Oct 20 2014

Published by under Uncategorized


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Apr 22 2009

Can You Hear Me Now?

Published by under KickApps,Social Media

I wrote this post for the KickApps blog.

TechCrunch’s Mobile Crunch blog reported yesterday that Verizon Wireless is now accepting user reviews and ratings of products in their catalog. The author of the post and many of the readers that left comments seem to think this is a bad move on Verizon’s part.

I concede that it may seem strange for Verizon to be opening themselves up for potential abuse, but I see this as not just a brave move but more importantly, an extremely smart one. By doing this, Verizon goes from being just a transactional vendor to providing something that’s potentially really valuable to customers during the buying process. This translates to trust.

Most people have a love-hate relationship with mobile phone service providers (don’t we all feel like we’re constantly being screwed over by them), and this is a great way of saying to potential customers:

“We want to provide you with really helpful information about which one of our products best meet your needs and what better way of doing this than hearing it from people like yourselves rather than us.”

Just as powerful though is that Verizon gets immediate feedback and insight into what customers and prospective customers think of their products. They hear first hand what features they like and want, and dislike and don’t want. Point is, if you listen to what your customers want, you’ll always have a hit. This is exactly what the guys from Threadless have built a thriving business on. Fact is, in today’s world of the social web, any company that doesn’t care to listen to customers will find themselves looking like this in short order:

I know what you brand and media people are saying right now, “I can’t have an unruly mob take over my website and brand!” Fair point. But, there’s nothing wrong with curation, in fact, I’d argue that it’s crucial to the customer experience.

As a consumer, I want reviews that truly help me make a purchasing decision, that inform me about the pros & cons of whether a product will meet my needs. That’s true value. Having to read abuse for the sake of it is not.

Establishing the guidelines for delivering that value is crucial for any brand or web publisher, call it community rules if you’d like (CafeMom and Flickr do great jobs of this). Consumers won’t begrudge you for wanting to make sure that they get real value out of this feature. Someone saying that this particular model’s “battery life is horrible and won’t be good for travelers” is valuable, whereas, “Motorola phones suck!” isn’t. But, you have to be honest and transparent about this. Again, think real value not just fluffy reviews that blow a lot of sunshine.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

  1. User-generated product reviews help establish better relationships with customers that emanate from trust and value
  2. How are you providing more value to customers and prospective customers?
  3. Set the rules of engagement, but be honest and transparent about it. Establish what the feature is for and what is acceptable and what isn’t. Use clear and straight forward language that’s easy to understand
  4. Listen! Listen! Listen! To what your customers are prospects are saying and you’ll always have a hit product

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Apr 14 2009

Advertising, PR, Interactive, Search, Direct…Oh My

Published by under Engagement,My Thoughts

My most recent job has me thinking about marketing agencies and the shift in marketing that has even the CMO of Unilever (not exactly the brand I think of when one talks about the internet or social media) ranting and raving about the impact of social media on marketing.

As I said in an earlier post, I find that depending on who you ask and what type of marketing they do, they’ll tell you that their discipline is the best suited to be the social media answer to all the modern marketer’s woes. To me that’s not even the point. I think that if you’re having a discussion along the lines of social media you’re having the wrong the discussion–I’ll address this point later, but first a rant on agencies.

Seriously, ask a PR agency guy what type of agency he thinks ‘gets’ social media and he’ll give you a hundred reasons why PR has all the answers. They’re the ones that have honed the fine art of reaching influencers after all. Sure, I suppose it makes sense that a social media expert from a major PR agency would NEVER do something stupid like this. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

Ask an ad guy and he’ll show you a bunch of commercials they created that they put on a YouTube channel that they convinced their client to pay a minimum of $500,000 for. People really want to watch TV commercials online, don’t they?! (Disclosure: I do this quite a bit actually, I particularly like the Nike ones. Wait…I’m in marketing, of course I think ads are cool. Nevermind.)

OK, rant over.

Marketers should be looking at how they’re engaging with customers. That is, the opportunity for a brand to establish and nurture a direct, lasting and loyal relationship with a customer in ways that haven’t been possible before. Social media to me is just one of the channels in which you can engage with a customer, albeit a very effective one.

On the brand side of the business, I look at all these disciplines as ways of meeting my business objectives. I use a mix of them because they all serve different purposes and when used correctly (by a brilliant marketer), at the right time, in the right ways, in the right mix, you win.

I’m not the first to say that the social web has changed the game dramatically for brands (especially media companies). You might even be so bold as to say that people are in control now–I don’t necessarily believe that to be the case entirely, but I do believe that the dynamics have shifted and there’s no turning back. More interestingly, the change seems to be accelerating (much like global warming).

So, what’s the right type of agency or marketer to deliver this?

In my opinion, it’s one that understands and can deliver a highly evolved offering of PR, advertising, search, direct marketing, content development, programming, events and community management, all integrated into a strategy that flows through the entire backbone of a business, and a deep ability to provide technology solutions to achieve all this.

More importantly, it’s a marketer that gets that all of this requires a fundamental change in the way a company operates, the way it handles customer service, product development, partnerships, etc., and transforms this understanding into engagement strategies and tactics that feed back into a companies business objectives.

Does an agency like this exist? Not that I know of.

Can it? I think so.

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Apr 13 2009

It’s About Engagement, Stupid

Published by under Engagement,My Thoughts

I’ve been scratching my head for a while about the question of where social media should sit in an organization. I’ve learned that the way a person typically answers that depending on his or her background and point of view. A PR person will typically say, PR! (Especially if that person works at an agency.) An advertising person will usually say, ADVERTISING! You get where I’m going with this.

My auto-response answer is: marketing. As I give it more thought though, I don’t think it’s that straight forward. These days I’m thinking that it should live wherever business strategy lives and in the channels where a company delivers tactically against those strategies. Does that mean it lives everywhere? Maybe.

From my perspective, social media enables engagement. To me, it’s much more interesting to think of it as an enabling technology that serves a bigger business objective: a more effective and efficient way to serve customers.

Engagement translates to better communication and understanding of your business eco-system (customers, employees and partners), which results in better products and services, and ultimately happier customers, employees and partners. Social media happens to be a great channel for achieving that.

You have to ask where all of those things matter most within a company. I think most will come to realize that engagement has the potential to impact a company’s business at a fundamental level. I get excited about this because I believe that engagement, and social media as a technology that enables engagement, does this in pretty dramatic ways.

No, I’m not going to say that there’s a revolution at our door steps or anything silly like that. I do however believe that transparency, changes in control of communication mediums & messages and the need for authenticity, represents both a for change from business as usual, but more importantly, a HUGE opportunity for both consumers and businesses.

For me, right now, that means engagement as a business strategy is what’s more interesting, and social media as one of a mix of channels and technology for achieving those objectives is what makes sense.

So, where does it live? Marketing? Customer support? Product development? HR? PR? Partner relations? Yes, yes, and yes.

The real challenge (and opportunity) that I see is how a business integrates engagement into every aspect of its business operations where it makes sense.

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Apr 04 2009

Who Gets It?

Published by under My Thoughts

About a month ago, I had a conversation with a friend who doesn’t work in the same industry as I do about a phrase that she noticed is quite pervasive amongst the social media set.

“They don’t get it.”

This is used to explain the ineptitude and shortcomings of my brethren in marketing who work at brands, enterprises and agencies or all shapes and sizes, and pertains to their lack of understanding about social media and engagement marketing.

As an outsider, that phrase just sounded condescending, at best, and arrogant and obnoxious at worst, to her.

I tried to explain, as earnestly as possible, the context in which I’ve used that phrase to describe these small minded people. I’m sorry, I mean marketers. There are, after all, so many examples of marketers at brands and agencies that don’t get this new world of transparency and authenticity.  Truth is, even when they try, most attempts at engagement marketing by seasoned marketers are true fuck ups and one can only conclude that they just don’t get it. Right?!

I mean, they just don’t seem to get that the world has changed. They’re obviously just freaked out and desperate to hold on to their old ways of doing business in the same ways that Conservatives talk nostalgically about the good old days of oppression and slavery (well, you get my point).

After awhile though I started listening to what she was saying (usually a good idea in a conversation). It wasn’t whether or not people get it, rather, this industry that I work in seems to be really caught up in its own bullshit. That got me thinking. Maybe I’m living too much in my little bubble of get-it-ness and I’m missing something.

A couple of weeks after this conversation I met a guy who works at one of these ‘don’t get it’ big agencies. This guy is a classic ad guy. Knows the traditional ad business inside and out. He seems to be really good at his job and he immediately earned my respect.

We had a conversation about the transformation of the ad industry. We talked about their existing business and the fact that doing 30 second spots for TV remains their bread and butter.

Wait, hadn’t he and his Mad Men friends heard about what we in the social media industry know to be Gospel? Isn’t TV dead? Aren’t million dollar ad campaigns dead? Isn’t it all about the social web? Ugh, another guy who doesn’t get it.

But here’s the thing, I think he does.

The fact is that any big brand (the ones that my industry cohorts bitch about) are faced with a reality of today’s business. Would you throw away millions of dollars that roll in the door today to jump on a bandwagon that, yes, will become THE way of marketing in the near future but isn’t quite there today? Any executive worth anything would not say yes to that. If they do, they’re idiots.

Rather, wouldn’t you just send your best and brightest out there to learn and experiment as much as they can with these new methods, knowing full well that you’ve got to very quickly develop an expertise in this new approach to marketing?

The measure of that executive is how quickly they understand and act on the balance of allocating resources between maintaining your existing business and ensuring that the company is ready to move in a new direction when the market conditions are right.

This is exactly what my new friend appears to be doing.

So, when I was asked tonight whether I thought he ‘gets it,’ I had to think about it for a second. My answer now is, yes, he does.

More importantly, I think I finally get it too.

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Mar 19 2009

My Texas story

Published by under Travels

Over the last 13 years, I’ve had the good fortune to visit and see many different parts of this country. One of my favorite things to do is to try to experience the America away from the tourist trinkets and franchised neon lights. Some recent examples of this includes, spending 20 minutes on the phone with room service in Milwaukee because we were fascinated by each others accents or holding court with the Atheist Club of Austin.

I added to my American experience last weekend while I was in Austin for SXSW and I have to admit, it was pretty fucking classic.

We started the evening in a pretty bad way. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast and it was nearing 10PM my time. I was not happy. We headed a Mexican restaurant that I’d been to last year but to be honest it wasn’t because it was anything special, I was just desperate to not fuck around too much longer.

After being told that we’d be subjected to a 45 minute wait I proceeded to put my scowl on and wandered around the dining room hoping to frighten any diners who thought it might be acceptable to sit around ‘socializing’ with their dinner companions.

After a few minutes of no joy, my co-worker Aaron suggests that we move on. He even called ahead to his favorite Mexican restaurant in Austin and declared that, “There’s no wait. It’s 10 minutes away and they’ll seat us right away.”

“Fuck you, Aaron. I’m hungry. Don’t even fucking talk to me.”

“No, man. Trust me, it’s Austin’s best Tex Mex. Matt’s El Rancho. We can have the Bob Armstrong Dip. Let’s just go.”

“Seriously, fuck you. Don’t mess with me right now. I haven’t eaten since breakfast.”

Alas, I relent and we get in a cab. Chris, the cab driver proceeds to share his story about his deployment in Afghanistan and Aaron engages him in what the best ribs are in Austin.

Rudy’s? Who the fuck cares. I need to eat. Why is Chris driving so slowly? Are we in a bad Cheech and Chong movie? Why is he talking to so slowly? What’s he drinking? Or, smoking? Can I have some?

Aaron, ever the salesman, continues to push Matt’s El Rancho to us.

“Dude, we’re going to have the Bob Armstrong Dip. It’s like nothing you’ve had before.”

“What kind of Mexican restaurant calls itself Matt?”

“Matt’s a Mexican dude, man.”

“Fuck you. I’m hungry.”

We pull into Matt’s and it looks like your basic Mexican restaurant–a local eatery that’s a few blocks away from the best rib experience I’ve ever had the night before. At this point I’m starting to feel a little bit more positive and less angry at Aaron, and the world.

Promptly after sitting down and starting in on the chips & salsa, Aaron kicks things off by ordering a large order of the Bob Armstrong Dip.

As I finally feel the blood circulating through my body again and my organs refiring, the ‘only in Austin’ moment kicks into high gear around me.

“Excuse me, is that the Bob Armstrong Dip?” says an older gentleman who has walked up to our table.

Who the fuck is this guy?

“Are you eating the Bob Armstrong Dip?” he asks again. We look up and nod.

“I’m Bob Armstrong.”

At this point I’m at a bit of a loss, just generally puzzled by what’s going on. When my mind comes back to what’s playing out in front of me I realize that this guy is either bored and lonely, works here or is trying to tell us something.

Bob begins to tell us that he created the dip and Matt asked him for the recipe and put it on the menu. While I’ve gotten some sustenance in the form of some nicely greasy chips, I’m still not at the top of my game yet. So, if I’m going to have to listen to this it better be worth my time.

“I don’t mean to be rude but I’m pretty skeptical by nature. If you’re really Bob Armstrong, I’d like to see some identification.”

An awkward smile breaks on his face. He’s probably thinking, “who the fuck do these people think they are. They’re in my town. They’re eating a dish named after me and they’re asking me for, what? ID?”

He pulls out his wallet and flips it open.


Bob Armstrong & Aaron

Even better, Mrs. Armstrong comes by to say hello and asks me where I’m from. Apparently the effort I had been putting into my Texas accent was in vain.

The Armstrongs

I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right. It doesn’t get much better.

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Feb 14 2009

Twitter Blog Post by Kevin Sablan

Published by under Press

A few weeks ago I was contacted via Twitter by @ksablan re: my tweet when the USAir Airbus landed in the Hudson. We exchanged a few emails and here’s the post that he wrote on his blog, Almighty Link: Twitter journalism, beyond happenstance.

I’ve been reading his blog and I like it. He writes some pretty interesting things about journalism, an industry that’s undergoing a lot of change because of the internet and other digital technologies.

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Feb 10 2009

New Media Knowledge Interview

Published by under KickApps

I just found the article that NMK interviewed me back in October, 2008.

“Politicians have a unique opportunity to engage with people directly through a highly interactive and cost effective channel. No longer are you bound by expensive ad buys or are you beholden to editors or news programmers, you can talk to your electorate 1:1 at anytime,” he told NMK.

US Presidential Elections Get Social, October 3, 2008

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Dec 01 2008

NY Post Writes About KickApps

Published by under KickApps

KickApps Getting Real Social With VC Funds

KickApps, a New York-based provider of software for building social networks, has raised $14 million in venture-capital funding, the latest sign that VCs believe that its business model can keep kicking and ultimately, see a tidy profit, despite the current recession.

November 30, 2008

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Sep 04 2008

NPR’s Digital Spin with Mario Armstrong

Published by under KickApps

I was on NPR’s Digital Spin, hosted by Mario Armstrong, tonight to talk about social media. Also on the show was Jeremiah Owyang of Forrester. The 30 minutes conversation went really well. Mario did a great job asking Jeremiah and I some very good questions, and kept the dialogue moving. I only wish we had more time to dive a little deeper into some of the points and to cover some that I wish I had brought up. Either way, I hope I didn’t ramble too much and made some sense. Here’s a recording of the segment.

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Sep 03 2008

Sports Video Group Interview

Published by under KickApps

Carolyn Braff of the Sports Video Group interviewed KickApps’ CEO, Alex, and I yesterday about the work we’re doing with pro-sports teams. Here’s the story she wrote.

The idea is to extend that experience from a game within the stadium or in front of the TV set, just as you would in a real live setting with friends and co-workers. Now you’ve extended that, 24/7, online. That’s the essence of what sports teams are asking of us.

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Aug 30 2008

McCainSpace Relaunches

Published by under KickApps

John McCain is using KickApps to power its new social network, McCainSpace. Both presidential candidates have their own social networks now. Talk about a big win for the social media industry. Not only do we now have over 34,000 websites using KickApps but we’re powering one of the two most important social networks out there! Why important? McCainSpace and my.BarackObama are going to be facilitating the most important conversations Americans are going to have this year.

Check out Mashable’s post about this.

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Aug 05 2008

Oh oh…someone fucked up…

Published by under Photos

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Jul 20 2008

Wow! Watch How WalMart Grew in the US

Published by under Uncategorized

Originally posted on I Said Ok.

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Jul 02 2008

Future of Social Media – No Longer a Destination

Published by under Social Media

Coming out of last week’s panel on the future of social media at the Digital Media Conference 2008, I’ve been thinking more about the discussion we had and the questions from the audience.

One idea I’ve been thinking more about is that social media is as much a feature on any websites, or at least will be soon, as it is a destination. By destination I mean social networks (e.g. Facebook, MySpace and Linkedin), blogs and media sharing sites (e.g. YouTube and Flickr), etc.

The premise is that any website’s owner cares a lot about increasing the number of people who come to the website and spend more time on it. This translates into more pageviews, which equals more advertising inventory.

The fact is that the social web has broken through. People like it. They use it to interact with each other, discover new things and make new friends. What this means on a website is more engagement. In the past media has been largely a one way deal. Call it a monologue if you will. With social media we have the ability for a multilogue–a multitude of different conversations going in different directions. This means greater volume (pageviews), greater involvement with your website (people care enough to interact in your environment) and greater brand affinity and (a degree) of loyalty for those who are repetitively active.

The technology exists today to very easily and cost effectively add these features to your website. It’s a commodity. I think this is a good thing–clearly, since I work at KickApps.

So, fact #1 of the Future of Social Media = it’s no longer just a destination.

Come to think of it, maybe that’s not the future as much as it’s the present.

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Jun 29 2008

A Targeted 30 Second Spot Online?

Published by under KickApps

A post I wrote on I Said, OK about our experience at KickApps with targeted online advertising.

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Jun 27 2008

Digital Media Conference 2008

Published by under Speaking

I was on a panel about the future of social media at Ned Sherman’s Digital Media Conference in DC yesterday. Really good discussions came out of it. I recapped some of the main points (at the least the ones I remembered) during my train ride back to New York late last night on the KickApps blog.

The panel was moderated by Rohit Bhargava, who did an excellent job. Check out Rohit’s new book, Personality Not Included. Also on the panel were:

Greg Johnson, CMO, GGL
Terry Farrell, Senior Product Manager, Zune, Microsoft Corp.
Craig Stoltz, Blogger & Web Strategy Consultant, 2.Oh….really?
Nick O’Neill, Founder, The Social Times & AllFacebook

Craig posted a great summary of the panel on his blog. He writes about a point a I made during the session.

[Michael] said something interesting in response to a question about how people can make money from social media. Paraphrasing here, he said companies ought to go out and hire as many anthropologists as possible to try to figure out what’s going on with this new behavior–and then figure out how to make money.

After the presentation, a woman from Motorola came up and introduced herself, said she enjoyed the panel. She handed me her card. Her title read “Anthropologist.”

For real. Not a winky-funny-hip-corporate-title. Her actual job title.

Yes, Motorola has an anthropologist on the payroll.

I’m telling you, this thing is big.

Pretty f’ing cool coming from the world’s #22 blog according to Time.com.

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Jun 27 2008

San Francisco. Yes, it’s June

Published by under Photos

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