Consulting

NASA called, but I don’t get to be an astronaut

Over the past several years, I have really come to enjoy working in education. I always jump at the chance to give talks about social networking or online media to young people, and I enjoy finding out about the ways they are ACTUALLY using the internet, rather than the ways we all assume they’re using it. One day, I would love to start or be involved in a think tank that analyzes the significance of all these tectonic shifts in our methods of communication over the past 5 years, as I think there is much more substance that just staying on top of the latest apps or platforms.

For the past couple of years, I have served as a Trustee of St. Mark’s School, where I graduated high school, which has opened up tons of opportunities to talk and listen to teenagers about a whole range of issues, and not just ones related to the Internet. There are few things I find more exhilarating than having my assumptions challenged and every visit back to school provides me with plenty to think about.

A new opportunity has come my way, thanks to my St. Mark’s involvement, which promises to shake up my thinking even more. I have just been nominated to the NASA Advisory Council’s Education and Public Outreach Committee. [Those of you who know me are probably saying, "Huh???"] The committee supports the advisory needs of the NASA administrator and includes all education and public outreach related NASA programs, projects, activities and facilities.

I’m grateful and excited about the potential, and I look forward to learning more and supporting NASA’s work in this area as, I must confess, I don’t know as much as I should. Stay tuned for more updates. Who knows, I may be coming to a school near you.

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Tablet Publishing: The Next Frontier in Social Sharing

Tablet Publishing: The Next Frontier in Social Sharing

Do you own an iPad? If you don’t, you probably know someone who does. How about a Kindle, or some other tablet? Well, according to Forrester Research, tablets are “rapidly becoming the primary device of choice for millions of people around the world.” By 2016, tablet sales are expected to hit 375 million units, meaning there would be over a quarter of a BILLION tablets in use worldwide. And one-third of those devices will be iPads.

I think this represents a gargantuan opportunity for both traditional content creators and businesses of all kinds. How?

The best way you can turn someone into a loyal, enthusiastic customer is by making sure they understand what you do and/or use your product correctly. I don’t care if that product is a power tool, an IKEA shelf or an annual trade show. I cannot think of a single type of business that would not benefit from publishing their story on a tablet.

If you’ve ever read anything on a tablet, especially an iPad, you know that the ability to embed slide shows, video, music, audio, diagrams, etc., makes the reading experience so much richer. And when that experience is richer and more immersive, not to mention SHAREABLE, it’s more likely to actually get read and, well, shared.

But do the costs of producing that content outweigh the potential return? I might think of it the other way around. Tablet readers tend to be more affluent but, more to the point, they are more predisposed to making purchases online. The opportunity to offset the costs is clearly there, but we have found that those costs can be very low to begin with. For example, do you already produce guides or manuals that never get read? How about your flat four-color marketing materials that might be improved with a little video? Can you envision these materials being published, and EASILY UPDATED, on a tablet?

A few targets that spring immediately to my mind, among countless others, include:

  • Interactive how-to guides or manuals (imagine putting up that shelf correctly the FIRST time)
  • Cookbooks with video tutorials
  • New product presentations
  • PR materials
  • Media rich brochures

The list is truly endless.
A couple of months back, I mentioned that we would be rolling out a new service that took advantage of both our video production experience and our social media savvy. I firmly believe that tablet publishing is the next frontier and unlike other forms of media creation, it doesn’t have to require enormous investments in time, infrastructure or expertise. We have already begun working with a few clients helping them turn their messages into tablet-ready, media-rich presentations that live in the iBook store. Some are giving the content away for free as a way to build awareness, and others are exploring the possibility of selling their stuff either in the iBook store or Kindle store. Either way, now is the time to think seriously about using the ubiquitous iPad, or other tablets, to connect with your audience and create new audiences. Please contact me for more information by leaving a comment, or send me an email by clicking the arrow beneath my picture at the top right of the page.

What possibilities do you see for yourself or your business?

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What is the Internet good for, anyway?

This blog post has been rolling around in my head for several weeks now, but it’s been difficult to write. I think some part of me felt that it didn’t “fit” in with the normal content of this blog, but the more I thought about it, the less true (and less important) that seemed.

Over the years, I have tried to use this blog as a place to analyze, decode and remark on online trends and trends in social media. While I don’t feel like I have reached the bottom of that well, I have felt a tug in another direction, one that is more personal and focuses on my own experiences in social media and traditional media games.

There have been times, particularly lately, when I feel a sense of hopelessness about my involvement in two ephemeral businesses: the internet and video production, the two pillars of my livelihood. Hopelessness because I have always had a deep desire to create things that last and my involvement in these two industries would, arguably,  belie that motivation. I sometimes think creating things that last might be tougher to do online than with media production,  but lately I’ve been thinking that perhaps I’ve been wrong.

It is impossible to stay abreast of all the tweets, status updates, blog posts, new apps and services and all the other “here today, gone two seconds from now” inventory which measure the quality of online life. But I think I, and many others, may have it backwards.  What if  the real peculiarity of the internet is  “here today, here tomorrow”?

I  have given more than one speech to both young people and savvy marketers about how there is no delete button on the internet. But it has always been in the context of “measure your words” or “don’t say anything online you wouldn’t say to someone’s face” or “don’t say anything you wouldn’t mind being printed on the front page of the New York Times.” Yet this kind of advice, while solid, gives too much power to negative outcomes and does nothing to honor and acknowledge the “other side” of the internet.

So, what about the flip side? What about using the permanence of the internet to create something that lasts? I feel like this, more positive, side of online is sometimes ignored.

All this navel gazing has given rise to some inspiration. I will soon be rolling out a new offering that will aim to help those wishing to contribute to building an online legacy. I haven’t quite worked out all the kinks, but I am confident that it will be simple to use and easy to understand and, with any luck, a useful tool to help those who wish to use the internet and video to erect a castle built on granite, not on sand.

Back when I played drums, my goal was never to be well known or be out in front of a band. I suppose I would have taken up singing or guitar or sax if that were the goal. No, I always strove to be the first drummer called by my peers. My idea of success was to be known within my industry as the “go-to” drummer. As I write these words, it seems like a very weird aspiration to want to get good referrals, but I guess I was a weird kid. The funny thing is, that never stopped being the goal.

I’m not sure this post readily lends itself to comments, but I would love to hear any you might have.

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Mobile LatAm Conference 2012

Just a quick blog post to let you know that I will be speaking at the first Mobile Opportunities in Latin America (Mobile LatAm) Conference and Expo at the Miami Beach Convention Center from February 1-3, 2012.

 

Since 1994, I have worked in the Latin American marketplace, first in the music business, then in cable TV and since 2003, in social media and online communications. Mobile is exploding worldwide, and Latin America is no exception. (For a more complete list of credits, feel free to click on the LinkedIn widget in the right hand sidebar.)

My session is Thursday, February 2 at 1pm and is entitled “Harnessing the Power of Mobile Social Media in Latin America” where I will be co-presenting with Javier Martin of Almira Labs.

Here is a link to the show. Hope you can make it.

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How Your Business Can Succeed in Latin America- 5 Quick Tips

For roughly the past 20 years, I have worked in the media business (first radio, then the music business, followed by TV and now online) and much of that time has been spent focused on the Latin American market. In that time, I have observed American companies make similar mistakes when attempting to reach this large, and growing, consumer base. Some of the errors I see are cultural ones, some are language-based but most seem to come from companies simply not doing their homework.

Consider this a cheat sheet on the five major pitfalls that I have seen hinder a successful business launch.

 

1. KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE

 

First, some background: According to comScore, the Internet population of Latin America grew 15% during 2010 to 112 million people. Venezuela and Colombia showed the highest growth, while Brazil led the region in having the most engaged users.

 

I want to stop here, at the risk of offending some readers, to point out error number one that I have seen: Brazilians speak Portuguese and the rest of Latin America speaks Spanish. As shocking as it may seem, I have worked with plenty of American executives who did not realize this and plowed ahead with their Spanish-language marketing plan for the entire territory. Brazil is home to nearly 200 million people, 40 million of whom are online, but they don’t speak Spanish. This fatal error falls into both the “cultural” and “language” categories I mentioned at the outset. In any setting, it is critical to know your audience. Part of knowing your audience means knowing what language they speak. (More on Brazil in a moment.)

 

2. “IF IT WORKED HERE, IT WILL WORK OVER THERE”

 

The second error I see time and again is when US or other English-language companies repurpose their content or service assuming that “if it worked here, it will work there.” You might be able to get away with that attitude in the music business since the fact remains that even in our multicultural global village, American and British music continues to dominate the worldwide music scene. Other forms of content and web-based services or apps do not necessarily translate as well and market research is a must. Latins know a lot about Americans, but the reverse is not true so we’re back to  ”know your audience” again. Latin American Internet users have been bitten just as hard by the social networking bug and twitter has some of its highest market penetration rates, with Chile and Argentina ranking 11th and 13th globally, so the engagement is there. Now it becomes a question of finding your market sweet spot.

 

3. DO YOUR HOMEWORK FIRST

 

The third most common error I see is naiveté or, dare I say, arrogance. This can sometime spell the demise of a great idea, product or service, too. Just because you may already have great name recognition and a good reputation, charging US prices for your app, conference, product or service might not be the best way to go. One must also take note of variances in population and numbers of people connected to the Internet from country to country, and adjust your expectations accordingly. Mexico is not the same size as Venezuela, for example, but Venezuela had a 27% growth rate in 2010, the highest in the region. Internet companies are taking hold in Latin America, from Google data centers to online pay systems. The economy is rebounding faster than the US, the middle class is booming and technology infrastructure is superior in some cases to that of the US. This is a pattern I see repeating from my days in the cable TV business. Many countries, like Argentina for example, never laid the cable TV infrastructure that we spent so much money on here. Instead, they jumped right to fiberoptic cable and were therefore able to offer sophisticated digital tiering before that was the norm here in the United States. Similar technology “leapfrogging” is taking place throughout the territory.

 

The torrid economic growth is Brazil is expected to level off at around 4-5% per year, which would even make China green with envy. The government is committed to upgrading its dilapidated infrastructure, and many analysts see big expansions of consumer markets as people join the middle class in increasing numbers.

 

4. FIND A LOCAL PARTNER

 

I might even go one step further and say, depending on your business and your goals, find several local partners. Mexico is not Colombia. Colombia is not Venezuela. Venezuela is not Argentina. And there is only one Brazil. Don’t paint all of Latin America with the same broad brush. Historical, cultural and, yes, even language differences among Spanish-speaking countries need to be deftly navigated and you need someone on the ground to help things go smoothly.

 

5. THE AMERICAN WAY OR THE HIGHWAY

 

Yes, the US has the world’s biggest economy and we know how to make money. But long term relationship building is critical when doing business in Latin America. It takes time to build trust and understanding so take the time to learn how and WHY business is done in country. If you come in with guns blazing with the attitude “we’re gonna show these guys how business gets done,” you’re going to run into some serious problems. Listening and learning will go a lot further than pushing your way of doing business. As my grandfather used to tell me, “No one ever learned anything while they were talking.” (I guess I would correct him and say, “Except maybe  a foreign language.” But you get the idea.)

 

To recap- do your homework before jumping in. Remember that in every way, Spanish speaking Latin America and Portuguese- speaking Brazil are NOT the same market. (Market, cultural and social conditions vary greatly within Spanish speaking countries, but I said this was a cheat sheet, not a 1000-page textbook.) Make sure your product and message translates, and I don’t just mean that in terms of language. And, remember, a little humility can mean the difference between success or failure. Working with someone who knows that lay of the land(s) can help maximize your investment.

The comments are yours.

 

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My Thoughts on Social Media ROI

My Thoughts on Social Media ROI

Lately I have been getting pulled into conversations with clients about how to measure their social media efforts. There are lots of differing opinions about WHAT to measure, what realistically CAN be measured and how to figure out whether the time and effort  of implementing a social media strategy is worth it.

As you might expect, I have some very clear ideas about all three topics.

The aim of this post is to try and shed a little light for other professionals confronting this issue as well as for clients considering extending their digital influence through social media. (I am going to assume, for the sake of this blog post, that everyone’s first step is to set some very clear goals and  understand what “success” will look like. A HUGE assumption, I know, but a necessary one in order to keep from bogging down this post.)

WHAT TO MEASURE- The obvious, but maybe not the most useful, metrics are Facebook fans, twitter followers, and blog/website traffic. “When we started, we had no Facebook presence and today we have 10,000 fans. So we’re doing great, right?” Maybe, maybe not. If those fans are not actually DOING something, who cares how many you have? So the question becomes, what was it that you wanted them to do in the first place? And what did YOU want to do when you got into this whole social media thing? Are you a restaurant trying to improve foot traffic on Monday and Tuesday nights? Are you a somewhat hard to understand service that requires the testimonials of customers in order to persuade their peers to give you a try? Are you trying to build awareness of who you are and what you do?

Whatever the answer is, I submit that the REAL value in these networks is not their size, but their quality. 500 motivated fans who can’t wait to hear about what you’re up to is much better than 5000 ones who joined your Facebook page and then never came back. This can be very hard to sell to the C-level, but the logic is unassailable. Magazine ads, radio spots, slick brochures, in-store appearances- none of them are held up to the same level of scrutiny nor do they always generate a lead or a sale in a straight line fashion. But which would you eliminate, if you had to? Is it as simple an answer as “the most expensive one?”

WHAT CAN BE MEASURED?- I revert back to the above answer in terms of hard numbers. But, of course, there are other things, too: newsletter sign ups, coupons downloaded and used, sentiment, e-mails forwarded, etc. But what are most people REALLY trying to figure out when they talk about measuring social media efforts? I think in the majority of cases it’s two things: 1) Am I selling more stuff and, 2) Have I increased mind share around my brand/product/company/service?

Both of these are valid questions, but it’s back to the influence thing. How can you determine at which point someone decided to pull the trigger and buy you? There is a big difference between causality and just a simple correlation. (I know nothing about math, but I know what I’m talking about here.) Yet people tend to look for causality because it’s easy: I did this over here which made that happen over there. Does that happen sometimes? Sure. But social media is not about causality in most cases. Like any other PR or Marketing effort, it is more about the steady drip-drip-drip of trying to earn mindshare and, hopefully, wallet share.

I don’t know about your life, but I know mine does not move in a straight line. And neither are decisions about whether to engage with your brand made in a straight line. Sales cycles can be long and influence comes from multiple, and often invisible, sources. As a customer, you might happen across something on the internet. A few days later, you hear a friend mention it. Maybe you see a blog post or tweet about it. Next thing you know, you find yourself on their Facebook page, which leads you to their website and BOOM!, you’re trying whatever that something was you first saw two weeks ago. The point for marketers and brands is, it can be a long and winding road involving multiple touch points. If you’re going to make social media a component of your brand’s identity, the only thing you CAN control is your authority. In other words, you need to be seen as solving problems honestly, repeatedly and well. So, did that sale come from social media? Hard to pinpoint the EXACT moment someone made up their mind,  but clearly it was one of many critical stops along they way to making a decision.

If someone tells me they can’t tell if their business is benefitting from social media, I think three things right off the bat:

1- They never set up a clear, measurable plan to get them from point A to point Z. If you don’t have a map, how will you know when you get there?

2- They’re too heavily focused on the numbers, i.e. Facebook fans, twitter followers, etc., instead of the opportunity those numbers represent, namely what can they DO for their fans and followers and what would they like for their fans to do for them? (Was JFK talking about social media at his inauguration?)

3- They did their homework and it became clear that the opinions and assumptions they had about their business were not shared by their customer base. In other words, the measurement data they got back made them take a hard look at themselves and they were not prepared to do that. Not a fun place to be.

A critical thing to remember in terms of social media activity is that MOST people do not actively participate on blogs, twitter or even on Facebook fan pages. Most internet users, and the percentages have been put as high as 80%, are “lurkers.” They read and  take in information from trusted sources, but they don’t feel comfortable or compelled to add their voice. But the messages are definitely getting through to them. So what’s your message? Are you constantly refining it? If you make people feel recognized, heard and understood,  you will have a connection for life. Social networking should just be an extension of what you’re already doing in real life.

Here’s an example: Well over a year ago, I had a nice salesman help me at a Banana Republic. I’ve been back to that same store a few times since then, but never saw that salesman again. Today, I stopped in there and there he was. The truth is, so much time had passed, I forgot about him. But he saw me, asked why I had stopped coming in (I hadn’t, we just kept missing each other) and if there was anything I needed. Just that simple act of recognizing me as a former customer and making me feel welcomed made me more inclined to buy something. But, how many times can he do that per day? Now think how many people you can connect with per day online, and the ROI calculation becomes easier.

So what’s the ROI of having a telephone number? What’s the ROI of a round of golf with a client? How about a dinner? Or the ROI of making someone feel heard?

Now multiply that by the Internet.

I want to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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