How human should brands become?

1 12 2010

We, social media, as an industry, forget that the roots and outcomes of what we do lie in the realm of face to face conversation; that is, face to face conversation – its nature, effectiveness and accomplishments, should guide the use of social media from an engagement and community perspective.

Social media interaction, when considered on a spectrum, lies somewhere in between face to face communication and email – synchronous vs. asynchronous; distanced vs intimate. Impersonal, personal and hyperpersonal, it exists in a public space, governed by the social norms of groups. So what does this mean for business and brands?

Brands are facing a unprecedented cultural challenge because businesses are expected to behave as people, interacting with people, which they do not. Yes, while corporate entities possess personhood in a legal sense, they have not operated nor participated (read marketed) traditionally as a person. In social media however, they are required to behave this way or a brand may only show and confirm they are antiquated.

Face to face communication allows for multi sensorial communication ( = a rich medium) and the ways we are wired in terms of social media means we have more complex information coming towards us – more signals which allow us to behave appropriately or be relevant in public. So why do we see so much push marketing and self BS online? Why do we see social media brands behaving badly?

What do I mean by behaving badly? Think about what the following would look like if performed face to face:

- shaking hands with everybody

- uber congratulating oneself and one’s closest friends c.f. politicians

- invite entire companies to every meeting

- speaking about oneself ad nauseum

- 10,000 sentences (aka tweets) in 12 months…

None of these behaviors would be appreciated face to face. But they happen all the time online. Brands (personal or business) beware.

The point is we tend to make comments about social media as an individual activity – yet it is also a collective or business, group activity – bounded by those rules and similar expectations.

So how to explain social media from a collective, body corporate point of view?

1. Do a reality check – what would be the consequence of this action if I was to do this face to face? Trust and other relational activities like friendship, group membership, influence, power, sharing etc are governed by face to face norms. This is not to say that face to face is the gold standard, only to say that this is how we understand the world relationally and that try as we might, we seek to replicate this way of understanding in our social worlds online. For example, as a brand, I offer discounts online all the time. What would happen if I did this at a party and I discounted what I am doing to everybody? Such an action is oblivious to face to face standards. What about suggesting to make it to 10,000 fans on a facebook page?

2. We have created standards based on personal branding practices. We speak about social media practices and we advise businesses based on our personal experiences but are these directly translatable? There is a wide gap between acting as a person and acting as a brand. Online, businesses still struggle to become personable and trustworthy. Non human actors are being required to humanize themselves. But is this realistic?

There is no doubt that the more human brands are, the more successful they are. People are able to connect to them more easily – an experiential vs. transactional process. The multiplex channels of face to face allow us to talk about experiences – we share experiences not transactions. Brands should too (e.g. think about check-in, discount-tweet fatigue).

3. Social media tools –are only tools/enablers. Strategies have to humanize a brand via face to face–esque interaction which will create a continuum of experience or which will experientialize a relationship between a brand and its constituency.

4. Coordination – businesses need to behave as coordinated, holistic entities, as people, which means that people can now call them out on the inconsistencies in their behavior. If they don’t bother to listen to what people say about them, how can they even begin to know how to change? Just as any face to face conversation provides multiple opportunities to reflect and act reflexively, so does social media, if treated correctly. The right hand needs to know what the left hand is doing because communities and the greater public are watching (for example, Nestle, GAP, DKNY…etc). People who have good experiences, or even good conversations with brands, and who feel they have been heard, will be advocates – so brands need to engage them further to help build trust with others and act as referrors for them.

So how human can brands become? What do you think?

@YannR @Extanz

Thanks to joaoloureiro for the photo composition.





The Art of Engagement

23 11 2010

To engage (as per Merriam-Webster dictionary):

to attract and hold by influence and power; to interlock with, to mesh, to bind to something; to provide occupation for, to hold the attention of, to induce participation, to bring together, to deal with especially at length, to take part, to give attention to something.

Think about people who engage you in conversation. You know the ones – you could talk to them for hours, you share all sorts of things with them as they do with you, you build something together, you walk away feeling like you have come to ‘know’ something or someone. How do they do it? Is it their form? The things they share? Their energy? Their focus on you? Their sustained commitment to your relationship with them? Or is it all of the above?

More importantly, what can these kinds of conversational partners tell us about engaging through social media?

  • People engage with People. Yep. Real people. Not fake, phony, small talk, all about me people. People who are interested in you. People who ask ‘artful questions’ (the one question which you can talk on for 15 minutes). People who don’t spew forth facts about themselves. People who want to know you.
  • People engage with Those who Share Relevant Ideas. Important things. Interesting things. Things about life writ large. Things that speak to the common good/interest of all of us. Not about your dinner (unless you are a one of a kind, gourmet kitchen rogue a la Bourdain). Not about what your dog/kid/computer/avatar just did (unless they have one just like you).

The point is, there’s a difference between talking with people and talking at people, and brands are people or they should be. Multidimensional conversational partners. That’s what brands should be, just like people are. So let’s look at what counts as engagement in social media programs these days. As we review the various measurements, it’s worth asking yourself why, when the people we engage with are those who are interesting to and interested in YOU, our measurement systems are all based on what you’ve done for ME.  I understand that these are the only measures we have right now, but my question remains - what are we measuring?

If we look at the definition of ‘engaging’ above, there are obvious points of relation between the actions. They build on each other. Engagement is a process – a continuum, if you will – it requires sustained, evolving, reflective, inter-actions. Where can we see this process or continuum in our most common measures of social media engagement below (we need to look beyond these measures, by the way)?

1. Number of ‘views’ – Good work. Someone saw you.

2. Number of ‘blog subscriptions’, ‘fans or likes for a brand/page’, ‘twitter follows’, ‘LinkedIn follows’, ‘join a group’ – Better work. You’ve gotten someone’s attention and they want to hear more from you. They’ve cracked the door open for you – time to come up with something that will hold their attention now.

3. Number of ‘likes- What would be the conversational (read face to face conversation) equivalent of a hit on the facebook ‘like’ button? I’m going to say a nod, or a ‘hmm hmm’. It’s like saying, ‘right’, ‘sure’. How does it engage the other person? It demonstrates a form of agreement, perhaps reassurance, or a motion to continue the conversation. It basically says ‘I see you.’ or ‘I hear you.’ Perhaps even ‘I read you.’

4. Number of ‘shares’ (retweets, forwarded emails) – a level up from likes, this time your conversational partner is communicating that while they don’t have time to respond, they like and are willing to share your thought with others they know. That is, they are going to ‘pass it along’. Often called ‘word of mouth’, this is a form of engagement which exists indirectly because people are distributing your contribution to a larger community. It’s like when you come home and tell your roommate partner/kids/dog about a conversation you had with someone else. You know they might like it so you pass it on.

5. Number of comments in response - Now we are beginning to see some level of quality engagement. To garner a comment to something you have shared, you’ve been relevant, interesting, and created a sense of togetherness with your conversational partner. So they take the time to respond to you. They share a thought of their own, an experience of their own, or even ask you another question. This is inter-action. Acting together.

So where does engagement lie?

I am going to say that the tool (read blog, facebook, twitter) matters not. I am also going to say that to some degree, the thought matters not. Why? Because engagement happens in inter-action. In the spaces between people using these tools to contribute, share, and respond to these thoughts. It’s a complex combination of providing a space, filling it with pieces and people that attract and hold the attention of others, getting to know them and then lubricating their interaction.

Artful engagement builds qualified leads, opinion leaders, and community centers. It’s important to know what you want before you start measuring actions. So next time you’re in a performance review as a social media or community manager, or even creating a job description or RFP for a social media agency or professional, consider what you think engagement is and what you want it to do for you. Then design the actions that will ‘count’ and not ‘count’ becuase everyone is doing it, but ‘count’ towards accomplishing your overall goal. Social media people are people people, after all.

Wishing you a very happy Thanksgiving – remember to go and thank all those fans, friends, readers and lurkers in your social media space. They’ll ‘like’ you for it! :)

With appreciative thanks to onigiri-kun, cliff1066 and John Althouse Cohen for their beautiful art!

Kirsti, @kblucy





Should We Re-Think the Lead Generation Funnel?

23 10 2009

What happens when someone becomes a fan of a facebook fan page? What happens when someone RT retweets something? What happens when you hold a conversation on Linkedin? This individual “vote to participate into a sales process” is seen by their ‘friends’. Did I shock you? It may not lead to a monetary transaction but it triggers an increased awareness of something. Consumers and customers have been empowered for some time to become active participants of their consumption. They are clearly moving outside of the traditional sales funnel starting with thorough research using internet.

A recent McKinsey report (June 2009 Subscription) highlights that only 30% of purchasing decision points are still ‘company driven’. This means that more than 70% of decision points in a buyer’s active evaluation process are now consumer-driven: user consumer reviews, word of mouth and in store interactions. Is it time to re-evaluate how things are done?

Social technologies are expanding these phenomena to micro-influence level never seen before. A few weeks ago, I had to change our office router and jumped on Twitter & FB to ask what people thought… it didn’t take more than 10 minutes to get 10 e-pinions… 2 from people I know, 8 from people I don’t know. It’s getting much easier to get that instant feedback. You bet I bought what was most recommended.

Now what does it mean for our businesses? People are empowered to swap between brands more than ever before. The social media funnel and measurement is simply upside down compared with a traditional sales or purchasing decision process. It’s cheaper, greener, further-sighted to use social media. Brands need to go through the journey of seeing themselves through the lens of their constituents. It’s not an audience, it’s a constituency.

1- A brand may and connect with its core customers to start with and then expand. There is, most of the time, an underlying community of customers or consumers. There are also communities of influencers in that space. Both groups should be recognized and empowered by your brand if you’re serious about building trust.

2- A community will only engage if they feel connected and empowered by that brand. If there is no exchange, there is no social media; it’s only push marketing through new channels. Deliver high quality content and help them support each other. People are likely to want to discuss about much larger things surrounding your brand than just your product. They already know of your product or use them.

3- The more they talk, the more they trust, the more everyone is merrier.

4- Be where conversations happen. If you’re lucky/skilled… but mostly honest and caring, people will progressively feel comfortable discussing the brand’s social footprint or presence. If not, a brand should carry its ‘conversation capital’ where ever those conversations happen.

No one likes to be part of a funnel (ask the Foie Gras ducks what they think about this). Like everyone else, we vote with our $$ when you see value and can trust a product or services. On the other side, it always feels good to buy something from a brand you trust. Be the change you want to see, they say.

Now, is this the right mix? Am I saying that the traditional funnel should disappear? No. How do you think an organization should look at these strategies?

@YannR





Social Media Neophytes and Great Hopes

16 07 2009

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of sitting on a panel organized by the local Entrepreneurs network about social media. The audience was clearly a majority of neophytes from local businesses, agencies and even government. I think it was an eye opener for me as to what people have on their mind. For them, the 6 panelists certainly gave them tons of useful information. It was participant driven which was a great experience. My natural tendency is to discuss on this blog larger phenomena occurring in the social media world.  I’ll therefore try to address those same questions a bit more regularly on the Extanz blog. For now, I want to focus on some of the points raised at the event….

Time devoted-to make effective? What to listen? How to listen?

I think entrepreneurs are even more wary about the time sucker that social media can be. Let’s just consider Twitter to start with as it’s probably the most straight forward one. If you’re lucky, and you have more than one

computer screen, I would pull up applications like Tweetdeck, Seesmic or PeopleBrowsr and start setting up searches, creating groups by interest. Scout for topics that your company is involved with, see what results come up. Tools like Twitter or Friendfeed are the most valuable when listening or monitoring that action. You or your company’s ‘social’ networks act as a knowledge guardian, you’ll be able to stay on top of what’s of interest to you (being the Tour de France or what are your competitors are up to, what customers/consumers are saying, etc). Most of these applications will allow you to create ‘columns’ or ‘groups’ that filter by keyword. Scroll through it, see what is being said and reply / participate if it’s worth your time. You can also share links or articles you find valuable or simply RT (re-tweet) with your comments. I would also advise using these tools in conjunction with Google Alert, Filtrbox, OneRiot and other similar tools which are much more efficient search tools than staring at Twitter all day.

ROI 101: Return On Investment 101

Throw away any of the usual metrics you’ve learned. Building relationships for a person or a brand cannot be measured as a statistical number. You will still see more followers on Twitter, more fans on your facebook fan page. Ultimately, if you share valuable content and engage in conversations, you’ll have a clear sign that people like your content. This clearly has a more powerful impact for you or the brand you represent. Also, I hear too often that people don’t use Google Analytics yet on their… this is a must have. If you expect to show any sign that your time is spent appropriately, Google Analytics will be able to show you this progress.

What percentage of your marketing strategy should be devoted to social media?

That will depend on your audience. The more you deal with tech industries and the knowledge industry, the more important it’ll be for your company. For example, a company like Crocs (not so much knowledge industry based) has one full time dedicated employee for Social Media (George Smith Jr) out of 3-4k people worldwide. Make sure to think about every activity you carry as a company and how to leverage social media in relation to those activities. Social media is not a marketing play, it’s a relationship play. Relationships happen at every step of a company’s value chain. Social media can fit in those segments. See what happens. Draw conclusions. Be creative. Repeat.

Some simple steps to get started:

Level 1- Join groups related to your industry in Linkedin or Facebook, engage there. This might be enough as some of audience is already there.

Level 2- Join twitter, start following 50 people who you care about as a company, start listening, share interesting news in your industry or localized content, engage where you can.

Level 4- Create a facebook page and try to get your other marketing activities to promote that facebook page. Link your Twitter account to your facebook fan page.

Level 5- Start a blog… this is a difficult exercise and can be time consuming, but it is still what can carry your business voice the furtherest. Remember that if you blog, stay away from clogging, don’t use this as just another ad channel (#fail).

There are 100s of things you could do, but start there. Your company’s digital footprint will benefit and you may be able to spend 1-2 hours per week without losing your boss’ trust. Finally, it’s more complex than it seems. If you want to be effective at it, getting help is usually well worth it.

Off you go,

Thank you for you great pictures:  by quelquepartsurlaterre, ToniVCjohn.d.mcdonald

@YannR





Social Media and Extanz – Together we rise

3 09 2008

The whole is greater than the sum of all its parts

As someone intrigued by the ways in which individuals, communities, organizations and societies coordinate and communicate themselves, raising Extanz and the adoption of social media has provided much food for thought and opportunities for reflection. As someone deeply committed to the practice of good work and also intimately involved with the creation and continued growth of Extanz, I have participated in many an interesting conversation about these issues. As I tell my students in my Good Work class, it really starts with an idea of spirit, or the vision, values and rationality of any group or organization. These collective values are always derived from the people having those conversations and so our ongoing evolution of Extanz reflects the values of its principals. Here is a list of some of the things to which we are committed, as individuals as well as Extanz….

1. good work – that is, work that is excellent and ethical – to engage in work that is meaningful for us, our partners and our communities
2. inclusivity/community - this value comes from our cultured backgrounds – to engage in work that brings people together, in support of a larger purpose and collective
3. sustainability – at both an individual and collective level – to engage in work that encourages the continued sustenance of us as individuals, partners and communities
4. extra-ordinary – this value comes from our cultured experiences – to engage in work that is beyond the norm, edgy, visionary, creative, that stands out (the meaning of Extanz)

Wow, kinda lofty, right? Yes and no. I recently read a blog about parallels between the push for social media and sustainability by Max Gladwell. According to Gladwell, these two movements have some interesting things in common — both are motivated by a new politics, both are driven by a democratization of information and energy, both are determined to lose the adjectives (so that we no longer think of social media but all media as social, nor green energy because all energy will be green), both pose integration challenges for corporate culture, both localize culture as we grow our own ‘content’ and become activated as participants, both are grassroots movements but with top-down results, and the virtues of both are constrained by how we use them.

When I think about the folks who engage with Extanz and social media, I end up with a ‘composite prosumer’ (c.f. Revolutionary Wealth, The Digital Economy, The Cluetrain Manifesto etc). In our experiences, this producer-consumer is also a philosopher-pragmatist; activist-artist; local-global; individual-communal. As Gladwell points out, the often missed but ultimately important part of the phenomenon we call ‘social media’ is the social part. It’s about meaningful and interactive content, meaningful conversations, and meaningful as well as interactive community. As we have discussed in the blogs, it is not about ‘you’ and ‘your organization’. It’s about the us(er)’.  So if you’re looking to be part of some thrilling conversations, if you’ve ever wondered just what your ‘audience’ is thinking, it is time to get out there and have a ‘naked conversation’ a la Robert Scoble and Shel Israel.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re for-profit or non-profit (like we can distinguish this way, right?), social media can and will change the/your world. I’ve seen it happen here at Extanz and with our partners.

Kirsti





When will we get serious about virtual/web based/online conferencing?

8 07 2008

So for a couple of hours today I have been looking at conferences on Health 2.0 or Medicine 2.0 to attend this year as I want to go and see what’s out there, what kind of work people are doing, have great conversations etc…Aside from the cost of travel, the registration prices for these conferences are staggering to me, a recovering academic. Maybe in the corporate world, people feel $1500 for conference registration is a good deal for a bit of knowledge and conversation but for where I have spent the last 10 years, it is nothing short of excessive. Of course, as one of the academic realm, I am eligible for a “discount” of a “not to sniffed at” sum of $500, taking my registration fee to $950, but taking into account time away from work and the ever increasing air fare game we are in, I am looking for other ways to have that great conversation….

Earlier this year, I co-hosted an international virtual conference on “global visions of organizing and communicative practices” on a shoestring. We had courageous participants from Nigeria, Nepal, India, New Zealand, Japan, Brazil, Australia and China. Part of our drive to hold our 3 day conference on the web was to provide a venue that all could “access” without the economic, immigration, political or institutional burdens we usually have to bear. We looked everywhere for software which could support us. There were some such as Icohere and Elluminate which manage your conference for you from start to finish, but we were paying for it out of our own pockets. Some people use blogs like this, which also work well. There are also those companies such as Eventvue and Crowdvine which will support an online community for your conference (but not the conference). In the end, we went with Ning and built a community there where people could have pages, post their presentations, have group discussions, forums, post videos, blog etc. Schweeeeeeet!

It was simple, it was interactive and it was one of the most intense learning experiences of my life. For a communication scholar like me, it doesn’t get much better than that. This experience has made me think twice about going to a carbon conference for $3000 where there are 5000 other people present, the presentations are 10 minutes long, there is no time to network and you are perpetually running to your next presentation. There is no doubt we will do things differently for our next conference, mainly because we constantly seek that conversation, but in terms of financial, familial, institutional, political and environmental pain, it just goes to show that if 3 academics in 2 different countries can build a conference online without institutional or technical support, there’s got to be a start up out there who can bring this game to the next level……:) Kudos to Mike Wesch for the following commentary on the information revolution…

Kirsti








Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.