Categories
Business

Hello, pleased to meet you. Facebook can ruin your business.

While most of the media tries to convince business people that they should all run to use social media asap, I beg to differ.   The step is simply too big, especially for market leaders.   You make a business page for your company, brand or product?   I will use it against you!   What you have effectively done is made a media channel with all your customers for anyone to use!

Sure you could lock down the wall, but then “that’s not very social media”.   You can monitor the wall 24/7/365 but  if you take an offensive post down you might get a consumer backlash for “censorship” and “that’s not very social media”.   Despite being an early proponent of social media in business I think you really need to define your targets and then look even more carefully at potential risks.   I am not the only person being hired to ruin companies and brands through social media.

It sort of gives a different ring to the term “viral”.   You know that kitch email chain letter you received?   Well, chances are it started from someone out to hit a competitor’s market share.   It is just much easier to knock off 5% of sales from a competitor than to get a 5% increase yourself.

So yes, you need to watch what is happening in social media.   As traditional media crumbles, these are exciting times for anybody in the business of communication.   And yes, you might find that many new tools are really cost effective.   But they have far reaching implications to your organization’s structure and inner workings.   Which don’t always make business sense.   I have tried to change companies through their communication and it doesn’t work easily, especially when top management doesn’t change first in a very public way.   It is like trying to change a company through it’s IT infrastructure.

As we all talk about leaving hierarchical structures behind and how media is becoming decentralised, it is useful to remind ourselves that most companies are still very hierarchical and centralised.   And for good reason.

Several articles on this topic are available on my Greek blog – and the Branding Intelligence blog (also here).

P.S. Some people have arrived at this post through extremely narrowly targeted Facebook ads; don’t worry, you are the only one that saw that provocative material  and as soon as I see you have clicked through I will take it down… ; )

Categories
Business

Social media: turning useful employees into mindless gossip peddlers?

That does it.   Another major Greek corporation inviting all employess to a briefing on social media.   Not “legal issues concerning what you can and can’t write online about the company”.    Not “ten useful things you need to know about how best to integrate social media in your life.”   But “how and why you should spend more time doing marketing for the company doing social media instead of your normal job.”

No two ways around it.   We used to split people within a company to those that faced the customers and those that didn’t.   There are good reasons for this.   Not everyone is good at communication.   Corporate communication is more complicated than private chat.   You need to take into account many more factors and weight them with much more care.   Yet time and time again in the past year I see companies wanting to “enable” all their employees to speak on behalf of the company.   Marketing departments are shrinking and the extra work is going to …everyone!

So Mr Joe from engineering is sitting in a seminar about social media.  His personal facebook page and all 120 friends used to seeing his favourites on youtube, views on politics and photos from his holidays now get a …company press release?  “Hey everybody, my company has a new facebook page, please press ‘like’ immediately!”   This may sound stupid but how far away is it from what is actually happening?

I sometimes have difficulty switching from one project to another.   Especially in the early stages of a job when I have to immerse myself in their world completely in order to discover that best path which they haven’t seen yet.   Like an actor’s studio method I have to become one with the marketing people, management and the customer.   But this is my job and I have developed ways to deal with it.   Your employees haven’t.

If your company has vision, strategy and everything else they keep going on about in these fashionable social media seminars then it wouldn’t need to train everyone in how to use them.    If we all understand the company’s vision, it permeates what we are and what we do.   It will wash through to what employees communicate about on facebook or twitter like it does when they chat to neighboors around the barbeque.   You don’t need to do something special.   Asking them to take on communication tasks carries the most serious risk of them losing focus of what you really hired them to do.   Your entire team can fall apart.   Publicly, on social media!

Categories
Communication

Measuring digital influence: the silly and the science

“The most influential people online” says the tagline for WebIt, an upcoming “Digital and IT event” (vague terms as nobody is sure anymore!)   The idea isn’t new; a similar scheme had played out with the Influence Project some time ago.   These sort of efforts are of course plagued with massive methodological problems.

Obviously anybody that starts first has a great advantage, particularly in countries where the online influencers are fewer and it just takes one mention to tell everyone.   Furthermore, social media professionals tend to check each other out all the time, so whichever one of these happens to get their link out first gets everyone else under “their” pyramid.

An added problem is the incentive.   Some people may consider a free flight to Bulgaria a bonus, others a punishment.   In any case many top influencers will not bother.   So we are back to square one, possibly with a few new ideas about who is around in each country, looking for more reliable ways to measure influence.   Of course, this is a job for professionals, like Qualia who monitor all media and even do sentiment analysis on it.   They have also started doing what is more interesting and easy to understand, which is to look at specific topics or incidents.  (Check them out in the “blog” section of their website.)

Influence is a complicated matter but taking the more specific approach is probably closer to the “true” nature of things.   Oh, and don’t forget to click here if you want to measure your influence the cheap and cheerful way… ; )

Categories
Business

How GrecoGerman family businesses will rule the world

It is fashionable (and easy) to target family run businesses as the source of a country’s problems.  Whether it is the Economist’s view of a region or the complaints of a middle manager who “just couldn’t get a promotion in there”.   I have studied family businesses as clients, as numbers and statistics.   I have lived and breathed one for most of my life.   And after enough years away from it now I can finally see the upside more clearly.

The term “family business” is completely useless.   The realization came crashing down on me as I got more comfortable with “Hidden Champions” (Simon Kucher) .    Even the Economist will take note.   After admiring the mid sized companies that are driving Germany’s worldwide export leadership, it takes some getting used to.    66% of these dynamic world leaders are family run.   Sure that is down 10% from what it was ten years ago.  Which is my point.  Not even a German family remains unchanged.

Not all families are the same.   So family businesses will also be pretty different. Kucher identifies factors unique to these winners like the drive to be No1, heavy investment in R&D, hard competition with neighbors and closeness to customers.   The fact that more people in these companies talk to customers has important implications for the use of social media too.   Nepotism may be rife in the Mediterranean but is not a given.

Pdf summary of the presentation on Hidden Champions is here –  FamilyBusinessPotentialInGreece.   Read it and then try to picture a German family business like those described in it next to a Greek one…maybe after enough Germans have bought land and moved to sunny Greece a new type of GrecoGermanic mid sized company will conquer the world!

Categories
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.

Categories
Business Communication

Personal Communications Advisor: better than golf

Yes, yet another acronym.   I am now officially a PE.C.A.   I coined the term because it is going to become a popular profession.   Not for me personally.   I only got involved and am developing the know how in order to assist corporate clients.   The problem is that the personal branding of their top brass is important.   Really important.   And they have no clue how to properly use their social media.

Top CEO easily accessible via Facebook?   Not a good idea.   His or her personal information available?   Most high flying execs have no idea just where and how the stuff they post online might be accessible.   So, most of them avoid it all together.   Also not a good idea for many.   (Depends what business you are in and what your overall company communications plan is.)

So, they need to be online, trendy and creating buzz but aren’t sure what exactly the latest Google, Facebook or LinkedIn policy change means.  In comes the PE.C.A.!   Setting targets, measuring results, checking what the reactions are.   Somebody has to be online to check that a storm isn’t brewing.   The CEO isn’t going to be signing in every five minutes…

For many up and coming entrepreneurs or other business people social media is a valuable way of getting up in life in terms of connections.   I was once advised to take up golf in order to meet “the right people”.   Unfortunately it is true that many a major business deal has taken place between swings.   (And – in my experience – this nonchalance often leads to catastrophic results.)  But by projecting the right message, the CEO can get the equivelant of golfing contacts online.

Take your best swing!

Categories
Communication

Hitch hiking in corporate social media

It is a form of constipation when it comes to writing anything in public.  And I am not talking about multimillion corporations worried about lawsuits or their careers if their names appear under a press release or a blog post.  Even (or especially) small companies suffer from the lack of bravado.  And the result is catastrophic.  No communication is bad communication.  In a world inundated with incoming signals, you get drowned out.

So how to energize the situation?   Here are techniques I have tried with varying degrees of success.   Never start with the top boss, he or she is usually the problem.   They are aware that there is a problem but when it really comes down to it, they can’t write to save their lives.   The same person that is fascinating and full of jokes, stories and details when he gets to know you, clamps up when he sits to a keyboard or pen and paper.  Fixed (boring) phrases, editing and re-editing until there is no life left in the text.  So if not the boss, who?  There is usually a sales director, marketing person or techie with a talent.   They may be afraid from past failures but they basically have the urge to communicate.  Use them!

The only thing you need top level consent on really is the main message.  Reassure them that no matter what gets written by someone in the company in any social media situation we will be following these basic assumptions about the company, the brand and the product messaging.  Help them focus on the big picture which is their job anyway, rather than examining the details of every blog post or LinkedIn update.

Where is the material?  Usually right in front of everyone! Any company that has been in business for some time, has amassed loads of material from conferences, sales meetings, trade shows, research…it is just sitting in a pile or a hard disk somewhere.   It is magical that first time I get the customer to see through these glasses as it hits him just what a goldmine he is sitting on.   Match the information to the audience and we have the energy to get this plane flying!

Here is a fine point though:  social media is NOT about making a new car in order to get somewhere.  It is more like hitching a lift every day.  Uncertain and dynamic.  What are your customers using already?  Facebook?  Twitter?  Linkedin?  You go to them in a way they will appreciate.  And make damn sure the content is useful.  No point in doing it anyhow else.  “Useful” can also mean “pleasant” or “motivating” or “feel good”.   It doesn’t have to change their lives but it has to fit in pleasantly.  If this is B2B communication it means “helps me get results”.  Me the customer.

The hitch hiking analogy is probably the best one to keep. You get in the car of someone you have never met.  You try and think of a topic of conversation they might find interesting.   You get off when they tell you to or you feel you have overstayed your welcome.   You offer useful tips and politely try and find out more about them.   That way you might get a lift tomorrow too!

Hitching a lift also offers itself as a metaphor to keep in mind that there are many other ways that people get information without you.  You want your information to be picked up?  Put it where they expect to find your information, where they are likely to be positively inclined towards its presence. Don’t stand in the middle of an uphill and expect cars to stop! What influences people to stop?  Time of day, your clothing, your smile…they all make a difference.  If you don’t care about all of these ‘details’, you’re not going to get a lift.

(More on ‘real’ hitch hiking advice – one of my favourite means of transport – with twenty practical pieces of advice here.)

Categories
Business Communication Technology

Brand building and social media

I took the time to get to know a superb team of brand builders today, www.yalosquality.com has a sample of their work through sadly not a lot of the more recent stuff.  They know what they are good at and they really focus on those details of a brand that matter, especially in packaging.  It got me thinking about all the social media so called brand building.

In essence you need to know three things to start with: who do you want to get into your net?(work) What gets onto your customers radars?  (Rather pointless these days to talk about media ‘consumption’.)  And where does the rest of your team fit into this effort?  (Your employees or anyone else you feel is on your side.)

It seems self evident to say you need a target but with social media this is not an easy task.  It isn’t a box sitting on a shelf, limited in many respects in its effects.  It bridges PR, community, investors and any other partnership in ways so complex it is infuriating to try and explain many times.   In normal brand building, people like the fantastically able people at Yalos make sure that everything is perfect.  The best possible take on all aspects of the brand.  In social media we are battling to achieve a degree of transparency which is almost in opposition with classic testimonials or case studies.  We are looking for a convincing ‘person’ of a brand.

And this ‘person’ cannot be driven by a single entity.  It has to be the live sum total of customers’ living with the brand.  But as clear as they are conversing with a friend.   Except they aren’t sitting down to share a coffee and a long chat.  They are saying ‘hi’ as they pass each other in the supermarket, ‘how are you’ as they pick up their kids from school and ‘we should get together some time’ as they sit next to each other for five minutes at basketball practice.   That’s life today, even with ‘normal’ regular real people friends!

Let me be clear about one thing: for most companies I wouldn’t dream of putting up anything on a social network that can be demolished.  I recently witnessed the online bashing of www.getitnow.gr , what seemed a much promising eshop type venture in Greece with serious levels of investment.  Their facebook page had all the right ingredients but once the complaints started, it seems impossible to put a lid on the hell it let loose!  You can’t delete a comment you don’t like, everyone will know instantly.    Server problems?  Delays?  Confusion?  Even if they were perfect from the start they would have been in for it.  When behemoths like P&G are struggling to make sense of it all you know we have a challenge.

And I have the solution.  Stay tuned!

Categories
Communication Society Technology

Self organized criticality in our brains (and media consumption)

Example of a small world network from Mathaware website

There has been a lot of work done on the way human organise their social activities.  (Here is an excellent summary)  From Einstein to Aristotle, these are serious questions regarding just how many people we “know”.  With our global markets steaming along and more and more people trying to decipher Facebook and other such phenomena the questions are more pertinent than ever.  If nothing else because we are reaching the limit of what our brains can handle.

And brain research indeed is what has helped me move ahead on this issue.    John Beggs at Indiana University has done some groundbreaking work to show what we always suspected:  our brains are tittering on the brink of chaos!

If we had a regular network of neuron operation we would be too slow.  If it was random it would again not be the most efficient way of dealing with our environment.  Small world network organisation fits perfectly with all previous work on the topic.

And it also explains “aha” or “eureka” moments.  Our brain works like sand on a beach.  The wind piles it up and then suddenly it crumbles.  (Here some recent research on this in relation to sudden realisations or discoveries.)  You can apply the model to natural disasters or avalanches.  What is interesting is that Beggs figured out how to test (and prove) the theory in our brains.

It is the changes between a calm state and a flurry of activity that defines intelligence in many ways but that is not what is interesting for social media.   In many ways, people using them will reflect similar patterns.  And if you want to use them you will have to adapt.

The reverse side of this coin was proved in an interesting experiment with believers and atheists.   It showed that believers’ “deactivated the frontal network consisting of the medial and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex bilaterally in response to speakers who they believed had healing abilities”.   ie to accept religion your brain actually switches off critical parts of it’s functionality.

The slogan “TV is dead” is simply not true (as proven by increased consumption of television globally) exactly because it is a great way of doing something similar.  We (well some people more than others!) need a method of “switching off” and relaxing like trash TV.   It is just a shame that so many people do it through passive soap opera and reality show consumption instead of just getting out for a walk.