Get Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable

I’m closely following the fortunes of my beloved Chicago Bulls in the NBA playoffs right now. They had the best overall record in the regular season and lost just two of the last twenty three regular season games.

So then to the play offs. In round one, in the best of seven series, they won 4-1. As I write they are leading Atlanta 3-2, with a road trip up next. Basically play off basketball is a different game. They’re finding the play offs tough. They’re not like the regular season at all – they sort out the greats from the regular players!

It gets tough in there! Elbows, arms, heads all clash and guys get hurt.

“You have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable’, as coach Tom Thibodeau said last night.

And as I heard him say this, I realised that this is just how brands need to think about facing up to social media.

The social web is a difficult place to be for brands. It’s inconvenient, transparent, random, seemingly out of control. It’s uncomfortable.

But you can’t not show up in the play offs and brands can’t choose not to play on the social web – it’s not their decision. Customers have made that one for them.

So how do you get comfortable? It’s not easy. Remember, winning on the social web doesn’t mean organisational change – it means changing the organisation. It means remaining focused, more than ever on listening to your customers – the right ones, engaging with them, being smart, being human.

Humanising your business mans play off time for many businesses, because the rewards are huge.

Who are the brands that can win in the play offs and go on to win the Championship?

Why Social is Something you ARE, not Something you DO

Converse, the leisure / fashion footwear brand currently has just under 16 million fans on Facebook. Its parent company and global behemoth, Nike, has just over 4 million.

I don’t have the turnover figures for the two brands to hand, nor do I know what their marketing budgets are, but I’ll bet my mortgage on the fact that the disparity between the two is reversed – and then some.

So, why does one win on Facebook and the other, relatively speaking seem to be struggling to attract the numbers that its market share would suggest it should have? Well, closer inspection shows the proliferation of the Nike pages – football, basketball etc., but the prime business for both brands is to sell shoes that are worn for leisure and recreation.

But by looking at both pages, you can quickly see that social media is looked upon by the Converse team as more than simply a channel to talk about themselves. Nike, seem to talk about Nike rather a lot.

I’ve maintained many times that social media is like a cocktail party. Guests arrive and talk and listen and engage naturally on a very human level. Spot the person who simply talks about themself and they’ll be the one with no friends at the end of the evening.

That’s why Converse’s plan to hold auditions in cities around the US for up and coming bands, demonstrates a crucial and yet so seemingly obvious point; that the people who love Converse, have more going on in their lives than wearing shoes. They are into music, fashion, movies etc etc and Converse engage with people on this level.

For British brands, particularly with that slightly stiff approach to communicating with customers, this change in the way people roll is a challenge. An inconvenient, awkward challenge that takes them out of their comfort zone. You can’t go to the cocktail party and then start dancing like a Dad at a wedding because you think it’s cool!

But you can listen to what your core customers are talking about on social media and do something with them in the same space.

I’m talking about humanising your business. Relating naturally to customers and not necessarily just on the familiar territory that you’ve occupied before – catalogue, page advertising etc, but on their patch – their blogs, Facebook and Twitter.

In fact the marketing textbook term, ‘brand awareness’ reveals the current problem for some – but think about it the other way around. People want to know that brands are more than simply being ‘aware’ of them. They want brands to ‘see them’, ‘hear them’ and ‘talk to them’.

How can you socialise your brand? You could talk to us! The prizes for getting it right are magnificent.

[first posted on http://iainflovatt.com]

We’ll Be Good, Really We Will..

I had to laugh really.

“We don’t want to be bad, we want to be good” the man said. His almost pathetic appeal to the TV cameras sounded more like a naughty boy who’d been told that if he wasn’t a good, he wouldn’t be allowed out to play. As Peter Rabbit said, “Why do it do it? What can it be? There’s naughtiness in everyone, but twice as much in me”.

But this wasn’t a child, this was Philip Clarke, the newly appointed head of Tesco, Britain’s most successful retail brand of the last ten years.

He carried on, “we need to..create more engagement”. This almost simpering message felt like a slap around the face acting as a wake up call.

More engagement? Sharpen customer communications (sounds dodgy!), sort out the details…we’ll soon see if these are merely platitudes, but let’s be generous for now and say well done, you’ve woken up to the rise of humanised business that social media is leading.

But Tesco will need to change beyond belief. For every tweet they might send in the future (they’re not big on Twitter!) someone will show you a farmer having his livlihood threatened by Tesco’s buying culture, for every ‘little bit’ that counts on Facebook, we’ll see protests outside a recently closed pub or business that Tesco want to tun into a Metro within a mile of one of their superstores.

I guess the retailer that bares comparison in the US is naturally Walmart, owners of UK supermarket chain Asda, whose sustainability initiatives are the biggest sign that big brands, huge brands, need to respond to customer’s concerns in a very real way. But Tesco have a mountain to climb.

I recall an article in Marketing Week by Professor Mark Ritson, which was totally negative to the potential benefit to businesses of social media tools. In fact he cited the success of Tesco, who at that time were silent when it came to social media, as the biggest success story in recent British economic history and that therefore they should be the model for aspiring businesses. Facebook and Twitter are purely for celebrities he said. I guess Ritson would see Salesforce.com’s purchase of Radian6 a few weeks ago for $340m as a huge mistake.

He may prove to be right of course, but Tesco – the case study central to his argument, appear for now to have left him behind and to have bought into the fact that what businesses need in 2011 and beyond is to be real, human, authentic and yes – sociable.

In hard times, the pressure on retailers to keep prices low is immense. But if a retailer makes my time spent with them either in store online or on the phone, a pleasant one, respond to me when I ask them to and show me individual attention I will remember that more than my milk costing 2p more.

And I’ll tell everyone all about them.

PS – Just checked Philip Clarke’s Twitter page. He’s doing well. Has over 3,000 followers….but he’s following just 2! And one of them is Tesco!!!!

The Pursuit of Happiness and Tea

During my time in the US, I spent some time reflecting on the genius that is the opening to the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The right to pursue happiness is surely the most liberating goal man can have and for the first time, a nation was enshrining this right in its very own DNA.

And so yesterday, when the website for a new group. Action for Happiness, based in the UK, actually crashed under the volume of traffic it was attracting, it said to me that people are longing to realise this same natural instinct that the Founding Fathers laid down over 200 years ago.

Action for Happiness is apparently the work of The Young Foundation who employ 60 staff in New York, London and Birmingham to encourage “entrepreneurship to meet social needs”.

Music to my ears. I can’t claim that The Young Foundation isn’t a front for a clandestine political organisiation, but I doubt that they are. They just seem like good people and Action for Happiness is a natural offshoot.

One of the principles that they ascribe to happiness is resiliance – learning how to bounce back. This is a fantastic responce to those who say “England is mine it owes me a living” (although I still love Morrissey!) No the state won’t bail you out if you fail.

Seth Godin wrote a marvellous piece on failure in business this week, and J.K. Rowling’s speech on the subject to Harvard is still one of the most inspirational clips you will ever see.

What’s this to do with social media? Well here are people coming together socially, online to generate ideas and spread opinion. What’s the ROI on that?

I hope that the popularity of the Action for Happiness is maintained, that people really look to themselves to do simple things to achieve happiness, not other people, not the state but the one under valued resource they have at their fingertips – themselves.

Now I’m off to make a pot of tea for everyone, not a cup for myself.

Want one?

LinkedIn – Is It Becoming A Bear Pit And A Beauty Pageant For The Ugly?

This is a post I’ve been meaning to write for a while. I’ve been feeling more and more turned off by LinkedIn.

Like most people I spent time carefully building my profile, seeking recommendations from former colleagues and joining groups relevant to marketing, social media and emerging technologies. But it is within these groups that I have observed a disturbing and growing trend.

Whilst my membership of many of these groups in the early days involved joining in with discussions, trying to answer questions and on occasion initiating discussions, most recently I have taken more of a backseat and become more an occasional observer

So why the change? Well, the trend that I have seen develop recently and rapidly in a number of groups is a nasty little habit amongst the members to snipe at each other. All done very politely of course and almost in the tradition of British Parliamentary debate (“I respect the views of the Rt. Hon. Member, but he is an idiot”)

Now lively debate and discussion is very healthy of course. In the days before social media, the letters pages of the marketing press would be filled with the same level of argument that others could contribute to by writing to the editor. But the ease of typing a throw away line into a group discussion means that a shooting from the hip attitude seems to have grown and the result doesn’t reflect well on those with a smoking gun.

What makes this worse is that I’ve seen these sniping, one-upmanship comments appearing in discussions initiated by people asking a very simple question. For example, in one group recently a member simply asked “How can I grow my number of Twitter followers?” After a few initial answers that were all quite fine, a huge argument broke out between two people over something barely related to the question! Of course, the person who quite innocently asked the question in the first place will have been bombarded with LinkedIn emails every time these two people piped up with a snipe and could quite possibly have viewed it as spam!

So, my view of LinkedIn has changed considerably recently. I’m not a fan of this trend of trying to prove that you know more than anyone else. Couple this with the trend to overtly promote your own companies wares (forbidden by most group rules, but roundly ignored) and I’m seeing LinkedIn as cross between a bear pit and a beauty pageant for the ugly!

Or have I got this all wrong?

Nearly half of all Twitter users don’t read a word you say – that many?

Here’s an article I came across, bizarrely enough, on Twitter the other day. I’m not sure where the author has gathered the information, the source isn’t quoted, but it makes the claim that although the number of people subscribing to Twitter continues to grow inexorably, those who ‘use’ the site are relatively small in number.

The headline says is it all – Half Twitter users don’t read a word you say.

So what?

If you imagine that Twitter is another channel to push your message out to your audience, then of course that message will continue to be mistrusted. That’s not engagement. Remember, the key to winning on the social web is to listen and then to engage.

I continue to see company Facebook pages that don’t allow people to post messages. Is the expectation that people are just waiting to hear what they have to say like the sermon on the mount?

Twitter and Facebook can only really be called ‘social’ media if they facilitate conversations and discussions between brands and their customers and prospects. Those who follow a brand on Twitter are doing so for a variety of reasons, to wait for discounts, find out when the next store is opening etc etc. But more and more, these people are going to have questions. When is the next offer? When is the store opening in my neighbourhood? And they will ask these questions and expect answers – quickly. Those people will be listening to what you say becasue you’ll be saying it to them directly.

That’s the real power of social media.

 

Happy? None Of Your Business!

This ISN’T a political blog. It really isn’t – I have to say that straight off before you read further.

OK? Good.

I am a dyed in the wool direct marketer, taught to measure everything, a firm believer in “what gets’ measured, gets improved”. This is so true in the world of social media activity and if anybody tells you that you cannot measure ROI of social media activity, punch them on the nose, or at the very least, show them the door.

Social media activity can indeed be measured in terms of ROI, but the ‘I’ really needs to stand for involvement, rather than ‘investment’.

But I heard the other week that the UK Government is to spend £2m on measuring the nations ‘happiness’.

Apart from this being a dreadful waste of money at a time when cuts are being made into every area of public spending, I have to ask, just what business is it of a government, how happy I am?

It’s none of their ******* business!

I’m sorry, but this seems like the tentacles of government spreading further and further into our private lives.

Now I ‘m a huge fan of Kevin Roberts, the charismatic CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide and his blog post just reached my inbox, in which he supports this move. So I find myself at complete odds with Kevin for the first time.

I sense my libertarian instincts suddenly being roused by this announcement. I’m sure I won’t be directly affected by it, and doubt I’d miss the effect on my taxes of the spending, but the principle that a government wants to find out how happy I am is ridiculous at best, sinister at worst.

For the record, if government got out of the way, removed red tape, repealed the overwhelming health and safety legislation, cut corporation taxes and just let people get on with their lives, then happiness would spread organically –  As the bumper sticker says “Work Hard – Be Happy!”

But I don’t want to annoy anyone, let alone a small ‘l’ liberal like me.

Am I out of sync?