Imagine There’s No Poluicao Visual – It Won’t Be Easy But We Must Try

July 16, 2009

drops14_04_01Brazilians are reportedly sick of pervasive advertising – both onland and online.  Brazilian Section Chief for Planning and the Environment, Walter Ambrosio da Silva, defines noise and visual pollution as “everything that attacks your sensitivities and influences our minds.”  Feeling bombarded by constant messages is certainly not unique to Brazil but many there  routinely vocalize their opposition to it.

It is everywhere, according to blogger Loren Baker, who describes the landscape this way:  “Outdoor billboards, political radio infomercials, ads painted on walls, cars driving around with loud speakers on top, people selling water or Silvio Santos Tele Sena lotto tickets clapping their hands at the gate outside of the house.”  Due to this visual pollution or Poluicao Visual,  it is no surprise that one reason Orkut remains so popular is because it currently features no advertising.


Brazilians are remarkably community-oriented and self-identify as members of Tribalistas or  or tribos.  They also have the second highest percent reach – 87% – in the social networking category, lagging just behind Canada. One study found that one year ago, “Member Communities” accounted for one in every 15 online minutes globally. The online communities in Brazil account for almost one in every 4 minutes and they are strongly averse to marketers.

It is no wonder then that creative social marketers in Brazil are stepping up to try and address this growing problem and find new ways online to reach this over-saturated audience. Gilberto Junior, avatar_sombrancelhathe Sao Paulo-based co-founder of Amanaiê,  started Socialsmart and Startupi – a company and blog devoted to Web startups in Brazil, puts it this way: “We address the problem of the lack of relevance in display advertising. We believe advertising can be more engaging and it can be where people already are, instead of trying to take them out of there and lead them to some kind of advertising Web site. Advertising should be viral and spread out spontaneously. Amanaiê, in just 10 months, is already the leader at the social ads market in Brazil. Digital advertising is changing. Digital display ads are working less and [becoming] less relevant over time. The new digital media is that one that engages the costumer. The advertising that is so relevant that the user wants to install it on their public personal profile on a social network.”  The notion of Brazil’s tribalistas embracing brands on their Orkut profiles may be no different than online adoption of popular cause-related campaigns like RED, but as we study the conservation and ecotourism movements in Brazil this week, it is thought provoking to consider a world where all advertising “engages consumers spontaneously” where they are. 

Bob GarfieldHere in the U.S., Bob Garfield with Advertising Age and author of Chaos Scenario 2.0, has also been talking about the end of advertising as we know it for quite some time in his Chronicles of the Media Revolution series.  In 2007, he suggested that we should begin to envision a world largely without brand advertising.  He predicted that “it’s a world in which Canadian trees are left standing and broadcast towers aren’t. It’s a world in which consumer engagement occurs without consumer interruption, in which listening trumps dictating.  It is a world, to be specific, in which marketing – and even branding – are conducted without much reliance on the 30-sencond spot or glossy spread. Because nobody is much interested in seeing them and because soon they will be largely unnecessary.”  

All this has me thinking about that new world, free of unslightly blight with smarter, more effective marketing and people feeling less under siege by constant Poluicao Visual.  It will be like that proverbial day at the beach without the obligatory plane cruising the skyline with an ad trailing behind it for Ladies Night at the local watering hole. Imagine it.  If Gilberto Junior and Bob Garfield are right – and most agree they are – it won’t be easy but we must try.

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Social Media: A chance to create a trustful and transparent brand

June 17, 2009

social_media_links-20080111-021736(^MK) How important is social media as a communications and marketing tool? If you still ask yourself this question as a communicator, you should consider to change your field of work! We live in the age of new media. Things have changed over the past decade: the former audience of traditional journalism has turned into active citizen journalists. The rise of citizen journalism – seen as the democratization of the news – has changed the way news is gathered and disseminated. The evolution of the Internet and the rise of new media, specifically the sharing of content, have changed the traditional way news and information is distribution. The Cluetrain Manifesto acknowledges social networking communities, self-organizing activists, and “open source” progress as the “Markets are conversations.”

Today’s task is to name a brand in the United States, which uses social media in a good way and one, which isn’t. The TIME magazine mentioned in its cover story “How Twitter will change the way we live” a very good example for a great implementation of the social media tool Twitter. A conference devoted to reform education, called Hacking Education, took place with a small number of participants, mainly educators, entrepreneurs, scholars, philanthropists and venture capitalists. They all discussed on the future of schools; a topic with a broad public interest. Conference attendants posted live commentary about the event via Twitter (#hackedu). People started talking about the conference online and a shadow conversation unfolded. A large screen placed in the conference room showed a running feed of tweets. This is a very simple example of how social media enriches a conference of experts with the view of “outsiders” such as students or parents.

I do not have a specific example for a corporation, which uses social media in a bad way. However, I have some specific thoughts on “how not to use social media.” As a business communicator, it is very important to understand the science behind social media: Clay Shirky proposes in his book Here Comes Everybody three easy-to-adopt key principles to successfully implement a social media community: The “plausible promise” describes the basic “why” to join and/ or to contribute to a group. The promise creates desire to join any group. The “effective tool” is the way of “how” to accomplish the promise: for instance, to start a successful online photo sharing site, one needs servers and a easy-to-use interface to upload and view the photographs online. The “acceptable bargain describes “what” will be expected from each individual user when joining the group: in the photo sharing site example, the user is expected to upload his own photographs and to comment on other’s photo work (if you re interested in further information visit my social media blog posts here). And as simple as this might sound – if you do not follow these three principles (or change them during the course of action) you and your communications efforts will end up as a negative example. Facebook, for example, recently changed its terms of service followed by an outrage of many of its users. Facebook promised to provide social networking and therefore users have to upload personal data. As simple as that. However, now Facebook takes possession of all uploaded data and published personal information – and Facebook’s users feel betrayed. This seriously damages a brand.


Blogging: A Double-Edged Sword for Brands

June 17, 2009

Brands can be multinational, existing in the minds of hundreds of millions of people. Or they can be geographically limited to just a few blocks, an idea held by those in a neighborhood. But business is business regardless of market size: creating a positive mental/emotional association based on brand value that inspires customers to buy should always be a key goal. Social media can be utilized in this regard by brands large and small as it allows for an intimate communications exchange not possible with mass communications.

Where passion and vision (on the part of producer or consumer) take center stage (as with food and alternative energy, for example), mere consumerism can be transcended if an interactive connection between seller and buyer is established. An ownership of the brand idea by the consumer can not only drive new or repeat business, but make connected customers into sales force multipliers through positive word of mouth.  Done well, blogging and responding to comments can increase a business’s revenue. Done poorly (or by ignoring a blog audience), blogging can offend or alienate existing and potential purchasers, with detrimental effect on the bottom line.  It is important to tread carefully with Web 2.0.

GM, one of biggest brands in the world (well, it used to be), and tiny Murky Coffee in Clarendon (now closed at that location) are companies that clearly “get” blogging.  But then again, sometimes they don’t. Consistency is all-important.

GM has seven blogs with webchats, Twitter feeds and YouTube videos through which they maintain an ongoing conversation with car fanatics, customers, engineers and others. New engine design ideas have even come out of these collaborative exchanges. There have been some criticisms of GM’s responsiveness in the past, as this (now dated) post “Is Corporate Blogging Worth the Hype?” explains, but GM is clearly engaging the blogosphere and other social media audiences.

However, with GM’s future in some way resting on how many Chevy Volts it can sell (“GM’s future relies on the Chevy Volt”), it is odd that the car maker has decided to be at odds with gm-volt.com, a non-GM blog run by a full-time physician, which is the de facto lightening rod for positive conversations about the Chevy Volt. The most glaring error GM makes here is ignoring that the third-party blog has put together a waiting list for Volt purchasers. It’s not clear what validity such a list has (he’s not a dealer), but it begs the question…why doesn’t GM buy the site (or bridge to it with comments and positive blog posts on the GM blogs) and channel all the Volt fanatics’ momentum in a way that makes them sales force multipliers? One recommendation is to give Volt fanatics of gm-volt.com bona fide benefits such as exclusive custom color choices for plopping down a deposit now or invite them to an invitation-only Saturn-style festival (maybe on location at a solar farm to emphasize the alternative energy angle) for those that are first to take delivery of a Volt when they hit the streets. The PR opportunities that go along with these recommendations would be huge, and further drive word-of-mouth. Having seven blogs is great. GM should make it eight by buying gm-volt.com.

On the other end of the size scale, Murky Coffee is a textbook case of sometimes good and sometimes bad use of social media. For the average coffee drinker, coffee is a cup of “joe.” For the aficionado, it’s liquid sanctity. Blogging could be a forum in which the latter converts the former and brings them into a cozy business relationship. The owner of Murky blogged for five years about coffee, his store, his employees and his business. Maintaining this blog showed great intent to build dynamic relationships with customers. But, when an unpleasant disagreement with a customer was taken online, the vitriol on both sides was aired for all to see.  Both sides crossed the line to an extreme extent, making threats of arson and physical violence. This behavior is reprehensible (that should go without saying), but once the story gained traction in the blogosphere and ended up in the Washington Post it was too late to avoid extensive damage to Murky’s brand in their neighborhood and elsewhere in the area. Who would go into a coffee shop where one might end up with a black eye instead of a caffeine fix? Brands everywhere should understand that it is possible to destroy years of positive outreach and brand building with only a few words and a mouse click.


Social Media – The Hunt for Both Elusive Predators and Customers

June 16, 2009

One brand that has been at the forefront utilizing new technology is the oldest reality television program now its 22nd season, responsible for capturing 1,060 dangerous felons – America’s Most Wanted.  This weekend, they will announce a new campaign in Florida called Operation Orange Tree.  This new program will allow a CyberCrime Unit comprised of US Marshalls and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to pinpoint locations where child pornography is being downloaded to arrest child predators.  The show has a pervasive presence online and offers widgets allowing fans to carry content on their Web sites.   You can also get involved in helping to locate missing children through the online Amber Alert program.  

Another brand that is literally having to reinvent itself from its beginnings in 1908, may not have “gotten” social media in the past but they are certainly embracing it now.  Their new GM Reinvention campaign has them featured prominently on Facebook, Flickr and Twitter. Following the announcement of their bankruptcy, they were tweeting constantly to keep their customers and the public at large informed on breaking news related to the company’s efforts to restructure. It appears that they are working hard to both be transparent and reinvent themselves.

Both brands have critical missions and social media is vital to meeting their goals.


Twitter Works for Small Businesses

June 15, 2009

We know what a lot of the big brands have done to utilize social media and for companies like Ford, Starbucks and Target it has worked out well. So what about the little guys? How are small businesses utilizing social media and how has it been useful?

It turns out there are both good and bad examples. We’ll start with the good…

“Call this the year business invaded Twitter” this is a quote pulled from a recent Fortune magazine article that profiles how several small business owners leveraged social media to their benefit. The business owners learned quickly that the value of this tool is the ability to develop relationships, engage in a two-way conversation with brand enthusiasts, address customer concerns and when possible provide some added incentive to its loyal followers. Some great examples from the article include:

In Wichita, tea company 52 Teas (@52Teas) has more than doubled its sales of handcrafted teas of the week since it started tweeting. The company has 3,403 users following its weekly announcements of new blends.

mission%20pieIn San Francisco, Mission Pie bakery (@missionpie) tweets about daily specials and organic pie recipes to its list of followers. This tweeted special often sells out that week.

In Los Angeles, Kogi Korean BBQ (@KogiBBQ) tweets to its 2,100 followers the destination of its Taco Truck which prompts people to line up around the block awaiting its arrival.

These small businesses have tapped into what is important to its clientele and consistently provide the information that attracted them in the first place. In the end, the customers are privy to the information they are most interested in and the businesses benefit from increased profit and brand recognition.

Whatever the size, businesses must remain relevant, transparent and timely when reaching out to its customers. The above businesses are examples of how to do just that.  Unfortunately, with the good comes the bad and as more businesses embrace social media we must deal with the missteps along the way.

Small business owners often make the mistake of joining Twitter only to use it as a vehicle to drive a sales pitch without engaging in any actual dialogue. I have had this happen to me a few times and often cringe when I receive the following Tweet or DM: “Thanks for the follow, Increase your # of followers and make $$$$ while you sleep”.  Whether this individual is genuine with their intent, the message and approach immediately tells me they are trying to make a profit rather than provide useful information. (See below)

“Thanks for the follow! Find out Why I Eat a Frog For Breakfast! http://tinyurl.com/cdxojv5:30 PM Jun 3rd (Delete and de-follow).

Furthermore, small businesses that use this approach run the risk of being categorized as spam, a trend that is rapidly on the rise according to this article from Mashable (@mashable). It would be naïve to think that businesses are not interested in utilizing social media to drive profits but at the very least we are beginning to see a right and a wrong way to do it. The brands that get it work to gain credibility and trust (and at times deliver a delicious product). Those that do not get it, immediately go for the sell as opposed to developing a relationship and listening to what the customers want (i.e. tacos curbside).  koji


THIS JUST IN: “Fear Mongering Leads to Corporate Panic…and a total loss of basic common sense)”

June 15, 2009

“We’re in a world where one person, by their actions, can make a company look bad,
and it can get echoed and amplified over and over again.”
–Josh Bernoff, coauthor of Groundswell

“…a single disgruntled consumer with a broadband connection can ignite a crisis.”
–ComcastMustDie.com

Let me start with a question: How many of you woke up today and left the alarm on for your sleeping spouse? Replaced, “good bye, dear” with “you should buy me a flat screen on your way home,” on your way out the door, then ignored her response? Backed over your neighbor’s hasta—and lillies—made a gesture out your window as if you were pressing MUTE on the remote control when he complained? Then, seeing the look of confusion on his face, yelled out, “great doing business with you”?

Well, If you did, you probably also: Arrived at work. Late. Mumbled, “morning, Jim,” to indiscriminate passersby (three of whom were females—one, your secretary, who doubles as a carpool sub for your son); failed your mid-year review with flying colors while simultaneously demanding a raise; conducted a ‘transparent’ staff meeting in ‘TLA-style’ secrecy where you let-go several ardent employees for “undisclosed reasons;” ignored the agenda; discussed the critical importance of maintaining control over everything outside of your business unit’s sphere of influence—for an hour (because a few ‘detractors’ failed to give you their undivided attention); took no questions; then returned home to your angry neighbor and frigid spouse, spending the rest of your night confounded as to why the flat screen TV you ‘ordered’ never arrived.

While I do make light, it’s worth getting back to basics as we attempt to define what “success” looks like for a corporation in the social media realm. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you where I’m headed with this, but just in case, I encourage you to visit: http://www.videojug.com/film/how-to-behave-on-an-internet-forum, for a neat video tutorial called, How to Behave Online, where the producers took great care to bring a refreshing level of sensitivity and thoughtfulness in providing profound insight into the ancient art of basic common sense.

It seems the arrival of digital, two-way communication has caused once clear-thinking business practitioners to abandon all regard for the gold standard of social etiquette they employ at cocktail parties, networking functions and other offline forums they frequent with the hope of engaging clients, building relationships with constituencies and adding value to their dinner table conversations. At the risk of over simplifying the issue, I’m simply convinced that most companies’ social media efforts will ultimately soar or flop based on this basic premise.

That said, there are best practices (and worst practices) that can define or limit a brand targeting consumers in the digital world. Some best practices include the following:

 Do your research: Learn the online culture on each site and conform. Know your goals, objectives, strategies, and don’t choose social networking tools that are not appropriate—even IF everyone else is doing it.
 Add value with Compelling or Viral Content (for a current list visit: http://socialmediatrader.com/analysis-what-type-of-content-is-most-popular-on-digg-reddit-propeller-delicious-and-stumbleupon/)
 Practice honesty and transparency by allowing open source or editable/ non-controlled information flow
 Be Relevant and provide Real Time Information
 Be Human/ Responsive/ Engaging/ Interactive: Listen to your audience, respond, invite comment, adapt
 Rohit’s blog introduces the concept of “forever findable,”another desirable trait in the online world, referring to the concept of always being able to connect with someone or something online.
 Use images that are relevant to your content
 Maintain industry standard for speed to load; Use this great free tool to analyse your website for errors and fatal page sizes; or try these: css optimization. Liquidweb
 Utilize Smart website design: think cool, fun, (cater to the ADD in your audience!)
 Segment, Target, Position: don’t blanket the blogosphere with niche messaging (think demographics, not site traffic)
 Be consistent
 Build Relationships
 Demonstrate your ROI— Use clicks, visits, followers, dialogue, attitudinal surveys, etc..To justify your value to your consumers. And visit Technorati.com to see where you rate.

So who does it right? Three words, GOOGLE, GOOGLE, GOOGLE! Brothers Lars and Jens Rasmussen are the undisputed heavy weights in online success for many reasons. Their creativity, understanding of trends, consumer demands and needs are reasons why the Google, Inc. Empire is now a social fact for on and offline users. “Google’s ability to watch the way humans use technology and design around that is pretty amazing…what Google does with software, Apple does with hardware,” this, according to Adam Brohit, Partner at Circ.us., a creative marketing firm that influences consumer behavior through development, distribution, involvement and monitoring of brand stories across various media. If AdWords, Earth, Gmail, Talk, and other recipes of unparalleled ingenuity don’t satisfy you, their newest creation, WAVE, surely will—once you figure out what it is and how to use it. This latest application takes the five most commonplace online functions and groups them together into one application capable of open source, chating, emailing, searching and file sharing.
They not only adhere to impeccable online networking and marketing etiquette, they define new boundaries in online interaction daily, and I believe they’ve earned the gold standard for improving the way people behave online. For a preview of Wave, visit: http://www.imediaconnection.com/content/23451.asp
So who drank too much at the reception and got sent home in disgrace? Hard to say—so many have failed before they got it right. Seems a right of passage for most big brand companies: Target, Amazon (constant spam, unmonitored); MacDonald’s (constant coupon Tweet), the Motrin Mom debacle… In my opinion, it’s getting it right that matters more than an ode to the failures because that’s what people remember. It seems you can flop out of the gate, learn, then make a stellar comeback (such as Yahoo or Starbucks—turned away breastfeeding moms, now a model company). The thing that strikes me most about online social marketing and networking is it’s “of-the-moment” nature—failures seem transient in our short-term digital memory—but it’s the brands with impeccable manners who we invite back into our homes, lives and purses again and again.


Comcast–A Dichotomy of Good and Bad Social Media Usage

June 15, 2009

frankAnybody who works in or follows social media has likely heard the same names thrown around over and over again during discussions of companies or brands that use social media well, and who does not. Though perceptions vary, it’s generally agreed that Zappos, Southwest Airlines, Comcast, KEXP, Army, Air Force, and TSA use social media well. On the other hand, Pepco, Born Shoes, Comcast, Navy, and the Marines are not doing much in the social media realm. Wait. Did I just mention Comcast in both the good and bad columns? Yes, and here’s why.

Good: Comcast has gotten a lot of props over the past few years for the work of Frank Eliason, a Comcast customer service manager who is now the “Comcast Director of Digital Care.” Frank began keeping an eye on comments about Comcast on blogs and Twitter a few years ago and began following people in earnest using the @ComcastCares handle. Now, his name is spoken in reverent terms like “I think it’s safe to call Comcast’s Frank Eliason the most famous customer service manager in the U.S., possibly in the world.”

People with complaints have been able to get answers and customer support quickly thanks to Comcast’s attention on Twitter. And for a company that is consistently ranked low in reputation, helping people find value in Comcast could be a huge boon.

Bad: A company cannot rely solely on Twitter (or any one tool). OK, Comcast is using Twitter to improve customer service, and they’re helping people who are having technical issues. Great concept. BUT, where is Comcast when it comes to using social media to protect their online reputation? And where are they when it comes to trying to spread the word about their products? I did a lot of research about Comcast last November for a presentation. In researching the company, it was apparent that many people are pretty displeased about the service (or lack thereof) that they receive. (The pictures below show some of the search stats that came up when researching Comcast.) Hate groups on Facebook and MySpace are myriad. Numerous hate blogs exist as well. So far, it still appears that there is no official fan page or group on Facebook. One thing I did notice between November and now is that Comcast started a blog in March 2009.

Comcast1Apparently, they are turning to new tools to talk to customers, but there is still much work to do. A search for “Comcast blog” on Google gives 5.9 million results. The official Comcast blog is #9 on the list. That is 8 below the number one result of “Comcast Must Die.”

Lessons Learned (Help Comcast2for companies just starting in social media): Comcast is engaging in social media as a customer service tool, and that’s great, but they are missing out on using the other tools to communicate. I’m not advocating that a company or organization uses every social media app simply because it exists. That’s annoying and ineffective (remember the basics of communication strategy, like SWOT, audience research, goal/objectives, etc. ).

But using other tools will allow a company to reach a diverse audience and really explain in different ways what products and services they can offer. Additionally, online conversation (through blogging, discussion forums, and news monitoring) could allow Comcast (or any other company) to 1) extend its reach beyond Twitter and respond to blog complaints to set the record straight, 2) Address specific concerns, 3) Proactively announce new intiatives, 4) Understand customer problems and provide solutions.

A little strategy goes a long way in creating an effective social media campaign.