Thoughts on firing my customer

I’ve had an emotional week.  For the first time in my 28-year business career, I had to fire a customer.

This has been unprecedented. I’ve fired employees before of course.  I’ve lost customers to competitors.  I’ve rationalized customers through strategic renewal efforts … but I have never, ever simply given up on a client.

I know it was the right thing to do, because this client was sucking the lifeblood out of me to the point that it was dramatically affecting my work with OTHER customers.  And after a year of realizing a negative financial return — yes, you read that right, NEGATIVE return — it was time to cut my losses and walk away.

Although I worked hard and acted honorably throughout this debacle, I still feel like a bit of a failure.  Perhaps it’s similar to the remorse some folks feel when they look back at a divorce — was there anything I could have done differently?  And how will it affect the kids (my projects)?

My career has been dedicated to delighting customers, not kicking them out the door, so this is new territory for me.  Although I should feel energized now that the shackles are finally off, it seems like there’s a dent in a flawless track record.  I guess any time you experience a new feeling like this it’s an opportunity to grow.

And that’s what this blog is all about, right?

Re-thinking the value of social media consumers

I saw this fascinating chart on Silicon Valley Insider and wanted to share it with you because it represents a very different way to think about social media marketing.

Kim-Mai Cutler at VentureBeat looked at Facebook’s suggested advertiser bid price on per category basis. What she found is pretty interesting.

These “suggested bids” reflect what advertisers have most recently paid to reach a demographic group based on CPMs (cost per 1,000 impressions) or CPCs (cost for every time a user clicks on an ad).

Some trends make sense — older (and richer) users are more expensive to reach than younger ones, for example.

But there are some counter-intuitive trends, too.  Japanese users are less expensive to advertise to than Russian users, even though the Asian country’s GDP per capita is more than three times as large.

And while in the “real world” you might think it would cost more to advertise to a millionaire Wall Street banker compared to a Wal-Mart employee making an average salary of $20,000, on Facebook, the opposite is true. In the eyes of a social media advertiser, a Wal-Mart employee is worth nearly twice as much as a Goldman Sachs employee, according to Facebook’s suggested advertising bid prices!

The reason this resonated for me was because I’m constantly reminding my clients that what they thought about their target customers may no longer be true. In less than two years, there has been a cataclysmic shift in who is spending time on the social web, what they’re doing there and how they’re spending money.

If you haven’t re-visited your customer profiles in the last six months, a chart like this should make you think about it!

Did Mashable cross a line?

Yesterday, something happened on Mashable which illustrates one of the biggest threats to the social web, to business, and maybe even democracy.  I’m really interested to see what you have to say about this incident.  Let’s start with the lead paragraph from their post:

The Italian Windows website “Windowsette” somehow managed to get a hold of a super-secret, highly confidential PowerPoint presentation outlining many of Microsoft’s goals and plans for Windows 8. Apparently this sensitive data (complete with UNDER NDA watermarks) was just found sitting around the Internet.

If you haven’t been around the corporate world, NDA stands for “non-disclosure agreement.”  This means that whoever had these slides had signed a legal document to keep them secret.

The Windowsette site said it learned of this leak from “Andrea Martinelli.” I have no idea who that is but it seems unlikely she just found secret internal Microsoft documents “sitting around the Internet.”

So here are the questions I have for you:

  • Mashable has become the journal of record for the social web. Maybe they’ve been trained as journalists, maybe they’re not.  Does that make a difference?
  • Is it ethical for them to publish a “super-secret, highly confidential” internal document that could be extremely damaging to Microsoft?
  • Is it responsible to report on a document whose source was a single associate of an obscure website in Italy?  How can we even know these slides are real? Isn’t it easy to create official-looking PowerPoint slides?
  • The Mashable post was tweeted almost 1,000 times and included in about 500 Facebook sites.  For many people, this article has become “the news.” What are the implications when non-journalists create the news?

I’ll tip my hand here and say that my undergrad was in journalism and I believe this institution is essential to democracy.  What’s going on in most blogs today is not journalism.  Usually that’s OK.  But with the dramatic decline of the traditional press, whatever we have left on blogs is going to become our de facto news of record. Like Mashable.

In the end, this incident will have a shelf life of about one day and it’s easy to let a big company like Microsoft be our target. But what if this unsubstantiated piece of news was about your secret new product development?  Your company? Your congressman? A terrorist threat in your community?

What if it was about you?

Since when did blogging become elitist?

A communication industry site, ragan.com, picked up my recent post about why it’s “ridiculous to argue about ghost blogging.”  This was cool because it opened the topic to a new set of commenters and perspectives.

However, I was struck by some of the elitist views on blogging and wanted to address the issue here, instead of a long comment on that site.

What I mean by “elitist” is that some folks seem to uphold a narrow, sanctified view of blogging and dismiss those outside that view (i.e. “Blogs are by definition in their own class.”)

One person opined that blogs should be different than any other form of corporate communication because they “grew from people’s personal communications and because the audience for blogs expect it to remain personal.”

Another reader commented that “Blogs are designed to be be participatory and conversational, with a discussion leader and participants in the discussion.”

And, “To use a blog as a personal communication when it’s not genuinely personal is an assault on the purpose of a blog and an intentional deception of readers.”

Excuse me friends, but who is coming up with this definition of a “purpose of a blog?”

There can be MANY purposes for blogs …

  • For the highly-interactive, personal, and prolific Chris Brogan, the blog is an engine to build community and ultimately monetize services and affiliate advertising.
  • GE’s stellar corporate blog features product ideas and solutions but has almost no reader interaction or community. They rarely even identify a post’s author.
  • Caterpillar’s blogs serve as forums for technical problem-solving and have an extremely high level of community sharing.
  • The Red Cross blog tells stories of heroes and global crises with authors from all over the world.
  • There is a whole science around connecting blogs to keywords and SEO results. In that analytical world, blog content is derived from probabilities, statistics, and a sales funnel. Personality need not apply.
  • For my daughter in college, a blog is simply a way to journal and tell her life stories — no strings attached.

All of these blogs are relevant and serve a unique purpose.  They may or may not be personal. They may or may not nurture community. They may or may not be participatory.

And they may or may not be authentic. Here’s what I mean.  This challenge was posed to me on the Ragan site:  “How would people feel if the marketing/PR/comms guru types whose blogs they follow weren’t written by those people. What if Seth Godin ‘s blog wasn’t actually written by Seth Godin?  Would you be okay with that?”

Actually, I’m guessing Seth doesn’t write his blog all the time.  The fact that he keeps a busy travel schedule, writes every day, posts a short riff from a speech or book, and doesn’t allow comments (which would require a response) on his blog, indicates that it is probably ghost-written by an assistant, at least some of the time.  I don’t KNOW this. It’s a hunch.  But in any event, I am perfectly OK with that. It’s his advice. It’s his brand. It may even be him. Ghost or no, the blog provides value to me as a reader which is why I subscribe.

Bottom line, I believe it’s anachronistic and short-sighted to try to force blogging into somebody’s pre-conceived bucket of expectations.  Instead of trying to define and dictate what our blogs and communities should be, let’s celebrate the amazing diversity of writing, readers and missions on the social web.

Illustration: Comedy Central
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