Tag Archives: Business

Think social business. Not social marketing.

Social business - not social marketingThink social business — not social marketing. Social marketing, the content, programs, campaigns and promotions that leverage social technologies, is part of social business, but it’s not the end all, be all. Social impacts business in its entirety. It’s easy to say social media or social marketing when talking about social business; because it’s how the press has pegged the activity of brands and users on these networks, but it’s wrong.

Social impacts nearly every aspect of the organization: human resources, legal, product, customer service, business development and of course, marketing and communications. A smart business looks at social holistically and integrates it into the business units in a way that connects the entire organization via social technology. Through this integration, social makes the business more accessible, more agile and more responsive to customer needs. These are all good things.

Businesses that truly “get it” don’t limit their thinking of social as some specialized area of marketing. In fact, social can’t (and shouldn’t) be confined to marketing or to the marketing function. To think of it as a marketing-only area is to miss the boat in its entirety.

So whenever I start saying “social marketing” too often, I remind myself that it’s an organizational discipline and a fundamental shift in how business is done by leveraging new ways of communicating with one another — both internally and with the outside world.

This isn’t a new idea, just a reminder I like to give myself to keep my eye on the prize.  I thought you might find it useful too.

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Becoming a Content Mill is Not a Viable Social Strategy

A revolution is coming, and it won’t be televised. This, according to Michael Malone’s piece in Forbes, which is based on his research for his latest book, “How Companies Win: Profiting from Demand-Driven Business Models No Matter What Business You’re In.” Malone refers to an upcoming industrial revolution that America misses out on:

The biggest structural economic shift, the one Venky has discovered and which is the launching point of the book, is that over the last decade, the global economy has experienced a fundamental and historic shift from centuries during which supply and demand were roughly balanced, to our current situation in which supply significantly outstrips the demand available to absorb it. This is largely the result of the relatively new science of Supply Chain Management, which systematized the process of marshalling resources to bring products and services to market. The implication is that most modern business strategies are now obsolete, as the new competitive battlefield has now shifted from supply to that of finding remaining pools of profitable demand. (emphasis mine)

That alone is enough to provoke a radical change in how businesses are organized and how they behave. It suggests that most companies, including the most successful, no longer have a lock on survival because the ground has suddenly shifted beneath their feet. That, of course, is the recipe for a business revolution.

The article is eye-opening and has me thinking about the day that my son might leave the US to go work in Brazil, because “that’s where the jobs are, Dad.” But it also got me thinking about the here and now and our own information revolution that continues to shake the ground beneath our feet. Take the above quote and apply it to social media marketing, broadly defined as trying to reach consumers across the new publishing tools responsible for this flood of information, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc. I think the analogy of the global supply chain in producing manufactured goods applies nicely to the information economy as well.

Blog platforms, low-cost hosting, Facebook and Twitter are the Supply Chain Management pieces of the information economy. Before them, brining content to the marketplace was hard and expensive. This barrier to entry made information scarce and valuable. But the technology improved to make the supply of information to the market more efficient, turning information into, in many cases, a commodity. This isn’t news to anyone reading this of course, but it does continue to have broad implications for businesses and brands trying to reach customers on an ever-crowded Web.

And the reason that brands are having trouble is because the market of information continues to evolve rapidly. Companies are still trying to figure out how to contribute content to the marketplace so that they’re found in Google, so that they can drive thought leadership, so that they can be heard. The problem is, the market timing for that is past. The technology has made the creation of content so efficient and cheap that we’re swimming in it. Business models like Demand Media’s and other the other commodity content producers are making the content market more and more crowded and less valuable. And a traditional company can’t keep up and can’t win in that type of battle.

In a over saturated market, putting more supply out there is like pushing on a string. You can do it, just don’t expect anything to happen because of it.

While it’ll always be important as a company to communicate with the market, just creating content is no longer enough. When your social strategy is based on content creation, you’re sure to fail; because consumers aren’t looking for content – they’re looking for content they want.

This is where Malone’s premise provides insight on how to succeed in our new information marketplace. It’s not about adding to supply, it’s about identifying areas of the conversation that still have profitable demand. And that’s why most traditional marketing advice about reaching customers on the social web is dead wrong. It’s not enough to create blog posts, videos and infographics if they don’t address some remaining or untapped demand in the marketplace. And this is where marketers need to do a better job. As a marketer in the social web you have to look at areas where demand still exists, and if you don’t find any you have to test and probe until you find it. Because your company will only win when it finds and leverages that untapped demand.

So how do you find that demand? That’s the tough part, as often the market doesn’t know what it wants until it sees it; and as a brand you have to continue to test and learn to find it. But there are a few constants that always are in demand, in one shape or another. Looking at how your brand can aid people in achieving the following is a way to suss out potential opportunity.

  • Making people’s lives easier
  • Making people happy
  • Making people feel good about themselves
  • Making people successful

Those are the areas of continual demand in our information economy. As a social marketer you should be looking at your programs and determining if what you’re contributing is advancing the above goals of the people you’re trying to reach. If you’re not doing any of the above, it’s likely that you won’t tap the demand that will drive your business success.

The information revolution has brought us the technology that has made delivering content to the marketplace efficient, 140 characters-efficient, but too many of us are still seeking for success in a market which doesn’t have much room for stand outs. Instead of focusing on the tools and technologies we should focus on finding the untapped demand, putting our time and effort into creating the messages and products that will make people’s lives better, easier, happier and more successful. Only then will we find the success in our social marketing programs – viva la revolucion!

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Social Business Means Redefining What Business Is

Brian Solis talks about the bigger social business opportunity that is ahead of businesses and social media professionals:

When you look behind the scenes, you actually see more duct tape and rubber bands than fluidity and polish. Business units are still siloed and even the chief executives have gone on record saying that the acts of engagement do more for the company’s PR than it does for the improvement of products and services. Just look at your favorite social media source and you’ll see an endless array of examples of how brands are succeeding in social media. Again, most of them are basking in the brilliance of individual victories, some are actually breaking through the internal barriers that prevent collaboration, and others are simply stunts designed to spike conversations, sales, and PR. Nothing wrong with it…especially if it work as intended.

You and I are here together, right now, to do something greater. It’s up to us to lead the way for the socialization of business, understanding that it’s an uphill journey for the foreseeable future. But in the end, our experience and triumphs are unparalleled.

What Brian is talking about here isn’t social media marketing.  He’s talking about redefining what it means to be a business. It’s an ambitious vision, but has a few nascent successes that point to what could become the new corporate structure (Zappos comes to mind, 37 Signals, etc.)

For as long as the corporate entity has existed the model has been command and control.  Ground troops up on the front lines taking orders from well heeled Generals sipping tea well back from the front, who are ordering air support via massive branding campaigns on television, radio and print. All in an effort to convince the public that their product was just a little bit better, cheaper or faster.  And this worked well, for a long time.  But not any more.

With today’s connected, real-time landscape, business leaders and brands are in the thick of it.  They’re being pulled in every direction, flanked by conversations, complaints, kudos, competitors and their own internal chaos as they try to respond to the changes in the way business gets done.  And respond is all most have been able to do.  Not think, not plan, not leverage. Merely react.  Often these knee-jerk reactions are head-in-the-sand denials. Across the country there are conversations going on that start like this “Maybe we should just kill our Facebook presence,” because these leaders and brands aren’t fairing well in this new reality.

And even those that choose to engage in this new arena, as Brian points out, are doing it via smoke and mirrors, not necessarily through any enlightened state of corporate prescience.  But hey, if you’re one of the brands that hit the jackpot in connecting with customers online; well, by all means, don’t leave the girl you brought to the dance.  However, it’s important to understand the distinction between achieving success with social media marketing and reconstructing your business based on this new world order.

The marketing changes wrought by social media platforms have been hashed over ad nauseum for the last few years.  Most socia media successes can be boiled down to tactical executions of providing customer service and compelling experiences on the social web.  And that’s all well and good and interesting.  The evolution of marketing from spray and pray, one-size-fits-all messaging to actual conversation is welcome indeed; but in order for businesses to fully leverage the changes afforded by the social web they must embrace this new reality outside of their marketing department.  And that’s where I think Brian gets it right.

It’s not about redefining your message, it’s about rebuilding your company.  Breaking down command and control, creating better flows of information capital, creating more authentic and meaningful customer experiences and touchpoints, and empowering employees to put in their best to work for the business and customer every day.

This transformation starts when the business owners realize that the game has changed, that they in turn need to adapt.  Businesses must be willing to flip the megaphone around and put the wide end up to their corporate ear.  And then do something with the data to rearchitect their fundamental infrastructure to better serve the market. Because it’s not enough for a company to come up with the Old Spice Man campaign if customer feedback isn’t driving product development.  It’s not enough to launch a Facebook page when you’re customers are all active on a BBS somewhere.  It’s not enough to have branding, product, customer service, loyalty, global marketing, product teams, etc. all off experimenting with Twitter; when what’s needed is leaders who can to drive the new social way of operating on the Web through the organization to create a new way of thinking about delivering value to the market place.

A favorite metaphor for corporate dysfunction and disorganization is that the left hand isn’t talking to the right hand.  Well this problem is amplified by the challenges created by a real time, messy, loud market place full of demands.  And if organizations insist on relegating social media to the PR/customer service silo, without truly embracing the power it can bring them in terms of insight, innovation, customer and employee satisfaction and bigger and better shareholder returns, than the vision of social business is left unfulfilled, and we as champions of the space will have come up short in our mission to change how business is done.

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That’s G: Gatorade Gets Social Media

Gatorade Mission ControlGatorade has planted a stake firmly in the social media realm, putting its social media monitoring and engagement at the heart of its marketing department, launching Mission Control. Mission Control is Gatorade’s listening and engagement center where it monitors brand mentions and conversations in social media space. It also lets the brand see which websites, landing pages and online marketing efforts are performing better than others-letting Gatorade extend or shut down campaigns depending on how sentiment and other KPI’s are doing for given opportunities.

An impressive effort to be sure, and one that more brands will follow as social media becomes core to their understanding of how their brand is performing with their target audience. Whether it’s a physical space or not, expect more brands to make social media monitoring a core part of the daily dashboard showing the health of the brand, market or business. So the question becomes, what are you doing to monitor the health of your business online?

From Mashable’s article on Mission Control and its ROI to Gatorade:

On a day-to-day basis, Gatorade’s tools are also being used for more conventional marketing tactics –- like optimizing landing pages and making sure followers are being sent to the top performing pages. As an example, the company says it’s been able to increase engagement with its product education (mostly video) by 250% and reduce its exit rate from 25% to 9%.

Below is Gatorade’s video about the new Mission Control:

Read more:

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Self-funded Success Stories

Image representing 37signals as depicted in Cr...

Image via CrunchBase

37 Signals has launched a new blog series titled, Profitable and proud, which highlights successful companies that have grown without any venture capital or funding.  It’s a great idea and a clever way to advance their theory that venture capital often gets in the way of companies becoming a success.

Their first company is Campaign Monitor, a company that I love for email marketing.  They also have a great way of marketing themselves that is inexpensive and customer-centric (double bonus!)

I think one of the best ways a company can build a relationship with their customers is to help them get better at something. When we launched Campaign Monitor six years ago, HTML email design really was a dark art. While browser limitations and workarounds were well known, there was next to nothing available on HTML emails. How do you make an email look good in Lotus Notes? Why isn’t this float working in Hotmail? You had to learn everything the hard way.

Over the years we’ve put together almost 350 articles and tips to help reduce this frustration for our customers. Some of our most popular resources include our regularly updated guide to CSS support in email, our free templates that work in all the major email clients and our email gallery showcasing beautiful email design.

I love what Marc Hedlund over at Radar has to say about self-funded companies too.

I think it would be interesting to compare customer service satisfaction across companies with different kinds of ownership structures. I noticed a while that some of my favorite businesses near my home –Cheese Board/ArizmendiZachary’s Pizza, and Missing Link Bicycle — which have the best customer service in their local markets, are all co-ops, owned by the employees. 37signals often argues that running a business their way is better for the business, but I think it is nearly unarguable that it’s better for customers, too.

I think you get greater flexibility to do what you think is right for your customers when the only pressure is on you to live up to your standards – and not a quarterly board meeting with people wondering when they’ll see their return on investment.

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Hulu Wins in the Details

hulu logo

Hulu announced a new player for its popular online video site this morning and Eugene Wei, their VP of Product walks through the new functionality in a detailed blog post about the new features in the Hulu player.  If you take a few minutes to read it you’ll notice that most of the updates don’t feel “major,” or part of a “massive relaunch” as tech companies like to say when they version up on their platform. Instead they demonstrate an obsession with getting the details right. And this is where Hulu wins.

Because unlike other technology companies that ship big platform updates with lots of ballyhoo but often with “we’ll get that in the next release” rough edges, Hulu focuses on how to make the user experience the best it can be – by starting with the details.  Proving in product, it really is the little things that make a difference.

Look at some of the changes they’ve made – half of them you can’t even see, the others you’ll barely notice individually; but when you put them all together you see that Hulu is one step further out ahead of everyone else in video in delivering the world’s best online video experience.

Changes:

  • Color and background color of captions on videos
  • Ad audio level normalization
  • Variable bit-rate streaming
  • 25% increase in player size
  • Removing player controls from  the viewing area

If you’ve worked in product or with product management the level detail in these is rare.  I imagine in many technology companies these features would lose to the “edge case” argument and never get rolled in.

But when you start with the goal of creating the best online video viewing experience in the world and mean it, you see how all of these features are vital and not “edge cases” at all.  So kudos to the Hulu team for sweating the small stuff, because where you win is in the details.

Pardon the Dust « Hulu Blog.

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Whose Success are You Worried About?

Do you know whose success you’re striving for today? There’s only one right answer if you run a business. The correct answer is “your customer.”

When you focus on your customer success first you ensure that your company is aligned and attuned to meeting their needs, solving their problems and making them successful. Putting the customer first isn’t a new idea by any stretch, but it’s important to refocus everyday we sit down at our desks to remember that first and foremost we’re in it to make them better off than they were without us. If we do that in a meaningful way each and every day we will find our own success.

It’s the companies and individuals who forget this golden rule that get into trouble. When you start thinking about your own success and that of your company you lose focus of the customers. Customer service becomes a cost center to trim down, products need to yield a precise margin in order to be shipped and policies like returns, warranties, etc. become down right hostile in tone and practice. This is where you begin to lose your customer, and eventually your job and eventually your market. History is a graveyard of companies that failed by putting themselves first.

Focusing on the success of the customer is the only sustainable way to grow a business. Sure, you can rip people off until they notice, fold up shop or relaunch the product and hope to get another wave of suckers; but that’s getting a lot harder with the Internet. Customers are more informed and more vocal. It’s a diminishing return market. Never a good one to be in.

When you focus your efforts on the success of your customer you create a sustainable, self-supporting power source that drives you towards your success. It’s the best recipe there is for success and always has been. As Sam Walton so famously said “There is only one boss: the customer. And he can fire everybody in the company, from the chairman on down…” We need to remember who our boss is.

So this morning when you sit down to work, don’t think about your commission or payday or how you don’t want to talk to the engineering team; instead sit down and think “What am I going to do today to make our customers more successful?” I bet you’ll find a more satisfying day a more productive day and a more successful day unfolds before you.

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Leaning into Change

In Seth Godin‘s latest book, Linchpin, he talks about the concept of leaning into your work in order to be successful. He argues that a change in posture, leaning in vs. standing by, is one way to tell the linchpins (irreplaceable people in an organization) from the employees. I love this concept because it is a powerful metaphor for thinking about how you show up each and every day. Are you leaning forward, into problems, roadblocks and opportunities? Or are you idly standing by waiting for something to happen, to react to?

Those that lean win. Those that stand by whine. It’s as simple as that.

I haven’t finished the book, so I’m not sure if Seth tackles this, but in thinking about leaning in, I’ve found in my own past experience that leaning in during times of change is absolutely critical. Because change is opportunity, even if oddly dressed. Too many people see change and stand by – waiting to see where the chips will fall. Waiting to see how the power structure will change or where and what the fall out will be. The people standing by at best miss an opportunity, at worst they find themselves in the fall out.

When change comes it’s time to lean – harder than you ever have.

Leaning into change is scary, and it doesn’t feel natural. I think it’s because you have to make a bet, and you’re often doing it with limited, incomplete or imperfect information. You may have a new boss whose agenda you can’t quite read. You may have a corporate shift is strategy, or a reorganization, or a brand new competitor named Google, or a million other things that create uncertainty. And our instinct is to stand by – let’s see what happens before I make a move. And I argue that that reaction is the exact wrong one to have. When the ground is shifting under your feet it’s time to asses the best you can and lean in hard. Sure, sometimes you’ll bet wrong, and that’s ok, because you can course correct along the way. Working with good intentions and a strong desire to improve your organization’s situation during a time of change is rarely why people get fired these days. It’s the people standing by that tend to get left in the dust.

Leaning in is easier to do when there isn’t any perceived risk. It gets harder as the stakes go up in times of change. It’s precisely why leaning in is that much more valuable at those moments.

Image via Wikipedia

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5 tools to eliminate meaningless meetings

Being busy is not being productive. This much is clear. But let’s go one step further. Meetings are not communicating. They’re certainly not an effective form of communicating. Meetings are time intensive, disruptive and often counter-productive. They tend to be stilted, keep people from expressing their true feelings and kill morale. Plus they’re incredibly expensive. In short, they should be eliminated from your daily work routine as much as possible.

So why do we have so many meetings? Because we’re lazy. It’s far easier to call a meeting and make sure you’ve checked all the boxes on your CYA form than it is to communicate to the various project “stake holders” on an as-needed basis. This is a bad habit that gets perpetuated in environments where making any decision, big or small, is difficult, risky or requires each decision to go through the group-think meat grinder.

It’s time to declare war on meetings.

Here are a few ways that you can reduce the amount of meetings you’re roped into on an ongoing basis:

Email distribution lists

Most meetings are held because people need to be informed about a project status.  Look at that sentence again. It’s ludicrous.  There are far better ways to update people, solicit feedback and get approval than putting everyone around the table.  An easy way to do this is to set up email distribution lists for different teams, layers of management and projects.  You can quickly set one up for a project and disband it once the project is complete.  You can also set them up for people that need to be informed about ongoing projects.

Basecamp

Basecamp is one of my favorite productivity tools – as long as you can get the other people in your company on board and using it.  It’s great for discussions, project files, milestones and group management of document editing.  It’s far better than email, easier to keep track of and puts everything in one place.  We use Basecamp religiously and it helps keep everything nice and organized.  Plus they have some great iPhone apps that interface with it. The one challenge I’ve found is getting executive team members to engage and make it a part of their work flow. They often want email updates, file copies and that sort of thing.  Pushing everyone, from top to bottom to get on board with a Basecamp-like product is the way to go.

Skype

Skype and other instant messengers, particularly ones that have both voice and video chat capabilities are a great way to get quick answers to questions that are blocking your progress on a project.  IM is far superior to phone calls. It’s shorter, clearer, and there’s no chance of voice mail.  I use Skype every day for voice, video and individual IM conversations.  I don’t know how people work without it.

Campfire

Another 37 Signals product.  Campfire is a Web-based, group-chat software that lets you host chat rooms for your company in the Web browser.  This means that entire teams can chat in real-time without the need for any special software on their desktops.  We use it as a marketing team to let everyone ask and answer questions, kick around ideas, update each other on projects and deadlines, etc.  It’s a perfect way to keep the team informed and hold discussions about various topics.  Campfire lets you create multiple rooms, so you can have one for each department or project or team – it’s all up to you.

Yammer

Yammer and other private Twitter-like clients let people in your organization update what they’re doing and broadcast it across the company.  While your first reaction might be “I don’t need to know everything,” think about how many times you just wish someone told you about a project or launch that was seemingly small to them, but had a big impact on you.  For example, say someone in marketing posted a message saying “Prepping email blast to Facebook customers,” and you were responsible for staffing phone support or testing out product conversions, you can reach out to the marketing person and say “hey, send me a copy of that email for the team” or “hey, can I see the copy before it goes out.”  Seeing this ambient stream of information can help you catch things that you might otherwise miss.

There are others, but these are 5 that can get you headed in the right direction right away, and help you declare war on meetings in your organization.  What are your favorite tools for keeping meetings to an absolute minimum?

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