Scale

The idea of “scale” in the digital, social, mobile world is something that has perplexed me over the past five years or so; really ever since the masses started pushing towards the adoption levels of maturity. Scale, to me, is a bit of an antiquated measurement in the “new way of marketing.” The idea that each message, regardless of media, must reach a massive amount of people in hopes that a decreasingly small fraction of individuals take action on a lead or purchase, is one that doesn’t begin to take into account the paradigm shift that digital has created; an individual paradigm. The role of a message or interaction in the digital space, most likely, isn’t for reach or scale for the consumer. It’s about something deeper, something more intimate.

Digital has the ability to segment or even dynamically personalize messages, offers, or experiences that produces a more profound output for a brand than a simple blanket message to drain money from an unsuspecting small percentage of the communicated universe. It allows for dynamic interaction; in real-time, wherever the consumer may be.

So when thinking digital, please don’t ever say the word “scale:” for it kills the opportunities before anything commences. Instead, think loyalty, advocacy, passion, lifetime value, and incremental purchase… Expand a relationship, don’t squander it by treating people like sheep. We have a great opportunity to think beyond traditional and think about the future of our brands.

Scale is in the long term, lifetime value of consumers, not universes reached.

*** Caveat, I’m not saying that awareness building campaigns shouldn’t be a part of the overall marketing strategy. They most definitely should be discussed and executed, even in the digital display arena. What I am saying, is allow yourself to segment, allow your consumers to segment themselves, reward them for doing so.

Community or Commodity

There has been something that’s been bugging me for the past few years. This is the word “community.” It has quickly become one of the most overused and improperly utilized words in the business buzz word dictionary. Why? Self-proclaimed “social media gurus” have diminished the absolute power of what a community is by associating anyone who “likes” a brand to get a coupon as being someone who is part of a brand culture, a subsection of a larger society, a group of individuals who align with specific characteristics and values, a community. But, as we all know, this is utter bullshit. Where is the loyalty on behalf of the coupon hound customer who is “liking” my page because I have a coupon, even if they are nowhere close to my target demographic? There is none. Once a competitor offers a better coupon they’re gone. Sayonara. Not someone whom I’d personally put stake in within my own communities. This level of engagement leads to a commoditized community based on commoditized offerings with no end goal of something deeper… “Communities” then just become another stat to communicate the success of a Facebook page.

Commoditizing a conversation forces engagement around features and benefits, not emotion.

But, for sake of communicating the valuable importance of this post, I will be using the term community (against my will) for what it truly is, as defined below.

So what is a community? Dictionary.com defines it as “[a] group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists.

Facebook defines these as “Groups.” Google+ defines them as “Circles.” Twitter even defines them as “Lists.” It seems as though the social space has really latched on to the idea of communities, but are we really setting our brands and companies up for success? Or are we approaching commoditized conversations with the real value exchange as being a coupon or an entry into a sweepstakes?

My personal thoughts, is that the end goal with any social venture is to develop and grow strong relationships with individuals whose values align with ours; whose ideals are shared among others; whose passions and affinities are aligned with those of our brand. Achieving this goal helps us create a place where like-minded individuals whose interests, values, and passions are shared; to develop a “community” around the core, emotionally driven differentiating factors of our brand. Doing so allows us to better understand and engage with those we serve. It provides us with the opportunity to learn and grow; make our products better; communicate them more effectively; identify opportunities for growth and expansion; and most of all, allows us to come together and accomplish the same goal, make our lives better.

So are you building a community or a commodity?

TechCrunch Disrupt: What are we solving?

 Black Whale Group - Street ViewToday launched the awesome incubator TechCrunch Disrupt here in NYC. I, however, was unable to attend, but was glued to my monitor like it was March Madness or the Tour de France. Some great things are happening in the world of technology. Apps connecting the dots of individual user behavior, location, customizable offers, gamification, and shiny new technologies on smartphones and other mobile devices. And as a Physical / Digital Convergence nerd, I’m excited to see what comes from each of these new startups as well as some of the others coming out of TechStars and Y Combinator.

As an advocate for transparency, efficacy and consumerism in today’s business environment, I am, however left wanting a bit… I mean we have these great technologies, we have some “fun” things happening, but what are we really doing? Are we solving anything, or are we just showing off our geek-ness and ability to make a mobile device do something cool? With the speed to market being in an increasingly quick turnaround with agile iterations happening on an almost daily basis, the rush to ship is daunting.

Are we solving anything, or are we just showing off our geek-ness and ability to make a mobile device do something cool?


What if we take a step back and start with a real problem? What if use our collective genius to collaborate and create a technological advancement to solve these real issues? We have the power to completely change the way we live, the way we educate, the way we govern, the way we support one another as human beings. I see a huge need for a new type of incubator… one that starts with a problem and the solution is in the brainstorming and innovation.

Solve First… Then Ship.


What do you think? How would you use collaboration to solve real issues?

Convergence for a Better World

Earlier this week I had the pleasure meeting a lot of interesting people, sit in on a lot of interesting conversations, and watch a lot of interesting “forward thinking” happen right before my eyes at the Social Media & Community 2.0 Strategies conference. Of course listening to everything with the filter of my own mind, with my own thoughts of what was coming… The slow collision of our physical and digital realities. But something struck a chord this week… Something a bit groundbreaking…

Not only is our digital and physical worlds colliding, but our entire world as we know it is converging in on itself. With uprisings in the Middle East being spawned and coordinated by the use of Facebook, to the massive response during this devastating time in Japan, to the amazing support Best Buy provides using Twitter, to the shift in product development using insights garnered through real time conversations and engagements, the use of technology is becoming a driving force towards an integrated, interconnected world.

The world economy is slowly shifting towards a converged infrastructure of passion, transparency, and empowerment through the use of technology. This shift, affecting everything from education, government, business, philanthropy, personal lives, etc, will prove to be the biggest opportunity for greatness or decline to complete and utter failure in society as we know it.

Each use of technology needs to add value and support the various ecosystems in which we live. The education ecosystem must support business to ensure our society is creating a workforce that will continue to grow and prosper in the future. The business ecosystem must support the transparency of our social lives and values regarding sourcing, labor, wages, and propel the activation of the philanthropic ecosystem, which in turn provides the support to the world issues and matters needing the most attention. Using technology, we, together, can accomplish great feats.

Deciding to do so is the hardest step.

How To: Grow a Social Community

Social media is a strong force in the marketing world today. By utilizing the power of trust, sharing and interaction, brands can build personal relationships with individuals within a community to help meet business objectives (increased brand awareness, enhanced conversions, amplified customer service, etc). However, social media takes time and diligence to not only engage a community, but acquire and invite individuals to a value-added community.

The first step to a strong social media strategy and presence is the foundational community. Below are tactical activities a brand can perform to develop an acquisition strategy to build the most targeted, highly engaged community base and foundation. Working with a combination of Paid, Owned and Earned Media strategies, a brand will enhance its digital footprint and build the social credibility necessary to acquire the best community members.

Paid Media

Paid media is the easiest and most efficient way to generate a large number of Fans quickly. By using a combination of current traditional advertising and strategic social advertising, we can acquire and build a strong foundation of highly targeted, highly engaged individuals to our community. Below are some steps brands should take to begin integrating paid media into their acquisition strategy.

Facebook
Engagement Ads. Drive awareness and engagement through the various types of ads that Facebook has available. The more engaging and relevant the ad, the more likely the user is to click and interact with it. Be sure to target the audience accordingly and align ad content with the interests of the user.

Twitter
Promoted Tweets. Promote keywords or hashtags within tweets to drive awareness of an idea, theme or account. Aligning keywords with the brand message will ensure connection with the message.

Promoted Accounts. Twitter allows for accounts to be promoted on the “Logged in” Twitter home page. The promoted accounts will align with the content that the user has posted or has within his/her profile. Build the best following base by aligning content with brand messaging.

Traditional
Use all paid and offline activities to increase awareness of the social platforms through traditional efforts. Examples could include tags on TV spots, print collateral, callouts on digital banners, in-store signage, etc.

Owned Media

As a brand, we own a lot of assets — website, micro sites, emails, other social platforms, etc. Through strategic placement and use of these assets, we can deliver a high level of community activation through owned media. Below are strategic examples of how to deliver results to community activation.

On site. Promote the social platforms on all websites with relevant and prominent calls to action on the page. For Facebook, a brand can use the “Like Box” plug-in to allow the visitor to “Like” the brand’s Facebook Fan page directly from the brand sites.

Email database. As with all websites, all email newsletters can have a callout and a link to the social platforms. When launching a new social platform, sending an email specifically announcing the launch will provide a great response and community growth.

Email signatures. Promoting all social platforms within company email signatures is a passive approach to drive awareness and acquisition to the social communities.

Cross-promote. When possible, cross-promoting the various social platforms on the other platforms in the community could be very beneficial. Promoting the content that is provided on the other social platforms could enhance this cross engagement and acquisition.

Incent community. Engaging and incenting the community that we acquire during activation or content activities can enhance reach and social credibility. Creating contests or sweepstakes that ask community members to upload content, share content or reach a certain number of fans has proven to be highly successful during acquisition campaigns.

Earned Media

Use the power of influential voices and social credibility to drive awareness, traffic and activation to a brand’s social community. Below are some activities a brand can perform to build a strong earned media acquisition strategy and ongoing stream of activation.

Influencer outreach. Use the power of influential voices by reaching out and building relationships with key influencers across channels. Develop a strategy to incent the influencers to discuss the brand efforts and drive traffic to the social platforms.

Content. Content is a strong driver for enhancing engagement and sharing, which in turn increases message reach, traffic to social sites and acquisition of new community members. The social credibility that the content interactions create builds stronger relationships with influential people in the community.

Enhance sharing. Engaging content is the first step to sharing. The second is to simply ask for it. With a strong relationship with our community members, we have enough trust to ask them to share content if they like it, which leads to reach, social credibility and community acquisition.

Third-party content creation. While building relationships with key influencers (both on and off of our social platforms) we can ask them to produce content for our social communities. This strategy will continue to enhance social credibility and increased reach through the influencer’s community and network.

Third-party content distribution. Vice versa. Influencers are continuously looking for valuable content for their network. With relationships built with key influencers, we can ask what type of content they are looking to create for their community and provide that content for them to distribute through their network. Delivering messages in this way will enhance our social credibility and will drive traffic and acquisition to our social communities.

Conclusion

Building a strong community is a strategic combination of advertising, relationship building and adding value every day for the social media strategy. Brands should ensure their digital and physical footprint is connected and cross-promoted to allow the most effective sharing of content and passing of information —all of which continues the acquisition of a community and adds value for its members.

Download the PDF:  How to: Grow a Social Community

Digital Reality

So, what is reality when it comes to the digital world in which we live? Is it looming somewhere between a status update and a text? Maybe. Are we waiting for holograms and eye scanning augmented reality to take us by storm? Not quite.

All I know is that we are in a world where our digital lives are a key, important role in our real, physical lives. It enables us to become smarter, stronger; almost superhuman. So what is driving this mechanism of digital evolution?

Digital

As we continuously interact, we not only learn efficiencies to produce the best output, but the digital space itself is learning our behavior and reacting accordingly. As we continue to search, browse, and surf the interwebs we are continually providing much needed history and executions of our needs to allow the search and tracking Gods to give us the most relevant content necessary for the fulfillment of our needs. This learning mechanism is spanning multiple platforms and search algorithms to give us the most effective use of our Internet time.

The digital reality that our individualized digital activity is becoming a driving force to our dependence on digital information in our physical, real lives.

Social

Social networks have allowed us to stay in touch with our friends, families, old acquaintances and even our favorite brands, organizations, news, or groups. But this shift has driven our need for content delivery and real time information. During breaking news, we turn to our social networks instead of turning on the TV. We long for the rhetoric our network has on an issue or situation. Coupling the semantics of the digital search with the real time access our social networks and social media provide, we are depending more and more on the most relevant content and information coming to us, where we are, when we want it.

Social has allowed us to redefine what it is to gather. Not only can we meet in person, or have a gathering with people physically with us, we now include others that can’t be there physically. No longer is there a barrier for travel or long distance. We can completely include far off relationships in physical situations and events.

The social reality is that we are no longer dependent on looking for information, content, or relationships. They now find us based on our “opt-ins” and engagements; alleviating the trials and tribulations and time associated with search and relationship efforts.

Mobile

Tired of being strapped to your computer to fulfill your digital realty? Simply reach for your pocket.  Mobile technologies and applications have given us the power of converging our digital lives with our physical, on-the-go, active lifestyles. Including semantic digital experience and social network capabilities, mobile devices give us the power to learn, interact, and engage with our favorite people, information, and news where ever we are in the world physically. Breaking down the barriers of the computer (whether mainframe or laptop), mobile connectivity empowers us as informed friends, family members, consumers, and advocates. No longer do we have to wait to tell people what we did, reach out for customer service, describe an event… just reach into our pocket and let it go.
This connectivity has shifted news sources. Each of us has the power. We are now the news, we are now the content creators and distributors. All we have to do is click and upload.

The mobile reality is the line between physical and digital is slowly blurring. The interactivity of 2d bar codes, visual identification software and location based services will empower us further in our physical life to interact with the beyond, in real time.

Data

How is all this amazing empowerment possible? What is the driving force behind real time and relevance? Data. Every interaction, every interest, every connection, every engagement… every aspect of our lives are being stored and used to provide us with the most relevant information needed to fulfill our requests in the shortest amounts of time. Based on our digital interactions, we can get real time recommendations for physical activities; find out where to eat, what bar has the best bloody mary’s, etc. Each of us become a glorified version of who we are… even though we may forget from time to time, our data keeps us reminded of our interests, likes, and relationships.

The reality of data is just that… reality. What defines us as individuals is our interests, interactions, engagements, experiences, connections. The digital realm is just a repository of that information and catalyst for relevance and time.

Digital is becoming reality. It empowers us.  What is your digital reality?

Conversation Management

Manage the conversation or let it happen on its own? That’s the question that many of us marketers ask ourselves each and every day. As social media continues to thrive and content continues to surface surrounding our brands, we can physically see the conversation happening but are paralyzed as to what can we (or can’t) do about it? So, what should we do?

The crazy thing about conversations… They have been happening long before anyone had ever said the word “social” before “media.” Word of mouth has always been, and will continue to be, the most powerful form of marketing to ever grace our planet. So the conversation piece has been and will always be there. However, with new technologies consumers have facilitated their personal conversations with technology creating a quicker response to their requests and having almost real time engagements with their personal network. So, now the conversation is happening, in a public, digital forum, where we are actually given the opportunity and the green light to participate in these conversations.

But, with this same technology, we, as marketers, can now better manage these conversations and guide consumers towards the most logical, rational, educated decision possible; one that may not include a purchase of our product, but educates the consumer in the benefits for our product. These technologies allow us to listen and engage individuals across multiple touchpoints both online and off. Hell, I’m writing this post from my little Blackberry while waiting for the 1, 2, 3 train as it allows me full access to you in an interactive and engaging way.

So let’s think about it, what if we as marketers put the same conversational activity in place? What if we facilitated and managed conversations that were happening rather than letting them happen and sit from the sideline? What if we empowered individuals looking for answers during the purchase phase to fully consider our products in their own purchase journey? What if we were always only “one click away” whether online or in the physical space?

How would that change the conversation? How would that impact our conversions?

We have a unique opportunity. The power is in our hands and the need is with our customers to manage a conversation towards the best possible outcome. We need to embrace what we have been given and openly talk with our community and have real, honest conversations and lead them down a path of complete enlightenment, whatever that may look like for them.