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.

Advertisements




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





Cooks, Crooks and Social Media Ethics

17 11 2010

Like most people, I was taught as a young child that cheating is wrong and that you don’t want to do wrong things.  In those days, cheating was clear: you didn’t look at other people’s spelling tests, you didn’t “collaborate” on individual homework and you didn’t claim someone else’s work as your own.  Most schools and universities have their own specific definitions for academic integrity and what counts as plagiarism, and crossing those lines can lead to harsh ramifications.  It’s hoped by teachers and parents alike that these lessons in honesty translate to personal and professional practices as adults. However, we also live in a hyper-shareable ecosystem, where it’s never been so easy to reproduce and distribute content from others. In a field as unregulated as the internet, problems are bound to arise. But such actions still have consequences.

Recently, Cooks Source magazine felt the blazing anger of bloggers as they crowded around in defense of Monica Gaudio, whose article about apple pie had been reproduced without her

knowledge or consent. In the storm of nasty emails and facebook messages, there were many rumor stories flying about, but two facts that surfaced remain relatively unchallenged:

1. The editor of Cooks Source didn’t believe that they had done anything wrong.

2. This was not an isolated incident of “borrowing”.

In my mind, this seems like a clear case of plagiarism.  Gaudio had not given her permission for her work to be reprinted and Cooks Source acknowledged that they knew it was her uncompensated work.  But it’s rare that cheating scandals are so black and white. If getting permission from and compensating bloggers for their articles is at one end of the spectrum and this recent incident with Cooks Source is at the far other end of the spectrum, where does one draw the line? In the context of online blogs and communities, where does cheating actually begin (or even end)?

Most of the time, it can be assumed that works that have the author’s consent and are properly attributed, are okay.  It’s also commonly accepted to link out to other sites in the body of a blog (in fact, the blogger’s code of ethics demands it). What if I find an interesting article and post a link to it on my website or facebook page because I believe that my readers would find it interesting?  Since the link would take you to the original posting which would clearly delineate it as content from that other site, that is also going to be okay.  Many bloggers also offer a specific link for you to use when you want to trackback to a certain entry. Okay, but then what about tools like paper.li which drags twitter, looking for the most disseminated articles and then shapes it into a familiar format?  Is that an abuse of information gathering or not? The more you explore, the more gray areas you uncover. There are a thousand different potential situations, but content ownership and authorial rights must be taken seriously.

This is not a new issue, but one that has gained even more importance over the last few weeks.  Most people don’t want to do something that is wrong and get angry when they find out about shortcuts that were taken by others, as can be seen by the sanctioning of Cooks Source by the blogging community.  It’s apparent that even after posting an apology and taking down their Facebook page, Cooks Source may never really move beyond this plagiarism scandal. (If you’re interested in seeing the massacre that was their Facebook page, there are a number of saved screen snapshots in Google images.) So how to avoid such difficult situations?

1. Make sure you know that your practices are on the up and up by reviewing the copyright laws.

2. If you are afraid that your content may not be safe, set up a Google Alert to help you find places where your name and keywords are popping up.

3. If you’re a blogger, review the sites suggested by O’Reilly a few years ago as examples of appropriate professional behavior online.

4. Finally, no matter who you are, writer, editor or reader, practice digital literacy and seek, evaluate and credit the original source.

So tell me, where and how do you draw the line when sharing online content?

Thanks to ilovebutter and quinnanya for use of their images.

~Laura





Nearline communication: Facebook intends to squash Synch & Asynchronous modes

16 11 2010

Facebook caters to 500 million people, so pleasing everyone is quite the task. Despite its astonishing growth, Facebook still has some impediments that limit its usefulness for many of us. It’s not an information network, it’s hardly a professional network and certainly not a viable email system/network. So how about making communication a continuum?

This week, Facebook made one of the most interesting moves in their recent history.

They announced features to empower user control of their ‘relevancy stream’. It’s no surprise that with the acquisition of FriendFeed last year that some of its core philosophy should finally appear.  While FriendFeed may have been too feature rich and catered only to power users, it still is/was a very powerful way for users to make their stream ultra-relevant to their lives and across their identities. Facebook’s recently announced changes now promise us a better focused feed stream. We could maybe, finally, potentially, use the platform to do more meaningful stuff.

Perhaps more importantly, regardless of the device we’re using, Facebook wants our conversations with people (or brands) to flow seamlessly throughout, based on user preferences. If you’re like me, Facebook rarely disseminates information important to your professional life. So I limit it to people that matter on a personal level. In this information age, it’s not who you know but what you know. Other platforms like Tweetdeck or Seesmic have allowed users to segregate streams by relevance using columns. Unfortunately, Facebook’s current ‘interestingness’ feature still makes users miss a bunch of important info.

Twitter, LinkedIn and other mail systems should rightfully question how they will respond. The ability for Facebook users to segregate their streams will certainly encroach (in theory) on the territory of these other platforms. Google’s failed attempts (Wave, Buzz) to re-engineer itself into a single interface across different information needs and identities show that it’s not easy. We ‘humans’ don’t change that easily. Once something works, we’ll stick with it till something far better comes along. Algorithmic platforms like Flipboard and Paper.li have been helping us bring the signal to noise ratio down.  But for a network to stay relevant, it needs to bring that ratio down while increasing throughput or it will be outpaced by niche networks.

Some important consequences ensue:

If you’re boring or spammy, move over – If you’re facebooking too much about your lunches, you could find yourself more lonely… we may have finally found a spam solution.

Brands, it’s about to get tougher, which means you need to get real – A large number of fans could soon become fake fans if you’re not delivering VALUE to your followers.

Is it Facebook or Twitter? Perhaps a bit of both? – Facebook is trying to be more like Twitter since Twitter has been picking up much steam in the business world with a larger share of use among Fortune 500. Is this their answer?

So tell us, will you be using Facebook more for more things?

@YannR @Extanz

Turning brands into conversational hubs – See our services: https://extanz.com/services/





Wineries & Social Media Part 1: David moves faster than Goliath … again.

29 09 2010

With harvest season under way in much of wine country, it seemed an appropriate time to check out the presence of the broader U.S. wine industry on various social networks and examine how social media is being used by various levels of the industry. Blogging, the backbone of any social media program, became a favored tool among wineries, wine critics and wine enthusiasts far before social networks became a powerful tool for reaching a brand’s community (we recently looked at the most influential wine bloggers attending the Wala Wala Conference). For this blog however, I set out to compare how large wineries & vineyards with substantial marketing budgets and brand recognition and small wineries & vineyards looking to establish a brand are utilizing social media beyond just the blogosphere. I stumbled across the Chandon Escape contest last spring, a highly marketed and polished contest driven by social media where entrants earned more chances to win by becoming a Fan of the Chandon Facebook page and each time they tweeted the contest hashtag. Having observed this event and being familiar with the vast marketing budgets that the country’s largest wineries are working with, I expected to see the top wine companies and their brands with highly developed social media strategies and a broad presence across the networks. I was wrong.

There are thousands of vineyards and wineries throughout the US ranging in size, distribution and personality, and their media usage is just as diverse. As I mentioned, I expected the brands from the largest wine companies to have highly polished social media pages with sophisticated campaigns. Instead, I found them largely absent from the social networks with the lower ¾ (in terms of production) of the wineries & vineyards dominating the social media sphere. Wine makers are also utilizing social media for more than just customer outreach and expanding their brand recognition. We’ll be doing a three-part series on wineries and social media, taking a look at how both large and small wineries are working with social media, as well as how social networks are for more than just reaching customers. Part 1:

With the exception of a few brands for example, namely producers of bubbly like Korbel and Chandon, the largest of the large wineries & vineyards have a very small social media presence. Using this list and these profiles, I identified the top wineries in the US. The largest companies like E&J Gallo, Constellation Wines, The Wine Group, Bronco Wine Company & Robert Mondavi produce many of the country’s most well known wine brands but have largely ignored social media as a tool to engage their communities. Most of the companies’ brands have either no social media presence at all or host Facebook pages on which they are minimally active. This is not so unusual. Indeed, in our experience, the larger the company, the less comfortable they are entering the social media sphere. Nevertheless, for products where there is widespread passion like the wine industry, we expected to see more social media use.

In contrast, other large wineries that rank at the lower end of the top US wineries lists are embracing social media and getting recognized for it. Rick Bakas and St. Supery are receiving widespread attention (from the New York Times to Reuters) for running a strong social media program that includes a blog, active Facebook page, one of the strongest Twitter programs for a winery and an virtual & interactive wine tasting program. Although lacking a key component of a social media program – a blog – Wente Vineyards also stands out for their Facebook and Twitter activities. Many other wineries of this size can be found with an active social media program including (but not at all limited to) Dry Creek Vineyard, Murphy-Goode Winery, and J. Lohr. Aside from St. Supery and Wente, these larger wineries using social media are finding general success with the platforms by posting and engaging their Facebook & Twitter communities on a regular basis and hosting a blog (albeit the blogs are often under-utilized) but there is much room for improvement in expanding brand recognition, reaching new customers and utilizing the true networking powers of the social networking platforms.

So far, a very mixed bag for the largest US wineries in terms of their social media use. Some are knocking it out of the ballpark; some haven’t even heard the train coming. What are your thoughts on why the largest wineries are largely ignoring social media? Which large wineries have you seen doing great stuff with social media?

Stay tuned for Part 2!

With thanks to Big D2112, dr_XeNo and quinn.anya for the photos.

Katie

_____________________

Kick off or take your PR 2.0 program to the next level. Contact us here.





Blogger Conferences 2010

20 09 2010

I’ve been hearing a lot lately about conferences and conventions for bloggers.  After all, the International Food Blogger Conference took place a few weeks ago in Seattle, BlogHer 2010 was a couple weeks before that at the beginning of August and  SOBCon Colorado was just this past weekend.  Whether you cringe at the thought of going to a conference or you love to get out from behind the computer and meet other bloggers in the industry, it’s important to recognize when these meetings are happening.  Whenever influential individuals in a community meet to discuss and connect, you can expect things to shift, people to try out new ideas, positions to be challenged and considered.  It’s always interesting to see which ideas planted during conference discussions can bloom out throughout the community at large, leading to some great and innovative blog entries.  However, it can be painstaking to try and keep track of which conferences are drawing near, especially as we begin to look forward to the holiday season (yep, I said it!).  We’ve taken the work out of knowing conference dates by composing this neat little list of those that are happening between now and the end of the year.  While we tried to stick to conferences that are happening domestically, one or two international conferences were snuck in there as well.

September:

24-26 Type-A Mom Conference

25  Camp Blogaway – Baldwin Park

30 Social Media Club: “Social Media & Family”

October

8-9 BlogHer Food Conference

8-10 Blogalicious Weekend

14-16  BlogWorld Expo

21-24 Revelvant Conference

22-24 European Wine Bloggers Conference

23 Bloggy Boot Camp-Austin

23 Show Me The Blog

25 Camp Blogaway

November

5-7 Global Getaway

5-7 Beer Bloggers Conference

5-7 I_Blog Conference

10-12  Social Media University

12-14 International Natural Food and Health Conference

13 Bloggy Boot Camp-St. George

December

4 WordCamp

10-12 Lavish!

These are all the conferences happening in the next few months, as far as I was able to find.  It is likely that those signed up for the first conference mentioned above will be especially appreciative of the list format and those who are organizing the final one will not be best pleased to be referred to as a conference, as they are branding their experience as an “unconference.”  Still, these are meetings to be aware of and to join into, if you’re so inclined.  While many of the conferences slotted to happen within the next several weeks are already sold out, a number of those also have waiting lists or ticket exchange forums. The conferences further down on the list are also still accepting new participants.

So if you’re a frequent conference go-er, share some of your experiences with us!  What kind of advice would you give to a newcomer?  Which conferences have been your favorite?  What moves a conference up in your esteem?  Are there any other conferences that should have made it onto our list? Finally, does anyone know of a conference using Plancast.com? If you do, let us know!

Thanks to rickbucich and alexdecarvalho for the blogger conference pictures!

~Laura

Kick off or take your PR 2.0 program to the next level. Contact us here.





Conversation Engines: it doesn’t matter how much we ‘get it’… we need to ‘get it’ more.

25 08 2010

Despite astonishing network growth, our tools have not been able to keep up with social noise. As an individual, I tend to limit my output and certainly limit the chit-chat. As a business, I believe it is important to pay attention to this trend: conversation have faded away. Businesses have created FB pages and Twitter accounts left and right. They ‘totally get it’. Data keeps coming in, failures are very common and some even say the social media bubble is about to burst. Katie was challenging our thinking behind how easy it seems to simplify things through facebook pages earlier this week. So what’s going on?

– Let’s face it, less is the new more… one reason I like(d) FriendFeed over Twitter and especially over Facebook is its quality of information. The Google Wave dream is no more and Google Buzz is now a noisy chamber. Social platforms have filled up a need on one side — they’ve allowed us to aggregate pertinent information for our personal and professional lives. But they have also created, in many cases, an addiction to real time information, empowering anyone to become a producer regardless of quality or qualification. Mainstream media has slowly struggled to stay relevant. Choose your path, stay relevant. It’s even more critical for a business. Many constituent voices need to be represented and people have learned to be more selective.

– Competing for attention: Nielsen released their latest study on internet usage early August to find that 23% of internet use is spent on social networks up from 16% a year ago. We’ve embraced social media beyond its (and our) wildest expectations, but we’re barely scratching the surface when it comes to truly turning an organization to serve its constituency through new media. In 2 years, we’ve moved from “what is social media?” to “super noise”. Some have chosen the careful path of information sharing, others have massively unfollowed, conversations have faded into a sharing frenzy. Quality of information and interaction has never been so important. Louis Gray’s comments “I quickly fatigue from the insanity” describing his (mine too) inability to cope with the amount of information revelations. Even more revealing, Louis just accepted a position with My6Sense as VP of Marketing. My6Sense is another algorithm based app focusing on generating relevant information. If the crowd can’t do it, the algorithm will. Companies ought to harness a wide variety of techniques to make those algorithms work in their own favor aka driving long tail traffic.

– Brands are struggling to become conversation partners: I continue to revisit the realization that brands want to only talk about stuff they are experts at, like they’re getting ready to broadcast. I believe the contrary. Your company doesn’t just have to only talk about stuff related to your product or services. Creating a mono-stream/logue of information across social platforms will only make people put you in a bucket for good. The shift from outbound to inbound marketing is a steep learning curve and requires dedicated attention. Empowering constituents (imagine onion layers) to discuss topics of interest with brands and amongst each other takes more than just putting information out there.

Can you relate? Do you think the bubble is ready to burst?

@YannR @Extanz