Monthly Archives: May 2012


Fascinating piece in Business Week on some of the spam practices within social media.  While the focus is on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, it reminds all of us who create content sites that we need to be vigilant about protecting our sites and our users from these dirt bags.  The piece cites an executive from an anti-spam software company who stated that spammers create as many as 40 percent of the accounts on social media sites. About 8 percent of messages sent via social pages are spam, approximately twice the volume of six months ago.  Because the email providers have become pretty good about filtering out obvious spam, the spammer have moved on to social.

What they’re doing now is embedding code that forces a “like” into a link to a page with something such as a video as bait.  Likejacking.  On Twitter, it’s provocative text linking to spam; on Pinterest it’s a photo that links to a virus or other spam.  I don’t think many of us are engaged in doing this – it seems to be a few rotten apples, some of whom have been sued.  Or are we?

There is still a tendency for marketers to use social media as we used to use traditional media – we talk, they listen.  We broadcast messages and wait for the register to ring.  Today, doing that on a Facebook brand page or within a Twitter feed is a sure way to get blocked, unfriended, hidden, or ignored.  To a certain extent, any sort of one-sided discussion is seen as spam in many folks’ minds.

We spend too much time wondering if social is marketing or PR or customer service.  We might argue about which department ought to control it.  Those are good discussions to have but what we can’t be doing in the interim is flooding our fans’ news feeds with off-target messages about us when we ought to be listening and engaging where appropriate with them.    Otherwise, how are we different from the likejackers?


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Another Great Service Experience

Yesterday I wrote about how AT&T wireless treated me to show how some companies are putting the “service” back in customer service. Today, I’d like to present another great example and it comes from a different perspective.

The company is Carl’s Golfland, an online retailer. At least, I thought they were just an online retailer.  Turns out they’re one of the oldest golf retailers around and they were chosen for the 27th consecutive time as one of Golf Digest‘s Top 100 Golf Shops. Carl’s is the only off course golf store to be named 100 best every year since the inception of the award.  I suspect this might have had something to do with the service.  More about that in a second.

They were recommended to me by a golf buddy who knew I was looking for a golf show that’s difficult to find, at least at a reasonable price. I went to the site, placed an order (great prices!) and received a confirmation mail almost immediately.  Very good ordering and communication experience.  However, the next day I got another mail – the shoes I had ordered had, in fact, been out of stock when I ordered them.  As happens sometimes, the computer inventory hadn’t kept up with the physical inventory (I had this happen every so often when I was running an online store – it’s tricky).  The note I received could not have been more pleasant and included a few proposed solutions – same shoe different color (with a link to it), a discount on a better shoe (with a link), or wait a few days for the inventory to restock.  Since I needed the shoes quickly, I chose the different color (which I actually like better now that I have them).

The series of email exchanges were not with “customer service” – it went to an individual’s email box (thanks Tim!) and he promised me he’d make sure they got to me quickly (which they did a day later – no charge for what I suspect was upgraded shipping).  They turned what might have been a big negative (first time customer, incorrect inventory, delayed order fulfillment) into a positive (I will be ordering from Carl’s again and have already recommended them to another golfing buddy).  I suspect that their main business is still in bricks and mortar has something to do with this.  It’s hard to look customers in the eye and blow them off (especially if you’re not in NYC or another big city).  The fact that the store is rated very highly makes me think they emphasize the customer and this has carried through to their online store as well.

That’s something to think about – do you treat customers you know from cyberspace differently than the ones you’ve met in person?  Why is that so?

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A Great Service Experience

I’ve spent a fair amount of time in this space complaining about shoddy customer service.

LAS VEGAS - MARCH 24:  Signs at the AT&T booth...

(Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)

I’m continually surprised by how few companies emphasize the human touch in a time when technology is making commerce less human in many ways.  However, in the last couple of days I’ve had a couple of really good customer service experiences and I thought that in the interest of balance I’d spend a post or two writing about them.  I think there are some lessons to be learned from each.

The first good experience came from the folks at AT&T.  I’ve been pretty vocal about them when they pushed the phone insurance scam and I had some issues with them selling me a Blackberry over the last couple of years.  I recently took a business trip to Canada and upon landing in the Great White North I got a text telling me that I was on another network and would be incurring data roaming charges.  I read it quickly and was under the impression that the charge would be about $30 if I used under 15Mb.  Not a problem.

Imagine my surprise when I received my bill and the data roaming charges were close to $300, even though my data usage was under 15Mb.  As it turns out, the text was more about an available international data plan to which I needed to subscribe than what was going on.  My fault, I misunderstood (easy to do when you’re reading a text while rushing off a plane to make a connection).  I immediately called AT&T and after a few minutes on hold I spoke to someone in international data (which is where I was routed for some reason).  Getting to this human was not easy – from a business point of view I know why they bury the “human” option but it’s difficult to defend from a service point of view.  This person transferred me to billing, where I spent a minute explaining the issue.  Without me asking, the rep asked me to hold a minute, came back on and said I’d be credited with the full amount of the data charges and explained the international data plans to me (which I will sign up for).  No hassle, no begging, no treating me like an idiot.  What a breath of fresh air!

I’m hoping that the rep had access to see that I’d been a customer practically since cell phones were invented (like 1993?) and we have multiple phones.  That should have made it an easier refund.  If they didn’t know that, I give them even more credit for treating a customer like we all should: the reason we’re in business and someone who is given every benefit of the doubt even when they might be dead wrong.

It’s a good lesson for all of us who deal with customers (and who doesn’t!).  Despite my occasional issues with them, AT&T will continue to be my service of choice.

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Wooden Spoons And Your Business

For our Foodie Friday Fun today I want to share an article about wooden spoons from Fine Cooking magazine.

English: wooden spoon collection in a stonewar...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Really edgy, I know, but since we discussed a simple kitchen implement that can kill you yesterday I thought today we’d lighten up.  The article reviews why a lot of chefs prefer wooden spoons in their kitchens and it got me thinking about business at the same time.

These are the main reasons chefs like them:

  • It’s strong – it can stir thick things without breaking
  • It’s soft – it’s not going to scratch the finish of your cookware;
  • It’s insulated
  • It has a high heat tolerance
  • It’s wood –  it looks nice, and also that it feels nice in the hand

I’d add it’s a natural material although obviously it’s pretty old – probably among the first materials used to make cooking tools.  Which is the business point.

There’s a tendency to throw away older tools and technologies just because they’re old (let’s include tossing some older people in that thinking too).  Often overlooked is that these older solutions might have some significant advantages over newer inventions.  Plastic spoons break or melt even though they’re easier to clean and might release chemicals into your food.  Metal spoons can scratch your pans and need a lot of insulation – leave one in a pot sometime and then pick it up – ouch.

Many businesses get caught up in the rush to the latest shiny object – social media, mobile apps – without thinking about their business goals or the ability of the new thing to do the job without causing other problems.  They toss away the perfectly good wooden spoons they’ve been using only to find that their cooking – branding, marketing – suffers.

We’ve got a lot of wooden spoons along here in the kitchen along with metal, plastic, and silicone.  We also have a dozen different types of knife and various sizes and shapes of pots and pans.  Some are pretty old and some we’ve bought in the last year.  We try to use the one that’s best suited for the task.  That’s how I approach business too – figure out the business objective and work with the tools best suited to accomplish that goal.

Make sense?

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Cuts Like A Knife

I know it isn’t Friday but since we’re heading to the weekend and our Foodie Friday Fun tomorrow, I thought I’d head us in that direction a bit early.

A Kitchen Knife.

A Kitchen Knife. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I came across this article about a bizzare kitchen occurrence and in addition to feeling a need to share it with you all I’m thinking it makes an excellent business point. Let’s see what you think.

This comes out of Kuala Lumpur and is via the Press Trust of India:

In a freak accident, a Malaysian restaurant cook slipped and accidentally stabbed herself to death with a kitchen knife, police said.

Cynthia Tan Kian Hoon, 41, was cooking breakfast when she fell forward, right into a knife she was using. The six-inch knife which she was holding in her hand, pierced into her ribs.

She died shortly thereafter, having cut a main artery.  Tragic, but instructional for the rest of us.  No, the point isn’t to wear non-slip shoes or to use duller knives.  In my mind, it has to do with something I see quite often and maybe you do as well:  people getting hurt (killed!) by the very tools they need to do their work.  Sometimes it’s accidental; more often than not it has to do with someone not understanding how to use the tool in the first place.

Take web analytics.  People regurgitate meaningless data points instead of looking for data to answer actionable business questions.  Then there’s a focus in social media on “likes” and “follows,” not on the quality of interaction or the transactional value of the social exchange.  It’s not limited to the web or to media either.

This was a tragic accident and like most accidents it might have been prevented somehow.  All of us who work with the tools of our trade should spend a few minutes thinking about how the very things that help us make a living can hurt us if they’re misused.  I think we’ll all be surprised by how much of the pain is self-inflicted.


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Bad Decks And Missing Logic

I saw something yesterday that made me laugh out loud. Unfortunately, it was something that was shown to me as part of a media proposal. It involved a social media campaign and the agency that had created the plan (which I was reviewing for another consultant) was going to use Facebook. Based on the client and their objectives, this was probably not the best place for the media placement but let’s put that aside.

Illustration of Facebook mobile interface

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What made me laugh was the projection of the number of impressions both paid and earned that the campaign would generate. It came out to such a ridiculously high number (as in reaching every person on Facebook hundreds of times each) that it called into question everything in the rest of the presentation as well as the agency’s overall competence.

As I thought about it, I became a little scared and then a lot offended.  It bothered me that an agency who has a pretty good list of clients had moved into social media and was treating it the same as broadcast media.  They should know a lot better.  It made me scared because this is the sort of irresponsible behavior we find all too often in digital.  People become digital or social media experts or SEOs overnight and sell an inferior grade of services to clients who will get lousy results.  How can they invest in this form of marketing going forward when the results weren’t there?

The point is this – whether it’s media plans or budgets or a report on manufacturing, we need to ask simple, logical questions.  Why are we using Facebook when our objective is more geared to the broader web and restrictions in Facebook’s policies will prevent us from activating properly?  Do the numbers they’re projecting make sense (and if we’re really going to reach the audience 300+ times each, maybe we’ve gone too far)?

There were a bunch of other issues in the deck and aside from the numbers my general response was “these guys just don’t get it.”  None of us should be offering off the shelf, cookie-cutter solutions to problems that get more complex every day.  The nature of media is changing – the nature of media planning need to change as well, along with the messages.  You’ve experienced it in your own media behavior – why are you thinking everyone else has remained the same?

You with me?

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The Rule Book

I was watching the hockey playoffs last night and had a thought about business. You might not find that strange given that for several years of my life hockey WAS my business. However, what occurred to me has both broader application and a less-obvious path. It has to do with obstruction.

NEWARK, NJ - DECEMBER 20: Kurtis Foster #2 of ...

Getty Images via @daylife

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, obstruction (and its cousins hooking and holding) is what players do to decrease the flow of the game. An easy way to think of it is as a player preventing another player who doesn’t have the puck from skating, obstructing their ability to play. Almost a decade ago, the NHL cracked down on the practice by enforcing the existing rules against it in an effort to improve the flow of the game and allow the more skilled players to show those skills. As one might expect, teams adjusted their rosters over the years to emphasize great skating and stick-handling over the clutching and grabbing that was so prevalent .

Watching the game last night, I was struck by how little free-flowing skating was going on.  Many of the other games I’ve watched during the season have seemed the same.  The rules, or at least their enforcement, seem to have changed.  Which is the business thought.

If you’ve built your team to play the game a certain way and the rules change, how do you compete?  If you’re a media company that’s built on ad revenue for eyeballs, what do you do when the audiences you’re selling evaporate to other channels?  If you’re selling SEO, what happens when the algorithms change and everything you do is now wrong?  Even if you’re in online commerce, what do you do with inventory when tastes change?

Ultimately, I think our success and failure revolves around change management – what happens when the rule book gets modified.  We need to be thinking about that as we bring on new hires – how well have they dealt with change in the past?  We need to maintain flexibility in our planning – why spend money to a budget that’s based on old rules?

I’m sure it’s frustrating to the coaches and managers when they find a different set of rules on the ice than in the rule book.  I know it’s frustrating to find a different set of business conditions and consumer preferences.  What do you do when the rules change?

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