Sunday, October 25, 2009

Taking control of your social media

Over a year ago I wrote a peeved post, Me and the bad pitches: Or why bloggers get peeved by marketers. In it I shares how a bad PR pitch from someone representing a product I actually loved turned me off.

The product, in this case, was a show, Spring Awakening. The PR person in question wanted free promotion from me, and when I asked about a couple of media passes to review the show, they went dead silent. As I explained in my post above, it was a good idea to approach a blogger who had already raved about your show, a true brand fan, but that wasn't one of them.

Here we are, over one year later, and I received an email not from a PR firm, but from the blogger for the touring company's blog, Totally Trucked. Pun, the gender-neutrally-named blogger in question had found my post and reached out.

First, I have to say: Impressive to find my post. It doesn't exactly come up on page one of the search for Spring Awakening blogs.

Second, Pun apologized for my prior bad experience with their brand (because, yes, that PR person's blunder reflected on their brand) and admirably addresses each of the complaints I made in my afore-linked post. Finally, Pun shares something that I think more and more companies are realizing and acting on, namely:"...we are coordinating outreach on the national level now--many local presenters do not have sufficient experience with bloggers."

OK, so maybe "local presenters" isn't a universal term and specific to this genre of company, but the point is that the show went beyond simply having their own blog...they realized that reaching out to the blogosphere should come from deep on the inside too.

Now, am I saying a marketing person, or even a PR person, can't be authentic, can't be "on the inside"? No. I'm a marketer; I believe we are typically pretty damn passionate about what we market.


Don't abdicate the responsibility. If it's your brand, your company, you will be held responsible for what happens in its name. Social media as a marketing tool isn't something wildly revolutionary anymore. The slack people will cut you is getting shorter and shorter. We expect you to know better. We expect you to care about what kind of outreach is being done in your name.

Maybe that doesn't always mean taking that outreach "inside", but whoever is doing it better have access to the inside. And buy-in from the inside.

The hottest fan-passion can cool. Don't let it happen to you while you're not even looking.

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Friday, October 16, 2009

Smart People Talking About Important Things: Bioneers

I'm speaking at the Bioneers Conference in Marin on Saturday, but the conference itself starts today.

And you can watch panels life, as they'll be streaming them (including mine) via Ustream. My panel about how Social Media and Sustainability mix, is at 4:30PM on Saturday, but check out more about the entire schedule here.

Now, if your thing is live and in-person interaction, tickets are still available at the door, but otherwise: Keep your eyes on the video below!

Live TV : Ustream

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Link Round-up: The FTC and their new guidelines

OK, the other shoe dropped, and the FTC released their actual new guidelines covering advertisers, bloggers and celebrity endorsers.

I've actually read most of them, and scanned them multiple times looking for specific references (for example to fines, penalties, enforcement, etc.)

I suggest you either read them yourself, or stick to commentary from people who have read them or interviewed FTC folks about them because I'm frankly shocked at the misinformation that started floating around about these guidelines right from the moment they were released. First from (usually) reputable sources and then from bloggers and tweeters going to town with the misinformation.

Bottom line: If you think this affects you? Then read them yourself. Why rely on anyone else's assessment?

It was actually hard for me to find mainstream resources that didn't repeat misinformation, particularly the whole "$11,000 fine" meme, which turned out to be false. OK, with that said, here are some good resources.

On BlogHer

  • Who would I be if I didn't start with Melanie Nelson's great and thorough post on BlogHer: The New FTC Guidelines and What They Mean to You and if I didn't remind you to review how BlogHer has approached publishing editorial and sponsored content since 2006 in Lisa's founder post: The elephant in the room: How BlogHer is cracking the code on editorial content and paid advertising?

  • Elsewhere

    While some mainstream media sources seem to want to fan the flames of the "wild, wild west" view of the blogosphere, a couple of others have done exactly what journalistic sources are supposed to do: Report. And fact check. So check out:

  • Fast Company was the first to talk to the FTC and debunk some of the rumors about fines and enforcement, having them answer questions coming from concerned bloggers themselves.

  • Media Bistro's PR Newser blog checked in with the FTC to get even more clarification around the existence (or not) of penalties, fines and enforcement paths. Including drawing a very important distinction between guidelines and laws.

  • MediaPost publishes a helpful look at why the FTC thinks reviewers at "traditional media outlets" don't need to follow these same guidelines. Agree or disagree, it's a clear explanation of the position.

  • If you want a great bloggy analysis from someone who isn't freaking out about the guidelines, then check out:

  • Susan Getgood is always a good place to start, as this is a blogger who knows how to write substantive opinion pieces based on clearly cited data resources. Always disciplined. Her analysis, part one, is a general overview of the guidelines. Keep your eyes open for part two, as I'm sure it will be equally as useful.

  • Of course it wouldn't be fair not to point you to:

    Those who think this signals the End of Days

    From sources both mainstream and bloggy, some folks are telling you how they really feel, and it starts with the headlines:

  • Slate publishes a piece entitled "The FTC's Mad Power Grab"

  • Less hysterical and more grounded in real problems, MediaPost published "Legal Expert Questions FTC's New Blogger Rules".

  • And I must point out that two stalwarts from traditional media, turned blogging superstars, are virulently opposed. Those two being Jeff Jarvis and Dan Gillmor. The word "dangerous" gets thrown around a lot.

    Now, where all of the above (and I) are in total agreement is that the proof will be in the pudding of enforcement. If these guidelines are applied fairly, consistently and without scapegoating bloggers (as opposed to more mainstream publishers or celebrities who are receiving just as much, if not way more, value from relationships with brands) then who can argue that disclosure and transparency aren't good things? People would do well to avoid some of the crazier hypotheticals I've seen tossed around and focus on letting the government know that we will indeed be keeping a watchful eye on fair follow-through.

    Any law can be abused. There is no doubt about it. Were these guidelines written too broadly and thus at greater risk for such abuse? Perhaps so, but then I wish the debates could focus on that without all the hyperbole and smelling salts and ridiculous restaurant eavesdropping metaphors. Otherwise it seems like a case of the blogger "doth protest too much".

    Hope this is helpful.

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    Sunday, October 04, 2009

    A tale of two customer experiences: When "bugging" the customer works...and doesn't

    We customers are a prickly and thorny bunch. I get that. We want companies to get it just right, and "just right" seems to change based on the circumstances. We also often seem to swing between complaining or saying nothing...and yet if you dare for one minute to assume that "no news is good news" when it comes to customers, you'll probably regret it.

    But sometimes I think companies don't spend very much time putting themselves in the customer's shoes.

    Case #1: Don't bug me with your customer surveys...until I've got something to say

    Most of my life I've had GM cars, from my first car: a hand me down '72 Chevy Impala to the two Saturns I've owned in the last 12 years or so. The Saturn folks, in particular, are very customer-focused, and I had my moments over the eight years or so that I owned Saturns of being bugged. Bugged by that snail mail survey post-routine service. Followed up by the phone survey. And sometimes an email survey. I'm guessing I didn't take the vast majority of those surveys. Everything was fine. No need to spend my precious time responding.

    Now, I have a Honda Civic Hybrid. I've had it a little over a year, and I noticed something when I took it in for its routine service. They didn't wash the car before giving it back. I don't mean a fancy detailing, but my experience with both Saturn and Audi (the two brands that I got and serviced through dealers) was that any service was topped off with a nice, basic exterior wash of the car. Not so with Honda. And it bugged me. "Well, when i get my post-service survey, I will certainly let them know that this is a little thing that goes a long way!", I thought to myself. (When the truth is, it is its omission that goes a long way.)

    Only I never got that survey, They didn't bug me via snail mail, telephone or email. No bugging at all. Which, you guessed it, bugs me to no end.

    And the moral of the story is: Yes, it's a bummer that people, including me, enjoy complaining more than they enjoy sharing praise. Yes, people will ignore your surveys, and you will struggle to get healthy response rates and actionable feedback.

    But you have to ask. Because otherwise, you have a customer like me who may be perfectly satisfied with my vehicle, but may think much less of the brand...over a very tiny thing.

    And really, would it hurt you to rinse my car down after you've worked on it?

    Case #2: That's great you want to protect me, but you're protecting me from the wrong things

    I'm about to cancel a credit card I've had for 17 years. As soon as my new card comes from a different company, I'm canceling the old one, even though it will be a pain in the butt, given the auto-charges I have set up on it.


    Because in their eagerness to be consumer protection leaders, they are protecting me from purchases that set off no typical alarm bells and are, in fact, with companies I do business with regularly. Over the last few months I have had numerous transactions declined/held, or that triggered a check-in call to me that I had to return and deactivate.

    This is all to protect me from fraud using my card. I should be grateful, right? So, why am I so bugged?

    -Because in 17 years of having this card I've never missed a payment, never had a fraudulent charge and I'm never near my limit.
    -Because their auto-bot phone system never accounts for voicemail messages and leaves half-messages on my machine.
    -Because they actually sent an email with a link to click to approve a if any bank should encourage their customers to trust such emails from banks! And yet when I went to the site to do it directly, it is impossible to find any place to do so. Hence, the wasted time making phone calls.
    -Because they declined my annual donation to the Humane Society!
    -Because they made me call to approve my annual domain name renewal charges...with the same company made at the same time every year for the last 6 years.
    -Because they made me call to approve a purchase for $8.99 on my Kindle.

    I mean, if you're going to protect me, at least protect me from the anomalous charges! Not the ones that are part of my regular spending pattern. Don't tell me you don't have the systems to say, oh yes, she has made 20 donations to the Humane Society in the last ten years, I think she means it.

    And lastly, when I called, no one really had anything to offer me to improve my experience, not even the hallowed "supervisor". A shrug of the shoulders is what I got.

    And losing a long-time customer is what they're going to get.

    All because they bugged me. But really because they made me feel like an anonymous, random cog in their machine, not a long-time valued customer.

    And that's the common thread here. It's not so hard to make customers feel like you know then, that you think about them and care about what they think.

    The surveys no one responds to? Doesn't mean we don't get the message that you want to hear about what we think. Doesn't mean we won't notice if you decide to stop asking us.

    Checking in on purchases when I traveled overseas? Didn't bug me at all...I knew that charging something from Africa was a bit out of the norm (to say the least). That's protection I appreciate. Calling me three times in one month about penny-ante and even regular charges? Declining a charitable donation in a non-outrageous amount? Senseless aggravation.

    Customers are a prickly bunch. But we actually make sense most of the time.

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    Thursday, October 01, 2009

    "I am a Technical Woman"

    Here are my two seconds of fame! Can you spot me in this fun video from the Anita Borg Institute:

    The Institute announced their largest ever, sold-out attendance at this week's Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing...over 1,600 people!

    Last year I was struck by the diversity of thee (mostly) women...across many dimensions. I believe the ABI, like BlogHer, makes it very difficult for anyone...whether organizing a speaking roster or compiling a "top" say that there aren't any qualified women, or they don't know where to find them.

    I know the ABI, like we at BlogHer, are happy to help you diversify your offerings with amazing, competent, qualified, expert women across all sorts of fields and subject matter areas.

    The video is just a fun, short little thing...but take its point

    Full Disclosure: I am on the Board of Advisors for the Institute.

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