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The Best That Social Media Has To Offer

Episode #405 of Six Pixels of Separation – The Twist Image Podcast is now live and ready for you to listen to.

Jay Baer is back and he’s doing what most people in Social Media are not doing: making big and smart moves (and good money, as well I am su…

My Voice Is My Password

Is your head bleeding? Is your heart bleeding?

Here’s my thought (and, I say this with full disclosure that I am no IT expert and have limited knowledge of the hacking space beyond a personal interest in better understanding technology – peace and love… peace and love…), but the process of text-based passwords needs to be tossed out. It just has to happen. We’re all still trying to understand what the ramifications are of this nefarious Heartbleed bug is, and what it all means. Right now, some of the most frequently and commonly used online tools and sites are asking all of their users to change their passwords because of this bug. Some of these places are uncertain as to whether or not they have been hit, so changing your password before these services update their own systems with a fix would be a big mistake. The best source to sort this all out, for my dollar, has been this Mashable page: The Heartbleed Hit List: The Passwords You Need to Change Right Now.

Why this is so important to talk about for marketers?

The brands that win are the brands that can be trusted. Problems like Heartbleed erode the public’s trust. This is problematic on many levels. On top of this, while we can simply acknowledge that technology has these types of bugs, viruses and hiccups that come from a myriad of directions, let’s admit it: human beings are lazy (I know that I am) and while it’s a massive pain to go back and change the passwords on all of these platforms, it’s getting increasingly more frustrating because you then need to remember them all, store them in a safe place, and re-enter them all across multiple devices (computers, laptops, smartphones and tablets). From there, if you’re using any of the tools that enable you to share content through social media channels (Buffer app and others come to mind), you need to re-input and re-authorize the apps in there as well. Uch.

It’s like a full time job to manage this stuff, isn’t it? 

It gets worse. Last night, the Wall Street Journal reported that Heartbleed may have infiltrated some of the Cisco and Juniper Networks equipment as well. That’s not good. It means that hackers might be able to snag user names, passwords and other sensitive information as it moves across the corporate and home networks and routers on the Internet. So, you could change your passwords and then fall prey to hackers simply because your hardware (or a network along the way) has not cleaned up the bug yet. What a mess.

Blame the passwords.

These systems were built in a such a way that invites problems and challenges. Technology is doing a ton of things these days that it was never intended to do. I don’t think anyone would argue that the Internet was not intended to do everything that it is doing today. Many would argue that even having a commercial Internet is – in and of itself – something that was never truly supposed to be. Part of fixing these issues from a consumer experience perspective means removing the friction. Making it easier for people to connect and share is paramount to the continued growth and development of these channels. This means that we need to fix this whole password issue.

Some thoughts on a better way to connect.

I read with interest The Globe And Mail article published yesterday, Fed up with passwords? These tech experts are seeking alternatives. From the article: “Quietly, a movement is taking shape within the technology industry to finally kill off the traditional password – driven not only by growing consumer outcry, but also the twin scandals of high-profile hacking incidents that exposed customer information at major corporations such as Target, as well as the Edward Snowden revelations about the extent of digital government surveillance. The flaws of traditional computer security once again came under the public spotlight this week, after security experts revealed the existence of a flaw called ‘Heartbleed.’ The bug, considered one of the most significant security weaknesses in recent history, Heartbleed affects the encryption used to protect some of the most sensitive data on the Internet, including passwords and personal information.” The news item goes on to source several interesting technology companies that are working to replace text passwords with things like fingerprint readers, voice recognition engines and even heart rhythm monitors.

Organic solutions to technical challenges.

In short, we need to use the small things that make us individuals unique from one another as the way in which to secure the content, flow and information we connect with. Thinking that this problem can simply be brushed beneath the carpet is a massive mistake (as the world is finding out this week). We jokingly make our passwords simple for us to remember, but in doing so expose our most personal information in a very profound way. We seriously make our passwords complex, so that no one can hack into it and we wind up up forgetting them or being frustrated every time we have to input them. Thankfully, there are apps like 1Password and LastPass that manages the myriad of passwords and devices that we have, and they have not been affected by this bug (at this time), but who knows? One thing is for certain: perhaps Heartbleed brought the importance of passwords and consumer protection to the top of our minds… and that’s probably a good thing.

I’d love to know what your thoughts on the trouble with passwords.

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The Perils Of Social Media

Episode #404 of Six Pixels of Separation – The Twist Image Podcast is now live and ready for you to listen to.

I first heard the voice of Eric Schwartzman over a decade ago as a contributor to the For Immediate Release podcast. I was always impressed…

Don’t Blame Brands (Always) In A Time Of Crisis

The tweet heard around the world.

There was a disaster somewhere in the world. I think it was the tragic Boston Marathon bombings. I was in France at the time speaking at an event. I was crawling into an early evening slumber when the news broke. As we do these days, I hopped over to Twitter. I was immediately taken by someone many would acknowledge as a social media expert who tweeted out something along the lines of “Attention brands: please turn off all of your automated tweets, etc… out of respect for the tragedy in Boston.” In the past, we’ve had many instances when brands (with good or stupid intentions) have firmly placed their proverbial feet in their mouths. It happens. It keeps happening. As bad and tragic as these events are, the world does not stop. I looked down to the pool/terrace area where the reception was continuing on without me (I was on a lower floor). You could see people scrambling to talk to one another and share the news of what was taking place in Boston. You could see groups of people huddled over mobile devices and the bar had changed the television channel over to CNN (or whatever the equivalent is in France). Still, the party raged on. Champagne was consumed, the buffet tables looked busy. Humans beings are a complex bunch. So, in one instance, we’re telling brands, don’t communicate anything during a national/international crisis, but on the other hand, the corporate parties and events keep raging on.

What is right in a world that has gone so wrong?

“Oh no. Not again.” That was the sum of my initial thoughts when I first heard about the Fort Hood shooting. Tragedies everywhere. People struggling with their own demons, and violence becomes their desperate cry for help/attention. Sadly, people (now victims) become collateral damage in these cries for help. As usual, I head online to get perspective, read the discourse and more. Once again, a very senior communications executive sent out a message (this time on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook) about a tweet: “#FortHoodShooting sweet Save 10% plus free shipping on your order at Acme Inc. use coupon code: BUY19.” The comment from the senior executive read: “The dark side of Twitter and hashtags. National tragedy unfolding and trending topic attracts marketing.” I changed the name of the company and the promo code for a specific reason. This company was now taking a lot of flack for looking very insensitive during these times. As if that weren’t enough, it is also (somewhat evident) that it’s probably some kind of automated tweet that gets triggered for any trending topic/hashtag.

So, do you HATE that brand? 

It’s hard not to be immediately disgusted by them. But, here’s the thing: upon closer inspection of this instance, you can easily uncover that the brand (probably) had nothing to do with this tweet. It looked like an affiliate marketer who gets a commission of their sales when someone uses that, specific, promo code. So, this unsophisticated affiliate marketer is doing the equivalent of spamming trending hashtags in the hopes of picking up a few bucks here or there. Still, the brands takes the brunt of the hit, pain and crisis management that ensues.

Having a media brain.

How many people do you think saw that tweet and were simply disgusted by the brand, instead of taking the time to scratch a little beneath the surface to uncover the truth? It’s just another example of how brands can take a hit without ever having done anything wrong. Yes, you could easily say that businesses need to be careful about who they do business with, and that all affiliate marketers should be vetted in a more professional manner, but let’s get real here: what’s stopping anybody from going online, saying something like this about any brand and attempting to make them look bad? It’s easier than you think. It happens all of the time. The general mass populous are not trained media professionals. It’s not their jobs (nor do they care) to vet these tweets for validity. The brand gets hurts worse than anyone else in this scenario, and it quickly becomes this massive pile-on. Personally, I feel bad for the brand that got caught up in this storm. But, it just goes to show you, that even if you’re doing everything right, in terms of using social media to connect in a more real and authentic way with you consumers, that little mishaps like this are sure to happen. And, no matter how much is done in the aftermath to correct-course, there will still be even more people who saw that terrible tweet and now have a terrible brand impression.

Is time to talk about brands and control again?

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Why Every Brand Should Build An Audience

Episode #403 of Six Pixels of Separation – The Twist Image Podcast is now live and ready for you to listen to.

There are few people as passionate as Jeffrey Rohrs when it comes to brands and connecting with consumers. It’s gotten so hot and heavy for…

Where Great Content Comes From

This could get gross. You have been warned.

Last week, I was lucky enough to have attended the TED conference. I’ve been going to this event since 2009. While most people can’t stop talking about how incredible the TED talks are (and yes, they are incredible), I wholly subscribe to the notion that they are but a small part of a much bigger (and more profound) experience. This year, one of the highlights was the return of Sarah Kay (you can watch her first TED talk below). Sarah was a part of the all-star stage, where famed TED speakers from events past got the chance to riff on what they have been up to since cranking million of views on YouTube and beyond. Kay was about to launch her latest book of poetry, No Matter The Wreckage. I know what you’re thinking at this point. You’re thinking that this is going to be some high brow blog post that you need to read with one pinky sticking out. Not the case. What makes Kay so awesome is her pragmatism. She’s all about getting everyone to try poetry. She’s about the democratization of poetry and spoken word, and encouraging young people to try it.

I’m a poet and I didn’t know it.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t know anything about poetry. In fact, the only thing that I may know less about than poetry is ballet. So, I’m not that cultured. I choose Metallica over Monet on any given Sunday. Still, I love the work of Sarah Kay. After talking about her new book, recent travels and the fame of being famous because of TED, the host asked her about the construct of poetry, her levels of concentration and the effort it takes to create a poem. As someone who creates content, this line of questioning is fascinating. How does a poet toil over their prose and decide which words should go where? Do you know what Sarah told the audience?…

“Poetry is like pooping. If there’s a poem inside of you, it needs to come out.” 

There’s brilliance in this thinking (and yes, it’s pretty hilarious). It’s not just about poetry either. That statement is as true for brands who are posting to Facebook or can’t figure out what to blog about, as it is to the art of crafting a poem. I did a real life LOL when she said this, because it jettisoned me back to the moment when I knew I had to write my second book, CTRL ALT Delete. I don’t work in isolation. Everything that I do, create and publish has a direct relationship with Twist Image. The whole purpose of my work is to help people become better in marketing and business, with the hopes that should they require a digital marketing agency that Twist Image would be top of mind. I don’t just decide to write a book. I sit down with my three other business partners and have a conversation about it. I remember telling them how excited I was about the concept and more. We then discussed if the timing was right, considering the growth trajectory of the agency or if the market conditions made sense for a second book. All fair questions, but the book needed to come out. I remember telling them that my water broke, and the baby was coming. Timing and perfect market conditions could not be factors at this point. I was in labor!

Where do babies come from?

I get where Sarah Kay is coming from. Sure, innocuous content like a tweet or Facebook status update doesn’t require that type of urge, but even a blog post (or article) should give the content creator that type of feeling. You need to have something to say! All too often, brands (and certain individuals) are just looking to fill up space, to be present, to not waste an impression, to not fall off of their consumer’s radar. That’s silly. That’s content for content’s sake, instead of content because there is something important that needs to be shared. As brands struggle to figure out the secret to creating compelling content in a world where everyone is a content producer, and the levels of saturation continue to rise and rise, it would be wise to pay attention to the words of Sarah Kay. We all need to make sure that whatever it is that we’re producing needs to come out. That’s good poop. Let’s try to stay away from the content that’s being created just for the sake of creating it.

That’s bad poop.

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The Absolute Value Of Marketing

Episode #402 of Six Pixels of Separation – The Twist Image Podcast is now live and ready for you to listen to.

Back in 2000 (yes, way back then), I read a book that made me rethink everything that I thought I knew about marketing. It was called, The Anatomy of Buzz, and it was written by Emanuel Rosen. Long before we were all talking about social media, viral videos, content marketing and more, Rosen was busy studying what makes people do the things that they do. You find a “best marketing books ever” list and not see The Anatomy of Buzz on it. Rosen, a former marketing professional, considers himself a writer, researcher, teacher and speaker. I’m fortunate because, over the years, Emanuel and I have become friends. In 2009, he looked again at what makes people talk about brands and wrote, The Anatomy of Buzz Revisited. Now, he’s back with a fascinating business book called, Absolute Value (that he co-wrote with Itamar Simonson). It has been getting incredible reviews… and for good reason. In this book, Emanuel wonders about the value of brands, marketing and advertising in a world where information is everywhere, available in real-time and spin becomes, increasingly, more difficult from brands to pull off. Enjoy the conversation…

You can grab the latest episode of Six Pixels of Separation here (or feel free to subscribe via iTunes): Six Pixels of Separation – The Twist Image Podcast #402.

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It’s A Small (And Strange) World After All, Brands

How much control does a company really have over their brand?

Never has this question in business been asked more than in the past decade. Technology, the Internet and social media have been a virtual can of worms for brands that has extended well beyond the marketing department, and has poured over into everything from customer care, business innovation, the reputation of individual leaders within the organization, how a company hires employees and more. It’s one of the fundamental reasons why I’m such a massive advocate for marketing to become a horizontal function within the organization instead of it’s current role as a vertical. We need everyone (from employees to consumers) to understand what the brand is and how the stories are told, because every single one of us has become a media entity unto ourselves. We can talk about the merits of social media as an engine of engagement and conversation for brands, but the simple truth is that it is nothing more than a public publishing platform. A place where anyone – in text, images, audio and video – can create content, applications and communities about anything and everything. It’s free (in terms of cost, not time and attention) and distributed globally for the world to see (also free, if you’re not thinking about your Internet and mobile monthly bills). While the past fifteen years has brought with it a lot of innovation and depth, we’re seeing how the nuances of the brand have started to shift in more dramatic ways.

What is the face of the brand?

Marketers wonder if there is a structured and prescribed way to dictate the sentiment and actions that we would, ideally, like customers and employees to have when they interact with a brand. What most successful brands still fail to realize is that in an environment of global interconnectivity, humans are also increasingly exposed to newer types of cultures and ways to connect. This means that newer ideas and ways to connect can be crossbred, much in the same way we’re currently breeding very different kinds of dogs to create newer kinds of dogs (care for a Labradoodle, anyone?) or fruits (hungry for a Grapple? – yes, an apple that tastes like a grape). Brands are quickly starting to feel, understand and interact with their own little Frankenstein versions of themselves.

What does a crossbreed brand look like?

Imagine waiting in line for the It’s A Small World ride at Disneyland, and suddenly coming across what looks like a Harley Davidson meets Fall Out Boy group of Disney fanatics. Tattoos of good ole Walt Disney on their calves, ripped jean jackets, piercings, patches of Daisy Duck surrounded in gang-like skulls and crossbones and more. It may feel like something out of a Tim Burton movie, but you have actually come face to face with the Neverlanders. This group of rag tags are more than 30 strong and were recently featured in an in-depth editorial piece by Vice called, The Punks Of Disneyland. It’s a unique story about passionate brand evangelists (the kind of people who visit these properties so much, that they are actually on a first-name basis with the staff and characters) who have taken their love of all things Disney into a dramatic and alternative realm. This is much bigger than the annual Disney conventions for fans (D23 Expo) and the Neverlanders are not the only exclusive, members-only, social club that roams these parks and resorts (there is Main Street Elite, the Wonderlanders, Jungle Cruisers and many more). In the case of the Neverlanders, this group formed through social networking. They began connecting and sharing in spaces like Instagram long before they formalized themselves as an independent social club (some people call them a gang).

What do you think Disney has to say about all of this?   

Here’s the official Disney quote from the Vice article about these roaming Disney fan gangs: “We are fortunate to have guests who share such a strong affinity for Disneyland Resort.” What would you do? What would your brand position be on groups of people who love what you are doing this much, but still run down a much more alternative path than the brand might publicly be comfortable with? Granted, this isn’t the challenge of all brands, but it begs an interesting question: If consumers are actually in control of the brand, and now they have the tools, resources and connections to do these types of things, what is the brand and what does it really stand for?

It’s not just Disney.

For every legitimate and corporately run group like Jeep‘s annual Jeep Jamboree adventure event and meet-up, you have groups like IKEA Hackers. Formed in May 2006 on a blog, this website is now full of passionate IKEA customers who build their own, unique, projects by modifying and repurposing IKEA products. They are embellishing and adding their own elbow grease to figure out new and interesting types of furniture that can be built through various pieces of IKEA furniture. So, whether you would like to build your own iPad kiosk or a laundry organizer from standard IKEA kitchen cabinets, the possibilities are now endless. According to the IkeaHackers website, IKEA does not pay the owner or in any way sanctions or endorses it. It is purely a fan-run website.

It’s a small world, for brands, afterall.

Brands now have a deeper optic into what, exactly, their heavy users want. In fact, what these examples demonstrate is that we can often never truly understand what consumers want, and when they do things like hack our products or roam our properties in a way that it was never intended, perhaps brands should be doing a better job of supporting, encouraging and helping them to be successful. Instead, most brands are attempting to keep them at arm’s length. Steve Jobs from Apple once famously said: “people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

Perhaps, in today’s age of connectivity and social media, brands need to pay attention when the reverse comes true as well.

The above posting is my twice-monthly column for The Huffington Post. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original version online here:

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The Culture Of Fear At Work

Episode #401 of Six Pixels of Separation – The Twist Image Podcast is now live and ready for you to listen to.

What is your work environment really like? Are you a leader who must inspire your team? Are you on a team with a leader who is inspiring……

The Naked Brand And The Future Of Marketing

Society blames advertising for a lot of things.

Here’s the truth about advertising: it’s role is to get the consumer excited about something. He’s another reality: reality is not all that exciting. So, advertising exaggerates the good parts of a produ…

Even If You’re Not Doing Social Media, You Should Still Be Doing This…

In an effort to better involve themselves in social media, many brands still attempt to decide which channel to hop on.

It’s easy to do this. It’s easy to be attracted to whatever the bring and shiny object may be at the moment. Brands can be like little, distracted squirrels when it comes to social media. Some have already tinkered in places like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, while others simply haven’t invested the time and resources to figure out which one will serve them best. Many are wondering if Instagram, Vine and Pinterest can help them be better and do more. Most brands have fundamental challenges with the platforms because, while they are free to connect and engage with, it takes a tremendous amount of knowledge, patience and effort for it to bear juicy fruits. With that, the popularity of online social networking has also brought with it the complexity of paid media as well. For a lot of this more corporate content to rise above, it must now be boosted and supported with significant media dollars. We’re seeing everything from fan acquisition paid media strategies to companies that are paying to promote individual posts and tweets to garner attention. It sounds a lot like traditional media… and that’s because it is. Still, there are many brands (especially in the small and medium-sized business space) that are experiencing great returns by simply being present, helpful and interesting to customers and potential clients. If all of this sounds complex, it is because it is complex. The best way to understand this brave new word of marketing is to think of it as a publishing platform. Brands can create content (in text, images, audio and video) much in the same way that a publisher can create content, and brands can advertise on these publishing platforms as well. The biggest paradigm shift (that most brands still fail to comprehend) is that within this model, brands can also be the publisher or build their own publishing platform (meaning, they are no longer at the mercy of the publisher to run the content or negotiate the ad space with). It’s enough to make any business throw their hands up in the air and give up entirely. 

A way to step back, but still win at social media.

When asked where to start with social media, most gurus, thought leaders and ninjas will tell brands to listen. Spend some time on these channels listening to what consumers are talking about. Are they mentioning your brand, your competitors or the industry that you serve? It is sound advice and something that many brands can start doing right at this moment. There are free tools (like Google Alerts or Talkwalker Alerts) that can give you a semblance of what is being said, but times have changed. Social media is now close to fifteen years old (older, if you really want to get specific about when the popularity of blogging first took hold). There has been many layers of maturation in the space. Now, brands can (and should) be doing a lot more than just listening, when they decide to take the plunge into social media. In fact, if you’re still on the fence with social media, there is one big, major and fascinating thing that you can do to better understand not just social media, but how your brand is competitively performing in the marketplace: invest in a social media analytics tool.

Start with social media analytics.

This isn’t about measuring your brand efficacy in digital marketing (at least not yet), it’s about taking the first step (and making that first step a lot more power and profound than simply listening). Now, as a brand, you can gather insights about your business, your competitors and the industry that you serve like never before. Last week, eMarketer posted a news item titled, Marketers Adopt Social Media Analytics Tools, that looked at some new research on how close to two-thirds of companies in North America have adopted some kind of social media analytics tool (and how the increase has really taken shape in the past two years). What makes this research so compelling to brands who are not immersed in the digital marketing and social media space is how these tools are being used by organizations. According to the article, here is the breakdown:

  • Campaign tracking – 60%
  • Brand analysis – 48%
  • Competitive intelligence – 40%
  • Customer care – 36%
  • Product launch – 32%
  • Influencer ranking – 27%
  • Owned/earned media analysis – 18%
  • Product innovation – 11%
  • Category analysis – 11%
  • Risk management – 3%
  • Partner monitoring – 3%

What is this list screaming to you?

All of these activities. All of them. Can be used for every kind of business and you don’t need a social media presence to benefit from the results. I would argue that augmenting your current marketing and communications strategies with social media is smart, but that’s an entirely other conversation piece. Think about what these new (and constantly improving) social media analytics tools can tell you about everything that you are doing to grow your business. Even if all you are doing is taking out local ads in the newspaper and on radio, a good social media analytics tool can let you know how that campaign is tracking (are people talking about it online, sharing it, etc…), it can tell you how well your brand is perceived, what people think of your competitors, how well you are handling customer service issues and so much more.

Beyond listening. Beyond doing.

Sadly, most brands see social media analytics tools as an engine to better understand how they are performing in social media. Instead, the true opportunity is in understanding just how powerful and profound these tools are in giving you a true temperature check on the overall health of your business and the brand. Have you had success on Facebook? What about Twitter? If your peers are trying to talk you into (or out of) using these channels to build your business, it is in your best interest to start with a strong social media analytics tool and from there start building a true marketing strategy that is driven by your business goals. No need to to hop on the latest craze, and no need to just listen to chatter any longer. Do yourself, your business and your future a favor. Start paying attention to everything that is going on in the social media space, and use these analytics as a barometer for what’s happening in your business and what you can do – with each and every passing day – to improve it.

Social media analytics… it’s not just to see if Facebook is working for you anymore.

The above posting is my twice-monthly column for Inc. Magazine called Reboot: Marketing. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original version online here:

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Celebrating 400 Podcast Episodes With Douglas Rushkoff

Episode #400 of Six Pixels of Separation – The Twist Image Podcast is now live and ready for you to listen to.

For the 400th episode of this podcast series, I wanted to have a serious and in-depth conversation with someone who I consider to be one of the brightest minds when it comes to digital, media and technology. That’s Douglas Rushkoff. The timing could not have been more perfect, because he is back with a new documentary that recently aired on Frontline titled, Generation Like. You will be doing yourself a huge disservice if you don’t take the time to watch it (it’s streaming for free online). Rushkoff’s latest book is called, Present Shock, and he has ten-plus other best-selling books on new media and pop culture (including: Program Or Be Programmed, Life Inc., Cyberia, Media Virus, Playing the Future, Nothing Sacred: The Truth about Judaism, Get Back in the Box: Innovation from the Inside Out and Coercion, winner of the Marshall Mcluhan Award for best media book). He does tons of teaching and public speaking, but also makes time to produce and write documentaries like Generation Like (along with The Merchants of CoolThe Persuaders, Digital_Nation). If that weren’t enough, Douglas Rushkoff has written two series of graphic novels for Vertigo called, Testament and A.D.D.. I’m always honored that he takes the time to have these types of conversations with me, and we decided to deep dive into some of the bigger themes of this documentary, and what it means to society, as a whole. Lastly, thank you very much for listening to my podcast. I put out these shows, because having these conversations make me better (and hopefully smarter)> The fact that thousands of people – every week – enjoy them right along with me is a true privilege. I’m not one to celebrate milestones and the like, but thank you for being a part of my journey to discover. Enjoy the conversation…

You can grab the latest episode of Six Pixels of Separation here (or feel free to subscribe via iTunes): Six Pixels of Separation – The Twist Image Podcast #400.

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There’s No Patience In Business

Don’t slow down. Don’t stop.

There is a massive chasm that still exists between the world of business and the expectations of the consumer. Ultimately, when it comes to the retail experience, I believe there are two types of consumers: The ones that want to get in and out as quickly and efficiently as possible, and then those that want a bit more of an experience (they want to walk around, get information from the sales associates, be handled just a little bit). What unifies these somewhat divergent consumers is their to desire to get the best price and service with a smile. It’s a near impossible feat for most brands, because we live in the day and age of real-time expectations. In short: consumers knows more than most retailers about what they’re buying, and if they don’t, the information is readily available in the palms of their hands.

Howard Stern is your perfect consumer (at least one of them).

I was listening to Stern’s show on my drive in to the airport this morning (hoping to see you all at DX3 in Toronto!) and he was raging against the retail experience and RadioShack‘s most recent announcement. Yesterday, the electronics retailers reported brutal earnings (they lost close to half a billion dollars) and that they would be shuttering over one thousand stores in an effort to better manage the business. While Stern and his crew may not be financial analysts or Wall Street reporters they are – like you and I – classic consumers. Stern falls into the first camp. He wants to be in and out as quickly as possible, without being screwed on the price. He recounted what his experience was like buying from RadioShack over the years. Stores that had only one or two employees, a check-out system that demanded a whole heap-load of personal information before you could paid for the $3.99 adapter that you needed, and a lack of sales rep knowledge in terms of what was what within the store. While my experiences have been different, Stern’s comments were in direct line with my brand perceptions of the brand. You could also hear similar stories being told by other members of his staff on air. It’s most troublesome, because we live in a strange world where we can’t imagine retail without Radio Shack, but few of us spend any time spending significant dollars there or recommending them to a friend. As sad as that may be. Consumers can be very nostalgic, but it all floats away if you have to wait in line twenty minutes to buy an alarm clock because there are only two people working in the store, or if you’re asked more personal information questions about your purchase than what you have to hand over when opening a checking account at the bank.

Let’s not blame one retailer.

Brands seem to do this to themselves on a constant basis. And, instead of adjusting to this new, connected and empowered consumer, they tend to put more policies and practices in place as a way to herd everyone into one bucket. Not the smartest of strategies. On a personal note, I was recently in the market for a camera lens. Located near our offices is a local retailer with a fine reputation. I received excellent service and good information, and was happy to step-up and buy this lens (it was more than I had wanted to spend). Upon returning to my office, I went online to check out some reviews and noticed a huge price gap between what I had paid and what was being advertised on Amazon. Recognizing that Amazon always has cheaper prices, I checked out another local photography store. Guess what? Yep, that store’s price was much closer to Amazon. It’s a conundrum. On one hand, I definitely want to help out and support local merchants. On the other hand, if these merchants feel that they can get away with charging a significant premium, without thinking that consumers will go online to price check, they are deftly out of touch with the consumer of today.

Consumers are not patient. Brands need to understand this.

Consumers don’t care about your IT roadmap. They don’t care about your stance on showrooming. They may not even care about the fact that you’re not interested in online reviews, or that consumers have the ability to find out a significant amount of information about the products and services that you sell, which are also online. Brands can displace themselves from reality and stick to their own dogma. This is a true and often seen stance, but it’s silly. Brands don’t have to like the current state of consumerism, the lack of care that consumers have for decades of knowledge or whatever else. The truth is that the Internet is a truth serum for all of this. RadioShack can decide that their business is in selling computers, mobile phones and headphones or they can go back to their roots. Become a brand that focuses on the hobbyists. The people who are interested in building drones, electronics projects with their kids, audiophiles who need these random accessories or pieces. In a world where you can buy a computer or phone anywhere, the world desperately needs a retailer to provide more depth to our technological needs and desires. Not only can RadioShack be that brand. RadioShack was that brand. While some may think that it’s near-impossible, at this stage, I would argue that shifting the focus – not just on what they sell, but how they sell it – can save them. It’s hard. Don’t underestimate the challenge is shifting a business of that magnitude, but survival at what price? When I put these retail stories together, I am often reminded of the great quote by General Shinseki of the US Army, who said: “if you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.”

Consumers shop differently. Change is the new normal (as they say).

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The Secret Life Of Social Media

Shhhh, don’t tell anybody anything (even though I just posted this secret online for anyone to see).

It has been brewing for some time, and it’s a difficult trend for businesses not to understand and embrace. As much as our social lives are now made public in everything from 140-characters of text on Twitter to long-form videos that we post of ourselves on YouTube, there is a growing mass audience (and developers behind them) that are creating an entirely new (and private) layers to social media. And, if all goes according to their plan, it could very well be the proverbial needle to pop the balloon of how brands have attempted to market to consumers using modern technology.

What’s the hottest thing happening right now?

It’s Snapchat, of course. Isn’t it? Lauded by the younger generation because they can send each other photographs/mini videos via smartphones and tablets that are incinerated once viewed (leaving no trace for parents, etc…). The app has become so formidable, that Facebook offered to buy them late last year for a reported $3 billion, which Snapchat turned down. Turning down $3 billion dollars buys a lot of attention and street cred. The private online social network continues to grow, as brands like McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Acura and others have been jumping on board to figure out if Snapchat’s community of 30 million-plus users (and growing) cares to get this type of micro-disposable content from brands. Maybe, it’s not Snapchat that is the hottest thing anymore. One could argue that the hottest thing happening right now, is the fact that Facebook bounced back from this rejection and managed to acquire the cross-platform mobile messaging platform WhatsApp for an astonishing $19 billion two weeks ago. With close to 500 million users and growing, WhatsApp is, in its purest form, BlackBerry Messenger (which, of course, is now available for Android and Apple users as well) that works on any mobile device and any mobile carrier. In fact, the deal was so massive that it completely over-shadowed the fact that a similar messaging platform, Viber, was also recently acquired for $900 million by Rakuten (a Japanese online commerce platform).

Think about it: private pictures, videos, messages and more. That doesn’t sound very social, does it?

While companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter monopolize the growing areas of online social networking, what we’re beginning to see is continued growth and interest in private online social networking. The types of content, conversation and sharing that is done outside of the public limelight. Sometimes anonymously. Sometimes between two friends. It just doesn’t feel like the place that brands can insert themselves to monetize a growing user base, does it?

I have a secret to tell.

While they have not been acquired for hundreds of millions of dollars (yet), the San Francisco based startup Secret (that was founded by two former Google and Square employees) is getting tons of attention, followers and fans. In short, you can write anything that’s on your mind, add photos or colors to the background and customize this content while being able to share it – free of judgment – and without attaching any of your personal information or profile to it. It feels like a more modern, mobile and more social version of Post Secret (where individuals physically mail their anonymous secrets on the back of a postcard to a group that then scans and shares the most creative ones online). While Secret isn’t the first or only app like this, it is currently getting the lion’s share of media and consumer attention. Do you really want brands to share secrets with you? Does that even make sense? Secret follows in a long line of increasingly popular platforms that are moving towards more private, restricted and personal interactions. Path (which launched back in 2010) seemed like a more mobile version of Facebook with one major distinction:Path only allowed a maximum of 150 connections (which followed Dunbar’s number theory that human beings can only maintain a total of 150 true relationships). Small stuff, right?

What matters most to you: Public life? Professional life? Social life? Personal life?

What we’re now seeing is motion away from all of this publicness that we have been experiencing at the hands of social media for the past decade, or we’re simply seeing the mass development of a completely different type of private online social networking. In fact, if you look at where the venture capital dollars and user growth is currently happening, we could well arrive at a juncture which finds consumers much less interested in the public chest beating of their semi-consequential day-to-day accomplishments on social media, and a much more focused desire to use technology as a communications platform to add more personal meaning. Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp could substantiate this (why wouldn’t they want to own both the public and private online social networks of consumers?). So, while Ellen may have broken Twitter with her a-list selfie stunt from the Oscar’s, we may be at the nascent stages of seeing a brand new type of social media play that is small, intimate and, seemingly, impermeable to brands, advertisers and media companies. A place where twerking could well find it’s perfect home… behind closed doors and not out in public.

Are private online social networks the future of social media? More interesting will be how brands will react and engage with this new reality. 

The above posting is my twice-monthly column for The Huffington Post. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original version online here:

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Killer Online Content With Brian Clark Of Copyblogger

Episode #399 of Six Pixels of Separation – The Twist Image Podcast is now live and ready for you to listen to.

It’s hard to argue that we don’t live in a world where there is simply too much good content, and it’s everywhere. Brands are expected to not only be great advertisers and listeners to their customers, but to be excellent publishers as well. It’s not an easy ask. It’s something that most brands struggle with. It’s something that Brian Clark has been helping companies tackle for a long time. Copyblogger started out as an incredible blog to help people (and brands) figure out what works when it comes to creating online content. The blog still acts as a treasure trove of information and insight on the topic, but Copyblogger is much more than a blog. In the past few years, Clark and his team, have built Copyblogger Media – a company that offers software and training with over 100,000 customers who are doing their best to create better content marketing online. I have known Brian for many years, and we finally managed to schedule a conversation about the changing landscape of blogging, social media and content marketing. Enjoy the conversation… 

You can grab the latest episode of Six Pixels of Separation here (or feel free to subscribe via iTunes): Six Pixels of Separation – The Twist Image Podcast #399.

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Crazy, Sexy, Cool: Attributes Of The Most Clickable Ads

How entertaining is your brand?

On the surface, this may seen like a simple question to answer. If you produce movies, energy drinks or running shoes, you probably have something that is highly entertaining. Most of us don’t work for brands like that. We sell valves, insurance policies, accounting services and the like. Not the kind of stuff that evokes deep emotions like laughter and tears. Still, we live in a day and age when most brands are forced to be out there. Not just with television commercials, flyers and ads on the radio, but actively engaged online. We need to get people to like our brand on Facebook, pin our images on Pinterest, subscribe to our YouTube channels, retweet our 140-characters of goodness on Twitter and more for attention. In fact, when it comes to the modern marketing mix, you will often find many companies struggle so desperately, that they are willing to buy media to promote their content posts or spend money on fan acquisition (there’s an oxymoron in there, if you think about it). There are countless strategies that marketing pundits will put forward in order to help brands understand where and how to create value in a world that has never been so cluttered with advertising.

Screaming louder than everyone else.

If you go back a mere fifteen years, marketing experienced a new dawn. Social media brought with it the ability for brands to have real interactions with real human beings. As powerful and profound as that was (and still is), the waters have become quite murky. The current arms race for likes, friends, followers, subscribers, retweets, pins and more has brought with it an over-simplification of what a brand should be pursuing. Google, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and the like are no longer encouraging brands to figure out a way to create a depth of meaning and connection with their consumers. If you scratch slightly beneath the surface, everything that they offer is sold much in the same way that traditional media outlets have sold their traditional advertising. It has become just another type of marketplace, where the brand who screams the loudest gets the most attention. So, is the promise of social media dead? Do we really need to care about depth of interactions, building true relationships, nurturing people towards engagement, or are we looking for just another quick fix in a long history of advertising’s version of the one night stand?  

Tell me what you want… what you really, really want.

You would think that as your business adds digital marketing into a more prominent position within a marketing mix, that the true value will come from time spent digging deep into what adds value to the consumers life. How can your brand – in a world where anyone can publish anything in text, images, audio and video – create something so compelling that it becomes an integral part of a consumer’s digital experience. Well, it turns out that the pace with which consumers are ignoring advertising messages has not dissipated in a world where we have an incredible ability to target, customize, personalize and build a true relationship. According to a Research Brief news item published earlier this week titled, Four of Five American Consumers Ignore Online Ads Most Frequently, the digital world is having just as much trouble capturing a consumer’s attention. “82% of Americans ignore online ads, ahead of television ads at 37%. 92% of Americans ignore at least one type of ad seen every day across six different types of media,” according to the article about the first annual Goo Online Advertising Survey. “The online ads Americans are most likely to ignore included: online banner ads (73%), followed by social media ads (62%), and search engine ads (59%). The highest wage earners, those with a household income of $100k+ per year, were statistically more likely than those households making less than $50k per year (86% vs. 78%, respectively) to say they ignore online ads. Overall, the 65+ age group ignored the most, while the 35-44 age group ignored the least.”

Advertising revenue would beg to differ.

If that one study is reflective of the industry at large, the fire alarms should be clanging from Madison Avenue to Silicon Valley. We continue to see a sharp increase of ad spend shift from traditional channels to digital ones in hopes that customization, analytics and targeting will create a more effective form of advertising. So, what do consumers really want? The Goo Technologies went on to report that consumers would like advertising to:

  • Look more interesting.
  • Not feel like an ad (whatever that means).
  • Be funny.
  • Be entertaining.
  • Have stunning graphics.
  • Have a sexy man or woman in the ad (I can’t make this stuff up).
  • Be more interactive.

Nothing new in new media.

If you’re wondering why all of that technology, analytics, retargeting and more is not moving the needle in your advertising, or why that last YouTube video didn’t find the viral success that you were hoping for, it turns out that consumers – no matter how evolved they are in their technological prowess around media channels, content creation and devices – are overwhelmed. There is a sheer brunt force of advertising everywhere. They are either completely ignoring advertising or simply want it to give them a chuckle or raise an eyebrow and move on. As simple as that sounds, not many brands are in the business of entertainment, and that’s the true rub. Consumers are online, connected, creating, curating, sharing and more. As intellectual and powerful as that is, nothing will get them to act on your message unless you can really entertain them. Smart advertising is good entertainment. Surprise! Nothing much has really changed in the game of advertising no matter how sophisticated and evolved the platforms and opportunities have become.

So, how entertaining is your brand?

The above posting is my twice-monthly column for Inc. Magazine called Reboot: Marketing. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original version online here:

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Building A Decoded Company

Episode #398 of Six Pixels of Separation – The Twist Image Podcast is now live and ready for you to listen to.

How much data is big data? How well can a company leverage that data and technology that they have to make the actual company a better place to work? These are just some of the questions that co-authors Rahaf Harfoush and Leerom Segal attempt to decode in the book, The Decoded Company. Segal is the president and CEO of Klick Health (a well-known healthcare marketing agency) that is both well-recognized for their client work as well as being an “e-mail free” work environment. Harfoush is a technology and media author, speaker and thinker who is best known for her book, Yes We Did: An Insider’s Look at How Social Media Built the Obama. Along with two other Klick team members (Jay Goldman and Aaron Goldstein), they are hoping to encourage other businesses to rethink what the workplace of today can look like in order to create a place where companies know their own people better than they know their consumers. It’s big, it’s bold and it’s thrilling. Enjoy the conversation… 

You can grab the latest episode of Six Pixels of Separation here (or feel free to subscribe via iTunes): Six Pixels of Separation – The Twist Image Podcast #398.

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The End Of Customer Service

Now that everyone complains… nobody cares when there is a complaint.

There was a time (not that long ago), when someone’s complaint online would be rocketed to the executive office, changes were made and brands were being held accountable for their foibles and mishaps. It was the early days of social media (nearly a decade ago). We had the Slashdot effect and more. It was a time when Jeff Jarvis complained about his experience with Dell (now, a story that lives on in infamy as Dell Hell) and it (along with other similar stories) demonstrated that the power to publish a story online had ramifications well beyond the usual “write a letter to the company” and hope that they respond. Back then, you would do an online search and see massive corporate websites vying for search engine optimization over someone with a blog and a bad customer experience. Online social networking took hold and these stories were further exasperated. Brands went from private responses to very publicly trying to resolve customer service issues.

David meets Goliath.

It’s hard not to face the reality that the vast majority of brands came into social media and digital connectedness kicking and screaming. They made very public concessions and apologies. Several organizations have since restructured how their marketing, communications, customer service and more interact with each other and with consumers. Transparency, speed-to-response, bringing a sense of humanity to the brand have all become corporate cultural pillars that every brand now lives to embody. It’s not easy. Remember back when the sentiment was that a brand needs to respond to everything – positive, negative and neutral – everywhere?

But, there’s something else.

Do brands really care anymore? Are there now so many people online, in so many places that it has become both impossible to keep up and, to be raw, not all that important for brands to respond because of the sheer volume? Did the whole United breaks guitars actually do any material damage to the brand? There are some many customer reviews online, that it is often difficult to make heads or tails of something. I’ll often find myself wondering about how brands respond to customer service online, because the same/annoying passive-aggressive type of customer service calls are now being embodied in the digital channels. In fact, when I have a customer service issue, I am prone to not post it online, as I don’t feel the need to leverage my community to get a response or a desire to publicly call any one brand out. I simply want a response and resolve to be done privately. The desire for brands to force this outing on social media is bewildering to me. This past week, Chris Brogan was ranting about his own customer service issues with Dell (you can read about it right here: Update to my Dell Hell Story).

Social Media Cowboys.

Brogan’s raw frustrations or issue with Dell and their products isn’t the crux. The real point of focus lies in the corporate integration. Forgetting that this is Dell, that this is Chris Brogan and that all of this is very public, what we’re seeing is a failure of integration. I loved his use of the term “social media cowboys”, because it speaks volumes to the real challenges that a brand faces in a world where consumers are both the center and the true omni-channel of a brand experience. Sadly, most companies have some kind of social media cowboy. It’s an analytics package, it’s a social media monitoring tool, it’s a real-time marketing command center, it’s a handful of work-from-home helpers, it’s a four person team working within the communications or customer service center to be listening and responding to trending issues. In short, it all means nothing, if it’s not integrated into the core product/service. Having a handful of emails (or people) run through the organization with their hair on fire because someone with any semblance of an audience (like Chris Brogan or anyone else) is demanding answers doesn’t change how a brand operates. It creates a dissonance with how everything else runs.

Sadly.

What have we learned? This is what really made me sad and frustrated after reading Chris’ post: we have not learned much after all of this time. And, for all of the talking that has been done, not much has changed. You would think that Dell (which is often held up as a case study is excellence for social media and monitoring) would be able to nail something so basic. So, left to our devices, I’m wondering how many true strides brands have really made in an effort to be better, to be more transparent, to be more human and to connect more with their consumers? Ultimately, how many brands have built a better organization, in a world where every voice now has a stage and an audience?

I’m hoping this isn’t the end of customer service.

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The Psychology Of Online Persuasion

Episode #397 of Six Pixels of Separation – The Twist Image Podcast is now live and ready for you to listen to.

What does it take to get a consumer to do something online? We can’t argue that we live in a world of brand saturation. From very small, in…