GReader Shared Posts

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Lead Nurturing Fundamentals -- Sales Discussion

In my first post on Lead Nurturing Fundamentals I talked about the need for marketing to do its homework. Marketers need to come with a clear sense of who they are seeking out and what prospects they feel are the best to pass along to sales.

Why do we need to do that work before talking with sales? A manager of mine had the mantra "The most organized person in the room wins." We need a clear evaluation of what our assumptions about the market are and how we incorporate that into our daily work. The more organized you are the better able you'll be to steer the conversation.

And because Sales is going to tear at least some of our assumptions down. But it's OK, that's what we want.  What we don't want is an unfocused meeting questioning why marketing wants to do this; why sales is fine the way it is; and demands that marketing just send over more names.

Let's talk about how to structure a meeting with sales that so that it can be productive for both sides. I would try to keep the meeting to 1-2 hours, give everyone an agenda, and define who is running the meeting to keep moving.

Oh, and one more thing, don't expect to come out of this meeting with a lead definition that both sides agree on. What we want is a framework that can be used to hammer out the details of defining a lead. (Realistically, even an all day meeting is unlikely to produce this definition as you'll feel there's more time to dive into details but probably just end up talking in circles around why this should be done at all.)
  1. Have Sales rank the Demographic or BANT variables you've defined. Don't show them marketing's rankings yet. This is an exercise that can take all your time if you let it. Don't force the entire sales team to come to a consensus in this meeting. Just ask them where their sweet-spots are.
  2. Define any pre-qualification actions that marketing must take with newly generated leads.
  3. Define thresholds for escalating leads based on ranked criteria. When should they go to telequalifying? Insides Sales? Sales Rep?
  4. Define qualification actions or follow-up that sales must take with any marketing qualified leads (MQL).
  5. Define how leads must be passed back to marketing if they are not accepted by sales (Sales Accepted Leads - SAL)
  6. Define who will have responsibility for nurturing SALs that are not Sales Qualified Leads (SQL). Does that pass back to marketing? Inside Sales? Or stay with the Sales Rep?
Depending on the make-up of your sales process, some of those steps may be shorter discussions than others. Remember, you don't need to hammer out every detail in this meeting

Your main objective is to set-up the framework so that you can go back and hammer out the details. Then present the full-fledged plan, with lead definitions and processes, for sales and management reivew (and hopefully approval). The process won't be easy, so expect to put some time and elbow grease into it.

Finally, though this is at the end of the post, let me reiterate that you want to approach sales management before going through this exercise and get them on-board early with concept of lead nurturing as a way to close more sales deals and keep the pipeline full.

Links tagged on as: Lead+Nurturing

Monday, December 22, 2008

Lead Nurturing Fundamentals -- Define a Lead

Occasionally I have trouble writing blog posts because I'll start a topic and start connecting more dots and adding more layers and soon the topic is bigger than I can fit in one post.  I started feeling that way about lead nurturing, so I decided to chunk it and see if I could keep it simple that way.

I have seen plenty of advice about lead nurturing that starts with a discussion between marketing and sales defining what qualifies as a lead. But that should definitely not be the first step. Most likely it will only cause frustration for both groups.

Where you really need to start is with your business plan. What are you selling and who needs it? If you answered "Everyone" then you can probably stop talking about lead nurturing (or marketing in general) right there. But if you do have a real sense of your target market, then you're ready to get rolling. 

Point 1. -- Qualified Leads fall within the target market for your business

That may be stating the obvious. I hope that is stating the obvious. But sometimes it's best to start at the beginning. Having a high-level understanding of your market is important. The next step is to start identifying the attributes within your target market that you can quantify.  Most lead generation already captures demographic information which can be very useful.

And Sales team's have an index -- BANT criteria. Since you're going to be working on your definitions with sales, start by using their language. 

BANT criteria:
  • Budget: How much budget does your target prospect need to be viable for your offering?
  • Authority: What level of authority does a prospect need to either purchase or influence a purchase of your offering?
  • Need: Why do companies need your offering? What pain points do you alleviate?
  • Time: What is the timeline of your prospects? And how long is your sales cycle?
Once you have started laying out the variables for each criteria, assign them rankings in order from highest to lowest. It's easy to jump ahead to assigning lead scores to these variables but we aren't at that step yet. The crux of this exercise is to determine what variables for a given attribute are most important. 

Point 2. -- Identify and rank specific variables from demographics and BANT criteria within your target market that you can track and measure. 

Take the rankings and pull out your marketing personas of people that purchase your product or influence a deal. Do these personas need have the top-rank for all criteria to be qualified for sales? If not, what is the minimum threshold you feel Sales would need to accept responsibility for working with a lead?

Are you able to map more than just the top-rank to your personas? If you're not able to map lower-ranked variables, especially in Job Title, Budget and Authority, you might be missing valuable influencers in your sales cycle (but that's a tangent I'll have to close off right here).

So now it's time to do some homework.

I stated above that lead nuturing begins before you have any leads, in a real-world scenario you're already going to have a database of suspects, prospects, and customers. (YMMV depending on the state of your database.)

Mine that data. Start with your customers and do a reality check. Where do your current customers fall in terms of your personas? Are they hitting the rankings you would expect?

Similarly, look at your prospect and suspect data. Which are in your sales pipeline and which are languishing? Do the leads getting the most attention from sales match the personas and rankings you expect?

Point 3. -- Compare your existing customer base and sales pipeline to the criteria you've established for qualified leads.

Now we are ready to have a conversation with sales. Almost. 

What I should say is that you are now ready to have a conversation with Sales Management.  You want them to buy into the concept of lead nurturing so that you have an inside voice backing you up. Sales teams are notoriously resistant to marketing reaching deeper into the funnel and you may need to leverage some top-down support for a decision.

But, you are prepared. You have identified -- based on your business plan -- what your target market is. You have quantified the attributes of those prospects that best fit the personas within that target market. And you have compared this plan to your existing customers and prospects to make sure you are on the right track.

I kept this much more on track than I thought I would be able to. However, I will need to do a follow-up post on actually meeting with the sales team to create a productive plan that helps both groups succeed.

All links and additional reasources at Delicious tag: Lead+Nurturing

Thursday, November 27, 2008

No Video Day 5: Social Medium

It's Thanksgiving. I enjoyed a delicious meal of turkey, potatoes, stuffing, rolls, green bean casserole and all the food I love on this holiday.  Then we had pie. (YUM!)

And now, there's a football game on in the living room, but I'm sitting up at the table in the kitchen. The TV is in the sunken living room area (out of shot on the right).

Not everyone is watching the game but it's definitely the hub. Most of the guys are watching, the women are doing a puzzle, and the kids are in and out playing. But we're all talking about it (helps that Dallas is playing and we are in Texas) and it's bringing a kind of cohesion to the house.

This is definitely one of televisions strengthes -- the ability to create shared experiences across dispersed audiences. That's why so much watercooler talk is about a game, or a show, or a movie. We are able to easily relate to people we might not otherwise have much in common with because of our shared television experiences.

There's also been quite a bit of chatter about movies that we might watch. (I might have to sneak away and play some more Wii.)

What social experiences have you had with video? Do you notice how much it affects your social interactions?

No Video Day 4: Extrapolation

I've been having a very strange thing start happening to me today. I'll find myself thinking that I'm not allowed to do other, basic, things. 

Things like: reading blogs, listening to music, using my computer, and eating.

Yep, I was about to get some snacks from my drawer at work (yep, I have a snack drawer) when I stopped and thought "Oh right, I'm not eating this week."  And then realized how ludicrious that thought was.

But it's really made me ponder what the role of video is in my life. It's definitely become something that's nearly unconcious for me, so much so that I equate it to some of the typical pieces of my daily routine. That scares me a little.

Has video really crossed the line to ubiquity? Are we a culture that is so innundated that we don't even know that we're soaking it all in?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

No Video Day 3: Defining the Terms

When I was talking with James about doing this experiment I laid out some of my TV watching habits and asked if it was enough for me to provide meaningful data. And immediately after sending that email, I dashed off another one that asked:

Does not watching video include not playing video games?
He decided that was up to me.  And today, I had to define the terms of the experiment because I went over to a friend's house for dinner and we played Wii afterwards. This may be rationalization but here's my argument for why video games would be acceptable.

My first thought was that 'no video' was equivelant to "nothing that moves". But where I nuanced that train of thought was in the consumption of the media.

Video is static consumption. You watch the video content as it is presented to you without any ability to affect it. (Of course, there are some interesting experiments happening with Qik-based interative live video.) But in terms of pre-packaged content, video is pretty much a linear, non-interactive experience.

Gaming is specifically designed to put you in control of some aspect of the experience. How much freedom of choice you have is dictated by the structure of the game but there is always some action required on the part of the player. Rather than consuming the content you're engaged, you are participating in creating the experience.

(Also, Wii games are ridiculously fun, who could pass up a chance to play.)

What do you think? Is there a difference between Video and Video Games?

Monday, November 24, 2008

No Video Day 2: Keeping My Sanity

It's only day two but I'm beginning to feel like a plane wreck survivor on a deserted island. Keeping this daily journal is partly to document what I'm going through for others and partly to keep myself sane. 

Also, I may be exaggerating slightly.

The biggest challenge that I faced today was avoiding the Twitter links and embedded video in blog posts. The ease of using video, especially at conferences, is allowing it to crop up in many places I wouldn't have paid attention to if I weren't trying to avoid it. 

What I'm realizing is that video is becoming just another option for me to consume content. It's doesn't stand out anymore but on the other hand the linear-format doesn't dissuade me so much now either. 

As James is probably seeing more clearly than I am, the proliferation of video is not because it's gaining acceptance but because it is accepted and now companies are looking to make it ubiquitous.

And, for a marketing take-away, this means that you don't need to create something viral for YouTube. Create video that is relevant to the audienc you want to speak to and embed it where they'll find it.  Video no longer has a barrier to entry either for production or consumption.

What content are you currently producing that could be accentuated by using video? What resources do you have internally to produce video?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Giving Up Video Cold Turkey

My friend, James McQuivey, is doing an experiment and I'm the guinea pig. Actually, I volunteered but I'm wondering what I got myself into now.

The experiment: Don't watch any video (TV, movies, online) for a week.

Well, that sounds pretty easy. Which is exactly what I thought since we just moved the TV to a room without a cable hook up (and even the attennae reception is pretty poor). My goal this year has been to watch less TV anyway. For example, I didn't even turn on the TV on election night because I had Twitter to fill me in. 

I am less than 24 hours into the trial and I'm reconsidering how simple this will really be.

First, while I'm working on slimming down the number of TV shows I follow, the ones I am still interested are easily accessible on My typical routine since I'm using my laptop anyway in the evenings is to have a Hulu window open in the corner and work around it. (If I weren't doing this experiement I would probably have one open while typing this post.)

Second, I'm not going to be able to watch any football on Thanksgiving. I'm going down to my relatives in San Antonio. My uncle and all his sons have played football. It's a tradition to sit down after Thanksgiving lunch and just relax with a game (or two).

Third, my wife is out of town and my dad is coming into town. Because of the former, I was planning to go catch a movie that was highly rated and recommended by a co-worker (but not really my wife's cup of tea) and going to the movies around the holidays is a tradition in my family -- maybe guy's night to Bond.

What am I planning to do with my time instead? Well, for one I'm planning to write about how it's going on my blog. I also have plenty of house cleaning to try and get done while there are no little kids wrecking the house. And, I might even take an hour or two to sit down with a book -- that completely gets me away from the screen.

What would you do with a week without video?  Could you even do it?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

E-mail: King of Tactics

E-mail maven Jeanniey Mullen wrote an interesting article this week in her Clickz column about e-mail's role in the digital revolution.

Every so often I get an itch to write about the future of digitial communications and my thoughts on e-mail in the new world order. Reading this sparked one of those itches and gave me some good context for it.

Many times a revolution is initiated through the introduction of a new way to do something or a new product. A revolution isn't justified until people can't imagine life without that element or product. That's when a revolution becomes a true success.

The great thing about revolutions is that they change people: culturally, socially, and even economically. And in this case, the digital revolution changed us all. It made us digital consumers.

In terms of driving digital consumerism, e-mail has been at the forefront. It allowed for mass, personalized marketing delivered as a digital version of analog direct mail. E-mail fulfilled the transactional communication needs when selling without meeting face-to-face in a brick-and-mortar store. And, e-mail wasn't competing with other online communication channels.

E-mail became a strategy. So much so that an entire industry built up around using email as a marketing tool.

Where I see the change with the rise of the social web, is that the strategy is changing to "Communicate with customers in the digital channels they use" and e-mail is shifting to a tactic within the larger group. Because most online communications channels are still relatively new, the fare of early adopters, the e-mail channel is still king.

And I do expect that it will remain the king for a while. But as other technologies reach their tipping points and gain mainstream adoption, I also expect that e-mail will target a more narrowly defined segment rather than the general population it is assumed to reach now.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Best Buying Experience at Best Buy

I received an email this weeked from Best Buy about private shopping hours for their Reward Zone members. Figuring that I had some Christmas shopping to do anyway and the email offered double points in the loyalty program, I decided to go.

And the reason that I'm writing this post is because Best Buy pulled this off amazingly well. When I arrived, they checked my card which I was expecting. But then they also gave me a raffle ticket (held every fifteen minutes) and offered me a free drink. 

The drinks were inside on of their higher-end fridges that had been set up at the front of the store. It had all the information about it, as well as the price tag. If you were in the market for a fridge, they got you to engage (yes, I know I'm using a buzzword) with it by opening and seeing how much room was inside.  Very clever.

The next thing I noticed was that I couldn't turn around without practically tripping over a sales person. Best Buy had the place staffed like it was the busiest day of the year. Every few steps I had someone asking me if I was finding everything alright, and if I'd heard about this deal, or if I had any questions.

After being there for a little while, and carrying around more stuff than I had intended to buy, I realized the true genius of the plan. Everyone who went into the store that night was intending to buy something. Yes, they had to pay for the staff to be there, the $50 raffle prizes, and drinks but in return they were getting a very high-intent group of customers coming in.  And, without the pressure of running in over lunch, or just running in to grab something specific, I browsed and came out with a wishlist on top of my purchases.

What are you doing to put your customers into high-intent situations?

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Anatomy of Online Marketing KPIs

Online advertising and marketing have been through a number of changes in the past decade. The rise of the Web can be tracked through the anatomy of the KPIs used to measure it's success.

Once advertising and marketing were in awe of banner ads that could be placed in front of massive amounts of people based on a sites pageviews. Then, you could target your banners based on the expected demographics of a particular site. If someone was browsing a particular site, they were probably in the target market for your product. Aware, but not necessarily interested in your product.

Awareness -- KPI: Eyeballs.

Then came search engines with their promise of showing your ads at the time that someone was interested in them. Demographics were irrelevant because you were capturing intent. Someone was actively searching for something that related to your product.  Unless they weren't. Intent is both the great promise of SEM and it's greatest stumbling block. The human experience slimmed down to 1 word left huge ambiguities in meaning. But fingers kept clicking the ads, and clicks counted.

Search -- KPI: Fingers.

But, marketers got smart. Or rather they got nudged in a new direction, down the long-tail side of their search curve. Suddenly, you could be more sure about intent when dealing with only a handful of searches on an 8-keyword string. These searches were not going to bring in the masses but you would be more likely to close a deal. Someone searching so granularly has a topic weighing heavily on their mind.

Long-tail Search -- KPI: Brains.

With the rise of Web 2.0 and the mainstreaming of community-oriented sites, marketers had to shift gears. Are still in the process of shifting gears really. One of the mantras for Web 2.0 business is "Build the community and the business model will follow." The pressure isn't so much on making a community applicable to everyone as attracting as many of the target audience as possible to participate in your community vs. others. Because the Internet allows such easy mobility, I will equate it to the BarCamp ethos of 'vote with your feet.' The community that is worth being a part of is the one that retains the most people.

Community -- KPI: Feet.

So, where do we go from here? What's the next piece of our bodies that online businesses and marketers will go after?

Monday, August 18, 2008

And Now A Commerical Break

I don't often talk about products on my blog but I've been impressed with how Jive software does both their software and their engagement in the communities that are important to them.

Now that they are releasing their Clearspace 2.5 product, I'm willing to give a heads up that it's available.

Also, having seen some of their demos (though without actually using it) I get the sense that they have really thought about what social networking features really make sense in an enterprise-class collaboration application.

So, if you're interested in Jive, check out Clearspace 2.5.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Olympics Online Coverage Tied to TV

I just had a strange experience at the NBC Olympics site. I was interested in watching some of the live coverage online, since NBC TV was showing the women's marathon (which I find boring to watch). So clicked on one of the Live links and was told that I didn't have the right package with NBCs television partners to access their live online content.

But then asked with a simple drop-down if I had a different package than the basic antenae it indicated. Selecting a different option then allowed me to access the coverage. And, while watching I was still pushed ads during what would be TV Commercial breaks.

To me this seems like another example of protecting turf. Hiding online content behind a wall unless you're already a subscriber to offline services. Similar to how the NYTimes used to have Select content protected. Or how some magazines require a physical subscription.

Now, I don't consider myself the type that all content should be free. But it seems that NBC has a real chance to extend their audience beyond typical television viewers, especially because of how little they are actually able to show on their television stations.
On the other hand, if they aren't selling separate sponsorship opportunities for online coverage then they probably don't want to encourage too much viewing Live online.

But, if they really wanted to keep their content protected, a drop-down menu is not the most secure way.

So, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to freeload a little more tonight.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Social Media in any color! (So long as it's black)

Two voices in marketing and communications that I admire, Ike Pigott and Mack Collier were having a discussion about the state of social media. Since I don't have a good way to collect the tweets, you can search for trendspotters, and SM Evangelists to get some context.

The recap is that they were talking about looking at social media now and extrapolating that.

Some of the points that surfaced that I found particularly interesting to mull over were:

  • Social media is still in the Model-T stage as an industry. It's a breakthrough but the current tools still need to be refined. Of course, because it's easier to make online social tools than offline automobiles we are seeing a broader variety of models... if not not a great range of colors.
  • Building on that thought, Social Media can easily be overblown by SM evangelists who want to use social media to solve all problems. The current boundaries of SM need to be understood and respected.
  • And adding to that thought, for people engaged in SM it feels like a very big space but there are still large majorities of people that aren't 'engaging' through the Web2.0 tools that are synonimous with SM. (That's not to say they aren't engaging in other ways)
  • But, finally, recognizing that all these factors don't mean that Social Media doesn't portend a major shift in how we communicate. Just as the history of the car has shown what can grow out of a single model car, the Model-T, social media is just beginning to write it's own history.

I won't try to prognosticate on what the future will bring but I will say that I'm trying to learn what I can now and understand how to make SM worthwhile for both a personal and business applications.

What are you doing to prepare for the future?

Friday, August 1, 2008

Are Marketing and Hard Skills Oxymorons?

I attended SocialMediaCamp Austin this week (and the Mashable Summer Mash party afterwards). This was perfect timing after my recent move to Austin I've been wanting to meet people down here. And did I ever. Lots of great people here in Austin with some interesting things going on.

But, the point of this post is to examine something I heard in one of the morning sessions at SMCamp by Scott Allen. Unfortunately, my notes are sketchy because I was trying (fruitlessly) to connect to the (nonexistant) WiFi. But, his topic was on developing stronger 'soft' skills in Marketing, specifically around building strong relationships with prospects and customers through online media.

He made some good points about as communicators we need to make sure that we're able to get through to people, especially as these channels become more common for personal and business use. It's has always been important for marketers to understand people generally, now we are going to need to be able to understand people individually.

And the point about soft skills has finally spurred me to write a post that I've had kicking around my head for a while.
Marketers should also cultivate some hard skills. My definition for 'hard skill' is something that must be formally studied, learned, and practiced to be usable. (Like most of these 10 skills.)

The question then are what kinds of skills should marketers be developing?

The answer is that there are plenty of areas in marketing that having actual skillsets will help you shine. A few of the ones that affect my work are:

  1. Writing -- Seriously, if you aren't practicing your writing skills often, and preferably more than just long-winded emails, then you should get cracking. The ability to write well, on deadline, and about diverse topics puts you ahead of many people, even in this industry.
  2. Search Engines -- I have a confession. When I interviewed for my current job 3.5 years ago and was asked if I knew about search engine marketing, my response was "Oh yes, I use Google for searching all the time." As I have learned in the past 3 years, there are technical, tactical, and strategic aspects to SEM/SEO that require much more than typing words into the search box.
  3. Web Analytics -- With analytics becoming more and more common, and simple to set-up, having even a basic understanding is within anyone's grasp. And, if you're a nerd like me, you can dig past general traffic numbers and start looking at the deeper patterns. Analytics are a great way to dust off your critical thinking skills, if you need to.
  4. Email -- To be specific, I don't just mean putting together the layout. I mean understanding how clients render emails differently. Knowing what CSS is supported (or not, thanks for nothing Outlook '07). Knowing what 'deliverability' means and how it affects your mailings.
  5. HTML/CSS -- I write a lot of our Web content (there's that writing again) and will occasionally have to wrestle with our CMS to get things looking just right. Because I work for a small business, I'm also responsible for our site templates. And believe me, even knowing what I'm doing it's scary to go mess around with those.
  6. Advertising -- This can go two ways. Either honing your visual creative skills with programs like Photoshop, or understanding the back-end of how ads are sold, delivered and tracked.
  7. Other Departments -- Learn something about the other departments in your company. When I worked in direct mail, I was on the client services side but found it very valuable to my job to learn about the production processes, even working on the line for some of our machines. That experience was invaluable as I tried to plan the most efficient ways to complete projects for my clients.
I'm sure that there are plenty of other skills, especially if you're more on the business side, that you can develop. But the point that I want to make is that as relationships become more important, and as communication between customers and companies continues to open, marketers will have a huge opportunity to be facilitators.

The best way to position ourselves to be ready for that transition is to learn skills outside our specific job functions. We need to be, if not fluent than at least conversational, in the languages of other departments that will be interacting with our potential customers.

Please leave your comments on any other skills, either in marketing or out, that you have learned, or feel would be important to learn.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Pervasive Branding in Advertainment (This Post Brought to You by the Austin Wranglers)

First, a shout-out to Kim Haynes for setting up the Tweet-up at the Austin Wranglers game. It was a small crowd (unfortunately due to short notice) but I had a blast watching my first arena football game and getting to meet some more Austin people.

One of the first things you notice when looking down at the field (after the cheerleaders) are the ads along the foam pads that act as boundaries. Standard advertising strategy, plaster every inch of available space with your brand.

In the middle of the stadium (between the lower and upper seats) is a narrow marquee that announces touchdowns, field goals, time outs... and of course displays more ads.

Up above your head, on the Jumbotron, is the expected big screen to watch the action happening. But also below that is a lightboard-style screen for... more advertising.

Alright, so far I'm not too surprised. A stadium, or arena, is a great place to advertise because you know your audience is captive. They're going to keep their butts in their chairs for at least a few hours. That's precious time that advertisers want to use to push their brand inside your head.

But, where things really got interesting was once play started. Actual aspects of the game were being branded as well. Yes, this was Sportsvertising! For example:
Papa John's Extra Point
Coca-Cola Time Out
StubHub First Down

I'm almost positive the touchdowns were branded but I can't remember by whom. But, if you look at the Sponsors page on their site, they've got quite a few official team offerings. One that made me chuckle is Hooters as the Preferred Buffalo Wings Provider.

And, to make the game more interactive (or something), they have built in little contests. The Papa John's "Beat the Kicker" if a team misses 3 kick attempts you get a free pizza. And IHOP had one too but I couldn't tell what the contest was. That is in addition to the standard T-Shirt tossing that seemed to happen once or twice a quarter.

While none of these tactics are exceptional on their own, the combination of them in a single venue was staggering. I wasn't sure if I should be rooting for the Team or for the Sponsor that funded the play. But, in the era of advertainment, I suppose I'll have to evolve if I want to survive.

As an addendum, let me add that they also did some cool things. There was a dance number by a troop of older women, they did a good job and seemed to thoroughly enjoy themselves. They had 2 people in sumo suits running across the field while mascots chased them and knocked them down. Did a football throw from increasing yard markers, if you made it in the uprights you won cash. And 5 boys weeded through a scattering of mini footballs looking for the marked one, while tossing any unmarked into the stands.

So over all, it was a very fun night and something I'd be interested in doing again. Especially now that I can anticipate the blitz of advertising.

Image by Klobetime

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

TechTarget ROI Summit -- Late Recap

This is my late recap of the TechTarget ROI Summit that I attended back in April. It was an intense two-day workshop that I'm very glad I went to. I still find myself looking back at the whopping 26 pages of notes I typed up during the sessions. (Sidenote: Having a laptop to take notes with was definitely the right choice.)

I learned some new things, clarified some ideas I'd been having, and reinforced some of the changes I'd been wanting to make at work. Oh, and I met some great people too, can't forget that part.

One of those people being Doug Jensen, the PR Director at TechTarget who was walking around looking for people to interview. He caught me early on the morning of the first day and I offered to provide feedback after the sessions too. As it turned out, we ran into each other after a couple of different sessions on the first and second days. I was able to share what I learned from the conference and why I enjoyed it.

There is now an 8-minute video of me at the TechTarget ROI Summit Website (you'll need to scroll down the video list to Snowbound Software -- John Johansen). It may be more of me than you can handle in a single sitting but I thought it was well done.

If you get the chance to attend their next Summit in October (in San Francisco) I'd recommend going.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Day 1 - Boston to Austin

Mobile post sent by jljohansen using Utterz. reply-count Replies. mp3

This is the first Utterz of my trip across the country. The move from Boston to Austin took about a week and you can hear the rest of my audio at

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

My Creative Side

This is something of a departure from my normal form. What you may not know about me is that I enjoy writing. Both the dry professional content on my blog here and creative fun writing that I do on my own.

And, on rare occasions they collide. So, with too much time on my hands in airports the other day, I came up with this little gem.

The Plan

William Tell* was a self-styled rebel.
"Ha Ha," he would say when he was
up to some new mischief.

"Ha Ha," he said to me one day on the bus.
He looked over his shoulder at the
passengers. A miasma of people.

"I have a plan," he confided, "to overthrow
the government."

I looked out the window at the trees planted
in regular intervals along the street
like sentries standing guard.

"Ha Ha," he said, "I need a slogan to rally the people.
"To call them to arms.
"And to bring them in..."

"You're singing again," I told him.

"Ha Ha," he said but also he looked a little
embarrassed. "My plan is simple," he said,
"I only need a way to monetize it."


* Yes, that William Tell. Long story short, it's a convention that I've used for years. He's less of a reference to the real person and more of a concrete name to apply to the abstractions I write about.

I hope you enjoyed it. But if not, please be gentle in your criticism.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Bi-directional Para-social Relationships.

I wrote a post about social media and parasocial relationships that explored how social media is creating a new micro-celebrity class in which the 'friends' of people who are popular on various social media services get an intimate look into their lives.

I want to carry that concept just one step further and propose that those parasocial relationships are now being developed not only between the popular and the masses (Parasocial 1.0) but between any individuals who are engaged in the social media space (Parasocial 2.0).

What makes these different from the concept of 'weak tie' relationships? That is an excellent question. I would contend that the two concepts live side-by-side depending on individual usage. The differentiating factor is the ratio of human interaction to broadcasting. Have you engaged in a personal conversation, one on one (whether online or offline) with the person? Have you made an attempt to share something personally with them that didn't go to your network? Do you remember their name or their handle?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Farewell -- Boston Style

Before I begin the story of my farewell, let me just say that Dmitri Gunn did an excellent job putting together the Gary Vee Wine Library TV event and after party. (I showed up for the after party.) It's not a task I would have wanted to take on but all I heard were positive reviews of it.

At the last minute, my mother-in-law came into town, which meant my wife had help with the kids and packing. Since we leave for Austin in less than 2 weeks, this is important. Some early conversation with Aaron Strout on Twitter had secured me a ticket and I was excited to go.

The drive in was easier than I'd expected but I had to loop several times looking for parking. There just wasn't any to be had, except for this vacant lot behind the bank (I know, red flags right). Well, after a few passes I read the sign and it seemed like I might be alright.

Inside the party, I was able to do some introductions. Great to meet Adam Cohen and Jonathan Yarmis in person (and reconnect Shelly with her business card). And I said some farewells to the people who I've gotten to know in Boston, in large part thanks to the social media groups and tools around the city. So I was enjoying the evening and having a good time.

Then, when I went to pick up my car. It wasn't there. I had to call the number on the sign, the Boston police, my wife to get the license plate number, the Boston police, and finally the towing company that had my ride. Fortunately when I went back to the party, a few people were still going strong and Adam Zand was willing to give me a ride. Huge thanks goes out to him. I owe you, talk to me about a couch if you come to SXSW.

But, before we got going we decided to get some directions from the hotel front desk. Sitting in the lobby happened to be Gary (yep, that Gary) and so we listened to him and talked with him for a while. The man has an insane amount of energy. We were joined by Laura "Pistachio" "Monetization" Fitton and had some interesting discussions about the next 10 years when we're all creating content and working for ourselves. (I'm paraphrasing.)

Finally, Adam and I head off... to the completely wrong location. The very helpful woman at the front desk didn't know how to use MapQuest and sent us into Roxbury. Fortunately, Adam pulled over (at 1am) to ask three guys walking along the street. An old man, with so much tape on his glasses I'm not sure how he saw out of them, was able to give us directions when I called the towing company again and got the name of the place. He must have been a local. :)

So, back on the road, we find the tow shop. I pay my $120 to the guy (cash, of course) and I'm ready to get back on my way. I really don't blame the tow guy, he even showed me how to get back to I-90 since I had no clue where we even were. On the way home, I made sure to stick to the speed limit. All I would have needed to cap this night off was a speeding ticket.

And so, in my final week of living in Boston, after not having been towed for 5 years, this is how the city decides to say farewell. Nice.

But, it doesn't have to be this way. You can stand up and say "Hell no, we're not going to let you do that." Just donate a dollar through ChipIn and you can set the city of Boston straight. ;)

Friday, June 13, 2008

Understanding Social Media - Platitudes vs. Fundamentals

Last week I was watching some snippets from an interview with two social software CEOs, guys who are supposed to be luminaries in the social media space. After just a few minutes I clicked away disappointed that they seemed to be reciting the platitudes without providing much insight.

To be fair to them, they were being interviewed at a conference and at a high level. They didn't really have much opportunity to dig into the details. And addressing a large, untargeted audience to introduce the concept of customer interaction and relationships, those platitudes may have been the right messages.

The trend that is starting to become apparent as social media catches the eye of more consumers and businesses is the divergence of understanding the platitudes and understanding the fundamentals.

We are past the point where saying "Markets are conversations" is enough to make you the 'expert' in new media. If all you're doing is reciting the catchprases without an actionable plan then you're stuck in platitudes.

On the other hand, if you can pass the You Test then you're probably more grounded in the fundamentals. And the most fundamental part of understanding social media is knowing the social rules that different communities play by. These aren't officially written down (though many people will blog them) so the way to learn them is by observing and participating.

And I want to be clear, you need to do both observation and participation. Just signing up for a site and watching what other people do will give you some general awareness but won't help you find out where the actual boundaries are. You have to find the boundaries by running into them and realizing that you need to pull back.

The trend that I'm see happening (and I'm not claiming to be the first to spot it) is that the disparity between people who know what they are doing with social media and those that don't is going to become increasingly apparent as people start using the tools personally. If you want to get ahead in business using social media, you can't learn it on the job anymore.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Copywriting for Hidden Audiences

I don't often write about writing. If you're looking for advice in that area, be sure to check out Copyblogger.

But, I had an interesting discussion with a new co-worker. In fact, with our new marketing copywriter. She's been a boon to our company, so I've been trying to help her with what I've learned about writing for our industry and company over the last 3 years.

When she asked me the other day about how to incorporate some feedback into a piece she'd written, my advice moved off the page and into a discussion of audience. In this case, the internal audiences that were doing the reviews.

I knew that some of the recommended changes by one department head would be contradicted by another. So, making the change now would only result in more changes when the content had to go back in. The same was true for some of the positioning, some of the key messages, and to a lesser extent, the actual words.

I'm not advocating that any writer shifts their focus away from the final audience that content is intended for. But once you've got the draft finished, and it's going into review, be aware of what your internal audiences are expecting. Getting familiar with their preferences takes time but will save you lots of time and headache when you find them out.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Social Media Killed the Attention Economy

Attention is a commodity (just like communications channels)

If all you are getting is attention, you're losing customers.

Relationships are the new online currency.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Video Introduction to Me

At the Social Media Breakfast a few weeks ago, I was the only person to take advantage of an offer to capture some video about who I am and what I do. While most of the crowd went to hear Chris Penn talk about LinkedIn (a good presentation, I watched it online the night before the SMB), I had the opportunity to talk with Owen Mack from coBRANDiT Video.

He agreed that using a Web cam to get an up-the-nose video of yourself is not the best impression one can make. And so we shot this instead. Now, I won't say it's perfect because we were in a crowded restaurant. But, that makes it authentic right? And, Owen did a great job using the setting he had to work with.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

PR Blacklists -- Treating the Symptoms

Well, I've been roped into the PR blacklist discussion. I know it's my own fault for getting involved in an interesting discussion with Mack Collier about his take on the issue.

As I've thought about this, my feeling is the actual issue of blacklists is a small piece of a larger picture.

And before I get into what I think that bigger picture is, let me lay down some definitions for this argument. I'm going to be talking about actual 'bad PR' in which the PR person is doing targeted outreach in hopes of getting coverage. Spam is when the recipient is part of a numbers game with a goal of getting content to as many people as possible regardless of who they are or what they cover. When PR crosses the line into actual Spam territory, they are past help and should be treated accordingly. No amount of education, training or public humiliation will stop spammers because they've found a profitable way to abuse the system.

Challenges for Bloggers

Yesterday, Mack called me out on my statement that "email creates a low barrier to entry and so bad pitches will always happen." Blaming the technology, he said, is just a way to pass the buck. I agree with him, and I don't. In terms of actual pitching, I do agree that the responsibility should be on the PR practitioner to follow the guidelines set up by the media or blogger. Especially the issue of selecting the right email address to use when sending a pitch. Unfortunately, Bad PR happens when people either don't have the skills or interested in building a credible reputation, or are simply lazy.
(Photo by alcomm)

Because of those real-world factors, I disagree is that bloggers should expect their guidelines to be followed. My experience in online gaming (please bear with me, it is relevant), both as a player and admin, has taught me a very important truth. Creating a rule against any action allowed by the technology is futile. You end up spending too many resources on enforcement, which is never comprehensive. Bloggers who insist that they be pitched perfectly according to the rules they've defined will have to spend time on enforcement. In terms of email, the system is designed so that you can send a message to anyone, provided you have their address. The recipient has no power to prevent email being sent to them. The work-around that was suggested is to filter out emails based on domain, that's the prerogative of the blogger if that is how they want to enforce their rule. However, posting the list of their blocked individuals or domains doesn't help them enforce the rule any better but becomes counter-productive to their cause by escalating the conflict.

The technology isn't to blame for bad PR but if bloggers intend to rely on an inherently insecure technology they must recognize the vulnerabilities.

Challenges for PR Industry

Now, I'm not trying to let the PR industry off the hook. Like I said, if PR professionals are looking to pitch media of any sort, they should take responsibility for their own actions. But, let's explore the motivations for those actions. One of the words buzzing around this conversation is 'relationships.' A great word, and indeed a great concept. PR should build relationships with media. Period. Period? I suppose if you subscribe to the Rolodex theory of PR, then these relationships are a PR persons most important personal assets. They will form the basis of their career, in the long-run.

Pragmatically, all PR people have another set of relationships that are also important and can exert just as much pressure. These, of course, are client relationships. Whether it's an agency with outside clients or an internal PR department with management as their internal client, time and energy goes into building solid relations with the people paying the bills.

Leaving PR people doing a delicate balancing act somewhere in-between media and clients. Why? Because the two groups typically have differing goals. Media on the one side wants to be left alone until something relevant and newsworthy can be sent to them. Clients on the other side want their story to be disseminated as often and as widely as possible. Deciding which group to please or when to push back on opt-in communications, is determined by the metrics PR uses to measure success.

Challenges for PR Junior Staffers and Pros

Another phrase that I've seen floating around this topic is 'junior staffer'. If we aren't blaming the technology, let's blame the new guy. Ouch, that came off harshly. In fact, many (smarter than me) PR people haven't been blaming the junior PR recruits but saying that firms don't train them appropriately. This is a valid point. Having studied PR in college, I can attest that media relations/pitching is not on the syllabus. Training new entrants to the PR industry is important, especially in the hyper-sensitive world of today.

And yet training is only half the answer. The other half is more complex. Let's dive in.

Relationships -- This word keeps popping up. In the context of a 'junior staffer' relationships are likely to be more theory than practice. First, they probably don't have a professional network built, or a media network, so the skills and understanding of its value is not necessarily in place. Second, the media outlets junior people typically get assigned don't always require long-term relationships to be built. They may only pitch these places for a single campaign and then move on.

Newsworthy -- Nothing is more important to media than getting stories that are newsworthy. And one important aspect of being newsworthy is also being timely. When you have news worth pitching, you've got to get it into the media's hands. This is great if it applies to staple publications or sites that you've spent time building relationships with. But what about the news that applies to an area you haven't had the need (or time) to build pre-existing relationships with? Suddenly the shelf-life of your news is conflicting with the time required to form a relationship. Doing the research to appropriately pitch the story is still the right step but even when done correctly it's still a cold-call pitch.

Metrics -- Geoff Livingston, at the beginning of the Twitter conversation, said that most people outside PR don't realize how difficult earned media can be. Even when you've done the research and have a newsworthy pitch, getting placement -- especially in print with limited space -- can be long and frustrating. Yet the metrics for a successful PR campaign are how many clips were generated.

The sad truth is that too often clients don't see the value in 'Opt-in' communications. You've probably run into the arguments of "It doesn't cost us anything to send more" and "We don't want to miss any opportunity, regardless of how infinitesimally small." When being measured in terms of how much placement you're able to get, not pitching a media outlet is often an unacceptable practice. At best that means a note recognizing that the journalist/blogger doesn't typically cover this space but they might be interested in this product anyway; at worst a blanket mailing to all media with no personalization or research into areas of coverage.

All the training and discussion of best practices will be secondary if PR people feel their success is only tied to their ability to secure coverage. If building relationships goes unnoticed to managers and clients unless they can be leveraged into coverage, then they are not truly being valued at an institutional level.

Good Compromises Leave Everyone Unhappy

In keeping with the challenge that Mack gave me, I'm not just going to layout the problems. Here are some compromises bloggers and PR professionals can make to move forward and hopefully relieve some of this tension.

Bloggers -- Force opt-in communications. It may require that you sacrifice having your personal email address online if you really don't want to receive pitches to it. Even on a personal site, if it's posted online, it's public. Once you've taken email out of the equation what can you to do still rely on PR to help scale your resources for discovery, that you will need as you grow?

  1. Social Networks -- Some bloggers/reporters have already indicated they prefer to be pitched on social networks, with facebook being the one I hear most often. Since you control who is in your network, you can decide which PR firms or individuals you want to be pitched by.
  2. Twitter -- Microblogging tends to encourage conversations more than pitches. My personal connections with a number of PR people on Twitter has never been overwhelmed by pitches (but I'm not really their target either). By choosing who you follow, you are mostly in control of the content you get. In fact, if you are not following someone they can't send you a DM, through if they @ message you, it will show up in your timeline.
  3. Blog Comments -- Requiring PR people to come to your blog and leave a comment tying their product to something you've already written with information for you to contact them. The public nature of the comments means that most Bad PR (not actual spam) will shy away from this kind of scrutiny.
  4. RSS Feeds -- Marshall Kirkpatrick of RWW has already said he prefers to be pitched this way. I think that this is a under-appreciated channel for pitching. Bloggers should be able to request 'pitch feeds' that they can monitor for news that is interesting to them.

PR Industry -- Show the value of opt-in communications. One thing I will credit the PR Blacklists for is providing a tangible way to show the damage that can be done by indiscriminate pitching. If you've been looking for a way to convince your clients/management that you should not send a pitch to every media publication or blogger available, use these lists to your advantage. If you really wanted to go for the gold, build your own internal list of double opt-in media beyond what the PR databases indicate. (And, set-up a 'pitch feed' for your clients that you can provide bloggers and media so they'll always be the first to know when you have new information available.)

And, once you've set up your opt-in process, institutionalize the value of relationships. One of the points that jumped out starkly was Gina getting pitched by multiple people within a single agency with no communication between them. I'm not familiar with any PR software like SalesForce or Eloqua that facilitates relationship management but maybe it should exist. Beyond the logistical value, recording interactions with media allows the agency to continue relationships after individual people leave. Knowing the history of what's been sent to them, and what they've covered, saves each person from re-inventing the wheel with each media contact.

Junior Staffers -- Get a mentor. This can be your direct manager who can advise you in the work you do day-to-day and give advice on how to improve. Or it can be someone you are not directly accountable to, which can make asking awkward questions a little easier. Or it might even be someone outside your company with whom you can have regular contact. Once you've found someone, be sure to ask the long-term questions about building valuable relationships, not frustrating media with your pitches, and how balance client and media relationships. Then, be sure to keep your mentor informed of your progress. They'll want to know the results of their efforts in providing you with guidance. This won't solve all your problems but at least gives you a real person to try and sort them out with.

Overall, I recognize that the conflict between public relations and media doesn't help either side. The true professionals on both sides do want to see positive change in the way things are done. I hope that I've been a constructive voice in this larger discussion as well. tag: PR+Blacklist

Update: Todd Defren from SHIFT Communications has a great post with 7 promises PR professionals interested in improving their own blogger relations can make.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

How to break into Hi-Tech marketing

I was having a discussion with a friend the other day about jobs and the job market. When we started talking about industries, he wasn't sure if he'd be able to make a move into Hi-Tech without a deep understanding of the, well, technical side of the company/industry.

I've been working in the B2B software industry for since my internships back in college. I'm going to dispense some wisdom, in the hope that I can help anyone's looking to move into the Hi-Tech industry.

As an aside, let me say that if you do have a technical background in engineering, software development, or computer hardware and you are a good communicator, you'd be welcome in the ranks of marketing. I know you might have to overcome deep-seated aversions to our field but there is significant value in the insight you can provide.

Now then, if you're already in marketing, let me provide some advice.

First, the most important area of expertise for a marketer is understanding their audience and market. While you may not become an expert in the guts of your company's product, you can become well-versed in who needs it and how to reach them. I would argue that this is marketing's unique value proposition. While the sales team and management are going also understand what markets the company should be selling into, marketing brings the "how" and executes it.

Second, solid communication skills are critical. One line that I've seen included in many postings for jobs in Hi-Tech is "Must be able to clearly communicate complex ideas to non-technical audiences." While many time you will be marketing to people in the IT department, you'll also be responsible for providing resources to the business people. This includes the ability to translate the features of your product into benefits that are attractive to them.

Which brings me to my third point, a point that must by necessity contradict itself. You must position your company and products ahead of your competition while at the same time staying grounded in the reality of your products limitations. This is a balancing act often required by the reality that your content will be seen by audiences with opposing perspectives (see the IT and business point above). The business people want to be told what the best product (often seeking third-party advice) and the technical people want to know what your product can do so they can make their own decision.

Let me share an example from my current position. I've had the opportunity to write the thought-leadership articles for our company newsletter. After I research my topics, I'll go speak with one of our software engineers or sales engineer. Many times when I ask about how our products fit into the big picture, I find out that I'm looking at the picture with rose-colored glasses. That viewed from the perspective of what our products can do, we do it the best. But, if you shift that perspective to what people actually need to do, we can adequately fulfill their needs but aren't going to bring about the Rapture. While challenging, the skill of balancing these two perspectives is immensely useful in tech marketing.

Finally, if you are serious about working at a tech company, spend time getting to learn a little (at least) about the actual technology beyond purpose and features. Get your hands on it, test it out, have someone run through a demo for you. Putting in that effort has the benefit of making you more knowledgeable and, hopefully, breaking down some of the barriers between marketing and development. (And if you work at a company without those barriers, consider yourself very lucky.)

So there you have it. Some advice from someone on the inside. Please let me know if it's useful to you. And, for any other tech marketers, please feel free to impart some more wisdom.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Getting Hired 2.0 -- In Person

The Social Media Breakfast (number 7) was another success. I've been impressed with both the turn-out and the variety of topics each month. And, oddly, Cambridge has turned out to be a great location for them.

I'm going to keep this short, but you can see all the presentations, including some great presentations about how social media and Web 2.0 is changing how you should network when looking for a job.

But I have a piece of advice of my own. It's something that I rarely see but always try to practice myself. When I'm at an event, whether large or small, if I'm going to ask a question of the presenter, or panel, I always state my name before I ask my question.

It's really that simple. I've found that by giving my name, and sometimes company, that it's easier for me to re-approach the presenters afterwards or have other people from the audience approach me.
Point in case, at breakfast this morning where so many of us are familiar with each other online, Laura Fitton remarked that when I gave my name and asked my question, she connected me with my Twitter handle @jljohansen.

It's a simple, but powerful, way to make your networking at in-person events more effective. I hope you'll take advantage of it the next time you're out. Also, if you have any more questions networking, please leave your name and ask away. tag: SMB7

Monday, April 21, 2008

Bare-knuckling Marketing

What started as a comment on Go Big Always got long enough to turn into a post. Thanks for the thought-provoking topic.

I've been thinking about integrated communications recently because after signing up 2 different events and an online training course, I've continued to receive notices and offers enticing me to register. The publicity and fulfillment arms are out of alignment and it doesn't serve either party. It doesn't serve the company to keep sending me offers when I've already acted. And it doesn't serve me to be bombarded with advertising that is irrelevant.

But, enough about me, I do want to talk about the bigger picture. And, for the moment, I'm going to confine myself to more of a B2B perspective which is what I do and am more familiar with.

I was reading a eBook produced by InTouch about lead generation for complex sales cycles. They have an image on page 7 (PDF ) of a funnel. (With apologies to Sam for re-constructing his blown-up funnel proposition.) The point that sticks out to me is that much of Advertising, PR, and Marketing are all fighting in the same space at the very top of the funnel -- Raising awareness and Identifying Need.

In fact, the goal for many marketing campaigns is have a targeted person express enough interest to qualify as a Lead, we then pass the buck and continue our silo-ed pursuits. As Sam points out, the specialists are each bringing their own ideas of what works 'best' which creates wide disparities in the quality and qualification of Leads entering the a sales cycle. As each silo sets its own criteria, the leads are difficult to compare against one another to get a real sense of which are worth pursuing.

This is where I agree with Sam and Jeremiah that a holistic program is necessary. The channel should not determine the message. An understanding of which people/communities/conversations/persona you want to reach should guide the creation of a campaign across multiple media and Ad/Pr/Marketing functions. This kind of integration is more than just using the same version of the logo, or most recent company tagline. The messages should be reinforcing for someone in their target audience if they find them in multiple media channels. The first touchpoint will vary even within a single audience, the importance of bringing the various functions together is so that the messages will be reinforcing when they are encountered elsewhere.

Now, where I'm going to disagree with Sam is in the abolishing of specialization. Consolidation of different functions should happen at the strategy level to make determinations on how to take advantage of their various strengths. When you start implementing tactics having a team with strong skills in a specialized area will help make you more successful. In fact, I've been planning a post about the 'hard skills' of marketing, so let me summarize it here. Each of the disciplines within marketing do have specific skills that requiring knowledge, training, and practice.

Where I see new communications companies succeeding in making the changes Sam outlines is not by discouraging people to develop a deep understanding in their area of expertise but in learning to effectively use their own internal transactional memory. Teaching specialists to identify opportunities within their internal community to complement others work or get the help they need. That comes with its own set of problems but collaboration and community software are on the rise. I'll leave it to the experts to deal with those issues.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Social Contracts, Media Literacy, and Life Skills

I've been very struck by the story in the news lately about the teens beating up a girl so they could post the video on YouTube. Sadly, it's part of a growing trend of teen violence that is being instigated either because of online feuds or for the purpose of posting online.

A quick synopsis of the story is that the victim allegedly made some insulting comments on MySpace. The other girls decided to retaliate and post the video on YouTube, in an attempt to become Internet famous. The actual act, and documentation of it, are disturbing and I don't want to diminish that aspect of it. So, I'll state that I was disturbed before moving on.

Social Contracts

I've been planning a post about the social contract of social media for a while. This seems like the right time to explore that topic.

I'll touch briefly on it's effects in schools because I'm not a teacher or child psychologist so I can only write my observations without the benefit of data or research behind them. Schools are inherently hierarchal and cliche-ish. People of all ages form groups in which they feel accepted, this is even more true with children and teenagers. Once the groups are established, it's very easy to build up an "us vs. them" mentality. In some cases this promotes clashes and in others it builds barriers against interaction.

The Internet flattens those structures (like most structures it encounters) when these closed-group discussions move online to spaces like YouTube or MySpace. Once it's there, it directly conflicts with the social contract of staying within your own group. And, the generation growing up with these tools as a daily part of their lives are not differentiating between the online and offline spaces. They are too intertwined for that distinction to be meaningful. Combine that flatness with the growing trend of 'going viral' and it's easy to see why teenagers eager for recognition and acceptance from peers could find the idea of publishing something like an attack so compelling.

Moving up from just schools to society, our social contract changes in this context too. While it's never codified officially, the respect for other people's right to privacy is widely accepted. How much depends on your location and the situation. With the Internet involved, privacy gets confusing. The simplicity of creating and distributing content removes the need for production values. Without the hurdle of finding a distribution channel, you can keep creating content and throwing it up until something sticks. People post their content publicly while retaining an expectation that only those they want will access it.

Here we run into the anonymity of the Internet. Anyone can access content that is public (obvious) without the social check that typically keeps us from invading the privacy of strangers (should be obvious). In other words, because the content producer doesn't know who is peeking in, the social barrier against looking at the details of a strangers life crumbles. But beyond just looking, the anonymous aspect of the Internet also gives rise to displays of the worst human behavior against those same strangers. I'm not saying it happens in every situation but enough examples exist to prove that the old social contract is being re-written online.

If the social contract online is different from our real-world interactions, then we, the users, must be cognizant of the mores that guide our digital lives. That's an easy argument to make for a group of adults. Most of us are self-aware enough to think critically about issues we face. The rising generation of the Internet needs to be trained in media literacy the same way we teach them how to interact in our offline societies.

Media Literacy 2.0

One of the prevalent themes when encouraging companies to get involved in the social Internet is that the tools are less important than understanding the people. Children may understand the tools but should not be expected to understand the people without some guidance.

So what does media literacy mean in a Web 2.0 world?

Perhaps an analogy would be appropriate here. My son and I can play catch together. He'll learn to use his glove, how to throw accurately, and we could even get in some batting practice. Once he's mastered the tools, I wouldn't just put him on a baseball team and expect him pick up the rules of the game as he goes. Learning the tools is a relatively minor part of the education he would need to be an effective player, and to have fun.

And, I'll flow from that right into an example from my own life. When I was a freshman in high school I took a class to learn how to type. I learned on a typewriter. This was considered an important part of my training for using a computer, it was part of my media literacy training. The standard has been raised since then. Computer use is an assumed part of childhood, but learning to type is a tool.

Media literacy has always been a 'rules of the game' framework. In Web 1.0 we had to learn that not all content online was true, online vs. offline identities, and how todifferente content from advertising. The focus in Web 2.0 needs to be on concepts like permanency of online content, privacy in social networks, search engines potential to serve your content to anyone, and aggregation services acting as new source of discovery. In Web 1.0 you could control what you visited online, if you were careful most issues could be avoided. In Web 2.0 control of content is not an option, making sure you only put the content you intend online is crucial.

To re-phrase, media literacy is now a life skill.

Life Skills

I've had to think about this section for a few days. Life skills are the skills that can't be learned in a book, they are learned by living. These are skills that allow us to function in society. And the definition of living is changing.

As digital interactions become more real-time, the analog skills we learn in life are even more important. The skills we develop and hone through in-person interaction translate to any other medium. Our real world interactions are about more than transmitting content to one another. They teach us how to identify what kind of behavior is appropriate in various situations, how to process our environment as it relates to our situation, and why people act the way they do. These are crucial preparations for our merged lives.

On the other hand, the text-based interactions that we could consider limited because of lack of tone (and other non-verbal cues) do have the advantage of being more accessible. The ability to interact online has allowed many people to communicate more confidently. Will there be a new group of people that learn their life skills online because it provides them a better platform for living? And, a bigger question that I also won't answer here, does learning life skills online trap them in a digital world, or can they also be translated to the offline world?

Though I'm don't have answers to all those questions, I want to bring this back around to the beginning. The video that started this post shows a disturbing lack of life skills by the girls and boys involved. In an update to the story, they are all going to be charged as adults for kidnapping and battery. They could potentially face life in prison, but even if they don't this will have permanent effects on the course of their lives. A conviction in the face of the evidence is very likely. Even if they only get 10, or 5, or 1 year in prison they've effectively ruined their chances to go to college. They'll have to disclose being convicted of a felony on every job application. And, in the short term, I don't expect that too many of their peers will support them -- even though many knew what they were planning and were waiting to see it on YouTube.

This example drives home the need to teach more children how to understand media and use it appropriately in their lives.

Addition: I was pointed to another excellent post on this same topic by Shelly Palmer. He has a great take on it, including a question about the advertising is being shown alongside these videos.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

April Fool's!

So, I feel like my blog is really growing up. Yesterday I had my first comment spam.

And, I would have just killed it, except that the Web addresses aren't linked. Also, they let me know "Please do not consider this a spam."

I'd give some pointers but I really don't want them to get better. I'll just hope it was an April Fool's joke.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Metaphors, Metaphors Everywhere and Not a Drop to Drink

Metaphor: Ocean
When I talk about social media, I often think "This is big. No, Bigger than big." Well, you can't beat the ocean for big. Covering 70% of the earth, it qualifies as bigger than big. And the ocean is a great place to collect metrics.
The ocean fascinates me. The systems in place in the vast submersed world all around us interact so gracefully. Water moves through every interaction, constantly flowing around the globe. But, to measure the ocean you have to look at bodies of water. It's not viable to measure the drops of water but the entire mass has very visible effects.

This is how business has typically measured their consumers. They ebb and flow like the tide and understanding when the body of consumers will be at high tide has been very lucrative. In this model companies have little reason to understand the individuals because you only need to capture enough of the swell to meet your sales goals.

When social media is studied at a population level, rather than tracking a single campaign, what trends emerge as important? This is the area we know the most about and I'm interested in getting your thoughts. tag: metric+metaphors

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Participation + Conversation - Another Engagement View

I'm following up on a comment in my last post that pointed me to Greg Verdino's earlier post about engagement. I thought it was very insightful and just wanted to add one thought.

(Slides created by Greg Verdino)

From some of the comments on Greg's post by Paull and Nathan, I started questioning if they could be considered engaged or not. And how would you quantify the engagement of a frequent reader/infrequent commenter with someone who read less frequently but comments every time.

I like that the framework works for large groups, that's obviously important for being able to track results. But when looking at individuals through this same lens, it requires not less of an emphasis on comments but more of an emphasis on a holistic view. A high level of participation, even without conversation, points to obvious interest in the material and passion. A high level of conversation, even with medium participation may indicate that your site is a resource they return to when needed.

It's been very interesting exploring the dynamics of metrics as they begin to apply to individuals. What other thoughts about individual metrics do you have? tag: individual+metrics

Monday, March 24, 2008

Engagement = Ingagement + Outgagement

We interrupt our previously scheduled metaphor series to bring you this breaking news.

Sam Lawrence was positing on Twitter that Blogrolls should be automatic, similar to how many tag clouds are created, and show what you are actually reading. I replied with the notion that even a defined blog roll would benefit from more tag cloud features to show relevance to you based on visits, links, RSS subscriptions or other engagement.

Attribution: Scott Fidd via FlickrEngagement. What a fantastic buzzword. It's delightfully squishy but often placed on the hard pedestal of metrics like Recency of Visit, bookmarks, and comments . These should be more accurately referred to as Ingagement. They are happening on your site and when the visitor leaves your site, their ingagement ends (and often so does measuring).

Outgagement on the other hand, looks at what people are saying about you off your site. But unless someone has dedicated their site to talking about your company, the 'who' behind the 'what' doesn't have as much impact. The metrics in outgagement are already established (informally) in how the social blogosphere works. Things like out-bound links in a post, number of posts on a topic, and groups within social networks.

The future of metrics for social media is not in building aggregate information about your customer base but collecting public information about your individual customers.

I've put it in bold to capture your attention with that line but I can't take credit for it. It's not a new concept. Social media people have been talking around this idea through the lens of 'relationships' for a while now. The trick is scale.

Enter lifestreaming. Now, I don't want to be crass but the value that individuals are getting out of following the streams of their friends at sites like FriendFeed, SocialThing, Profilatic, and others would be gold if companies could learn to harness it. It takes the hard work out of collecting the information, they just need a way to tap it (rather than capture it) and marry it with their Ingagement metrics. (Ok, I simplified that problem but that's the heart of it.)

Another tool that could automate the parsing of customer data is Many Eyes. Or at least the interesting applications that Sam has used it for (it was manual work, his re-post was another tweet that sparked this post). If you can find a customer's blog (during outgagement tracking) then the topics relevant to them can quickly be determined. Now, this is far from perfect because you won't know tone. But, it gives you a place to start and increases the context.

And now to tie it all back together to the question of scale. Once you have your customer records created, you can build your target segments from the ground up. Of course, the application of old-style segmentation will still have it's purposes but consider the two scenarios:

  • 18-24 year olds who recently purchased a product from your company
  • 18-24 year olds who are passionate about something (and your product relates)
What kinds of different strategies can you use when trying to connect with those two audiences? tag: ingagement+outgagement
Image Attribution: Scott Fidd via Flickr