Archive for the ‘socialnomics’ Category

"You need this?"


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Perhaps one of the biggest irritants to any entrepreneur is the legal and technical red tape which larger companies can fly through, but which small business can easily trip over. It can slow your pace just seeing it up ahead. It can bring you to stop entirely and rethink everything you’d planned. It can even back you down if you succumb to the fear of what is entailed.

I learned recently how red tape can slow us down just enough to show us what we need to work on. It made me think how I sped through certain parts of a great plan and didn’t pay enough attention to crucial strategy areas. I got to the point of disillusionment, and then the next morning…I was sitting at my desk feeling grateful for the opportunity to save my idea. And I owed it all to the barriers that I had come up against by rethinking what I was trying to accomplish and how it would play out.

Red tape is scary for an entrepreneur who doesn’t have loads of capital on hand to throw at it. But red tape can actually cause us to rethink what we’re doing to the point of re-examining all the holes in our plans. It can actually show us how we’ve rushed over certain parts in our giddy excitement and neglected crucial legal, strategic and even ethical issues (which directly influence our brand down the line–and us, ourselves). In short, red tape is in reality like that person at the 8-K marker of the 10K race holding the water, asking you with a gesture “You need this?” Maybe you do need it for the last 2 K ahead before the finish line. An experienced runner might be tempted to think “It will only weaken my resolve, upset my body’s stride” but that stride may be in a very different condition 1 K down the line without a refresher in critical fluids to muscles that are nearly cashed.

We all need to refresh our outlook on what we’re doing from time to time. Red tape is, in the end, just a last ditch opportunity to do just that, before we go in too deep to back out. Red tape is…good?

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Consistent rewards programs pay off in consistent customer loyalty.

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I’ve previously commented that FourSquare hasn’t managed to become enough of a player in the rewards programs of major chains, leaving the ground-breaking application a little on the flat side of a robust loyalty-program enhancement. Well, finally, a major consumer-frequented chain has instituted something substantial in the way of FourSquare promotions…. Starbucks reportedly is now officially turning their FourSquare loyalty program into a bonafied, dividend-paying rewards system (albeit on “trial” basis) to provide actual guaranteed loyalty program rewards to those who frequent the coffee-house chain frequently enough to become “Mayor”.

While the program expuires on June 21st, both FourSquare and Starbucks reportedly think it could easily be extended thereafter. Is this the future of FourSquare? I think that this is the kind of use FourSquare needs to institute (read quickly institute) on it’s own to become a salable offering, or an IPO able to generate substantial sales of shares in the near future. Certainly it’s a step in the right direction for all involved, including the customers of Starbucks and the users of FourSquare. Kudos to Starbucks for taking the lead here. (Hint to FourSquare: shouldn’t you really have created a universal and fully customizable retailer loyalty program by now that retailers could opt into? And isn’t that a regrettable missed opportunity for FourSquare?).

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Congratulations for checking-in!

Congratulations for checking-in!

Just days ago, I wrote a piece on how social media brands need more user-perceived and business-perceived depth to become truly sustainable. About that day, Ben Parr (whom I read a lot, btw) wrote a piece on Mashable on how FourSquare’s growth is “not slowing down”. Of course, nobody on this blog implied that it was, and nobody else that I saw on trending blog posts that day was suggesting that it was slowing down in terms of growth, only that fewer and fewer of the initial “elite” 4Sq users are tweeting their locations and badge-earning “out loud” like they once did, anymore. And that’s still true. Are these articles propping FourSquare’s relevance a mere coincidence? Well maybe, but knowing how keyword searches on social media platforms work for brand managers and how those brand managers communicate to major medium voices, yeah it’s probably not a conincidence. I’m flattered to think that my little blog got noticed, if only hurriedly skimmed in all liklihood, as part of the analysis of the noise on the horizon of FourSquare’s brand consciousness. Or maybe it’s just due dilligence on the part of these two fine journalists. Like I said, I’m a fan of both. At any rate, let’s get to it… 

The main critiques that myself and one or two others advanced in my last post on FourSquare, was that there is ennui afoot and it has to do with the “game”, the opportunities for abuse and the lack of forward-looking innovation to maintain the excitement. The game is tedious unless you’re the one doing it and you’re out sight-seeing or flitting about town, and even then, the numbers on how many do not elect to check-in or attach a true identity to their check-ins has not been publically disclosed, if it is even being tracked at all. The onlookers don’t care about your badges, so obnoxious tweeting of check-ins via Twitter won’t last much longer. It’s already almost stopped completely!  

And of course, the final critique is on how the limited potential for businesses is not being expanded on nearly enough to help brands justify spending money to enact internal programs that work with 4Sq. Magically, just today an article was posted by the lovely Jennifer Van Grove (again, someone I read and respect a lot on Mashable) with the title How 5 Brands Are Mastering the Game of Foursquare. It illustrates how 5 companies/brands are taking advantage of the badges to help foster knowledge about cities like New York and more notably Chicago. Badge-earning is also being used by Las Vegas venues to better serve cutomers (the ubiquitous freebies” and special attention that FourSquare customers in exchange for patronage and as a preventative against for looming the threat of customer complaints and retaliation via 4Sq). Starbucks with its internal QA program and Lucky Magazine are also fine uses of FourSquare along these lines. The only problem is…we already generally know about these kinds of benefits to businesses and customers for using FourSquare. The sole exception might be the story of Chicago and the promotion of historical tourism. That is innovative and truly embraces the community-at-large within Chicago, not just for one or a handfull of businesses. Success stories aside, there remain a lot of businesses who fid the thought of FourSquare users more troublesome than titilating. Take, for instance, big chain store with lots of traffic and too many understandbale opportunities for failed customer experiences (Wal-mart comes to mind).  

All that aside, there remain some very salient critiques forming about what’s not happening yet on FourSquare: the persistant lack of a universally-adopted FourSquare points system and the lack of a diversity of models (for now, it’s “checking in” and getting special treatment, maybe, or points, if it’s the one or two businesses using FourSquare for an internal promotion campaign). And not everyone shops in person. For instance, I’d just about rather be punched rather hard in the face than go shopping for clothing in person at the mall. I shop online if at all possible to avoid standing aroud for hours on end. I learn my size for each store I shop from, and then I do that unpleasant business in just minutes, rather than via hours and hours of driving, walking, and standing in lines. Unless it’s food, then I go local. I’m not all that unique in my shopping habits, just a better planner and time manager than many who really just want to go outside for a bit. And hey, who doesn’t? Also, I get the going out. I go out, too. Most of us do sometime. But I feel pretty weird about whipping out the cell phone and enduring the “oh, you’re checking in, now, aha…” looks. I’ve got to confess I’ve never done that. Don’t plan on it. If, however, FourSquare can devise a way to beep me in inconspicuously, nobody’s going to object to that and us private types won’t be “living out loud” to our own chagrin.  

Why am I pointing out these weaknesses? Not because I want FourSquare to fail. I don’t. I’m a marketer who wants to be able to promote this form of mobile opportunity with more confidence to clients. I think there is lots of opportunity for expanding the model to be more inclusive of things people actually want to do with a geo-targeted mobile app. The point is that…it’s just not happening yet. One, five or even 10 companies doing a rewards program isn’t going to revolutionize how people shop. It will take a universal rewards program with some real clout to get everyone on board. And until there are additional options beyond just “check-in”, it’s got a ways to go before my mother is going to use FourSquare. And if my mother doesn’t use it, let’s face it, the majority of shoppers are not being effectively roped in, not even in theory. [tweetmeme source=”MarkBrimm”]

The FourSquare "Game"

The FourSquare "Game": This year's model in barhaopping, and not much else?

 

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There is a great piece (great as in hilarious) that vents on FourSquare making the rounds today. The argument is not a new one, but ages well over time. It runs along the lines of “we’re sick of seeing your pointless FourSquare updates” and extols the virtues of real-life connections over virtual ones. In part, I think this is dead-on, and in another sense I think the ennui of virtual connections has mostly to do with their inherent shallowness of purpose to begin with. A lot of the shallow/surface short-term limits of social media tools like FourSquare are about context and can easily be overcome with some longterm branding vision.      

Say you’re a location-hopping fool and just too social to know what to do with yourself. FourSquare’s “check-in” game makes sense if you are checking in for the sake of connecting with just the people you know well. It becomes a surreal, futuristic Arnold Schwarzenegger movie when all the personal elements of one’s day are turned into a voyeuristic game for anonymous onlookers to engage in from a window. Afterall, do you really want everyone to know what you’re doing 24-7? Are there really no negative repercussions to checking in everywhere you go? In fact, we all know there are. FourSquare may be banking a little too much on the “game” lifecycle of its own service.      With social media comes more opportunities to socialize and make new connections. Networking for business benefits from social media and so do tribes with common interests. When it comes to forward-looking insights on how social media does and doesn’t make sense, FourSquare looks a little like another 5-year company to me (being generous here), unless they can seriously come up with new ways to market their service to young professionals and entrepreneurs and innovative company management.      

For instance, checking in makes sense to your boss if you’re on company time and he’d like his team to spread out, get things done and stay plugged-in with each other. Same holds for family and friends. As a gamy fad, however, it’s not a business proposition so much as a bet on how long a fad can be stretched before it implodes and fades away under the fierce cacophony of public derision that once also embraced MySpace as an open-ended social media tool.      

Social media tools with investment behind them need to have better longterm strategies than they currently do, or else there is going to be a bubble for them, too, and then the investment just won’t be there anymore for the true innovators of the future. We need more niche content partners and fewer monolithic vertical companies trying to do everything and absorb it all into a over-extended brand (Take Google’s gradual digestion of the Twitter and YouTube brands and their continual “user interface improvements” which will probably hurt the brand in the short-term, not help). We all get hurt by poor strategy and over-extension in the end, not just the companies, but the audience who could truly benefit from the tools, but ultimately won’t due to poor brand management and short-term gimmicks like games that age and start to annoy and lose relevance in the eyes of advertisers. Have we forgotton how to “focus” on the brand? Where is focus in the age of social media marketing? Is the lifecyle of a brand automatically reduced to 1.5 years peak and then resigned to being dumped into the cyberspace wasteland? Why are so few companies seriously thinking about the longterm viability of the brands they’ve creating and asking others to invest in (both capital-wise and attention-wise)? [tweetmeme source=”MarkBrimm”]

Oh, grow up!

My, how you've grown this year!

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In many ways, the holistic e-trinity of Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook is starting to gel with users of each and share resources. App makers are paying more attention to joining all of the myriad of social tools available into a more seamless social web terrain…and it’s working. Social tools are starting to overshadow the big boys of the internet that we all thought were untouchable. The numbers on Facebook’s overtaking of Google in terms of raw daily visits are staggering! Facebook was not that long ago still too much of a MySpace to be taken seriously by Fortune 500 companies, much less thinking people.Now it’s vying for top social media tool in the minds of many–myself included. 

How did this happen? My take is the untoward publicity on Facebook’s privacy issues may have actually sparked more debate and discussion and thinking about the private vs. the public by setting the stage with a starter discussion on setting permissions. Meanwhile, Facebook was busy integrating with other apps that allow interaction of accounts with popular social networking tools. Certainly there have been an onslaught of new innovative apps that sew together user experience across platforms that formerly saw each other in more competitive terms. This cooperative spirit has led to more cross-platform communicators demonstrating new potential just on the fringe of what is currently materialized. People are, in short, doing real Web 2.0 on a more grand scale. Companies are becoming more adaptive to “black swans“, the events that shake up and sometimes make or break a company or group. Things are, in short, speeding up, evolving. 

I think we also have to credit the recently emerged FourSquare and Google Buzz to some extent, for simply stirring the pot in significant, game-changing ways. We also can’t forget the iPhone, which has really pulled together the idea of bringing the social web to life as a compact do-it-all personal accessory. Not the just ability to pull it together, but the branding savvy and ability to get adoption on a mass-scale has forced other phone makers to predictably follow suit. Oddly enough, only Apple has actually topped the iPhone, but making a tablet that will probably exceed all other tablets before it. 

The social web consists of overlapping conversations within an inherently open-ended forum, not "marketing messages" and not exclusively "chat messages" like previously. As everyone seeks a role an expanding conversation with rapidly expanding participation from outside itself, the conversation takes on a different, more "not final" aspect. And social media marketing players will in the future likewise consist increasingly of niche partners providing value to the public (and private) domain of the social, not "competitors" grasping for "limited" market share.

 

In reality, however, I think each new player, each new alternative is becoming a niche provider of unique opportunities in contradistinction to the others that can’t grow without the others. Sort of like covering angles and omitting investiture into already-branded areas. The market has always had this principle at work, of course, but now the innovation curve is speeding up fast enough to make the principles of branding your niche much more of an inescapable realization. 

As things begin to cook, I wonder how personalities will play out in this more integrated social web that sees not so much competitors, but instead of emerging cooperating niche  partners? For now it seems that there are a lot of talking heads but the leadership structures are still forming and changing around, with few visible mega-movements actually affecting the culture at large. There have been a lot of emerging movements-to-be being kicked around. The Linchpin Way is one tiny but serious example of such a little movement trying to take make a big difference. In the end, I think they are a step along the way to what I called in a previous post, a sense of appreciation and awe at the idea and goal of community-at-large: the desire to serve an open-ended sense of community, rather than one particular enclave (for example, “me and my friends/company/partners/family”, etc.). It’s simply the idea that since the market is actually becoming global even at the local level, that it should think in a way that recognizes itself as a single interconnected all-tribe, made up of legions of smaller tribes. 

Books by Seth Godin, Chris Brogan and Gary Vaynerchuk (can you believe Brogan doesn’t have his own Wikipedia page yet?) have sparked discussion and inspired groups and projects, and of course, entire movements within marketing and social media as a region of thought. While such movements may be in many cases still in their infancy, this is an interesting development for me, because I can for the first time see people sacrificing more than just the time to blog for 5 minutes about something that popped up on Twitter. If people actually start changing their schedules, they start to refocus and change their lives, and then they may be more open to some of the more open-ended movements like The Linchpin Way, or say, even community-at-large (a phrase which I think actually does have a uniquely functioning meaning beyond reducing it to “good marketing” or “widening market-reach” or even “spirituality” or whatever). 

Whatever turns it takes, I think that the unstoppable Hegelian dialectic of social and cultural movements inevitably requires us to grow up along with the tools we us in the social web as it has in areas like nuclear war/energy, the environment, and the prospect of unending nation-building in unstable parts of the world. Social media will require that we grow up a little socially (not just technologically) by making us bump up against one another, via and outside of our own tribes, even despite our own tribes. Perhaps the term ought to be “social technology”, since it refocuses us on the nature of how technologies shape the world, us and the very notion of the social, instead of faintly promoting the lingering delusion of a “fair and balanced” or democratic media with no shaping function. 

However you look at it, we’re now able to literally rub shoulders with virtually anyone with a smart phone with wireless capability, including actual heads of state (in some limited cases) and thought-leaders from every sector and part of the world. Perhaps the mind-blowing reality of the” social” in social media will be when homeless start becoming power-users via libraries and cheap cellphones with universal wireless connections. What would you say/tweet to a homeless person? Would it be the type of thing you’d tweet to others? How would the whole “living large” mindset of the upwardly mobile play out as the internet opens up to the far reaches of the rural areas of the so-called “third world”? How do modernized people look to those outside that parameter? And finally, would your social media movement shrivel a bit at the prospect of a truly universal world-wide web? If not, could it grow to meet the challenge? 

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Building Presence = Building True  Community

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This is a tiny voice in the wind that’s gonna be heard in the end.

I’ve been thinking about social media and trust a lot lately. Not getting to attend SXSW Interactive this year made me watch the events there vicariously and start to ponder the meaning of it all. I saw Evan Williams, the CEO of Twitter, get slammed for being boring, for not engaging the audience with meaningful content in his keynote event–people AT the event were texting it to their Twitter accounts, his own company’s application! I saw how human and sometimes even completely LOST people at SXSW seemed to be when it came to what was happening to them. I kind of appreciated it. It made more sense of everything that’s currently wrong with social media for me.

This all got me to thinking about the lingering delusions that the social media “elite” seems to have going, and I came up with a solution that seems to me the only way I care to get behind. If it’s social media, then why do so many of the people who “lead” it seem to be so…unsociable? I watch as I and tons of others approach these unapproachable leaders of the social, or step on their toes by seeking their precious approval. Makes any sense whatsoever? It’s one thing when people are objectifying you as…whatever, but these were basically all people just trying to engage the “social media” leader, to engage a supposed authority. Hmmm…

I recently wrote a more lengthy and detailed “how-to” on setting up a social media presence quickly and painlessly, but the how is kind of easy compared to the WHY. So now I’d like to lay out my own thoughts on social media strategy and what it means to “build trust”.

What does “trust” even mean on the internet–or marketing? Why should we worry about trust if the goal is to sell? In short, because the goal of selling is too greedy-hearted to make the incredibly long haul to true success. Okay, maybe this point is easy. But how does one “give up” selling?

Companies do not live. People live. And people work in companies. When the company hits an iceberg, hopefully the people exit the ship and have somewhere good and warm to go. Hopefully they’ll pull together and share resources, take care of each other. When a ship hits an iceberg, people remember what’s important. Well, when a company is riding high on the waves, shouldn’t we still keep people firmly in focus? Aren’t people the point ALL the time? So why doesn’t it feel that way in the cold shadow of some of the more prominent Twitterers, for instance? Are cliques killing the democratic “social web” dream? Individual reps on Twitter are the company, after all. I notice more and more the strategy here, and it’s basically something along the lines of “talk only to those who can make me/my organization shine more.” I GUESS that’s a version of being social, but it’s not exactly the way I want to be social…

In working with clients who sell all kinds of things and services, it has become clear that the ones who break new ground are the ones who envision themselves from another perspective. The way they become engaging is by demonstrating an appreciation for community. They all “gave” to some extent and the feeling of receiving “so much” and without any sales pressure is what didn’t sell everyone, but is what did sell more than they previously sold. I saw it. I helped measure it in some cases.

If you’re a celebrity, let’s face it, you’re here to rally fans, but regardless of who you are or what you do, you’ll need something to engage people with if you’re going to use tools like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and say Digg or Buzz as a rallying point for your social media front. Engagement is in the final analysis, about giving, building community. Building social media presence should therefore really be an act of building rapport and  community.

I propose that community is the only way to love what you do and make it work. Moreover, I propose that community-at-large is the only kind of community worth having in the end, because it has no antithesis, no ultimate opposition, no counter-productive tendencies. Community absorbs minor passing frictions. Community is a church of good values for the sake of good values. I propose not only that community is the point, but that you have to start somewhere, in a smaller community perhaps that will allow you to work as if it’s for everyone, until the day that you stop questioning whether or not what you do is for the good of everyone. I propose that if you can’t see where you fit into the communities that exist around you, then you need to take a step back and reflect on what community means to you. Why do anything where it’s “me against them” or even “us against them” or even “us against that guy over there”? The only kind of community that feels right is the end is the kind that doesn’t omit anyone. When you can see your place in a potential community-at-large situation, then you can help build or even create the kind of meaningful relationships you need to succeed at being a whatever-you-wanna-call-it.

Representing the values of being a good member of the community is going to be my argument for how to conduct the building of trust in the new media arena. Giving what’s needed when its needed most, even if it’s just…space. Demonstrating a lack of greed and an abundance of good intention. And the only way to demonstrate all that…is to go ahead and become it, not just to say it, but to do.

I recommend that companies practice building social media presence by rethinking what they’re actually doing in the first place. By focusing on making their event horizon an engagement with the community-at-large in terms of giving to the community-at-large. I want them to FORGET to take credit and get wrapped up in the giving part. I mean, think about it. Don’t we all secretly wish that all CEOs were evangelists for community-at-large?

This…community-at-large…is the only place where you’ll come to see your role in other people’s lives (including customers and clients) and begin to develop a conversation with them, and with what was formerly your “target audience.” This is where social media and your communications can actually get fun and start to become more like mingling at a cozy gathering of people doing more than quoting famous people and smiling through their teeth with one finger on the “SELL!” button.

THE ROBOT FACTOR

Malfunctioning Eddie, the Robot Car Salesman: "At these prices, I must be malfunctioning!"

Social media marketing is remarkably often cold and calculated, stiff–alligator smiles. People know PR when they see it. PR always seems to come off as “we are targeting, conditioning, branding, or otherwise doing various stuff to you”. It may fly in the moment, but people recall, process, grow, mature past such tactics. What we should be doing is communicating with and representing community values of sharing and giving for the sake of sharing and giving. This is where people are happiest and it’s how reputations have always really been made, including the reputations of good companies. If you’re an information-hawker, becoming a socializing giver of great info, innovation, inspiration (how about your own!) and value will in the end make your public image a much more profitable asset–because it’s a reality behind the image.

WHAT COMES OF BEING HUMAN

In the end, community buoys up the good people, and lets the not-so-good rot in their own undoing. People reciprocate kindness, generosity and demonstrated community values. Trust is something basic and elementary built upon experience. It’s not diffcult to be a member of a community. It’s the easiest thing. What’s difficult is holding on to the idea that you are somehow completely separate from all of these “others”. What a herculean act of will THAT is.
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Moms Make Excellent Linchpins

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I’ve been noticing more and more all around me lately on how Mompreneurs got game. I’ve found myself writing about, to and for them. Everywhere you look, they’re doing it up right. They latch onto social media best practices fast, are eager to learn, and most often (in my experience) lack the automatic ego us guys, I’m afraid, have a very hard time overcoming. Just posted a nice little ditty on something I call “Twitter SEO” (how Twitter impacts SEO efforts, not on how to make spam on Twitter, and not addressing all of the more social aspects SMO concerns per se, though many of them, in fact. See the BizyMoms.com SEO for Twitter post if you’re interested).

Mompreneurs network well on Twitter, so it just seems right to talk about them today. I will be looking for ways to empower this broad section of small businesses every chance I get, because I think the innovative businesses of tomorrow come from duct tape marketing ideas created by small business. I hope you will join me in this. [tweetmeme source=”MarkBrimm”]