Why do you tweet?

2397881577_27e294dca9.jpgIt seems as though everywhere I go, marketers look at me and ask about Twitter. They bring up the fact that they don't want to know "what everyone is having for breakfast" each day. So they usually ask me why I use Twitter. I've found the best answer is to ask my Twitter community in real-time while I am sitting with them.

This happened the other day when a person at another agency asked me the same question. I turned the conversation over to Twitter and received some really great responses. I'm not sure if she'll join, but she was impressed by the quality and sincerity of the replies.

I wanted to collect the responses I received and post them here. I had to jump right back into meetings so I didn't get a chance to thank everyone who replies, so let me say thanks to CC Chapman, David Brazeal, Tim Brunelle, George Nemeth, Rob Boles, Jeff Lowe, Trisha Jackson, Bo Jacobson, Dan Perry, CK, Steve Woodruff, Brendan Cooper, Megan Maguire, Kevin Huff, Joel Libava, Joe Pulizzi, Jeff Beeler, Alison Edward, the good folks over at Thundertech, Leslie Caruthers, "Cleveland" Mark Goren and Sean Scott for responding.

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They even crossed over into Facebook because I have my last message on Twitter update my Facebook status.

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Here are some new reasons from my message today:

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So why do you use it? Let me know in 140 characters (or more if you like).

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Should your company blog?

iStock_000004684908XSmall.jpgThere are a lot of blog posts out there about whether companies should create blogs of their own. Blogging seems to be an entry point that most marketing people can easily wrap their heads around. For me it's always come down to five questions and the answer to all five has to be yes. Those five questions are:

  1. Are you listening to your online community? - Are you spending a minimum of two hours a day searching, reading Google alerts or using a monitoring tool like Radian6?
  2. Do you have something unique to say? - How will you differetntiate yourself from other blogs and other companies? This could be your people, the information you publish or other forms of thought leadership.
  3. Are you willing and able to say it? - Can you talk about your industry and are you willing to put it out there?
  4. Are you willing to be challenged and criticized? - This goes with the turf. You have to be able to facilitate conversation in a respectful manner to grow a community.
  5. Are you willing and able to dedicate the resources to succeed? - People always underestimate this one. A good rule for this to succeed is to have one person dedicated to the success of your strategy for a minimum of 4 hours per day (2 hours of which is listening and commenting). That is one half of a full time person's week. Have staffing plans in place as you grow and start realizing your success.

Here is a visual decision tree that I use to see if clients/readers/individuals should create a blog. I'm a visual person and these help me think things through.

So, should my company blog?

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My caveats:

  • Identifying a voice is a next step once you're past this point
  • I know not everyone should create a blog, but it's what companies "get"
  • A blog is not always the ideal entry point with every audience, audience analysis will tell you more

What are your thoughts on this? Would you add any other questions? Do you think any of these are not necessary? Let me know what you think.

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Video week on Techno//Marketer

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I use a lot of video on this site to help educate and inform you, my community. Due to that fact I get a lot of questions about video from production to editing. Next week on this blog I am going to produce a series of posts and videos that show how I shoot, manage and publish my video content.

Top level topics include:

  • Monday: Equipment and software
  • Tuesday: How I shoot my video tutorials (the most frequently asked question that I get)
  • Wednesday: How I edit and produce the final product
  • Thursday: How and where I distribute the videos
  • Friday: Reader questions

On Friday I will answer any questions that you have. To stay in the theme of the week it would be excellent if you provided your questions in video (either on Facebook or on YouTube) and I will stream them in and link back to your site. I will, however accept any questions you have by email or by commenting on this post.

So start thinking and let me know what's on your mind. I can't wait to hear from you!

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Twitter for marketing, branding and customer service

iStock_000003099857XSmall.jpgYesterday I had the opportunity to speak to the Cleveland Web Association on the topics of micromedia (Twitter, Pownce, FriendFeed, etc.). This was a follow up presentation to the one I gave back in February and is meant to dive a bit deeper into the subject.

I thought the audience was very receptive to the topic and the examples absolutely help out with that. David Meade of Optiem gave a bit of a more technical primer before me and is who I reference in the first few minutes.

The presentation is available below as a SlideCast (meaning I have added an voiceover audio track to it) which you can access by hitting the green middle button that looks like this Picture 18.png.


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If you are interested in having me speak to your company or organization, you can check out my other SlideShare presentations here and feel free to contact me for more information.

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Finding the sentiment of online conversations

iStock_000005805124XSmall.jpgOne of the most important aspects of online conversations is the sentiment of what the author is saying. Are they positive about you, negative or apathetic? The difference is vitally important, but very hard to determine due to the complexity of language.

Let's look at what I mean by complexity of language. Most services that are out there take a look at a post and try to identify what is being said by looking the total range words. They have lists of positive words like "great", "awesome", "l33t" (for the hacker crowd) as well as negative words like "sucks", "terrible", etc. If neither group of words is found the post is considered neutral.

I'm sure you can see the error in this. A post could be negative overall, but avoid these words. It could also use one negative word, but be positive overall. What is needed is true contextual language processing (which is expensive and requires a lot of development).

Here are a few examples of sentiment analysis.

58C82440-1332-4186-89B4-C7DEBEB6D173.jpgCollective Intellect is a social media monitoring solution that we work with. Part of their analysis is of language within conversations and the sentiment that is displayed there. The sentiment is then tracked over time and can be a key metric in the success of a campaign. Their formula for extracting the sentiment is not publicly accessible so I am not sure how they calculate it.

Summize is a Twitter search engine. In their labs section is a sentiment analyzer that lets you enter a keyword and get the real time sentiment. If you play with this for a while you will see some issues as I found out when I sent this link out on Twitter.

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*Note that Luke works with me here in Cleveland.

Here is a sample of the output for the term "marketing".

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Another service that uses Twitter as the basis to create an engaging experience around sentiment is Twistori. Twistori takes a few key terms like "love", "hate", "feel" and "wish" and creates a dynamic timeline based on the use of the terms. It's very cool to watch the service extract the terms and after a few minutes you see how difficult it is to get sentiment right.

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So, do you look at the sentiment of online conversations? There is still no better filter than to read back through a blogger's posts to get their real feeling at this point. Technology is evolving quickly, but so is language.

How are you tracking sentiment online? Is there a tool that I missed? Let me know!

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The influence of digital

cameraphone.jpgAs a rule, I only talk about my work and my company when I know it will add value to what you do. That's certainly the case today as Fleishman-Hillard (my company) and Harris Interactive release our Digital Influence Index Study. This study was conducted in Europe (using the UK, France and Germany as the initial round of countries), but you can see trends emerge that I think are global in nature.

(You can download the key findings, the whitepaper and the FAQ for the study.)

The study looks to really dig in to the role that the internet plays in the lives of consumers. It answers the following questions:

  • Influence: What is the influence of the internet compared to other media?
  • Behavior: What online behaviors are consumers adopting?
  • Impact on decisions: What is the impact of the internet on specific consumer decisions?
  • Attitudes: What are consumer attitudes towards the internet?
  • Geography: What are the differences by country?

The actual Digital Influence Index number shown below in the pie charts is compiled like this:

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Picture 17.pngThe chart to the right compares the influence of different forms of media on decision making. As you can see the internet is more influential in each country than any other type of media. It's nearly twice as influential as TV and eight times more influential than traditional print media. Interestingly, consumers spend a marginal amount more time on TV than the Internet, but it's not effecting their decisions proportionally.

The study found that consumer behavior falls into one of five categories. They are research, commerce, communication, mobility and publishing. While you can read more detail in the full report, some highlights are:

  • 80% of online consumers use the net to comparison shop
  • 3 out of 4 use the net to manage bank accounts
  • 30% post a comment to an online newsgroup or website during a typical week

Here is how these behaviors relate adoption levels and influence

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Though the study found the internet influential, it showed that there are still trust issues that have to be overcome for it to continue to grow. Trust of information from other users, trust of government information and information provided by companies were all relatively low. Trust in commerce was a little better and trust of the security of communications channels was pretty high as well.

Key Findings:

  • Across all three countries addressed by the study, the Internet has roughly double the influence of the second strongest medium — television — and roughly eight times the influence of traditional print media. This indicates a need and an opportunity for companies to reprioritise their communications to address the media shift in consumer influence.
  • Consumers use the Internet in different ways to make different decisions. For example, consumers are more likely to seek opinions of others through social media and product-rating sites when it comes to making decisions that involve choices that have a great deal of personal impact (e.g., healthcare options or major electronics purchases), but use company-controlled sources when making transactional decisions on commoditised items like utilities or airline tickets.
  • While consumers see the clear benefits of the Internet on their lives, they continue to have concerns about Internet safety and the trustworthiness of some of the information they find online. In the UK, for example, 66 percent of online consumers state that the Internet helps them make better decisions, but just 28 percent trust the information on the Internet provided by companies.

I think this quote from Dave Senay (our CEO) addresses the key point from my perspective:

"The research shows that the Internet stands out as the most important medium in the lives of European consumers today, but there's a mismatch between the impact of the digital channel across a wide range of consumer behaviours and decisions and the proportion of resources organisations generally are allocating to it relative to other media.

Insights provided by this study will help communicators be more strategic in their marketing mix. At the same time, we need to be mindful about the concerns expressed about safety and trust, which underscores the need for digital engagement with consumers based on open and honest representation."

So what should companies and marketers do with this knowledge?

  • Given the influence of the Internet, audit your current marketing spend and see how it aligns with reality and the influence of the medium
  • Make sure information that is provided is done so in a transparent, honest manner with full representation
  • SEM/SEO are crucial as search drives the way people find information
  • Join the conversation online, support the community and engage in a transparent manner
  • Keep an eye on mobile trends and poll consumers to gauge demand for such an offering

So, what do you think about the information? This is based in Europe, but do you see correlations with the US? You can download the entire white paper here, which includes all of the information above with more charts and graphs.

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Social reputation patterns

Picture 12.pngI found a very interesting post on the Yahoo User Interface blog today discussing social reputation patterns. Reputation is a way to create engagement inside a community and plays an important part in many social networks and other action-driven sites.

Some quick examples of reputation systems are LinkedIn's profile completeness and eBay seller ratings. Having these levels of reputation in the system give interactions an added value. In eBay, sellers are given the incentive to deliver what they say they will, because they know they'll be rated afterward. LinkedIn's profile completeness level is dependent on helping others in the system and encourages more interaction.

Here are the patterns that Yahoo mentions:


These patterns can also be used in different types of community environments. They range from altruistic, nurturing communities to combative, winner-takes-all environments. Certain brands can use each to deliver value to their community.


Take a minute now and think about the communities that you participate in where users are given an incentive for taking action. Where does it fit in these patterns? Most sites use multiple patterns to engage different groups of users and it's a very powerful technique to engage users online and drive repeat visits and extended loyalty.

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What would it take to topple Twitter?

Picture 1.pngTwitter has a double unfair advantage over its competitors; a huge user base (estimated at over a million users now) and a very solid head start.

This hasn't stopped a host of new competitors from trying to give it a go. Among the latest competitors are BrightKite, Jaiku (who is owned by Google), Plurk, Utterz and even Facebook and LinkedIn have begun enabling micromedia updates on user profiles.

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[Cartoon by Hugh MacLeod]

However, as Twitter's service woes keep mounting and user sentiment keeps edging toward the negative, I have to wonder...what would it take to topple Twitter?

In order to understand this, we need to look at what makes Twitter work. Let's break them down so we can see how it's gained such wide-spread popularity.

  1. Simplicity: Twitter does one thing really well. It lets you communicate what you're doing right now. Now other functionality (no matter how easy it would be to implement), 140 characters, one text field and one button. Anybody can look at it and start using it in minutes.
    What competitors need to do: Though I think that there is room beyond 140 characters of text on a service like this (think video and photos), it needs to remain easy to use. Design and usability needs to be where the majority of the development time is spent. The technology should, as I've said before, fade away to the background. If it's not clear on what the user should do within 5 seconds of opening the page it's too complicated.

  2. Ease of use: This builds on the previous idea of simplicity. Twitter let's you use it. It gets the heck out of your way and adds value by supporting conversation. The interface guides the user smoothly through the interactions. Posting a message is easy, replying is easy and the content is simple text. That's ease of use.

    What competitors need to do:This is a no-brainer. Any competitor who is going to topple Twitter will have to have an extremely easy to use service. Like I mentioned before, a lot of attention needs to be paid here. Too many services offer more features/better technology, but are a pain to use.

  3. Mobility: Twitter has a very strong mobile platform. Not only is the SMS (text messages) updating solid, but the mobile site allows most of the regular site's functionality from nearly any device and network. Either option allows for seamless use when away from the browser.

    What competitors need to do: There is no option for the competition to miss this crucial piece of the equation. The portability of the user experience has to be in place. Users need to be able to update and receive updates from any device in the world. SMS is growing in popularity and allows quick updates from US networks. The mobile site allows more reach and really lets the user step away from their computer with confidence. SMS also serves an important role in getting messages to people and breaking through the clutter.

  4. Platform agnostic: We just touched on the mobile platform, but Twitter's open architecture has allowed developers to extend the service to IM (AOL/GTalk/Jabber) as well as desktop applications. For IM, users add Twitter as a friend and send it their updates. Applications like Twhirl work like any desktop application (think Start > Applications > Twhirl) and don't make you keep a browser open at all times.

    What competitors need to do: This is another area that any competitor worth their salt will need to copy. The open architecture allows the development community to do its work and enhance the service faster than the competitor would be able to.

  5. Strong RSS: Twitter has a very strong RSS architecture. You can subscribe to individual's feeds, your own feed (messages and replies) and use the RSS feeds to build other services. Other services like Twitterfeed use RSS to update Twitter accounts automatically. You can look at my "Techno//Marketer" twitter feed for an example. That feed is 100% auto-generated by Twitterfeed.

    What competitors need to do: No question here either. RSS is a staple of the new digital frontier.

  6. Widgetization: Twitter had this right from the start. One of the most powerful ways that Twitter spread through the social media space was from the blog widget that allowed people to promote their messages as well as the service. It added value to the reader and drove new users. You can see my example in the right-hand panel of this blog.

    What competitors need to do: The more options people have to spread their content the better. Formats should be adjustable (width, height), customizable (color, branding) and should work everywhere possible.

  7. The community: This is Twitter's ace in the hole. No matter how good other services are, no matter how easy they are to use, no matter how comprehensive the utility there is no use for a service like this that doesn't have a community. While some competitors have been around longer they have not been able to build the buzz and following that Twitter has. Some of this is due the founder's background (having founder Blogger.com) having an immediate, connected audience.

    What competitors need to do: You have to transplant the community. What I mean is that a competitor that's looking to topple Twitter (not build a new, unique audience) will need to use the openness of Twitter against it. Accounts will need to be moved over while keeping all of that user's connections in tact. to move user's networks in whole. Accounts and logins will need to be moved to make it as easy a transition as possible.

What would you add to this list? Is Twitter indomitable at this point or are they Yahoo in 1999 with Google just around the corner?

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The scalability of language; the role of video

Picture 15.pngIn today's post on the scalability of language, I want to talk about video. Video (as many of you know) is a passion of mine and I've found it a great way to communicate ideas to a broad audience.

The problem with video is that the language is harder to get at. With copy, you can, at a minimum, use a translation service to get a high-level overview of the content. With video that baseline doesn't exist.

Enter dotSub. This is a service that I learned about at the WeMedia Conference in Miami earlier this year. dotSub allows anyone to upload a video to the service and then add native language subtitles to the video. This starts with a solid English translation and then people can add new languages.

The community then validates the translation, adapts it and finally accepts it as an official version of the content. This is a great use of the crowdsourcing principle to add value to a diverse group of people. I do wish that dotSub accepted videos from other services, but they are still pretty new.

Here is a video overview:

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Services like dotSub allow native speakers to effectively translate content and share it with people in their community.

Tomorrow I will wrap up this series taking a look at the role design plays in language and communicating ideas across networks.

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Nokia's Jan Chipchase on the evolution of mobile

I am a huge fan of the TED Conference's video library. If you're not familiar head over there and poke around (be warned, you will spend a lot of time there).

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This video of Nokia's Jan Chipchase is one of those videos that I come back to over and over again. It truly changed the way I look at technology's implications on the global community.

Jan spends his time traveling the world and doing ethnographic research to figure out how the mobile phone fits (and will fit in the future) into our culture. This local, first-person research is so valuable and has very wide-reaching implications.

The coolest part is when Jan goes into the way that phones are used in Uganda as ATMs. People basically exchange airtime minutes as currency. There is a central point person in the local village who has a phone and who exchanges minutes into cash. In other parts of the world there is a whole industry created around supporting and repairing devices where those services do not exist. Other countries are using mobile phone numbers above the entrance to houses instead of house numbers. That's their identity.

Check it out:

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The scalability of language; machine translation

iStock_000001812081XSmall.jpgThe scalability of language is something that's been on my mind a lot lately. In my post yesterday, I looked at the top issues that the language hurdle presents with digital content and conversations.

Today, I want to look at the error of using machine translations. If you're not sure what I mean, let's look at an example. Let's say you wanted to go to Univision.com and get it translated into English. You would go to a site like Google Translate and enter the URL into the "translate a web page" option. Google then goes through the site and does a literal translation for you.

The problem is that the translations don't account for many factors including local dialect, slang and trendy language. As Mario Vellandi put it in his comment on my last post:

"I'm trilingual and must say that although I adore languages, especially English, there are many phrases that are culturally bound and cannot be translated without some serious human assistance to the computer. Sometimes it's metaphors and similes. Other times, humor and irony are at play. Then there's slang and trend/fad language...It's crazy, but fun."

The real test
The true test of any language translation service is the ability to translate language two ways. What I mean is take a sentence that you want to use. Translate that phrase to the other language and then take the translated version and translate it back to the original.

Here is an example:
Take the first two sentences from yesterday's post:

There is a game that every American kid plays in school at one point in time called telephone (also known as Chinese whispers). The idea is that all of the kids line up in a single-file line and then the person on one end of the line whispers a sentence to the person next to them like "Steve Jobs is the CEO of Apple, pass it on".

Now I'll translate it into Spanish using Google Translate:

No es un juego que cada chico juega en América en la escuela en un momento llama por teléfono (también conocido como chino susurra). La idea es que todos los niños de la línea en una sola línea del archivo y, a continuación, la persona en un extremo de la línea susurra una frase a la persona junto a ellos como "Steve Jobs es el CEO de Apple, dárselo".

And now let's look at it when we translate it back to English using Google Translate:

It is not a game that every kid plays in americas in school at one point called by phone (also known as Chinese whispers). The idea is that all children of the line in a single file line, and then the person at one end of the line whispers a phrase to the person next to them as "Steve Jobs is the CEO of Apple, giving it".

Pretty clear isn't it? The overall meaning is totally gone (even reversed in this case). Just imagine what would happen if you were trying to do real-time translations. Google does take steps toward humanizing the machine with their "Suggest a better translation" link which lets native speakers contribute a new, more accurate translation. Here is a screen shot of that process:

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The point here is that if you automate translation, you are not going to communicate clearly to your audience. It's worth the expense and effort to make sure that your key information is translates by a native-speaking human being.

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The scalability of language and conversations

iStock_000005475259XSmall.jpgThere is a game that every American kid plays in school at one point in time called telephone (also known as Chinese whispers). The idea is that all of the kids line up in a single-file line and then the person on one end of the line whispers a sentence to the person next to them like "Steve Jobs is the CEO of Apple, pass it on". What always happens though, is as the message is passed along it evolves and changes until the last person has something like "Apples are oh so good for you". (The game only works until the age when kids know what the experiment is and then they start intentionally changing it.)

Now, imagine you were playing the same game in a room where nobody spoke the same language. One of the biggest challenges for most marketers, journalists, advertisers and PR practitioners who leverage the Web to operate in the global economy is the scalability of language. This is something that I think about often as I blog, record videos and audio and I work day-to-day on global campaigns for major brands.

Machine translation is nearly useless. What I mean by machine translation is the use of automatic translation scripts (like Google Translate or Systran). This is almost 100% useless unless you only need a vague idea of what is being talked about. There is no substitute for localized translation by a native speaker.

The normal tactic for most marketers, when dealing with language, is to create multiple versions of content all translated into the local dialect under a global umbrella. This works well for written content (outside of having multiple copies of content), but you end up with divergent conversations even though the ideas overlap and each would benefit from the other's experience.

The limitations of video
One area that I feel the effects of more often than not is the limitation of video. When I create a video in English, I am almost entirely locked in to only reach English speakers. It doesn't do much good to Spanish speakers or German speakers, because so much of the value is in the spoken word.

At the same time, video is a superior tool to bridge distance and make people feel like they are together. It's also great for education purposes. So, how can we bridge the scalability of language as marketers, content creators and human beings?

The challenge of conversations
Another big challenge happens when organic customer conversations cross languages. Right now there is no real good way to combine conversations from language silos. Imagine the perspective we could have if people from around the world could have cross-language conversations. That would certainly be powerful.

Most social networks are separated as well where each language is kept separate from each other. Bi-lingual users have a very hard time crossing back and forth. The experience is certainly not fluid. Word of mouth suffers the same limitations.

Over the next couple of days I am going to feature a few of the ways that language is slowly and methodically starting to scale with content.

In the meantime, how do you deal with language? Do you ignore it for now or is it something that is always at the back of your mind? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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Blogging from Sun's Startup Camp

sun_startup_camp.jpgI'll be speaking on a panel at Sun Microsystems' Startup Camp 5 at Moscone South today. They're expecting 500-600 attendees to this free event. I'll be updating this post throughout the day, so check back throughout the day.

We follow up Sun CEO, and blogger, Jonathan Schwartz. The panel is titled "Notes From Mission Control: Rules For A Successful Media Launch" and my fellow panelists are S. Neil Vineberg, Jyri Engestrom (co-founder of Jaiku), Christina (CK) Kerley and Adam Metz (theMIX). It's going to be a great time. Stay tuned.

There is a great vibe here and sense of community.

Keynote: Jonathan Schwartz (Sun's CEO):
I was really impressed with how casual Jonathan was and how passionately he talked about Sun's involvement in the startup community. After his initial remarks he was joined on stage by Om Malik of GigaOm. Om pressed Jonathan on a number of issues, none more inappropriate than his question about how Schwartz felt about having to lay off 2,500 people recently. Schwartz handled himself very well, spoke directly to the question and came across as somebody who really cares about his people.

My Panel:
I won't say a whole lot about the panel. Mashable had a really good recap thanks to Kristen Nicole. I was pretty mad that I missed Kristen and Pete after the panel as I had to duck below the event for an interview. I'll catch them on my next swing through the Bay area.

The Unconference:
This was my first true unconference and I liked what I saw. If you aren't familiar with it either, a portion of the event is planned on the spot by the attendees. People post sessions they want to host and then people show up. I sat in on a great discussion on Twitter and information overload (that's a subject for a future post).

Large_head_shot_yobie_1 I spent a little time with serial entrepreneur and overall great guy Yobie Benjamin. He's working on a world-changing startup right now and I was really amazed by his passion and energy around it. If you're a super developer and looking for a challenge you should reach out to him ASAP.

I was also able to spend a lot of quality time with CK and Neil Vineberg who, I must say, are two of the most kind, hard working, organized and brilliant people I know. Neil invited me to this event and took the time to show me some of the magnificent sights of SF. CK, as you probably know, is such a giving, helping jewel of a person. She made sure Neil showed me the right things and helped me to refine the points I made on the panel. It was a great experience because of them.

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Do you trust trust research?

iStock_000004622271XSmall.jpgI have seen posts and Twitter messages about the newly release trust research that Forrester's Josh Bernoff posted about earlier today. I have a great deal of respect for Josh, I just have some questions. In the hopes of getting answers to some of my questions about the survey I am going to post them here and ping the people at Forrester to engage and answer some of the common ones that have come up.

Here is the chart in question:



  • What are the demographics of the survey respondents? Marketers are going to take this research at face value without knowing if this research might scale from generation to generation.
  • Does the category "known expert" include or exclude bloggers? For example, if you're 18 and looking for product reviews of technology chances are good that Engadget and Gizmodo are very high on the list.
  • With the 30% trust of bloggers, is that for unknown bloggers who may come up in a random search or it is generalized to all bloggers? Does that differ from an unknown opinion site vs. a known opinion site?
  • As the tail quickly falls from short to long for the majority of product categories, mass media coverage drops out of the picture. Does this take into account long tail, niche categories or are you talking about things like refrigerators and vacuums vs. left handed Cuban cigars or organic dog biscuits?
  • Finally, I found this information through Twitter and blogs. Do I need to wait until somebody I knows calls me or I see it on TV to trust it?

Feel free to add your own questions to this list. What is your take on the research? Does this jive with your feelings of trust? Do you trust it?

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The most powerful branding tool. Ever.

dig.jpgIf I were to give you a tip on the most powerful tool any company has at their disposal to positively impact their brand, would you act on it? When companies talk about branding, they often turn to the standard creative elements. They conduct focus groups and prepare branding briefs before the first pixel is pushed into place on the logo. If you're really serious you have a whole identity package. But that's not branding, that's just a logo right? From there they create the marketing campaign. Print ads are created to build emotional connections with people, TV spots reinforce the company image and convey the same emotions. Hundreds of hours are spent planning the website, the information architecture, the experience design, the content. When it's all said and done you have one damn fine looking marketing campaign.

Most companies know that part (very few do it right). The part they don't get is the tool that I am talking about. Customer service. Customer service is so powerful that it can make up for bad products, downtime and inconvenience. Conversely, poor customer service can kill even the most well thought out, killer product or service.

A brand is the sum of the interactions with an entity over time. Still, the last interaction with a product or service usually sticks with us. How many times have you felt your opinion of a company turn sour when somebody in the store isn't helpful? How many times have you sat on hold waiting in line only to not really get the answer you're looking for?

The last interaction is the only one that matters.

So why is customer service so often overlooked as a branding tool? It's hard to get right. Here are some of the challenges:

  • It takes time. Lots of time. Customer service takes training, dedication and people who are aligned with the company's goals. Time is money after all and most companies look at the short term outlay instead of the long term benefit of building customer loyalty and creating a great total brand experience.
  • High turnover. Typically customer service is made up of entry level folks packed into small offices strapped to a phone 8 hours a day. Why not really turn to results-based incentives here? Why not dress up their work area so they have a great attitude and convey to your customers?
  • Everyone is in customer service. This means the CEO, the VPs, the account people, the programmers, the designers, the administrative staff, everyone. This is a key shift in thinking that needs to take place. One off day for one person will have an impact on your brand image. The last interaction is the only one that matters. You may not get another chance.
  • Not just for consumer packages goods. Customer service happens in every industry whether you label it customer service or not. Law firms, ad agencies, PR firms and accountants all are in customer service. The problem is that it's not ingrained in their corporate philosophy, they think it beneath them. That's the
  • Too easy to rely on technology. No message board or crowd sourced solution can replace human interaction. Technology is a great way to give people access to basic, commonly asked questions. However, when a person's questions are not answered by those solutions they can be left frustrated. Have you ever tried to reach Flickr, Technorati or Feedburner to get a prompt answer to a question? They make it 100% impossible to talk to a human. Don't be like those guys.

I think David Armano summed it up well in his reply when I posted this on Twitter a couple of days ago.

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How do you integrate this common sense into what you do? How can you improve your support system? What will you do NOW to take action to create a customer service culture?

What do you do to make sure every personal interaction is the best it can be?

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Power 150 roundtable

P28bloggertable041408 The week before last, in between attending Virtual Worlds and the start of Blogger Social, I had the great opportunity to take part in a roundtable discussion at the Advertising Age HQ. AdAge Editor Jonah Bloom invited 12 bloggers from the Power 150 list to have a conversation about blogging, social media, new marketing and the future of print and digital publications.

Jonah has received a lot of flack in the past from bloggers (myself included) for not fully engaging more marketing bloggers to add insights and ideas for stories in the publication. Although AdAge has been making moves to add more blogger input, it's been a bit slow. That seems to have changed for the better. AdAge is looking to (and really should make a big push) add more content from this blogger community and it's a relatively untapped market right now. Some bloggers have connections to print pubs, but for the most part our thinking is confined to those who seek us out. Publications like AdAge reach a much broader market and the thinking that this community provides (along with the comments from you the reader) are invaluable, poignant, timely and unique.

Advertising Age roundtableOne of the key discussions centered around the challenges that marketers are facing and what content they may be looking for. It was great to see and hear such a great mixture of thoughts and experiences from around the table. That, to me, is the power of engaging bloggers as content creators. Ad Age has the opportunity to leverage a veritable army of authors with highly targeted experience to write about nearly any topic from nearly any opinion. You need a digital guy who's working in design with luxury goods manufacturers? David Armano is your man. Looking for a guy with lots of mid-market, hands on experience and a background working for a rock band and Starbucks? Just call Lewis Green. There are thousands of people with very unique voices who are talented storytellers. I am personally looking forward to seeing what else comes from this.

Other bloggers in attendance included Ann Handley, Mark Goren, Gavin Heaton, Lewis Green, Daryl Ohrt, Anna Farmery, Geoff Livingston, Sean Howard, David Armano, Rohit Bhargava, Paul McEnany and Todd Andrlik. You can read the AdAge article here.

*Top photo credit: Andrew Walker (Advertising Age)

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Developing personas for marketing strategy

people2.jpgPersonas are an extremely valuable tool for marketers in any field. If you're not familiar with the term, personas are representations of your target audience based on research and interviews. From PR to digital to advertising, any marketing team or agency can benefit from developing client- and/or brand-specific personas.

As an example, let's say one of your target audience types is a 18-21 year old male who likes emo music, skateboarding and high-end electronics. You would come up with a name for this person along the lines of "Nate" and you would find an image of him to use in your planning. When you start making decisions about marketing strategies, you would check back to "Nate" and ask if it would reach him. What would reach him more effectively? What message does he need to hear. That is a basic model of persona development. Here is some more information to guide you through the process.

Why personas are important:

  • Personas put a face on the customer. Some persona programs give people names so you can refer to them and see them in a physical representation. The agency Organic creates persona rooms where their people live so the project team can become fully immersed.
  • Personas remove the tendency to think of yourself as the customer. You have to step back and this gives you the structure to do so.
  • Act as a guide throughout the process of developing marketing communications programs, cross mediums (print, digital, outdoor, TV, etc.).
  • Keeps designers, copywriters, programmers on track and avoids waste by remaining focused on the customer.

How people screw them up:

  • Personas take time and research to get right.
  • This includes some time in the field and meeting face-to-face with the customer.
  • People think they know their customer without looking at data.
  • Personas are often used up front in the marketing strategy process and don't carry through the process.

How you can avoid screwing them up:

  • Get data. Collect it from the web and third party sources. Analyze web traffic. Do in-person interviews and ethnography. Get a big picture view and then analyze it objectively.
  • Talk to your customers. Videotape them. Record the audio. Take notes. Come back with a real feeling for who you are trying to reach.
  • Compare what you saw to the data and look for the insights.
  • Evolve the personas over time. Adapt them as your product lines change or the economy changes. These should be living, breathing entities.

A great sample model.
I found this great model on Idris Mootee's site in a post where he compared the problems that MBAs and MFAs have in the workplace. It's a great start to being able to wrap your head around these ideas.

persona_10 steps.jpg1. Finding the users
Questions asked: Who are the users? How many are there? What do they do with the system/brand?
Methods used: Quantitative data analysis.
Documents produced: Reports.

2. Building a hypothesis
Questions asked: What are the differences between the users?
Methods used: Looking at the material. Labeling the groups of people.
Documents produced: Draft a description of the target groups.

3. Verifications
Questions asked: Data for personas (likes/dislikes, inner needs, values). Data for situations (area of work, work conditions). Data for scenarios (work strategies and goals, information strategies and goals).
Methods used: Quantitative data collection.
Documents produced: Reports.

4. Finding patterns
Questions asked: Does the initial labeling hold? Are there more groups to consider? Are all equally important?
Methods used: Categorization.
Documents produced: Descriptions of categories.

5. Constructing personas
Questions asked: Body (name, age picture). Psyche (extrovert/introvert). Background (occupation). Emotions and attitude towards technology, the company (sender) or the information that they need. Personal traits.
Methods used: Categorization.
Documents produced: Descriptions of categories.

6. Defining situations
Questions asked: What is the need of this persona?
Methods used: Looking for situations and needs in the data.
Documents produced: Categorization of needs and situations.

7. Validation and buy-in
Questions asked: Do you know someone like this?
Methods used: People who know (of) the personas read and comment on the persona descriptions

8. Dissemination of knowledge
Questions asked: How can we share the personas with the organization?
Methods used: Fosters meetings, emails, campaigns of every sort, events.

9. Creating scenarios
Questions asked: In a given situation, with a given goal, what happens when the persona uses the technology/engages with the brand?
Methods used: The narrative scenario - using personas descriptions and situations to form scenarios.
Documents produced: Scenarios, use cases, requirement specifications.

10. On-going development
Questions asked: Does the new information alter the personas?
Methods used: Usability tests, new data
Documents produced: A person responsible for the persona input from everybody who meet the users.

*Diagram developed by Lene Nielsen of Snitker & Co.

More quality persona resources:

So what else do you do when planning personas? How do you develop them? How do you adapt them? What's the balance between qualitative and quantitative feedback?


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Blogging from Virtual Worlds 2008

Picture 11.pngI'll be blogging and shooting videos over the next day and a half at the Virtual Worlds 2008 conference here in NYC. I'll also be posting updates on Twitter as well as here on the blog. If you have questions drop me an email or a Tweet. I'll update this post throughout the day.

mattel_logo.jpgMattel toys actually has a Chief Barbie Girl who is focused on making sure that the Barbie brand stays relevant and engaging. Toy lines need to scale with kids to stay relevant to their lives. Barbie Girls is for girls ages 8+.

The barbiegirls.com world was named the fastest growing in a recent report. First world focused on girls with a unique, focused offering. Highly customized avatars allow a lot of combinations and more connection/engagement. The world allows socialization and friendships to be formed in a fun and very safe environment. The world allows for multiplayer games that bring girls together like the makeover game that allows people to become a stylist and interact with each other.

"Virtual worlds as the new playground." Kids now are digital natives and they think of toys differently. In 10 years, the people entering college and the workforce will be 100% savvy to virtual environments.

Some statistics from some Mattel-sponsored research:

  • Just 39% of moms feel websites are safe and secure
  • Just 38% use the tools to make the web experience safer
  • 78% of moms are influenced by their offline trust in brands in their online interactions.

The Mattel model is Educate, Empower and Engage. E3.

Educate: Making parents comfortable and being transparent in the interactions. Allowing parents to understand how to monitor what their kids are doing. Making sure it's easy to understand. Also educating the kids so that they understand the safety features.

Empower: Allowing parents to monitor and update their daughter's settings. The experience is very empowering for the girls as well. Users have full control over who they make friends with and can be seen by. Blocking and reporting features are built in.

Engage: Taking steps to build a tool where the kid and parents can set their own rules and agreements. This encourages an up front conversation about the rules and expectations. Time spent, safety settings, etc. are agreed upon together.

The future of Barbie Girls. Moving to a subscription model with Barbie Girl VIPs. There will still be a free experience to allow any girl to connect. VIPs will be world celebrities. VIPs will have exclusive access to clothing, have virtual tiaras and access to VIP-only areas.

The world is seeing huge growth with between 20,000 and 30,000 new signups a day from around the world. That's amazing.

From the tradeshow floor:
Lots of interviews to come in the next week or so. The number, and breadth, of companies participating in the tradeshow is pretty impressive. Vendors surrounding all areas of the worlds from consulting companies to companies that build sims and avatars to the companies that run the world platforms to e-commerce companies and everything in between.

It's pretty interesting to see how down on SecondLife everyone is and how they really use the negativity surrounding that brand to compare/contrast their own offerings. I do have to say that I am amazed at how many different worlds there are out there with very specific demographic and geographic influence.

Pro-marketing. Second Life, for most intents and purposes is not a very friendly environment for marketers looking to enter the game. There are companies that you can work with to get you set up, but it's not right off the shelf. There.com runs the technology for MTV's virtual world offering and has a very pro-marketing approach to virtual worlds. They have set offerings that allow marketers to reach people through a variety of different tactics.

LindenLabs does have a new offering called SL Grid that lets you brand a private world and control what happens there. There.com has a similar model as does Multiverse. Look for interviews from these guys in a couple of days.

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Social objects as marketing

Gohome_vertical Shel Israel's new show on FastCompany.tv is now up and running. In one of his first interviews, Shel sits down with Gaping Void's Hugh MacLeod. In their discussion, Hugh talks about social objects, and their subset of social markers,  as the future of marketing in a social environment.

I tend to agree with Hugh and I love how this concept makes social media more attainable. You create something cool that benefits others and then let them know about it through social connections. If they accept your cool thing they will spread it around. If they don't like it the idea will die.

Per Hugh, a social object is:

the reason two people are talking to each other, as opposed to talking to somebody else. Human beings are social animals. We like to socialize. But if think about it, there needs to be a reason for it to happen in the first place. That reason, that "node" in the social network, is what we call the Social Object.

Similarly, the social marker is an object (person, place, thing) that allows two people to put a social object into context. If, for example, you are at a charity dinner and you start talking with somebody about venture capital, you both may drop some names to let the other person know you are in the same social sphere.

Here is Shel's video with Hugh.

This idea happens all of the time and is a great bit of ethnography by Hugh to bring it to light and give it such an approachable and simple name.

What social objects do you have in your life/business? Are you doing something cool enough to get people to talk about you? What social markers do you use to identify people with similar interests and ideals?

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The future of advertising presentation

Many thanks to the members of the Minnesota Interactive Marketing Association and to the students of the Minneapolis College of Art and Design for attending the presentation this past Monday. Also, a special thank you to Tim Brunelle for inviting me to speak and for being a great host while I was in town. Minneapolis has a very enthusiastic, warm group of people who were very gracious.

The title of the series of presentations is based around the idea of the future of advertising. I used my experience in digital marketing and PR to give a view of what I see as the future. I would love to hear what you think. The total run time is around 41 minutes. Just hit the play button and you can hear the original recording from the event. I hope you enjoy!

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Voiceless, spoken communication

Now this is pretty cool and I just have to share. I found the following video on Marc Andreesson's blog and it blew my mind (as it did his). These guys have developed a way to intercept and translate speech before it gets to your vocal chords so you don't need to say what you are thinking, you just have to think it. Check out the video below.

This is very cool technology and may well shape the way we engage with technology in the future. You could be sitting at your desk and just think things like "open Microsoft Word" and it would open. You could create thought to text software that would actually work because the words are pre-digitized. This could possibly enable speech impaired individuals to communicate "vocally".

What other implications will technology like this have on our day-to-day lives?

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The 4x4 meme

four.jpgNo, this post is not about monster trucks or going offroading. I was recently tagged to participate in the 4x4 meme by Valeria Maltoni and Troy Worman. The point of this meme is to give you a bit more insight into who I am and what makes me tick on a personal level. The meme has four questions that each require four answers, so here you go.

4 jobs I've had:

  • Worked in the cart barn and caddied at a local country club in Columbus, OH
  • Spent a summer packing boxes at the McGraw Hill textbook distribution center in Columbus, OH
  • Worked in a "pet hotel" for a very long, hot (smelly) summer in St. Louis
  • Did my college internship at Mattel Toys in NYC helping them launch their first website for their preschool toy brand, proposed to my wife in Central Park many years later

4 places I've been:

  • Buenos Aires Argentina - one of my favorite places on Earth, spent many weeks down there in my previous job starting an office there
  • Paris France - Although I spent just a brief six hours in Paris, it was pretty incredible
  • Suva Fiji - My wife and I spent our honeymoon in Fiji and truly enjoyed every minute of it
  • Louisville, Kentucky - I grew up in Louisville (pronounced Lou-a-vul if you are not from there) and spent 14 years before moving to Ohio

4 bands or artists I am listening to:

  • Tiesto - I am a huge electronic music fan and Tiesto is fantastic
  • Arctic Monkeys - great band with a solid new album
  • Mark Ronson - a new find, but a real talent
  • Radiohead - what can I say, they're amazing

4 of my favorite foods:

  • Sushi (especially spicy tuna)
  • Mexican (any type)
  • Indian (tikka masala rules)
  • Nachos (could have been put in the Mexican category, but I believe they deserve a light of their own)

I'd love to learn a little more about Sean, Katie, Ryan and Arun. Even if you haven't been tagged, feel free to share on your own blog if you have one or in the comments on this post.

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Your thoughts on election 2.0

InLogo.jpgThis coming Friday, I am speaking on a very cool panel through PRSA at Kent State University's "You Too social media boot camp and leadership summit". The title of the panel is "Packaging the Presidency online" and will be moderated by John Elsasser, Editor in Chief of PRSA Strategist. Other panel members include a former congressman and CEOs of various communications companies. You can read more about it here.

I want to pick your brain on this topic to add to my own thoughts. Here are some questions that you can answer in the comments or by shooting me an email. I'll recap your responses and what I learn at the panel in a post next week.

Discussion points:

  • How has social media been used during this election?
  • Who is using it the best?
  • Do you think they have a plan for what to do with these communities once the election is over?
  • What mediums have been most successful in reaching you?
  • Have you become involved in a campaign and used social media to take action?
  • What else would you like people to know?
  • If you live outside of the US, how has politics evolved in your country?

Let's use this to open the conversation and talk about the future of politics.

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Interview with Rev. Lennox Yearwood, CEO of the Hip Hop Caucus

Picture 8.pngReverend Lennox Yearwood is a very passionate, media savvy person and he took some time to chat with me at the WeMedia conference in Miami last week. His organization uses social media tools like Facebook and Youtube to get their message out to the community at large. Bloggers have played an important part in the mission of the Hip Hop Caucus and has pushed many of their issues from the local community to the global community.

Operatives in the field have help raise the profile of important issues to the level where national, mainstream media is forced to pick them up. The organization uses a broad assortment of tools including CD mix tapes, a blog, MySpace, Facebook and other outlets to get their message to the people who need to hear it.

"The revolution may not be televised, but it will be uploaded." ~ Rev. Lennox Yearwood

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You can see the passion that Reverend Yearwood has for his work and the major impact that social media tools have had on his organization. We often look at this industry as a marketing vehicle for products and services, but it also has huge potential to bring about social change. Now *that's* social media!

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Interview with the UN's Jean-Marc Coicaud

unu_logo.gifThe best part of the WeMedia conference in Miami this past week, like any conference, was the people that I was able to meet. One of the sharpest minds that I came across was Dr. Jean-Marc Coicaud, head of the United Nations University Office at the UN in New York (also a published author, former fellow at Havard University and cultural attache to the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs). Dr. Coicaud has a great grasp of the power of technology and how it impacts the mission of his organization. Although he admittedly has a way to grow, he knows that it is a powerful way to bridge time and distance.

He took a couple of minutes to spend time with me and here is the interview.

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The mission of the United Nations University is to contribute, through research and capacity building, to efforts to resolve the pressing global problems that are the concern of the United Nations, its peoples and member states. You can learn more about the United Nations University here.

More interviews from this conference are coming up including the Chief Scientist at Reuters and the founder of the Hip Hop Caucus.

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