Communication Technology

Do evil: using social media to destroy competitors. Or anyone you don’t like

Social media failures are fast becoming a part of my daily entertainment.  Large and small corporations suddenly naked and unarmed, it is the stuff of slapstick comedy.   We all see that long ladder swinging around except Hardy and…bang!  Laurel knocks him down.   The fun part is that – just like in social media – the stars getting injured often don’t even know what is going on.

Fun, that is, until it comes to your doorstep.   Because what the iPad wielding crowd of advertising cracks won’t tell you is that many things can go wrong. The problem is essentially that Facebook, even more than Google, tends to change everything around with no notice.   They don’t even tell us what exactly they have changed.   It is “magic sauce”.   So you are putting your marketing on a platform which you don’t control.   At all. The analogy I came up with is that you are making public the name and contact details of every lead coming in.   I can see on your wall every “friend” commenting or posting and I can contact him or her.   How bad is that?

It all started as I was writing about social media failures on a Greek branding blog.  A summary of common or famous mistakes, anything from rogue employees to Boeing not responding warmly enough to fuzzy kids drawings.   Incoming message was about a social media conference in Athens and one of the topics was “how Lacta got to have the biggest Facebook brand page in Greece”.   (You can watch it here.)   Maybe I was in a bad mood, maybe I just didn’t appreciate the tone, mostly for fun I put up a picture on their wall.   Their brand of chocolates but they fell out of the bag roughly in the shape of male genitalia.  Only if you have a dirty mind of course, I noticed the snow and the scenery personally of course.

Whoops!   Three hundred thousand fans of the chocolate saw it.   If I was Osama Bin Laden this would be the equivalent of CNN giving me a five minute interview to express my views. It is as if Lacta spent all this money and energy to build a wall, a media platform on which I can shout anything I want.   And they can’t stop me!  In fact a junior person in the team even clicked “like” from their own brand on it!   The picture attracted more likes and was on the wall for a while before they pulled it off.   Of course the photo remained in the “Photos” section of their Facebook page for several days.   I did another post, they read it and eventually pulled it off from there too.   I talked about useful paradigms from technology, well here is a great one for social media: this is just like the way we explore security vulnerabilities!

I can think of hundreds of awful things to do to a brand with social media which won’t even cost much in time all of which have a pretty good chance of enabling a negative backlash.   As I explained in another post today, it will happen even without your competitors hiring me.   As soon as you reach a critical mass of people that like you and express it publicly, you can be sure that a new group of people, negatively charged will appear.   And some of them will want to hurt you.

You can patch a software vulnerability and it is final.   Negative publicity however is much harder to deal with.


Selling sea weed for colored ribbons – the homeopathic communication example

It is a Greek expression which implies someone who manages to make something terrible look good.  For profit.  Hey, isn’t that what all business is about?   Except there are those that do it better and merit our attention.   Steve Jobs, Mr “we burn Pentiums to the ground” one day, on the Intel platform the next, is a prime example.   Homeopathy is even better.

Suppose you run an advertising agency and someone comes to you with this proposition:  “We want you to promote a service which has been around for a few centuries but has never proved it works.”   Like selling strawberry jam which contains no strawberries.   It is an extreme example which has a lot to teach us about how to spread disinformation on the internet.   (Greek articles of mine here and here contain a specific analysis of the official Greek Homeopathy website and what we can learn from charlatans.)

1. Be vague.   Promise nirvana (a “strong” immune system, whatever that means) but never be more specific.   If you read through the Homeopathic texts they manage to convert specific symptoms into something that reads like astrology!   A bit like the whole issue of climate science, mobile phone radiation or cigarette induced cancer.   (Here my post on Machiavellian politics.)

2. Invent an enemy. Are people worried about vaccinations?   Ride on it!  When cornered go for the conspiracy theory.   No matter that there is loads of money spent trying to prove homeopathy works (completely unsuccessfully) pretend that Big Pharma is at your throat.  (They don’t mind, the profit margins selling homeopathic remedies is even better!)

3. Murk the waters.   This is a variation on being vague.  Especially as pertaining to evidence.   Reinterpret it freely, provide plenty proper looking bibliographical details.   Even if they are completely unrelated!  My research shows that absolutely nobody will click on them, read them or bother to understand them anyway.

4. Go for the “middle price” approach. Just like we put a luxury item and a cheap item next to whatever we want to sell on a retail shelf.   People instinctively find it difficult to go “all the way” to one side of an argument, even if the other side is complete nonsense.  (As long as you have dressed it up sufficiently as per points 1-3 first.)

5. Focus on anything they couldn’t really deal with anyway.  Like making Macs a closed system, ie hard to compare with the rest of the world.     Like Tinnitus (here a good article on the advertising of remedies) or anything in which your opponents have no adequate solution.

6. Don’t get into situations where you will be publicly forced to give a concrete answer.  Don’t go on television against even a mediocre journalist who might put  “difficult” (ie self evident objections) questions.

7. When in doubt, just lie through your teeth!   Best communicational defence is attack.   Just don’t give anyone a split second to let it sink in.  Like Bill Clinton, Mr “I did not have sex with that woman”, just throw out your best lie with conviction.   Even if you eventually get caught out, if you insist on your line, most people will follow you in the long term.

So in effect, if you sell homeopathy, your best approach is similar to the Royal Family.  Keep a low profile, dress up fancy and stick to your guns.


Business Communication

Branding and social media lessons from Muhammed

We live in a sandstorm of information.   Blogs, tweets, status updates, emails, sms and everything raining down on us.  In such a desert 1500 years ago a man worked as a merchant meeting various people of the region and listening to them carefully.  He gathered data. And then what did he do?  Inbound marketing!   He went to his cave and developed a religion.  (Through revelation for those that believe this religion, no offence taken I hope !)   In this desert storm of information, make your own oasis.   Provide good information, food for thought, entertainment for all of us tired from crossing the barren wilderness.   Design an environment where we can relax.

And once you have the people in your oasis?  The Prophet eventually went out to preach of course!   His wife converted to his religion. Impressive!  I doubt my wife would be the first convert of anything I came up with!  His family followed.   He built a circle of followers around him, like a well seeded Facebook group.   He left Mecca when things got tough, just like a brand might drop an approach that doesn’t work.   Rebranded himself as he landed in Medina and turned to diplomacy.   Like a company looking for synergies with other partners.   Like finding “friends” in social media, early adopters in technology, allies in the politics of entrepreneurship.

And then, before it got too stale, full scale attack!  The rate of growth of Muhammed’s doctrine is still impressive all these years later. Like a viral YouTube video, his beautiful poetry conquered.   What the verse didn’t do, his sword finished off. One simple message, one doctrine in one language.   Accepting other faiths as long as they had “a book” and paid taxes.   Like letting people post on your wall.  On one common platform for everyone like Facebook or Twitter.

Perhaps most impressive was that the rate of expansion accelerated after he died.  A few decades after Jerusalem fell to the Arabs and the Romans lost to them.   Will Apple keep up there success rate when Steve Jobs dies? The Prophet set up a system which conquered even Persia (not conquered by the Romans or anyone else…ever!), reaching Spain and setting up massive empires.   And a cultural legacy which still affects the world in a big way.

One man.  One brand.   One product which is in fact a simple idea.   But so many tweaks along the way…

(Blog post inspired by a truly terrible pseudo viral campaign by Nestle in Greece for Fitness products.)


Using paradigms to find opportunities: how an inkjet is like a coffee machine

“So people get this 100 euro coffee machine, but then have to pay almost double the price for the capsules?”  I love consulting because you get to play with different business problems every day.  “This sounds a bit too much like the ink jet business!”   They are selling the machines below cost to people tired of instant coffee.   Or those annoyed at the complexities of semi automatic ones.   But they are then killing them with the consumables.

“Why don’t you make a machine that simply refills capsules?”  Technically much much easier than ink jet cartridges.   There are no electronics, it is simply a plastic cup full of coffee.  In most cases, not even under pressure or in a vacuum.   And the available selection is terrible, just 3 or 4 tastes per manufacturer.   All you need is a machine that grinds coffee and puts it in little plastic buckets with a seal on top.  You could even install these machines at…ink jet refillers.  (Techies drink a lot of coffee.)   The margins are great and the taste will be better (freshly ground coffee).  Consumer choice increased.  There are no real licensing issues.   If they can navigate around a complex machine-chemical interaction like ink jets, they can do coffee.

It is a point that has often struck me.   The first time I met up with big wigs from the U.S. arm of InFocus projectors I asked: “why don’t you make a bespoke system of interchangeable lenses?”   I have been using Canon cameras all my life because of my lens collection.  Whether you are trying to make a monopoly or break one, it is often some peripheral which points the way.   If you have deep enough pockets, you can sponsor the transition; in times of economic crisis this is a form of lending.

A bit like giving a capsule coffee machine as a wedding present but then selling them the capsules…