Marketing Musings, Social Media
Every year much of the pre-Super Bowl buzz is about the ads, and this year is no different. Some weeks ago, Pepsi made a splash (at least on the marketing blogs) by announcing they’d be forgoing the big ad spots to invest $20 million in social media campaigns. Pepsi’s caused a stir just by making the announcement—which won’t be true for the second, third, and forth companies to forswear the Super Bowl. It’s entirely possible that this move is just as much a PR gesture as a genuine bet on social media.
It will be interesting to watch how Pepsi uses that $20 million, and whether it works for them. So far, they’re using it to launch the Refresh Project, which will crowdsource the question of where Pepsi should donate the cash. Of course, corporate philanthropy is worth cheering for, but it’ll also be interesting to see if it works to strengthen Pepsi’s brand—and sales.
This week Intel announced they’d be taking a different tack by sponsoring the CBS post-game show and debuting two new commercials during the game. This set of choices, at first glance, seems almost backwards—with consumer giant Pepsi moving away from broadcast advertising and technology supplier Intel looking to reach a broader general audience.
But Intel knows social media. Their social computing guidelines are often cited as an example of best-practices policy, and they have an active family of blogs and twitter presences that are generally well-regarded. Because Intel knows social media, Intel’s marketers know that one of the most successful uses of video-sharing tools like YouTube is to serve as another channel for distributing popular TV ads (especially if they’re funny, which Intel hopes they will be). Their Super Bowl presence may be a counter-intuitive social media move, if they’re hoping it will spur online discussion, sharing, and viewership.
Which move do you think will work better? Can social media and traditional advertising work together?
Customer Engagement, Marketing Musings
Unless you’ve been under a rock all day (or all your electronic devices had dead batteries), you probably heard about Steve Jobs’s announcement of the much-anticipated Apple tablet PC, the iPad. Silly name aside, everyone is rushing to predict what features of the tablet might impact the market—will it be the newspaper apps? The iBook program? The pricing model?
Despite the hype, I see the iPad accelerating a trend toward devices that support smaller software built by smaller developers. The “app” model, which depends on micropayments and mass accessibility, allows far more people (with or without technical backgrounds) become developers and sell their work. This trend and the increase in independent small-scale developers will affect the product development lifecycle and the way we think about customer engagement. Like what?
- Product development has already become more agile, with tighter feedback loops and more iteration, but the proliferation of app-heavy devices will mean another gold rush for developers and non-developers alike. As apps develop faster, consumers will learn to expect rapid updates and responsive improvements. To keep up, developers of every size will need to learn to harness customer feedback in all its forms—testing, online, twitter comments, blogs, and direct phone contact.
- Customer engagement has often operated under the assumption that customers are different and separate from developers. As more customers take part in the development process and more developers become influencers, the line between them blurs. Companies will need to pay attention to developers’ concerns (like those about the App Store approval process) in order to maintain a positive customer experience.
What’s it all come down to? A shorter product lifecycle and a mixed customer/developer base will require an integrated, intelligence-driven approach to be competitive.
What do you think? What are the best tools for keeping track of customer feedback over shorter cycles? How can customer engagement lend itself to developer engagement?
Customer Engagement, Marketing Musings
Yesterday Fortune Magazine announced their annual 100 Best Companies to Work For, with North Carolina business intelligence pioneer SAS at the top of the list.
In response, Jim Davis, SAS’s CMO and Senior VP, published a blog post titled “Fortune says SAS is the best company to work for in America. So what?”. He’s not dismissive—he’s interested in exploring why it does matter:
Satisfied employees stay longer, get better at their jobs, learn more about SAS products and the ways people use them, develop stronger relationships with our customers, and are ultimately better able to do the work that provides real value for our customers.
He cites SAS’s growth and the cost-effectiveness of its great benefits, concluding succinctly that “the award is positive recognition not only of how much we value our employees, but of how much we value our customers.”
One theme that emerged for me as I read about each of these companies: for many, what made them “best companies to work for” was how they kept employees informed through hard economic times. Many avoided layoffs or reduced their impact by taking executive pay cuts, but the real key to keeping employees feeling engaged and happy was communication (for instance, Fortune points out that after layoffs at NetApp, “top execs visited 26 offices in 13 countries to brief employees on the changes.”). Despite a wide range of industries, sizes, and corporate cultures, many of these companies sustained employee engagement simply by letting them know what’s going on, which in turn made them feel valued.
All of this hit home, since we had a company-wide update at Projectline just yesterday. With all three founders in the room, we talked about how the 2009 went, what our goals for 2010 are, and how we can all pitch in. It’s obvious that Projectline agrees heartily with SAS’s Jim Davis—engaged employees lead to happy customers.
Customer Communities, Marketing Musings
Customer communities and health care are a natural fit—we need connections most when we’re dealing with complicated, scary things. Whether for care providers or for patients, online resources can provide support, perspective, and knowledge to help manage treatment.
A new health community is launching today that aims to do exactly that: Navigating Cancer, a Seattle-based company, will offer information, tools, and connections to support users’ journeys through diagnosis and treatment. We got a chance to sit down with (or at least email with) Marika Burkhart, Navigating Cancer’s Community Manager.
What skills have you found are most important as a community manager?
Good communication skills, empathy; being flexible but consistent. An online community finds its own voice – as a community manager, it’s my job to witness, facilitate, and support that voice.
What has been the biggest challenge so far in launching a new community at Navigating Cancer?
Keeping people happy from beta to launch is no small task; they have to stick with you through bugs, error pages, and website changes. Luckily, we have a loyal community – along with an amazing group of engineers who make technical miracles happen every day.
Starting a new online community from scratch is obviously difficult; what have you found to be most effective in bringing people into the community as participants?
Highlighting the practicality (and differences) of our website has been key. We offer more than just online emotional support – patients can create and manage a secure patient health record, keep a daily record of their well being and side effects, and create summary reports that can be shared with their healthcare team. The community has responded positively to these features and have spread the word of their own volition. That’s an ideal way to build a community: through positive feedback and word-of-mouth recommendations.
How is the Navigating Cancer community moderated or guided? How do you maintain a balance between positivity and open speech, or does the community regulate itself?
The community connects with each other through Groups, Discussions, and Shared Experiences. Our community managers are there to answer questions, introduce topics, join discussions, and provide site support to our patients and their supporters. As more people join, we’ll have a better idea of how to regulate as the site is shaped by participants. As always, staying open to feedback and being willing to implement changes will be instrumental in the growth of our community.
What are you most excited about and most worried about as you see it launch?
I’m excited about: seeing the community unfold and surprises along the way. I’m worried about: surprises along the way!
Marika is a veteran blogger with experience in the client service industry, community development, and social media.
Business Intelligence, Marketing Musings
Earlier this week, Google rocked the search world by announcing their intention to cease search-result censorship and consider shutting down google.cn entirely. The apparent reason? Google’s Chinese infrastructure was victim of an attack targeting human rights activists, which Google has implied was the work of the Chinese government.
Yes, I admire Google for taking a stand (Robert Scoble has called it “corporate bravery”), even if it’s for business reasons as well as ethical ones. But the news got me thinking…what would it mean for us if, for some reason, Google suddenly disappeared from our daily lives?
I asked around the office, and here’s what we came up with:
- We’d have to identify, evaluate, and trust other search providers – We’re so used to Google that it is, for many people, the mental default (as well as the Quick Search Bar default). Bing has made a play to change this by being the default search provider on more new PCs, but—for the first time—we’d need to think about our search tools.
- It might force us to use some of the amazing niche search tools that already exist – between Wolfram Alpha, Cooliris, Gist, Bing Maps, and others, there are a lot of tools that are better than Google at some things. In the process of re-learning where to search, we might adopt new expectations for what we find. My guess is we’d see more results from social media and richer multimedia content.
- A powerful portal for the democratization of information would disappear – Google makes a lot of free, user friendly tools that enable the democratization of knowledge, from a free law library replacing expensive services such as Lexus-Nexus to Google Analytics’ do-it-yourself business intelligence tools.
- Things might cost more – My phone uses Google for maps, mail, and calendar. Through Google, my Apple phone syncs with my Microsoft computers and vice versa. Without the free layers of connectivity from Google, I’d have to purchase connectivity through another cloud-based tool (or live without the luxury of syncing devices). Without the expectation that things should be free through advertising, we’d need to figure out just what we’re willing to pay for, and how much.
Of course, Google isn’t going anywhere—if anything, this move will help users outside China build (or regain) some trust in Google’s security. It certainly will shake up the search business in China, though, and that will be fascinating to watch.
What do you think this will mean for search? For international business strategy? Has the announcement affected your trust in Google?
This post was co-written by Greg Kriegler and Corey Mahoney, because conversations are more fun than monologues.
Customer Engagement, Marketing Musings
With the last few years’ escalation of conversation about customer engagement, it’s more than a little odd to note that some of the biggest marketing stories in the first week of this new year (and decade!) are actually about very traditional one-way marketing—or even customer dis-engagement. Case in point:
- Last week dating site beautifulpeople.com made a PR splash by culling its ranks of singles who’d gained a little holiday weight. Seems like the exact opposite of customer engagement, right?
- Polaroid named Lady Gaga as its new creative director: a perfect example of celebrity-centric splash-making.
- Today, as CES hit its stride in day two, more and more of its live tweet-stream is mentioning iPhone trouble. With thousands of gadget fans, marketers, and tech bloggers in one place, the overload on AT&T’s network means they can’t engage the way they want to engage—online.
- All the tech chatter is about tablets-to-be. They aren’t in consumers’ hands yet, so for now the chatter is confined to generalized hype and tech bloggers’ speculation.
What does this mean for those of use trying to engage customers in the longer term—those of us who care more about gathering customers’ reactions and responses throughout the product lifecycle than about an isolated PR splash?
Well, it seems like a great reminder that in getting customers’ attention, fun, surprising, and entertaining stunts still matter as much as ever. Creative diversions (like Lady Gaga), surprising moves (or even obnoxious ones, like beautifulpeople.com’s rejection spree), and big events (#CES) can kick-start the conversation. The trick is to make sure the tools are in place to support it, respond to it, and deliver on the promise—which is where the challenges lie for AT&T and tablets.
Customer Communities, Marketing Musings, Social Media
Last weekend, as I wandered through the farmer’s market, I discovered a storefront I’d never been inside before. Just inside the door was a gorgeous display; of course, I pulled out my phone to take a picture. As soon as I got the picture, a man rushed over to me and asked me—brusquely, but politely—to please ask before taking pictures. “Of course!” I said, “I can delete it right away! So sorry.” He assured me that I needn’t delete it and explained they’d had trouble with people copying some of the designs for sale. I asked for a business card, apologized for my thoughtlessness, and left (with permission to post the picture).
The experience of being personally chided for the very possibility that I might steal designs without giving credit reminded me of the recent etiquette and culture debates I’ve seen on Tumblr, Twitter, and Delicious (the 3 networks I’m most active in personally). It feels like everyone is worried about attribution. As things get easier to pass around and pass along, our reputations (as organizations and individuals) depend on what we share as much as what we create.
Interestingly, this can also offer a new model of customer engagement. Newsweek, for instance, has a Tumblr blog that links to Newsweek and external content, provides an easy way for readers to share Newsweek articles, and—last but not least—enables Newsweek to reblog readers’ best content and suggestions. On websites and traditional blogs (like this one), user-generated content is often relegated to the wilds of comment sections or discussion boards. Newsweek’s Tumblr interacts with users as equals (while maintaining order through careful curation). Suddenly, an organization that seemed faceless and one-sided is a potential reader or partner in conversation; to me, this seems like the very heart of customer engagement.
- What kind of attribution do you expect from your network?
- What makes you trust re-tweets (RT), reblogs, or links? What makes something worth passing along?
- How do you think Twitter’s new RT feature (currently in limited rollout) will affect attribution and engagement?