Archive for November, 2010

An Open Letter to Jimmy Wales

Monday, November 29th, 2010

Hi Jimmy. Got your fundraising appeal for Wikipedia. Let me start by saying I’m a huge fan of Wikipedia; it is a truly amazing tool and a tremendous accomplishment. It’s a phenomenally time-saving research tool. I believe in what you are doing, I’ve contributed financially in the past, and I’d love to do so again. However, a few changes really need to be made.

Call off the dogs. The Wikipedia cabal. The Priesthood. You know who I mean–that inner circle who feel it is their right to take down any content, for any reason, with no explanation or warning and limited appeal rights. Not merely to edit content, or post a comment, but outright delete it (I learned from my first experience at Wikipedia editing never to make any change with keeping a local backup of the text and code). And when called on their behavior, to defend it in the most arrogant, condescending manner possible.

I understand you don’t want Wikipedia to devolve into a collection of marketing brochures. No one does. I certainly don’t. That does not mean, however, that any sentence which could possible be construed in a positive light constitutes “marketing” and deserves to be stricken from the pure environment of Wikipedia. Any editor who isn’t embarrassed by the Anvil Media – Attensa Wiki-gate fiasco should be permanently banned.

Example: most people would agree that the word “leading” rarely belongs in a company description on Wikipedia. It’s an over-used PR buzzword. Since every company is a “leading” something-or-other according to its own press releases, the word has little if any real meaning in most cases.

However, there’s a world of difference between PR buzzwords and objective facts. If XYZ Company is the largest global supplier of flabberglumping software, and that is an objective fact which can be substantiated through industry sales figures and third-party sources, then there should be no problem including that fact on the company’s Wikipedia page (and linking to those sources).

It’s also not just okay, but vital, for a company page to include descriptions of the firm’s products and/or services. Yes, these should be written in a factual and objective tone, not flowery marketing prose rife with glowing adjectives, but properly written such descriptions should be left intact by the self-appointed guardians of Wikipedia unless they can add or improve something.

If John or Jane Doe want to add content to a page about their company on Wikipedia, and have done their level best to write such content in an objective, encyclopedic fashion, they should be able to do with fear that Wikipedia’s self-appointed censors will immediately rip it down with no explanation out of some bizarre anti-commercial malice. With great power comes great responsibility. A little humility would create a ton of goodwill.

Have respect for bloggers. I’ve actually been told by a member of the cabal that a term didn’t deserve to be defined on Wikipedia simply because a few meaningless bloggers had used it. Get with the 00s. Bloggers now include highly regarded journalists, analysts, executives and independent subject matter experts. 77% of Internet users read blogs. Blogs are now the mainstream media. Refusing to cite or link to blogs, or give their content credibility, is rather archaic at this point.

Recognize the value of corporate websites. Certainly much of the content on corporate sites is inappropriate for linking from Wikipedia: product feature-benefits pages, “why buy from us,” press releases, etc. But company sites also often contain highly linkworthy industry resource type content, such as explanations of concepts, glossaries of industry terminology, research results, thought leadership articles and more. If Wikipedia would link to this type of content on, say, a university’s website, there’s no reason not to link to it just because it’s housed on a corporate site.

In addition, corporate sites should be linked from corresponding industry-related pages. For example, if Wikipedia had a page about flabberglumping software, I’d expect the page to include a list of vendors like XYZ Company, with links to their sites. Since it’s a commercial product, links to corporate sites are appropriate in this context.

While I support efforts to keep Wikipedia free of advertising or blatant marketing, it’s my job to make sure my clients are represented fairly on the site. Not marketed or promoted, just described accurately and objectively, with due consideration given to links to thought leadership content they’ve contributed to their industry. Again, I’m a huge fan of Wikipedia and what it’s accomplished for the spread of knowledge. I’d really like to contribute, both in terms of content and money. But if you won’t accept the former, you don’t deserve the latter.

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5 Reasons I’m Thankful for Social Media

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

With the annual celebration of Thanksgiving upon us here in the U.S., many people pause to think about what they’re thankful for: family, friends, TiVo, the Yankees not winning the World Series…

I’m thankful for all of those things too of course, but also for the development and growth of social media. Here are a few reasons why:

Social media makes it easy to reconnect with old friends and co-workers. How did we do this before? There were ways: reunions, phone calls…but most often, we just didn’t. Now, social media tools like Facebook and LinkedIn make it easy and (usually) non-awkward. I was recently friended on Facebook by a guy I went to high school with. Back then, I thought he was kind of a jerk quite frankly. I discovered he’s now a cancer survivor and a completely different person. It happens.

I’ve written recommendations for folks I worked with in the past and had some nice ones provided for me as well. Old connections also often lead to new ones: I’ve introduced people who should know each other and been introduced to others who have become mentors, clients, or friends.

Social media makes it easy to connect with new people who share your interests…anywhere on earth. Before social networks (and even more so before email became widespread), it was difficult to make and maintain acquaintances with professional peers or people with similar interests in other parts of the country, much less the world.

And second-level connections (getting to know the people whom the people you know know) were even more difficult to make. Now I routinely trade updates and information with smart marketers and other interesting people across North America as well as in the UK, Belgium, France, Germany, South Africa, India, Thailand, Malaysia, The Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil and elsewhere.

Just a few of the cool people I likely never would have gotten to know without social media include Jill Konrath, J-P De Clerck, Jennifer Kane, Judy Grundstrom, Alice Elliott, Paul Dunay, Ambal Balakrishnan, Tony Karrer (my partner in the B2B Marketing Zone and Social Media Informer), the B2BTOTY steering committee or the LeBron team.

Social media is a meritocracy (mostly). Early in my career I worked for a company that produced digital prepress equipment for printing companies, and we had a huge poster in the office that read:

“Freedom of the press belongs to those who own one.”

If you were wealthy, fortunate, obnoxious (or in a few cases, talented) enough to be involved in publishing, you had a voice. Others, for the most part, didn’t. The Internet opened things up a bit, but creating websites (a dozen years ago) was hard unless you were a programmer. Blogging opened things up considerably more. Social media has blown the gates wide open. Anyone with an interesting point of view and knowledge to share gets to be an influential star, at least in his or her corner of the social mediasphere. Blowhards (usually) tend to get called out and ignored.

Social media is fantastic for research and learning. Want to know what your customers and prospects are thinking? Sure, surveys and focus groups still have their place, but you can learn a lot from what they’re saying in social media circles. At the very least, you’ll be able to craft more intelligent, informed questions for your survey.

Your competitor recently released a new product? Cool. Their press release, and perhaps a puff piece in an industry trade pub where they advertise, are no longer the only sources of information about it. You can now, easily, find out what other people are saying. Real people. Customers, prospects, thought leaders, people who have some expertise on the product but aren’t part of, or paid by, the company.

Want to know how to perform a certain task or process? Social media can not only lead you to the answer, but let you know which alternative answer is probably best based on the level of social influence of the writer.

Social media makes marketing more fun. A dialog is more enjoyable and interesting than a monologue. Sure, social media makes marketing a bit messier (because marketing and PR people no longer control the messaging) and more challenging (thought leadership content is more difficult to write than sales copy), but engaging in conversations gives marketers a direct line to prospects—enabling them to craft messaging that really resonates with their audience. Social media also provides a variety of near real-time methods for measuring audience response, so marketers know more quickly what works and what doesn’t. You can’t get that from a print ad.

Got your own reasons to be thankful? Leave a comment to share.

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Book Review: Defy Gravity

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

In Defy Gravity: Propel Your Business to High-Velocity Growth, Rebel Brown shows business owners and executives how to shed the weight of legacy baggage, filter out the noise and focus on those opportunities which provide the best potential for profitable growth. This is a critical guidebook for any business faced with shrinking margins, flatlined revenue, or worse–that is in freefall and in need of a turnaround strategy for survival.

Defy Gravity by Rebel BrownTo illustrate her points throughout the book, Rebel metaphorically uses the language of flight—gravity, lift, thrust, waypoints, trim tabs—much as Tom Hayes employed terms from the old west in Maverick Marketing. In the book’s first section, “Sources of Gravity,” Rebel details how old practices and beliefs can weigh a company down, preventing it from reaching its potential altitude of profitability and speed of growth. Most of these will be familiar to anyone with a few years of business experience behind them: “it’s our biggest seller!” (even though it’s rapidly becoming yesterday’s technology), “They’re our biggest customer” (highest revenue doesn’t always equate to most profitable), “but the other guys have it” (the fallacy of chasing the competition) and more.

On one particularly sensitive topic in this section—the drag that can be created by long-time employees clinging to the status quo rather than evolving with the company—is handled graciously. Loyal employees shouldn’t be discarded cavalierly with every change in the wind. Their knowledge and opinions matter; if they are resisting a change in direction, listen to make sure what they’re saying really is status quo baggage thinking, and not a prescient warning of hidden dangers in the new course of action. If it is truly resistance to needed change, give them a chance to get on board with the new flight plan. At that point, if they continue to be a source of drag, and worse, make an effort to persuade others to sabotage efforts at changing direction, it’s time to gracefully help them find a seat on another plane.

This a high-level strategy book written for leaders of any sized business. Though Rebel provide guidance on tactics to identify value and evaluate markets, she flies well above the tree tops throughout the book.

At its most basic level, her guidance is: identify your true sources of value—not the ones you think you have, but the ones your best customers (and potential customers) attribute to your company and offerings—and then focus all of your efforts on the most profitable (even if not always the largest in revenue terms) segments. That’s oversimplifying her message, but gets to the heart of it. As she summarizes at the end of chapter 12, “There are two primary sources of sustainable growth: true value and market opportunity. You can’t have one without the other and expect to reach full business velocity.”

She reminds us throughout the book, however, that as obvious as these recommendations may seem, they often fail in practice for a multitude of reasons. The most common is managing based on historical results—expecting the future to be a continuation of the past. Though this is not actually unusual in the business world, Rebel equates it to a pilot trying to fly a plane by looking at what’s behind him to show how absurd this is; no one would want to be on that flight. We want a pilot whose eyes are on the horizon in front of us; businesses run best when managed the same way, looking forward at changing market conditions and needs.

Among Rebel’s insights:

  • • “Market leaders recognize that their best seller isn’t a specific product or approach. They identify their sustainable value as customer benefit, not a specific product.” Take Apple as an example; though the company has lots of outstanding products, it’s core value isn’t a single product but rather cool technology that works reliably.
  • • Every organization has three distinct types of value that it is critical to identify properly: company value (i.e., “the brand”), product value (why your customers buy your product or service) and market value (leadership, reputation, unique position). Company value is relatively unchanging, or at most slowly evolving, over time. Product value lasts only as long as product lifecycles.
  • • “Don’t be surprised if the sales reps are selling to a subset of what you believe are current market opportunities. Reps sell where they win, to, wherever they are winning, that’s your current market focus. You’ll find that your best sales reps do not waste time on the target markets you choose for them…Where they focus is your current market opportunity, whether you want to believe it or not. Pay attention.”
  • • While you need to understand the competition you’re up against, “don’t start doing deep competitive analysis. That’s not what you need. You need to know the market positions of established market leaders–if there are any…For all markets, understanding the competitive landscape is key to a decision about your strategic course and focus. Just don’t follow your competitors. Think for yourself!”
  • • “One of the biggest mistakes we make in our growth strategies is to assume that we can create demand in the markets we select. That takes big money and lots of time. We’re better off focusing on a market that already has demand, capturing a ready-made opportunity instead of attempting to create a new market space.”
  • • “Leaders, it’s really important that you let folks know that you want real-world estimates. Too many employees are trained to say they can do more than they can, in reality, to look good and to please their managers. Change this behavior if you want to succeed and grow.” The head of the agency I’m with refers to this as “setting proper expectations” and it’s critical for properly allocating budget and effort, and producing results everyone is pleased with.

Boston Consulting Group MatrixThe strategy section at the end of the book is bit reminiscent of the classic Boston Consulting Group matrix, though Rebels observations and recommendations are more nuanced and advanced. Plus, it’s a lot more fun to talk about airplanes, waypoints and flight decks than dogs and cows. She richly illustrates her points throughout with a variety of case studies from the B2B and consumer marketing realms.

If your business is growing more rapidly and profitably than you ever dreamed, you can afford to ignore this book (at least for now). But if it’s more like the other 98% of businesses—struggling to keep up with the pace of market change and maintain profitable growth—Rebel Brown’s Defy Gravity may very well provide your flight plan for resumed or continued growth and success.

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Social Media Success Starts with Listening

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

The grandmotherly maxim, “The good Lord gave you two ears but only one mouth for a reason” applies to social interactions in general, but is nowhere more critical than in social media marketing. A common mistake in social media is that companies will dive right in, setting up a Twitter account or Facebook page and blasting out tweets and status updates about their latest company news and new product announcements—and then wonder why their Twitter following isn’t growing and there’s no interaction on their Facebook page.

Social Media ListeningIt’s not just that most people aren’t waiting on eggshells in eager anticipation of XYZ Company’s latest PR announcement, it’s that the marketers and PR people at XYZ didn’t take the time to figure out what their prospective buyers and influencers do really care about and want to discuss. Without this information, the company’s social media pronouncements appear off-topic, unsolicited and out of touch.

So how exactly does a company “listen?” Whether you’re just getting a social media program started or are trying to revive a flagging effort, here’s a process that will tune your social media marketing efforts for greater success.

Find out who’s talking. Use social media monitoring tools to find the people who are talking about your company, your competitors, and key industry terms. Social Mention, Alterian’s SM2 Freemium and Google blog search are helpful free tools, and a growing number of commercial suites are available. These tools will reveal who’s talking about your topics of interest, where online they are talking, and what they’re saying.

Filter to find the influencers. Your initial searches will inevitably pick up a lot of “noise”–someone mentioning an important term, but only in an isolated, off-handed way. For example, your company may be mentioned in a tweet or status update that’s something like “Had lunch with my friend from XYZ corp yesterday.” Filter out the noise and highlight those who mention your company name, product name(s), competitors or key industry terms with some frequency. These individuals may not all be true influencers, but they are worthy of further investigation.

Follow the influencers. Just because you’ve identified influential social media users in your industry doesn’t necessarily mean you should immediately start talking. Follow them on Twitter. Subscribe to their RSS feeds in a reader. Join the same LinkedIn groups. Listen to what they are saying before jumping in.

Promote select influencers. Once you have an idea of who your true current or potential advocates may be, promote their content—whether it’s about you or just interesting industry news or commentary. Retweet them. Tag them on social bookmarking sites. Endorse them via Twitter’s follow Friday.

Contribute to the conversation. Thoughtfully and non-promotionally comment on your influencers’ blogs and/or LinkedIn discussions. Ask and answer questions. Don’t try to “sell,” but rather to establish a relationship built on the groundwork laid in the previous two steps. Share your own industry-related content. Focus on being social, and on being an industry resource.

With this foundation in place, the conversation can naturally turn a bit more commercial (though still not “hard sell”). The influencers will notice that you’ve been hanging around, saying some nice things, contributing to some interesting discussions. They may be willing to help you, as long it also enhances their image and helps their audiences. “I’m from XYZ Corp, and we sell blah blah” isn’t interesting, but “I’m from XYZ Corp, and we’ve got some ideas for simplifying network security and reducing costs” is.

Social media marketing is about earning your audience’s attention. By listening first, then contributing helpful information based on what your prospects and key influencers are discussing, you’ll be seen as an asset to the community and a valued contributor, rather than just another vendor schlepping its goods.

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Is Social Media BS?

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

That was the provocative question raised, and answered, by HubSpot VP of Marketing Mike Volpe in a webinar last Friday. Per Mike’s usual style, the webinar was packed with helpful information but too much for one sitting, and to get through it all Mike talks at about twice the speed of those disclaimers at the end of radio ads. HubSpot has apparently found a way to pump oxygen directly into Mike’s lungs, as he didn’t audibly pause to take a breath for the first 40 minutes of this presentation.

Traditionally, big brands used TV and print advertising, while their smaller counterparts employed direct mail and telemarketing, to reach consumers directly through interruption marketing. When marketing moved online, advertisers shifted efforts to banner ads, pop-ups and email marketing. But caller ID, DVRs and ad blocking software have put consumers in control of the marketing messages they see; traditional interruption marketing is becoming progressively less effective. Mike’s answer is to shift to inbound marketing: think like a publisher, produce valuable and interesting content, share it where people are talking about your industry or the types of problems you solve, and let buyers come to you.

Key point #1: Social media is a critical component of inbound marketing. But it’s only one part. Successful marketers can’t rely solely on social media or treat it as a silo, separate from other marketing activities. It has to be part of the fabric of marketing efforts.

Key point #2: To be successful with social media, you need to change the way you do business. Some—in fact, many—types of marketing activities lend themselves to testing. You can run a small AdWords campaign focused on a single asset to determine whether a bigger campaign is justified. You can test banner advertising on an industry publication site for a month or two before deciding to commit to a longer run. You can send a small delegation to a trade show to evaluate the potential for a big booth next year.

Social media is different, however. It isn’t another channel, it’s a new way of engaging your audience. Trial efforts are doomed to failure because it takes time to attract a following and build trust. You can’t dip your toe in the water, and don’t put an intern in charge of your social media efforts! You have to jump in all the way, and involve your best people: the ones who know your products and services inside and out, and understand the issues your customers face.

Success at inbound marketing requires that social media be integrated with other marketing objectives: branding, content, SEO, research, and lead generation. This diagram from HubSpot illustrates the relationship visually.

Key point #3: A blog should be at the center of social media efforts. Blogging makes you and/or you company more interesting online. Content powers social media success. It adds substance to your Facebook status updates and tweets.

Key point #4: In today’s world, a brand is what consumers say it is. In the old days (pre-2003 or so), brands were carefully crafted by agencies, creatively packaged, and presented to the public via one-way broadcast communications (TV, magazines, direct mail). With the rise of social networks, blogs, forums and review sites, markets now define brands. Companies can enhance (or damage) their brand image based on how they respond. For example, poor customer service? Fix it. Then humbly tell the world what you’ve done. Argument, advertising, or avoidance are all losing strategies.

Key point #5: Marketers should spend 100% of their time on social media. This was actually addressed as an answer to a question about the appropriate amount of time to allocate to social media activities. Mike’s answer was brilliant: “I spend 100% of my time on social media. But I also spend 100% of my time on SEO, 100% on developing new content, 100% on lead generation, 100% on branding…it’s all one activity, not disconnected efforts.”

Key point #6: Your buyers are now in control. It’s getting increasingly difficult, expensive and ineffective to buy the attention of your market (see the second paragraph above). You have to earn it. Thinking like a publisher and socializer rather than an advertiser enables you to earn that attention. If you don’t earn your buyers’ attention, they’ll stop following you. If your Twitter following starts decreasing or your Facebook fans begin to disappear, it’s time to take a hard look at what you’re doing and make changes.

Compelling Stats

Combining social media with SEO provides 97% more links, on average, back to a web site.

Websites with blogs attract 55% more visitors on average than traditional static websites.

Twitter users who also have blogs have 79% more followers on average than Twitterers who don’t blog (and that figure is even higher—102%—for small businesses that lack the drawing power of a popular brand).

In a recent HubSpot survey, more than 40% of respondents said they had landed new customers or generated revenue from Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and/or a company blog.

Takeaways

So what should you do? The presentation included “Practical Tips” at the end of each section, among them:

  • • Start a blog about your industry—not your company. Try to make it the premier publication for buyers in your industry.
  • • Post blog content to social media, and put social sharing buttons on your content, making it easy for your readers to share as well.
  • • Use social media intelligence on your leads. For example, if you generated a lead through LinkedIn, and that buyer appears to be very active there, communicate with him/her through LinkedIn. Don’t force them into a different channel. And watch what they are posting about, questions they ask, etc. to learn more about their needs.
  • • Use social media monitoring tools to track your brand mentions, and also those of competitors. What your competitors are saying on social networks can give you a glimpse into their strategies. And what their customers are saying can tell you a lot about their strengths and shortcomings.
  • • Follow your target customers. Listen to what they are saying—really listen—before responding. Ask lots of questions.

Which Brings Us To…

Key point #7: Social media is here to stay. Traditionally, all marketing channels have become less effective over time. For example, the first companies to advertise on TV were highly successful with it, but as more and more companies began running commercials, they became less effective. Today, many viewers record their favorite shows and skip through the commercials. Similarly, direct mail was a highly effective channel at first, before it became saturated and the term “junk mail” was coined. Ditto for telemarketing. And email marketing. So why should social media be any different? Because it is the only channel where the user is in control. If a thousand companies start using Twitter as a broadcast platform for 140-character ads, it doesn’t make Twitter any less valuable and no one has to quit—people will simply not follow those companies.

True, the evolution of marketing will continue,  perpetually, and eventually it’s likely some new shiny, sparkly thing will come along that grabs everyone’s attention. But the user-control aspect of social media is likely to continue fueling its popularity and growth for a long time to come. Enterprises and marketers who embrace this and focus on earning attention will prevail over those still trying to buy it.

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