I recently had an opportunity to review an early copy of Forrester’s much-needed update to Groundswell, entitled Empowered. The team authoring the book has changed (half of it, anyway) but the focus on enterprise-wide analysis of social media efforts remains intact, strengthened by new data and new case studies. Empowered should certainly be on everyone’s reading list (and I’d advocate that you buy the print version versus Kindle so you can tab and organize yourself better). What’s most interesting for me in Empowered is the emphasis it places on the most important resource an enterprise has in social media – those of a human nature. Bernoff and Schadler refer to them as HEROes (that’s “highly empowered and resourceful operatives,” and it’s a bit obtuse). I’ve worked with many employees who are driving change within their organizations and I doubt they’d consider themselves operatives.
Semantics aside, the other common thread that holds this book together is the concept of pacing innovation and being deliberate about the deployment. This is an argument I’ve made before and I know many in the industry share it – innovation is a daily activity, not an event. The employees driving that change – HEROes, in Forrester-speak – are the ones who shoulder the early burden of innovation many times at some risk to their careers. Ultimately they are the ones who establish a foundation of innovation that others within the organization build upon to create the kinds of case studies that we study years (or months) later.
I witnessed a brilliant illustration of this principle at Google with the deployment of GoogleGuy (aka, Matt Cutts). GoogleGuy began with a simple question – why is Google not engaging with its webmaster stakeholders in any meaningful way? At the time (this was early in the decade), the Google search algorithms (PageRank) and process for indexing the content of the Internet (“the crawl”) were areas of deep frustration among the webmaster community. The challenge of course was to maintain the integrity of these systems while engaging the webmaster community in open dialogue about best practices, and to encourage positive behaviors. Armed with that knowledge, engineer Matt Cutts began to anonymously engage in webmaster forums under the GoogleGuy screen name and became an instant hit. Today that single person is of course a team of people and represents an important group of stakeholders.
So innovation truly must be a daily activity. Had Google Guy been proposed as a “Big Idea” concept it would have never happened, and that’s partially because little ideas are easier to stomach than big ideas. Bernoff and Schadler make this point in their second chapter, “HERO projects vary widely in size, scope, and benefits to the company. But all these projects generate resistance.”
Read this book and ask yourself this – answer it honestly – are you doing enough to drive innovation in your marketing mix on a daily basis, or are you too focused on the big ideas? I rarely use sports analogies but here’s one way to look at it: consider the individuals who make up the Baseball Hall of Fame membership – they are rewarded for season after season of hard work, not a single game’s performance. What’s your approach?
What exactly is it about social mediums that make them so powerful for stakeholder engagement?
Is it that they humanize a brand? Yes, they can.
Is it their speed? This certainly impacts content consumption.
Is it that they give everyone an equal share in the opportunity for discourse? Certainly a factor.
But I firmly believe that the real power of a social medium for many organizations – particularly non-profits and those serving a social need – lies in its potential for something much more profound to an organization: storytelling of a visual nature. Humans are naturally drawn to good stories. We’re captivated by the stories of hardship shared by grandparents, the stories of our youth shared by our parents, and the stories of people we’ve just met which help us come to know and appreciate one another. Stories shape our social interactions and as much as technology has empowered us to increase our connections, it’s the stories that we share that give the medium a sustained presence in our life. They provide us with unforgettable moments.
Last week I had the fortune to attend (and speak at) BlogPaws in Denver. This event is a fascinating coming-together of individuals passionate about animals. Some attendees were vets, interested in how to use social media to grow their practice. Others were deeply involved in animal welfare (either by passion or profession, or both), seeking to network with similarly like-minded people. Others were bloggers with a specific content expertise (sporting dogs, for example) or just getting started and trying to figure out what their unique voice should be.
We all had the fortune to attend a keynote delivered by Pat Callahan of Canine Companions for Independence. Even if you’re not familiar with this organization you’ve probably been touched by their work by seeing a humble dog leading its person through a crowded shopping mall or patiently awaiting their turn for the elevator. The content of Pat’s keynote (see embedded video) could make anyone weep, but it was her storytelling ability and the heavy emphasis on photography that really brought the Canine Companions story to life for the audience. Her keynote alone featured more than 60 stunning images of assistance dogs (and puppies) and their human interactions. Dogs may be unable to speak, but they have an uncanny photogenic quality.
Pat also spoke about Canine Companion’s growing emphasis on social media, and she clearly recognizes the greatest asset in their arsenal are visual in nature and not written. They’re early but eagerly into the social transformation of their organization (they launched a blog at the event) but are headed in an exciting direction. For many non-profits and organizations involved in social efforts, the visual aspects of the story are the best way to bring their impact to life. But it can be valuable for many brands, too. After all, what better way to open your brand up than to embrace it through visual storytelling? That’s working for Domino’s Pizza, and it’s become a differentiator for them.
It’s worth asking yourself – “is my organization doing enough to harness our visual story in social media?” If the answer is not clear, then you’re probably not doing enough. Pose this question – “how can our organization be more visual?” – to your agencies or at your next staff meeting and you might be surprised by the answers.
Here is a short video from BlogPaws and Pat Callahan at Canine Companions. Follow their story as it develops.
Mashable continued its “future of social media” series last week with a story about ad agencies and technology, proselytizing bold advances in location-based marketing and group buying. The most interesting of the trends highlighted in the piece, though, is this: software is the new medium.
Software – and, by extension, the underlying technology from which it is derived – will be the single key contributor to a brand’s success from this point forward. The role of a brand manager is rapidly evolving along with all of the agencies that serve it into a blend of IT manager, brand marketer, consumer relations expert and PR person. There are so many ways that technology can boldly empower an organization to become an exciting, customer-driven entity. Agencies, too, are morphing into fascinating shops where hack-a-thons, aggressive experimentation, applet development and software engineers join brand experts to bring true innovation to their client work.
I have picked up some tips in my career that are useful for navigating these new territories, experience applicable to both agencies and brands. In no particular order, summarized in a concise 3-tip package:
1. Know thy limits
As cliche as it sounds, the ideas and engagements enabled by technology truly are essentially limitless and know no bounds. However, the ability for a brand and/or its agencies to execute them generally is not limitless, and is bounded by a variety of externalities. FTC disclosures, privacy policies, time, budget, the economy – all of these can have a direct impact on the ability to push an idea from inception to execution. I’ve seen so many outstanding ideas die simply because they were not grounded in reality.
Agencies can be particularly guilty of this tendency. For example, in the rush to pitch new business and wow a new client, an agency team will devise a devilishly-smart campaign comprised of some pretty advanced technology that does not exist in the marketplace. The new client, impressed by the agency’s creativity and bold thinking, signs on for the work only to find out that the team who pitched it didn’t do a reality-check. Either their capabilities to build it were overstated, or in truth it’s far too advanced for time or budget to allow and would require an army of developers. The idea then gets stripped down to a simpler core that the client feels less inspired by but is obligated to fulfill. Now, you might be saying to yourselves – “technology doesn’t evolve without ideas that push the envelope of absurdity and cause disruption,” and I could not agree more. What you need to be asking yourselves is this – “is my organization (or my client) that bold pioneer?” And particularly for agencies, know precisely how you will scope out and execute an idea before risking your client falling in love with it.
2. Know thy consumer
Technology does not abate the need for all those smart segmentation insights you’ve amassed over the years. An Apple consumer will have very different technology needs and interests from a Clorox consumer although their motivations may be similar. Innovation only works when it’s executed in direct alignment to your consumer and sometimes you have to be willing to just ask them what they’d like.
For example, if you’ve started to think about the role of mobile in your brand’s story arc you need to understand the platforms that are of interest to your consumer. Are they iPhone users who are heavy gamers and would salivate over a sexy game that you give them for free? Or, are they household organizers who relish saving time in their chores, and would respond to a simple SMS-based daily tips program? Brands left and right are launching iPhone apps, when in truth they might be faced with a consumer who skews more to being an iPod Touch and flip phone user. The success of the technology you deploy will be dependent on these insights so be aggressive about discovering them.
3. Be nimble, not obsessive
The thing that excites a lot of people about technology is the pace of its evolution. In the computer chip industry there is a law – called Moore’s Law – that defines the capacity of the processors that make up computing devices. Essentially, the capacity of these chips doubles every two years meaning that their associated functions – such as processing power, memory and speed – double with that capacity. That means the chips you are developing software for today will be replaced in 24 months with something twice as fast. It also means that whatever cool tool you’ve developed today will have an exceptionally limited shelf life, probably much less than 24 months. How can you use this insight to your advantage?
Think in terms of outcomes. There will always be something faster and newer and there will be new devices that require altogether new formats. You can leverage this to your advantage by creating a brand organization that values this innovation versus seeing it as an obstacle, and creating an agency network that isn’t steeped in just one technology. What you want to be looking to achieve is the creation of an innovation ecosystem in which amazing ideas develop and marching orders are written to go find ways to get them done. What you want to avoid is getting too invested in any one platform that will force your hand in future decisions, and prevent you from porting over all of the innovations you have amassed.
These are three pretty simple insights but they’re areas where I consistently see brands and agencies going down the wrong path. Time will sort out a lot of this noise but by consistently asking these questions you will keep your brand (or client) centered and steady.
So much has been said and written about mobile lately that it almost seems passé to even suggest that it’s news. After all, nearly 2 billion people globally access the Internet via their mobile device. Morgan Stanley predicted in a recent study that mobile usage of the Internet will surpass desktop within 5 years.
And yet, a new study from Pew this week might suggest there are nuggets of news to be discovered here. Over the past 9 months, usage of SMS has increased among adults about 10 percent, suggesting that parents are catching up with their teenage children (who still reign supreme in speed texting, no doubt). The Pew study also confirms past data that Hispanic and African-American adults are more likely than caucasians to own a mobile device and use it for texting.
That’s the topic for this Friday Fodder: What does this mean for your organization? Are you ready for the reality of mobile? Is your organization even thinking about mobile as part of the marketing mix?