Archive for year 2010

Pushing beyond the comfort zone

When was the last time you experienced a moment that made you pause and consider your approach to life?

I had one of those rare experiences last night when I attended a concert by the eclectic Sufjan Stevens. I am admittedly a huge fan of this incredibly talented performer but was unprepared for the onslaught that occurred in the intimate confines of an old vaudeville theater.

Stevens is best know for his quirky, banjo-infused tunes and an angelic voice that lifts up songs about the darkest and funniest sides of human nature.  His music is usually categorized as folk or folk-rock but last night the acoustic instruments were put aside for a computer and synthesizers as every corner of the room was filled with pulsing space-rock bleeps, pops and crackles.

Like most fans, I was looking forward to hearing his old acoustic songs but the concert instead blazed through epic new anthems. At first it was dis-orienting, maybe even a little disappointing, but slowly his musical vision was peeled back song by song and I was moved by his courage and artistry.

He told a story of experimenting with electronic sounds so deeply he felt he couldn’t get out.  He described the kinship he felt with an Alabama primitive artist who struggled to create through bouts of insanity. It was a centuries-old artistic struggle to create something entirely new out of uncomfortable places.  I didn’t like every song. Some seemed monotonous and repetitive. But others soared in epic beauty. What music could I compare this to?  There is none.  And that is the achievement.

His music reminded me of a Jackson Pollock painting. Drips and drops filling every space, lush colors spilling over a canvas. Sometimes difficult to understand, but undeniably unique.

The other signature element of Sufjan’s music is his deeply personal, spirtual and courageous lyrics.

After two hours of bombastic music filled with two drummers, a horn section, three keyboard players and every electronic gizmo in the music industry, he stood alone on the stage, playing a guitar, singing his hauntingly beautiful “John Wayne Gacy Jr.” — yes a song about a serial murderer who raped and tortured young boys.  But the song is not about this criminal horror. It is about himself. The last lines of the song had some in the audience in tears:

“In my best behavior, I am really just like him. Look beneath the floorboards for the secrets I have hid.”

And with a look of humility and exhaustion that punctuated the song, he looked into the audience, waved, and exited.

Sufjan Stevens leaves nothing on the stage.  He pushes his craft to the edge of every comfort zone … and beyond.

What would it feel like to live like that?  To WRITE like that?  Is that even possible?  What’s next? I am unsettled.

If you would like to hear the John Wayne Gacy song, click below:

Social media was the engine for America’s Tea Party “revolution”

It’s Election Day here in the United States and we appear to be on the brink of a significant social change.  Fueled by outrage over the financial meltdown, economic stimulus attempts, government bailouts, and the election of Barack Obama, The Tea Party Movement is upending incumbents in the name of fiscal conservatism.

Many are pointing to the role of social media channels in spreading this movement.  Did social media create the Tea Paryt Movement, and if so, does this prove that the social web CAN enable dramatic social change?

Today, just two years after a sweeping Democratic victory, the tea-party movement is poised to redraw the landscape again. Nurtured by online networking, it helped disparate activists across the nation link up and already push aside high-profile incumbent leaders in multiple states this year.

A thorough history of the Tea Party Movement in The Wall Street Journal is peppered with references to the use of social media in building a national movement.  Let’s start with a brief summary of how social media played a role in these sweeping changes:


The genesis of the Tea Party Movement may have been a blog by Stacy Mott, a stay-at-home mother fed up with the government’s economic policies.  Enraged by the government bail-outs, she started a blog for conservative women called “Smart Girl Politics” and launched a social networking site at the same time.  This and other conservative blogs were catalysts for live rallies. The content caught the attention of influential blogger and political commentator Michelle Malkin who started to write about the rallies.  After a dramatic online television rant calling for a modern-day Tea Party movement by CNBC Commentator Rick Santelli, the Smart Girl blog went viral.  Hundreds of other blogs popped up, creating a grassroots cry for change.

Social networking

Facebook pages started springing up locally and then nationally, uniting disparate activities. The movement initially had no budget, so Facebook served as the central directory for the party’s activities.  Within a year there 2,000 Tea Party-related Facebook pages. Eventually one of the founders created a website and social networking site called The Tea Party Patriots.


Many believe the first seeds of the movement were planted on a list of top conservatives on Twitter, dubbed #tcot” for short. This list spawned other lists and within weeks #tcot  grew from 25 names to 1,500. Twitter was used to unite disparate voices and organize conference calls, town hall meetings and rallies.


As the movement grew, organizers established wikis to provide protest advice and organizing techniques.

Fueled by these social platforms, general disenchantment coalesced into a cause, and in just a few months the movement enjoyed a stunning victory when Republican Scott Brown in Massachusetts won Senator Ted Kennedy’s long-time Democratic Senate seat.

The social media revolution?

Undoubtedly social networking unified an idea among disparate interest groups with no organization and no budget.  Does this amazing success discredit the much-discussed Malcom Gladwell article claiming that the weak links and lack of hierarchy could not promote such dramatic social change?

Yes and no. If you look carefully at the brief history of the Tea Party Movement, it may actually SUPPORT Gladwell’s contention.

The WSJ article shows the initial loose organizations created on social networks were eventually dismantled by in-fighting, controversy and hurt feelings. Once the euphoria of the initial change began to wear off, the social networks could not sustain the change and even the early pioneers united by blogs and Facebook became bitter and divided. Relationships among the loosely-based coalition deteriorated so quickly members began suing each other.

The real catalyst came from coverage by the traditional media. News programs on the Fox Network and articles in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal fueled interest in rallies. Live conference calls to organize the initiative seemed to be the linchpin between chaos and unity. Town Hall meetings and live rallies kept the momentum alive.  Embarrassing content, like a racist photo-shopped images of the president, quickly went viral on the social web and actually created more divisiveness among the members.

The other important point was that Gladwell was addressing revolutionary change that requires risk to personal safety.  Voting for the Tea Party Movement in the privacy of a voting booth carries the same risk as clicking a “like” button on Facebook so this is not exactly a test case for his theory.

In any event, there is no doubt that the Tea Party Movement could not have coalesced with this speed and forcefulness without social media. What are your thoughts on this Social Media Political Revolution?

To succeed in social media, set aside your marketing plan

Forget your marketing PLAN?  Have I gone MAD??

Every good social media plan STARTS with a solid marketing strategy but social media efforts are sub-optimized if a company is too wedded to long-term plans and can’t respond to sales opportunities happening RIGHT NOW in front of their noses. To succeed, let’s put the long-term plans aside for a moment and consider a new way to think about and organize around the social web called REACTIVE MARKETING.   Let’s look at some examples …

Where’s the beef? A large restaurant chain was frustrated that the only thing that generated Facebook traffic was coupons.  And why not?  They had conditioned their customers to expect discounts every week!  Wait a minute. They were giving the customers money. Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around?

I showed them a way they could tune into conversations through a simple saved Twitter search.  Immediately, they found hundreds of real-time needs from people looking for recommendations, or the best pub in town, or a place to take a date.  The chain had been too worried about planning next month’s promotion schedule while ignoring the real money-making opportunities of listening and responding, listening and responding.

Un-clog your blog. A B2B company has a content marketing plan that extended out for the next three months. Meanwhile, they had ignored a major market shift caused by a regulatory change. Instead of grabbing this opportunity to establish a voice of authority and educate their customers on the implications of this ruling, they adhered to this traditional mindset of sticking to a marketing plan while the real world passed them by.

Bring the heat. A local heating and air service company discovered a significant opportunity when they saw a series of tweets complaining about their largest competitor.  Responding to complaints that their competitors ignored opened opportunities to create loyal new customers. They are thinking of reducing their newspaper ad budget since this customer acquisition strategy worked so well.

Listen to me NOW. I sent out a tweet mentioning that I was in the market for a video camera. Within 20 minutes I had three tweets back offering specials on cameras.  While that seems like a good example of reactive marketing, none of the companies followed up with me after the first tweet.  Nobody closed the deal.  These companies organized their marketing efforts around the real-time opportunities of the social web but didn’t provide employees with the authority to go out there and actually sell me something.

Foursquare is still Bore-square. I’m still messing around with Foursquare although after several months I have yet to find any concrete value as a consumer.  But some day, I am going to “check in” at a retail location, an employee is going to address me by name, shake my hand and offer me a special deal for just checking in.  This would represent “reactive” marketing right at the point of sale. The social connection is not between me and somebody in a corporate office, it’s between me and the college student who is the department manager at the local retail tore.

Can you begin to see the opportunities?  The chance for connecting with new customers on the social web is not coming through a strategy document you just prepared for your CEO. It’s in connecting with people who need you RIGHT NOW!  It’s all about being reactive!

This presents dramatic implications for a sales and marketing department.

1) There’s a need to develop a culture with a discipline to tune-in, stay tuned, and react to market shifts and new competitive opportunities.

2) Here’s the big one.  You need to drive the authority to sell and react to the people on the front lines and establish appropriate goals and rewards for their reactive marketing efforts.

3) Every successful marketing tactic starts with a good strategy. I’m not advocating tossing out a marketing strategy. I’m suggesting that you adjust your plans to adapt to the real-time sales opportunities of the social web.

The largest brands understand this but I think this is an enormous opportunity for small and medium-sized companies. What’s your take? Have you seen much reactive marketing in your part of the world?

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