Social Media is everywhere. Have you noticed?

As I continue to do more and more speaking to business leaders and in academic circles about social networking, I always try and focus more on concrete examples of SocMed in action, rather than have abstract theoretical discussions. I learn better this way, and my hope is that it helps bring the message home a bit more effectively.

I took my son to the orthodontist the other day and had a great “social media in the wild” experience.

When we first walked into the office, I signed in on a computer terminal located two steps from the front door. No more waiting, trying to see through that sliding frosted glass window. (Why does EVERY doctor’s office have that???) Efficiency points- 10

There’s a sign on the desk (see picture below) offering e-mail or text reminders about your appointments. I got my first e-mail today and registered on their website. You can check your balance, pay your bill, see the pictures or x-rays they’ve taken, refer a friend and provide feedback, among other things. Convenience points- 10

Finally, the office is run with a Swiss-like efficiency that is largely absent from most medical offices. (Granted, it was our first visit, and there’s no guarantee that every visit will go this way, but they’ve certainly gone a long way towards building up a reservoir of good will.)

Parents have to shuttle our kids around to all sorts of commitments and appointments these days, so little conveniences like this go a long way. Staying present in the minds of your customers/clients can be a tricky balancing act, but ANYTHING that eliminates minor inconvenience and is not spammy is always going to be welcomed.

Social networking does not always have to fall into the Facebook/Twitter/blog bag. Connections and conversations are what it’s all about.


Now if only they offered free wi-fi…

Educating kids about social media

I recently returned from the Boston area where I gave a speech at St. Mark’s School, the boarding school I attended back before computers were as common as cell phones. The school’s administration had decided to stop trying to fight the losing battle of trying to keep the kids off of social networking sites via the school’s network and, instead, try and educate the kids on how to use these sites, and the internet in general, more responsibly.

My talk focused on a lot on what I discuss here on the blog, e.g. the intersection of online and offline behavior, and I also tried to get them to take the long view of the internet as a way to build their own reputations. (Not sure how successful I was on that score.)

All of us, both young and old, are figuring out the ramifications of all this social media stuff as we go along. There is no road map towards the future and there is no history to guide us. I think we all owe our young people our full attention to these important issues, and we must do away with the attitude that social networking is “stupid” or “just for kids” or a “waste of time” or any other of the dismissive characterizations that I sometimes hear. One cannot educate from a position of fear and even just a few minutes spent on Flickr, Facebook, Ning or Twitter  will go a long way to opening up one’s eyes to the possibilities and opportunities that social networking can offer. (OK, maybe not Twitter! It really IS hard to explain unless you’ve tried it.)

It’s not necessary to spend hours and hours a day updating your status and checking on your friends. But we do owe it to our kids to at least educate OURSELVES as to what all this stuff is about if we want to raise digitally savvy kids who are ready to thrive and compete in the years to come. Technology marches on with or without you: none of us watch black and white TVs or dial rotary phones anymore. As kids, maybe we drove our parents nuts blabbing to our friends on the phone all day and night. Now kids text and use Facebook and other digital ways to communicate with each other. Our job is not to learn how to eavesdrop. It’s to understand how to use today’s version of the telephone.

I am looking forward to getting out to more schools and talking to more kids, parents, teachers and administrators. And a special thanks to my new St. Mark’s Twitter followers. They help me stay connected and informed, and I hope I can do the same.

Have you had trouble seeing eye to eye with your kids about social networking? Do you think your kid’s school does enough to prepare them for a life lived online?

Small businesses not using the full potential of the internet

I am always amused, and sometimes horrified, by cognitive dissonance. It’s the tension generated by holding two contradictory thoughts in your head simultaneously. The most recent online case I found has to do with small business owners’ use of the internet to market their own businesses.

According to recent research from Webvisible and Nielsen, while 63% of small business owners turn to search engines first when looking for information about local businesses, only 44% of these same owners have their own websites and half of them spend less than 10% of their budgets marketing online.

When I speak to business groups or other organizations, I often talk about how online and offline behavior really should not be all that different. This, however, is the rare case where we’re talking about online behavior and online behavior! What the study is showing is that most business owners use they web when THEY’RE looking for something, but they don’t think anyone else would bother with that internet thingy to seek them out. I realize the idea of putting up and/or maintaining a website or blog can seem daunting, but the cost of inaction and inertia is pretty darn high. As in, going-out-of-business high.

Tropicana and the power of listening

PepsiCo has been quite busy lately redesigning their logos, both for Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Sierra Mist, as well as Tropicana.
I don’t know if any of you have been following the story about how Tropicana orange juice redesigned all their packaging, and then retreated back to the successful and iconic “orange with a straw stuck in it” after a negative hue and cry from upset brand enthusiasts (otherwise known as consumers).

You can read the story here, but here is why it really resonated with me.

In the first place, I am one of those weirdos fascinated by packaging, the use and effect of color on our moods and decisions, as well as the science behind the engineering of consent. Secondly, it shows the power of consumers and their ability to (sometimes) effect change when they organize themselves both on and offline. Lastly, it has a happy ending  because the big company LISTENED and responded.

Now, I realize we’re just talking about orange juice here, but bear with me. I’m sure Tropicana spent a lot of money and time focus group-ing the logo changes and they got what they believed was actionable intelligence, as it were. But they may have underestimated that people can sometimes get really attached to a brand, sometimes in subconscious ways or ways that might not be revealed in a focus group setting. I know that I noticed the new Tropicana cartons in my supermarket and thought, “Hmmm, I wonder why they changed that? I loved the little orange with the straw.” At no time did I consider changing brands, but it did make me curious as to why, as George Carlin once observed, “They always change the stuff we like.” The other thing I noticed on the billboards around town was the heavy use of images of dads with small children. This piece of the campaign, evidently, will NOT be changing. “Hey,” I thought to myself,  “I’m a dad with small children and I like orange juice. Thumbs up!There don’t seem to be too many consumer products other than cologne, light beer or deli meats (three things I am not interested in) that overtly target us guys, so it definitely caught my attention.

In these turbulent economic times and diminishing brand loyalty, I think it says a lot about Pepsi/Tropicana that they honored the feedback. Much like the post I made recently about Intuit, it cannot hurt to listen and respond. The victory will be long.

UPDATE: This post caught the interest of the folks at, the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. Who knew people could get so exorcised over OJ? Here’s the link.

BarCamp Miami 2009

BarCamp Miami, along with WordCamp and NewsInnovation, will be happening this Sunday, February 22 at Anokha in Coconut Grove. BarCamps are an international network of user generated conferences and workshop events whose content is provided by the participants. In other words, you go and if you want to present, you just get up and present. If you want to listen and network, you can do that, too.

WordCamp focuses on everything related to WordPress and NewsInnovation is all about creating better ways to deliver news.

I’m especially excited this year for two reasons: 1) the number of attendees this year is approaching, at last count, 500. I have watched the South Florida tech community grow and strengthen exponentially in the last couple of years and it’s very encouraging to see and, 2) I am very proud that my company is among the sponsors for this year’s BarCamp.

You can find more information by following the links above. Hope to see you there this Sunday.

Is offline and online behavior really that different?

I am very excited about two different speaking engagements I have coming up: one in Miami to a group of bank compliance officers sponsored by World Compliance, Inc. on Wednesday, February 18 and another at St. Mark’s School in Southborough, MA on March 2. During both talks, I will try and shed some light on what all this social media stuff means but, clearly, they are geared to two very different audiences. One is a group of compliance officers from banks all over the world and the other is group of high school students at a Boston-area prep school who are getting ready to head to college and into the real world. (Full disclosure- I graduated from St. Mark’s in the 80s.)

It got me thinking, though, that in some ways the message will be exactly the same: online behavior. While many people attempt to segregate their online personas from their offline ones, it’s a losing battle. Life is life and everything is interconnected. This is even more true on the web, isn’t it? You are in control of how your appear online, but only to a certain degree. For example, you might not want to post pictures of your kids online. But you cannot really stop another parent from posting pictures from last weekend’s birthday party on their Facebook page, and tagging your kids. I’m not one of those who sees evil lurking around every corner. On the contrary- I have made many powerful connections and learned of many opportunities because of my presence online. But I would like to offer up a couple of suggestions to avoiding problems down the road because, as has been noted elsewhere, there is no “delete” button on the internet.

  1. Be nice. Words have power, so choose them carefully. The written word can be more easily misunderstood than the spoken one. Sarcasm and irony don’t often translate well. Especially in the truncated and often context-free world of Facebook updates and Twitter “tweets.”
  2. You never know where something you say might turn up. Gossip can spread fast through your offline social circle, but it can spread in the blink of an eye online. And maybe even to people you barely know. Always put your best foot forward- just like your mother tried to teach you. (Wearing clean underwear is less important online. To my knowledge, no one has ever been hit by a bus while blogging but, hey, it COULD happen, I guess.)
  3. You don’t know who might be following you via Twitter, your blog or other outward facing communications tool you might be employing. I choose to see this as a good thing, as I said, since I know I have received lots of great opportunities and made good connnections. But here’s an example of things going wrong. James Andrews, an executive at Ketchum New York posted the following tweet on his way to a client meeting with FedEx: “True confession but I’m in one of those towns where I scratch my head and say ‘I would die if I had to live here'” Read what happened next.

The point I HOPE I’m making is that there is very little difference between the things you do and say offline versus online, so the same rules of the road ought to apply. The Washington, D.C. advice about “never put something in an e-mail that you would not want to see on the front page of the Post” is still true as we move beyond e-mail. Save yourself the embarrassment- speak the way you would like to be spoken to.

Have you ever had anything misinterpreted on the web? Have you ever said or posted something you wish you could take back? I hope this doesn’t come off as too negative or scary. It’s just something I’ve noticed a lot lately and I wanted to address it. Let me know what you think in the comments section.

Is Hulu changing our online video habits?

Not sure how much higher the numbers can go, but the latest online video figures for December 2008 are out from comScore and they just keep on growing.

US internet users viewed a record 14.3 billion videos in December, up 13% over the previous month. Google sites, which include YouTube, accounted for 2 of every 3 users who watched video.

What is interesting to me is that Hulu made some big gains, meaning that the AMOUNT of time people spend watching video is also increasing. The average duration of online videos watched was just over 3 minutes, but that number jumps to over 10 minutes on Hulu. Not sure if Alec Baldwin’s Super Bowl commercial for Hulu will bump those numbers up any further- something worth watching (pardon the pun).

How and how much online video do you watch? Do you seek it out on your own, or do you rely on forwards? And what did you think of the Alec Baldwin ad? I thought Hulu missed a big opportunity by almost insulting us. Do you agree?

The message is the message

For companies and organizations considering adopting new media or social media strategies, there is one piece of advice I would offer above all else: have something to say!

With all the talk in the media, and on this blog, about the Administration’s use of new media to both get elected and communicate with the public now that they’re in office, very often the news peg seems to be how well Obama team used social media and new media  to communicate their message to a large and previously underserved group. This morning on NPR, I heard a story that several GOP congresspeople were now using Twitter to talk to their constituents because, as the correspondent put it, they had “got beat [sic]” at the new media game.

What gets left out of this discussion is that perhaps the Obama MESSAGE was what resonated with people, and the whole social media thing was just a hook to communicate it better and mobilize people to act. Blogs, Twitter, YouTube, message boards- they’re all great. But they ain’t worth a damn if you don’t have anything of value or interest to communicate.

This is not a repudiation of the GOP platform. The point I am trying to make is you have to avoid the temptation to pick up every shiny new object and, instead, focus more on what it is you’re trying to communicate. There is no “delete” button on the internet, so you better make sure you are giving the folks “news they can use.” Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and all the TOOLS might all be gone in 5 years, replaced by something we cannot identify today. But the strategies and methods are here to stay.

Not sure if there are any Jim Rome fans who read this blog, but he is a TV and radio host who always warns his callers to “have a take- don’t suck!”

The medium is not the message. The message is the message.

Trouble figuring out your social media strategy?

So you’ve been hearing how social media can help with your overall communications and marketing plan and you want to get started. Maybe you’ve even got the boss to buy in and you’re beginning to see the opportunity to move the plan forward.

But it can be confusing knowing how to get started. You may even have technology issues. Or internal disagreements on messaging or who is going to manage the community. You think you got it bad?

At least you’re not the President of the United States!

The nimble and effective online netroots campaign that helped launch the Obama-Biden ticket into the White House is still feeling its way during the first days of the Administration. But the point of this post is not to point out the problems that they may be encountering as they try and turn what was a powerful campaign movement into an equally effective governing movement. But, rather, to illustrate that while the Obama team is operating on a scale larger than what you’re probably facing, the lessons are instructive to the rest of us, whether we run small, medium or large organizations or businesses.

Organizing for America is the Adminsitration’s attempt to redirect all that Facebook-Twitter-YouTube iTunes mojo into an opinion shaping entity. (No website yet for Organizing for America. I TOLD you this stuff can be hard!)

Just like in the “real world,” figuring out an effective social media strategy inevitably implies what some like to call “failing fast.” Not everything you will try will work right away, or work at all. But flexibility is critical. David Plouffe, Obama’s campaign manager said in an e-mail to around 13 million members of  “Obama for America” (notice how “Organizing for America” and “Obama for America” yield the same acronym? Clever, huh?) “This has obviously never been undertaken before, so it’s going to be a little trial and error.”

The weekly radio address is now also a weekly video address, and has been since Election Day. The YouTube channel, as of this writing, reports over 800,000 views in two days, with almost as many flame throwing and offensive comments. (The videos are also on iTunes, and probably lots of other places, too) Still, I wonder how many of you, even the most hardened politcal junkies, ever actually heard the weekly Presidential radio address since they began with FDR as “Fireside Chats?” (As a video guy, I have to mention the the quality of the videos have improved signifcantly from the President-Elect versions to now. Amazing what a couple of lights, a decent background and an HD camera can do for your image.)

The principal takeaways are these:

1- Starting, or in this case maintaining, an effective social media strategy is hard work and requires committment, dedication, attention to detail and continuity.

2- Be ready to shift on the fly if the law of unintended consequences kicks in. Just because something is not going how you planned, does not NECESSARILY mean it’s going badly. Your “perfect” strategy may be revealed as “imperfect” the second you launch it. Study the lessons and adjust.

Pay attention to the difficulties someone else is having, and use them to your advantage. But do SOMETHING. The success of your business may be at stake.

Marketing in 2009

In our ongoing effort to share resources that focus directly on social media, we wanted to direct your attention to this free eBook offered on the terrific Conversation Agent blog by Valeria Maltoni.

Twelve social media professionals talk about what they see as the key imperatives and trends for 2009, and it’s well worth downloading and referring back to all year long.

It’s free, yet it offers invaluable insight and advice.

What are you waiting for?

Did I mention it was free?