Monthly Archives: July 2013

Why You Suck At Social

I’m feeling a little snarky this morning so I’ll apologize in advance if this comes across as yet another bitter old guy (all you kids get off the lawn!).

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...

Image via CrunchBase

I ran into yet another so-called “social media guru” the other day.  OK, I ran into the chaos they left but felt as if I’d been smacked across the face by their incompetence in person.   Oh, they market themselves far better than I do – that’s how someone of their abilities manages to get nice gigs with otherwise smart clients – brilliant marketing.  They excel at leveraging themselves online.  Bringing those tactics to bear for clients in a manner that grows the client’s business?  Not so much.  Let me explain.

Even as we’re five years into the age of social media marketing (I hate that term), many clients aren’t told the truth about it by those of us they employ to bring them up to speed.  Some of my so “peers” don’t explain that social is hard work and it’s not a place to stash the interns (since they’ll be on Facebook and Twitter all day anyway).  Make a page and magic will happen!

That’s an apt analogy except very few of us point out that when “magic” happens as we watch a performer do a trick, hundreds or thousands of hours of prep and practice have gone into making it seem seamless.  There are often specialized boxes or mirrors involved and one false move brings disaster.  Of course, “smoke and mirrors” is not exactly the type of reputation I think we’d want for our brands but I could be wrong.  Magicians put in the work and have the right tools.

So let’s try this one more time.  To do social well, companies have to blow up a very fundamental part of their thinking.  While most marketing is all about the product or brand, social is not.  It’s about your audience, and you need to focus squarely on them with the odd brand message here or there.  What’s helpful to them?  If you’re not willing to make that investment as well, maybe think about print or TV or some other medium where you can just barf out messages about how great you are.  You need to have a plan and tools and people with enough business acumen to assure all the stakeholder interests are aligned, including those of your customers.

And you “gurus?”  Get off my lawn…

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Today for our TunesDay song, let’s consider an entire genre of them.  The unfortunate thing is that no two people would agree as to which songs qualify for this classification so I’m going to talk about one which does for me.  You can take it from there with a song of your own choosing.

I was driving back from a meeting yesterday afternoon when Tom Waits‘ Jersey Girl came on.  Of course, it was the live version by The Boss which I’ve loved from the moment I saw it live in 1981 as Bruce opened the new arena in the Meadowlands.   Danny Federici‘s organ sounds like the calliope on the boardwalk – the carnival referred to in the lyrics – and the  backing vocals sound like a great doo-wop group singing on some corner as their sound drifts up into the night air.  The song gives me goosebumps every single time I hear it – every hair on my arm stands up.  It’s a strange and wonderful physical reaction brought on by the power of the music.  Which is, of course, the business point.

We should all be trying to achieve that reaction in what we do.  In many ways, goosebumps – piloerection for you scientific types – is a reflex left over from our animal pasts.  It’s something that happens in response to strong emotions such as those music inspires that touch us deeply.   It’s an obvious goal for any of the arts – film, culinary, or otherwise – but why not, say, industrial design?  I imagine some people had that response the first time they handed the first iPhone or saw a high-def plasma TV for the first time.

Maybe shoes move you.  Maybe it’s a brilliantly written analysis of last month’s sales.  Whatever we produce, I think I’m putting the goosebump standard up there with the Dylan standard I use when discussing musical acts (will my grandchildren listen to and discuss this artist and if not, are they really worth the time?).  Sure it’s a lofty goal – but why not set the bar high?

Touching people’s emotions in ways of which they’re maybe not even conscious is a guarantee to success in business and life.  How are you going to do that today?

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Being Fearless

I played (badly) in a golf tournament over the weekend and on the heels of that I saw an article that triggered some business thinking.

Tigers fight

(Photo credit: @Doug88888)

The piece was from last week and was on ABC News’ site.  It is about a paper written, as it turns out, in 2010 by a professor at the Kellogg School of Management and concerns what the author called the “Tiger Woods Effect” (you knew it would relate to golf, didn’t you?).  The author – Jennifer Brown – explained it this way to the Wall Street Journal:

Ms. Brown argues that the superstar effect is not just relevant on the golf course. Instead, she suggests that the presence of superstars can be “de-motivating” in a wide variety of competitions, from the sales office to the law firm. “Most people assume that competing against an elite performer makes everyone else step up their game and perform better,” Ms. Brown says. “But the Tiger Woods data demonstrate that the opposite can also occur. It doesn’t matter if the superstar is an athlete or a corporate vice president. After all, why should we invest a lot of energy in a tournament that we’re probably going to lose?”

Do we set ourselves up for failure by surveying the competitive landscape and recognizing the presence of some superstars in our competitive area or is that motivation to beat them?  I always make the distinction between losing and being beaten.  The latter is easier to swallow in my book – you did your best and someone was better that day.  Losing, however, stings – we know we were capable of so much more and didn’t perform.

It’s an easy out to discount your chances due to the presence of a superstar brand or firm or individual.  Mike Tyson used to win a lot of his fights without throwing a punch because his opponents would see him across the ring and a look of fear would cross their faces.  Pre-game trash talking is, in my mind, as much about bringing the opponent down to your level as it is false bravado.

We need to be fearless.    Even superstars have a bad day.  Once Tiger’s veil of invulnerability was lifted due to him being beaten on the course and his troubles off of it, the rest of the field recognized that they could win no matter what he did.  That was the case all along, by the way – they just stopped beating themselves.

What will it be?  The choice is yours.

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You’re Making Me Hot

Foodie Friday, and while I apologize for the link bait title, the topic this week is heat.  More specifically, high heat and why it terrifies some people.  If you’re going to be a serious cook at all, you must learn to harness the power of high heat.  My cooktop puts out more BTU‘s than does my furnace, and I had to relearn to cook on it.  Having done so, I can tell you that using the blazing hot setting is a revelation.  Turns out it has business implications too!

Ever had something fried that’s just greasy and awful?  Of course you have.  That probably happened because the cook  dunked it in oil that was not hot enough and the food just soaked up  the oil instead of getting a crust.  You need high heat – well, the PROPER high heat – when you’re frying (if it’s too hot for the oil you’re using, you get a fireball right out of Apocalypse Now but that’s another story).

It’s that way in business too.  Some projects need to be nurtured along, using the medium heat setting, just as most foods do better when you use medium to medium-high heat.  In the kitchen and in the office,  the lower the heat, the more control you have over the process. Lower heat tends to cook food more evenly – all parts of the item are even in temperature at consistent, even rates.

That’s how most projects get done too. But I love using high heat at times in business and while cooking.  The reality is that there are only a few specific  tasks or foods that ever require hellish levels of intense  heat. They end to be the real high-end stuff:  pan-seared steaks like T-bone and New York strip or brilliant, temperamental clients.  You want to flash-fry certain sides like zucchini or stir fries.  You need to blast through great ideas and test them via intense high heat to see if they can stand up.  One caution:  you have to worry about burning down the house or the office if you don’t pay attention and leave a high intensity effort unattended.

Be judicious about using it.  You wouldn’t fry an egg  this way.  Cooked over high heat the egg becomes  crunchy at the edge while too runny in the center, and a chicken breast (putting aside those that are pounded or butterflied and can be cooked in 2 minutes) tossed into a scorching hot pan seizes up and has a stringy texture.  Some clients or consumers or partners react badly to intense heat as well and it’s something you need to asses before you ruin the relationship just as you might scorch a sugary marinade in a too-hot pan.  Speaking of pans, you must have the right tools – pans that can hold up and a team that can hold up too, but once you know how to use it, it’s intoxicating.

Me?  I prefer it hot.  I like that I have to pay a lot of attention.  I can stand the heat.  Can you?

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A Peek Over The Native Horizon

Sometimes you can get a glimpse of what’s coming over the horizon and I think I got one of those this morning.  I was catching up on some reading and came across a letter that the FTC sent out.  It was directed to search engines but I think it’s a harbinger of things to come as the digital ad business gets more deeply into content marketing and so-called “native” advertising.  You can read the letter here but in summary it says that ads in search results must be clearly identified as such:


Advertising (Photo credit: Wrote)

Search engines provide invaluable benefits to consumers. By using search engines, consumers can find relevant and useful information, typically at no charge. At the same time, consumers should be able to easily distinguish natural search results from advertising that search engines deliver. Accordingly, we encourage you to review your websites or other methods of displaying search results, including your use of specialized search, and make any necessary adjustments to ensure you clearly and prominently disclose any advertising. In addition, as your business may change in response to consumers’ search demands, the disclosure techniques you use for advertising should keep pace with innovations in how and where you deliver information to consumers.

That’s why you see the yellow background, for example, on Google search results along with it saying “ads related to (whatever the search term is)”.  The point is for consumers to be able to distinguish results that someone paid to make prominent vs those that would otherwise rise to the top.  Makes sense.  The tail end of the letter begins to talk about this same principle as it manifests itself in social and mobile (and voice search as well!).   Which got me thinking.

Content marketing done well is a beautiful thing.  Hopefully you all consider this blog a good example of someone putting our content that’s informative and engaging.  My hope is that this will lead you to email or call me about working with you, so I think in part that makes this an ad.  If I ever write anything that I’m paid to put in here, I’ll disclose it (although I probably won’t do that in the first place).  That’s content marketing – using content to sell.

Native ads are a bit more insidious.  It’s about the creation of content that’s supposed to be useful and interactive like content marketing.  Someone defined it as any type of advertising where the placement appeared to be appropriate except it’s much harder to identify as an ad.  When an article is about cats and is really an ad for a retailer, that’s a problem.

I think it won’t be long before rules are put in place to crack down on this.  How will the FTC stop fake reviews, articles such as the one above, and other forms that don’t disclose they’re really ads (which might call into question the validity of what’s in the article)?  I’m not sure but I know it won’t be as thoughtful as if marketers figure it out for themselves.

What do you think?

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Clients And Clarity

A couple of conversations over the last few days provided today’s inspiration.  The chats were with two folks who are smart, good at what they do, and completely lost when it comes to technology.  That’s really not a big deal for either them given that they’re not tech professionals.

Chat bubbles

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

They do know as much as the typical “civilian” and they spend time on the web and using digital tech in their non-work lives.  In fact, they know quite a bit more than the average person since both have web sites for their respective businesses and were involved in those sites’ creation.  Each is also working on making improvements – new designs, better SEO, a smoother social integration.  That’s where things have gone awry and what provides a good business thought today.

The design and coding firms with which they’re working are typical of a number of folks working in the field.  Their work is fine but their interaction with their clients sucks.  They build up barriers of bullcrap instead of providing clear explanations of not just what they’re doing but why they’re doing it.  They are incapable of translating what can be baffling vernacular into terms that their clients can grasp. This frustrates (and I expect frightens) their clients, who are smart business people used to making informed decisions.

Keeping them in the dark by speaking to them in a language they don’t speak is harmful to everyone involved.  The client can’t be sure they’re making the right choices and, frankly, neither can you since you haven’t provided clarity.  If it’s NOT the right decision, would your expectation be that the client will immediately re-engage you to fix it?  Maybe so, but it won’t be at additional cost to them.  All it does it eat into your margins by your having to perform more work for no more money.

My rule of thumb is this:  I channel my mom.  My mom is TOTALLY technically illiterate (she’d be the first to tell you that) but smart about a lot of other stuff. If I feel as if the explanation I’m giving a client  would be good enough for my mom to explain it back to me after I say it, I’m probably on solid ground.

Like any business, the business I’m in – tech and consulting –  has a lot of moving pieces and tons of jargon, but the concepts aren’t dissimilar to other things.  As professionals, part of  our job to be translators for those folks who touch our business even if they don’t speak its language.  What do you think?

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Blue Jay Way

It’s TunesDay and we’re going to the birds today.

English: Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) – Onta...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Our musical inspiration is the title of today’s screed:  George Harrison’s song Blue Jay Way.  It’s been on my mind since I saw a jaybird screaming at some other birds in the yard.  I admit it’s a bit of a non-sequitur this week.  The song is about a friend of George’s getting lost in the fog on his way to a house on Blue Jay Way in Los Angeles:

There’s a fog upon L.A.
And my friends have lost their way
We’ll be over soon they said
Now they’ve lost themselves instead.
Please don’t be long please don’t you be very long
Please don’t be long or I may be asleep

The connection, however, between the bird, the song, and what’s on my mind will be clear in a moment.  Blue Jays are, in my mind, a typical office species.  That’s right:  there are a lot of human jays hanging around.  You see, this specie of bird has a number of characteristics which line up nicely with many of the folks you just might have seen flying around your office.

For example – jays are known as being very territorial birds.  They will attack or kill smaller birds and they will chase others from a feeder for an easier meal.  I’m sure you see that sort of behavior all the time – I know I did – from certain misguided souls in your work space.  When they perceive someone to be weak, they attack.  When they can claim credit for someone else’s achievement – eating from the other’s feeder if you will – they do so without hesitation.

The other thing about Blue Jays is their vocal pattern.  I think of them as kibitzers – they sit near others and squawk unceasingly.  In fact, real Blue Jays copy the cries of local hawks so well that it is sometimes difficult to tell the Jays from the much bigger predators.  That, to me, sounds much like the office sycophant mirroring the vocalizations of the more powerful boss.

The tie to the song?  These office Jays have lost themselves.  They’re wandering in the fog – not doing very much except protecting their turf and screaming from the sidelines.  Do you know any?  Take a look – I’ll bet you find them!

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