, home-made videos of brides falling at weddings have been replaced as the most popular YouTube videos by glossy corporate mini-movies

Power to the people?  Hardly.  All of these changes were brought about by corporate marketing strategies. Companies are dramatically changing that nature of the social web far more powerfully than the social web will transform companies.  Right?

Community note: Mitch Joel posted a nice counter-point to this article on his blog.  A good read to see another valid perspective.

Illustration: View from Tower of Belem, in Lisbon, Portugal. I took this photo in 2009 and it reminds me of the fortress-like characteristics of corporate culture!
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