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NSA Leaks: The Big Data Two Step for Businesses This post originally appeared on LinkedIn as part of their influencer program on June 10, 2013.  To see the original post click here. I expect we will be seeing a lot of dancing over the next few...


Coming to an Agency Near You! This post originally appeared on LinkedIn as part of their influencer program on September 23, 2013.  To see the original post click here. I am often pondering what is next in the world in which we...


Customer Service Week: Here's Your Call Center This post originally appeared on LinkedIn as part of their influencer program on October 7, 2013.  To see the original post click here. As we begin Customer Service Week I want to thank all those...


Defining the Customer Experience Role This post originally appeared on LinkedIn as part of their influencer program on October 2, 2013.  To see the original post click here. Customer experience is a term growing in popularity within businesses...


Apple's #Fail When Dealing with @MarthaStewart This post originally appeared on LinkedIn as part of their influencer program on September 30, 2013.  To see the original post click here. It feels like it was the Tweet heard around the world: "I...


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Hosni Mubarak was an Influencer!

Posted on : 17-02-2011 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Business, Customer Service, Social Media


Okay, I know the headline was to catch attention, but it still brings up an interesting point. I am constantly hearing about influencers, and I thought it was a topic we should further discuss. By all definitions, Hosni Mubarek, former President of Egypt, was an influencer. He held control over much of the media, and in some ways, the internet. Yet the overwhelming voice of the people were able to change that. Simply by banning together, and connecting on the web and offline.

I meet people who are probably smarter than me when it comes to marketing, or even social media, but they focus so much on the influencer. Many want to give product to the influencer, in hopes they will speak well of it and add to sales. This always makes me wonder if influencers always started to hawk these products, how long will they retain their influence? I know for myself, I would want to turn them off. I like to connect with people for their intellectual ability not selling abilities.

Every time I think of influence, I always remember a conference in Atlanta where a telecom marketing person spoke about how she rewards people for saying nice things about her brand. As soon as she said it, I immediately thought ‘thank you for telling me that, now I do not believe good things said about that brand. Now I do not kid myself, I know that companies have policies for press and others so they can use product for reviews or articles. But for the most part press tend to work on ethical rules regarding gifts and free product. Companies also have similar rules limiting what they offer. There are also rules for disclosure for bloggers which should be enforced by the blogger, as well as the company who provided the product.

My favorite is when people start talking about giving preferential treatment to influencers when they need Customer Service. I personally feel everyone is an influencer and would be happy to share examples where negative or positive experiences by everyday people who have shared the experience and the content became influential. I know many will say companies provide preferential treatment to those who buy a lot of product or take advantage of multiple services. That is true and to me that makes sense. They create the revenue for the company and are very dedicated to the company based on their actions. Companies may provide them a dedicated team, or even other discounts. I think many understand that. I should point out that my first management role was in one of these service departments for the Vanguard Group of Investment Companies. My opinion is if you start to treat those with high Klout scores with preferential treatment, you run a number of risks. First if I regularly buy your product, have a lower score and find out, I will be irritated that you do not value me and you may lose me as a Customer. You are sending a message to other Customers that they are not as special as an influencer. The opposite can also cause trouble. People love to know they receive preferential treatment, but what happens if they feel a ‘regular’ person received a better Customer experience? Could they be loud regarding what they perceive as their poor treatment?

I also think this type of trouble could cause us to we see another Mubarak moment directed at the brand providing this ‘special treatment.’ I can see ‘regular’ Customers banning together and becoming the major brand influencer in a major negative way. Personally I would like to see brands realize every Customer can be an influencer and treat them in a way the builds them as advocates. What do you think about special treatment of influencers?

Twitter is Not Your Answer to Service

Posted on : 15-02-2011 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Business, Customer Service, Social Media

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Fortune Magazine has an interesting piece by Anne Vandermey comparing Customer Service by channel, including phone, website, and Twitter.  They provided the same question to each channel and measured accuracy and speed of response.  What they found from most of the interactions was phone was still the best way to receive service.  I was not surprised by the findings, but there are a few other key points that should be made.  Here are a few:

1)   Customer Preferred Communication Style – Not everyone is going to prefer Twitter, the same way not everyone prefers phone or email.  My preference is email when I do not need an immediate response or I know a proper response will require research by the company.  If I have an immediate need, I will still call, although that is not my preferred means of communication.  Someone requesting a response via Twitter may not care if it takes a few hours to obtain the information.  They simply may like the fact that the answer will come to them in the place they are already hanging out.

2)   Customer’s Now Own Your Brand Message – Not just with Twitter, but also Facebook, YouTube, blogs, forums, user reviews and so many other social websites, the Customer now owns your message.  They can be very loud regarding a bad or good experience with a product or service.  They take this message to any of the websites they can.

3)   Speed of Information – Depending on the nature of your business, Twitter can highlight an area of concern faster than other internal communications.  The reason for this is the way Twitter is designed.  Twitter asks a question: ‘What’s Happening?’  The answer to this question can provide insight prior to a Customer even calling.  Many times they state why they are calling a company before they even finishing dialing the number on the phone.  Ultimately listening is key, but I would say the same regarding all communications methods

Overall Twitter is not for everything.  It is difficult for many firms to discuss Customer private data in a public forum, so there are times conversations must shift to other communication methods.  The power of Twitter and other social media is the shift to the Customer.  It is raising the importance of Customer Service, and many companies are now scrambling to fix broken service departments, or ones focused on inaccurate goals.  In this new world order, the Customer is gaining the upper hand (and so is your front line employee), whether you are on Twitter or not.  Twitter is not the cause, nor is it the solution.  There has been a Customer revolution going on; are you ready for the evolution of your business?  To me this is the more interesting conversation instead of speed of response.  At the same time I enjoyed the article because it did show how some are focusing Twitter more on the PR side of service and not improving all channels.

What’s with all the Quora Hype?

Posted on : 11-01-2011 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Business, Social Media, Technology

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Have you heard of Quora?  If not you have missed a lot a hype reminiscent of Friendfeed and other social media websites that we have been excited about in the past few years.  I, like many, tried to resist the hype but eventually was pulled in.  So what did I think?  Did I see value?  I guess I saw something, or I would not be writing this today.

First let me describe Quora for those who have not had the chance to check it out.  Quora is basically a website where you can ask questions on virtually any topic and members of the community will try to answer them.  Many times you will receive multiple answers and the community will vote up the best answers or, if necessary vote answers down.  You can easily search the large quantity of questions that have already been answered.  If you are like me and like to check out specific topics, you can easily do that through the tagging system the website has in place.

So why did Quora take off in the first place?  Most likely it was due to the quality of responses, and those who took the time to answer.  One of my favorite responses came from Steve Case, former CEO of AOL.  The first question I noticed he answered was regarding the cost of all those CD’s that AOL seemed to mail out every day.  He also took the time to answer that age old question ‘did AOL purposely make it hard to cancel service.’   Another favorite was about the reason for AOL’s shift to unlimited or all you can eat pricing model.  I was very impressed by Steve’s transparency and willingness to participate.  If you have time check out some of Steve’s responses.

I have seen many other notable people taking the time to answer questions, including the CEO for Netflix, Reed Hastings, as well as many notable people from the press, business, books authors, entertainment, etc.  The list really goes on and on.

Now is Quora all that and a box of chocolates?  Not yet.  What makes it exciting right now is the quality of answers and the caliber of the participants.  As it scales this could prove difficult.  There is one thread asking best speakers in social and it just goes on an on because the best speakers are defined by the audience, the topic, the event.  I posted a few, but I did not include someone like Dan Roam.  What you have not heard of Dan?  He is incredible speaker who talks about using drawings to better engage your audience.  Through his website, http://thebackofthenapkin.com, he has changed the way videos are done.  Back to Quora.  The user experience on the website is okay, but I am sure will improve over time.  When you start to type a question in the question field at the top of the page, similar questions show.  You can easily then click on them.  I have had the page lock up at times, as well as server slow downs, and links not working.  I do not think it is easy to understand when you are following topics, or all the notifications.  With all that, I applaud them at this early iteration of the websites, and the number of slowdowns are not too bad given the huge growth that I have seen for the website.

Like many social websites, I have heard the founders talk about how they are focusing now on building the best possible website and they will think how they can best monetize it in the future.  I have always thought this approach, used by entities like Google, Facebook and Twitter is not always the best way to go.  As an example I have always felt that Twitter will have trouble monetizing for the same reason they were able to grow so fast.  Basically their open API (the reason there are many different tools available to use) made it easy for tools to be built, but without control of where your user interacts, you will struggle making money with advertising.  Promoted tweets are a nice idea, but since everyone knows they are an ad, they do not always interact.  For Quora I see a potential to make money by licensing it to businesses to use.  Let me explain.  Over the past several years I have seen activity in help forums around the net decline.  The reason this is happening is many of the same people who hung out in forums, like to also hang out in places like Twitter and Facebook.  It is difficult to hang in too many places, so many have decided to hang with their tech friends in the same space they hang with the guys they have beer with on a Saturday night.  The other trouble is forums are typically restricted to one website.  So if you had trouble with your internet service provider, but the trouble could be with your router or the model computer you use, the answer may be in the computer manufacturers forum, instead fo the cable provider.  I have said for years that forum providers, like Lithium and Jive should find ways to better connect these conversation, which I think they are working on.  At the same time, if I used a help forum for business 2 Consumer, I would already be in conversations with Quora, and I would possibly consider replacing my forum with this updated answer site.  I think it would be much more Consumer friendly.  I also think Quora could quickly be on the path to making money.  Do not believe me?  Check out this bank website (they are not in operation yet) and the link (you have to scroll all the way down) to their companies Quora page.  I doubt they are paying anything for that, but obviously there is potential.  I also see great potential for companies to take a Twelpforce (BestBuy has people helping people on Twitter with products they sell) type method to start helping people with topics important to their business.  It is key to know that self advertisement is not permitted and at this time Quora does not have a means for business to participate.  I think this was shortsighted, but they want to avoid spam and make this about person helping person.  I think they should consider an option for authorized people from businesses.

The key for Quora is to continue to improve the user experience, and once the newness factor wears off, they need to make sure they do not go down the path of other answers websites, and have spam take over the answers.  The moderation now is working well but it must work the same as people try to find means to circumvent the system.  I also worry about attention span.  How many places can you hang out?  I find it tough enough to blog, tweet, Facebook and do my normal offline tasks.  Can I handle another place?  Twitter and Facebook will take the attention of time for many, but Quora is better than also visiting 3 or 4 forums websites, like I do today.  I do wonder if Quora and Twitter found a way to link up, how powerful they could become, but that is a conversation for the future.  I do think Quora will be a game changer as they mature their business and find the core community that will help them win.  I for one will be cheering them on.

Enough is Enough: Observations from a Horrific Day

Posted on : 09-01-2011 | By : Frank Eliason | In : In the News, Politics, Social Media


Over the past 15 years it seems to me that the political spectrum and debate has become more and more intense.  During that time there has been finger pointing on both sides blaming the other.  If one good thing can come out of the event in Tucson, Arizona on Saturday, let it be a coming together of everyone.  I tend not to be very politically driven, and in fact usually do not like politicians from either side of the aisle.  The reason I feel this way is I consider myself to be similar to most individuals.  I agree with certain points from each political party.  I also disagree with points from both sides.  I have always been frustrated that politicians seem to be more motivated for themselves, followed by their political party, with the last consideration being their own constituents.

I do believe that social media will be discussed a lot in the aftermath of this event.  We have already heard a lot about the Myspace and You Tube accounts maintained by the disturbed individual who committed this horrid act.  We have also seen a lot of discussion regarding Sarah Palin’s PAC and the use of gun scope on Representative Giffords and many others.  Let me be clear, unlike the headline from the NY Daily News regarding Sarah Palin having blood on her hands, I believe this was a disturbed individual and this action was not taken because of stupid graphics or dumb wording for tweets.  We can easily find similar stupidity regarding other historic events from every side of the political spectrum.  There is a key learning for all of us, and that is that our words and actions are always being reviewed and it is important to keep these possibilities in mind.  What is the message you want people to take and how will history review them?

If we really look at all the events over the past 15 years, we can easily see how both sides of the political spectrum have created this environment that is us vs them.  I do not care if you are the us or the them.  If you are blaming one side, you better learn the other side is just as much at fault.  We need to stop focusing on the negative of others, and start focusing on what we can accomplish together.  For the politicians, I beg you to start showing yourselves in a manner that reflects the positives you can contribute to your constituents.  For those currently in office stop focusing on you or your party and focus on the needs of those you serve.  Do not let events from yesterday stop you from meeting with local citizens.  In fact do it for Gabby and show that unstable individuals are not going to stop you from this.  That shows courage.

During the course of events yesterday, social media played a different role, and one that I hope to continue to see in regard to political discussions.  Yesterday we were unified in our disgust at this event.  I watched discussions all day from people on all sides commenting about the event.  For the most part the discussions were centered on the horrific nature of the event, others who were hurt or killed, and the good Representative Giffords brought to her role.   Like many people, I did not know or hear of Gabby Giffords until yesterday, but I would guess that she would not want us to focus on the political sides, but instead focus on how we can start to come together.  This should not be done as Democrats and Republicans but as Americans.

Now that events have settled in, people are looking to answer why, and many are focusing on political divisiveness to answer this.  This action was not due to Sarah Palin or comments by Jesse Kelly (opponent of Rep. Giffords during past election); it was a crazy individual or individuals.  Lets focus on how we can make things better, find ways to get people like this the help they need before lives are lost and lets be horrified by all acts of violence.  My prayers are with all those involved in this incident.

UPDATE: President Obama is calling for a moment of silence tomorrow at 11:00 AM.  Let’s include more than just our mouths, but also texting, Twitter, email, Facebook, etc.  Maybe we can use it to reflect on how each of us can have a positive impact on the world.

Making Money During the Gold Rush

Posted on : 08-01-2011 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Business, Social Media, Technology

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This week I have had the gold rush on my mind a lot, and for a variety of reasons it just will not leave, so it calls for a blog post.  I do get worried that we are looking at a bubble ready to burst.  When you look at markets you usually know when it will turn based on what people are talking about.  When everyone was talking about house flipping (all those shows came out on the topic) you knew the housing bubble was set to burst.  When everyone is talking about putting money into stocks, you just know the market will collapse.  When everyone is scared the market will go down to a 1000 on the Dow, you know it is time to buy, just like when people were talking about Dow 30,000 I knew it was time to go the other direction.  Today I am seeing the same with social media!  Is social media euphoria going to cause a collapse?

First I do not think social media is going anywhere.  During my last post I did make a few predictions for the coming year that may be a little contrarian.  I do think we will see usage go down as people pull back to determine how much of their life they want public.  More important than that, and where I think the social bubble will burst is regarding the marketing excitement I have seen.  You would not believe the amount of companies are looking to hire people to lead them to the gold in social media.  I think this is the bubble that is set to burst.  As marketers do not make the money they anticipate, they inevitably will have their own bubble burst.

I have been contacted a lot recently by companies with new ways to market to ‘influencers’ and get this gold of new Customers.  Each one seems to have the same theme talking about how they have proprietary software that has deep analytics that will get this message to the right people, and they guarantee they will act.  I have no doubt that companies are wasting a lot of money buying these maps to the gold, or hiring agencies that promise the same performance.  When the returns are just not there, marketers will be very upset and swear off social media.  I think that is the wrong approach, but a more holistic approach to the business could prove successful.

The trouble is social media is different, especially when you compare to other broadcast mediums like TV and print.  In the other mediums you had the Customer, or potential Customer undivided attention, but on the web, especially in social websites, the attention goes to so many other things, such as the people they are interacting with.  If people believe they are being sold too, or others were paid for their influence, it is very easy thing to turn off.  I know I do.

As part of this we have also seen influence model websites come about like Klout, Twitalyzer, and Peerindex.  Each of the links I provided go directly to my profile on those websites.  I also have seen some interesting discussion regarding these websites on Quora (more to come on this website later next week).  I would recommend reading this post by @ShelIsrael ‘Twitalyzer: How Does it Measure Up.’ and Matt Creamer’s Ad Age post ‘Your Followers are No Measure of Your Influence.’  My overall take on these analytics sites is they are interesting and can add a little fun, but they will never truly understand the human impact.  I do fear they will add into the inaccurate marketers belief of targeting influencers, but they will learn over time that all their Customers are influencers.  The trouble I have always had with these type of measures is there are some people, who walk into a room, say a few words and they change everything.  The same type of people are in spaces like Twitter and have great influence even when they are quiet.  In the past I have also talked about the influence a certain video about a sleepy technician had (and still does) on a brand I used to work for.  No tool would be able to predict influence like that.

What started me down this path were 3 emails and a call I received over the past week regarding these new social media influencer tools.  The one email was internal one that I was cc’ed on talking about this as the future.  I did something I typically strive not to, but I replied to all with this simple statement:

‘During the Gold Rush the people who made the most money sold the maps to the gold.  Keep this in mind.’

If you want to make money in this gold rush, jump in and sell the maps.  For me, I believe in the long term, and I will focus on the Customer experience which I think will deliver greater gold.

Thoughts on Personal Branding Helping and Hurting Professional Brands

Posted on : 28-12-2010 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Business, Social Media


Today I received a Google alert regarding a post by Brett Greene over at his Blind Influence blog.  The post, titles ‘How Personal Branding Helps and Hurts Professional Brands‘ was based on a recent #PR20chat on Twitter.  The topic is one I have thought a lot about since leaving my role with Comcast, and one that I thought deserved a post.  The basic concept behind the post, and I would assume the #PR20Chat was the following:

  • Personal Relationships Do Not Scale
  • Personal Brand & the Company Are Intertwined and Take Time To Disassociate the Two
  • Personal Brands Are A Catch 22 but the Benefits Outweigh the Risks

Regarding the first point, I would say they definitely scale but the key is getting to the point where there are multiple people representing the brand.  I take blame for this at Comcast because when I started on Twitter I did get nervous about the attention we received and I took a lot of time before adding other people on to Twitter accounts.  If I would have done that sooner I would probably not have been so worn out and everyone would have had more connections to others from Comcast, just as they did with me.  You can easily look at all the people from Zappos or Dell on Twitter to get an understanding of how this all works.  Although I would like to see this change, nobody expects someone to remain at the same company for life.  This is part of our growing and improving ourselves.  We learn through every life experience.

For me leaving Comcast was bittersweet.  I can tell you I still miss everyone I worked with and the challenge it brought everyday.  I trusted the people I work with and they trusted me.  This relationship was always key.  I knew my team would continue to thrive, and they have.  In fact since leaving, they have actually grown in numbers.  Although the author may not be hearing as much about Comcast, I know they are continuing what we already started.  It may not be talked about as much, or they may not be on the speaking circuit, they are doing it the old fashion way and showing it.  I remain very proud of my former team.  By the way my former Twitter account, @ComcastCares, has more followers today compared to the day I left.  Not that I think Twitter followers is a true measure of performance, it is still an interesting stat.

For me, I know I will be associated with Comcast for a long time, and I am good with that.  I would not have been able to accomplish the success without them.  I will be forever in their debt for that.  Now the author states that people have not heard as much from me since leaving Comcast.  I disagree with that, but I will acknowledge I have been quieter than ever as I take in my new surroundings and ponder what is next.  If you want to know a little of what I have been up to, I am happy to share.  I have spoken at a number of events, and even had the chance to appear on Bloomberg TV while I was at Blogworld.  I have shared some thoughts with Brian Solis in this episode of Revolution:

I also have been working to learn from an incredible team at Citi.  Since joining I have been working with them to launch our Facebook page and strategize to lead the way in servicing our Customers via social media.  One of the challenges in financial services is Customer privacy.  We are getting ready to launch a solution to that, bringing a secured chat environment to Twitter.  I outlined much of that in an article with Ragan PR (this went with this interview filmed when I first joined Citi).  I apologize but you do need a membership to access the article at this point.

From a personal perspective I have been contemplating how I can continue my efforts to improve Customer Service through all communication channels.  In the fall I joined the board of directors for the Society of Consumer Affairs Professionals, also known as SOCAP.  If all goes as planned, I will be joining the board for the Council of Better Business Bureaus.  I am very proud to be a part of both of these groups and I look forward to leading the way to changing the experience for all Customers.  I have also recently started writing a book that I hope will interest each of you, but I am really trying to focus the book on the broader community and helping business leaders connect the dots regarding all the change that is going on around them.  As you can tell it is actually an exciting time for me.

Finally I do agree with the outcome of the post that the benefits far outweigh the risks and as we move forward companies will realize their own employees are the key to social media success.  I think the best response to all of this came from Charlene Li in this video:

At the end of the day, there is no doubt that both Comcast and I have benefited from our relationship and continue to do so.  We both knew when I left that we would be forever connected.  I will be forever grateful to them and they will always have a piece of my heart.  Based on the beautiful goodbye message they provided, I expect they will always have a special place for me.  In fact I know that they will based on my meeting with their CEO Brian Roberts on my last day.  Here is the goodbye message:

January 24 Celebrates the Original Social Customer Advocates

Posted on : 20-12-2010 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Brands, Business, Social Media

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Many think of social Customer Service as starting with Twitter, but that is far from the start.  In the early days of the net, news groups started as a place for like minded people to discuss products, technology, or other items they were passionate about.  Over time these gave way to forums and email groups.  As companies started to embrace these new forms of communication, a new role emerged, the Community Manager.  Today this person may have many more hats, including social strategist, Customer advocate, PR person, marketer, punching bag and a few other names used internally and externally.  The role does not always have a place to reside, or sometimes it is not even recognized at all, yet it is one of the most important roles in the company.

Today in social media we hear about influencers, advocates and other terms to recognize people who are important to the brand.  These advocates are usually built not by connection to the brand, but rather a crusader who took on this role of community manager.  I am proud to be a community manager and a team at Citi as well as my former team at Comcast who each day strive to live up to the expectations the community they serve.  One of the most well loved community managers is Jeremiah Owyang.   The community has shifted from newsgroups, and in some cases forums, to new places like Twitter, Facebook, Yelp, Foursquare, blogs, etc.  These are all places where the community manager thrives to learn and engage their Customer.  Although Jeremiah likes to say social service does not scale, he is one of the people who proved how important it is to a company through his prior work as a Community Manager.  We tease each other back and forth about the scale issue, but ultimately we both agree it is imperative for organizations to improve service through all communications channels to help build these Customer advocates.  We know, just like all community managers, it is extraordinarily tough to be a good community manager when a company is not living up to expectations of the Customer.

As a community manager, if you are doing your job well, you are not always the most like internally because you are bringing the community view to the people who make the decisions.  You are servicing as their advocate.  Externally you are striving to keep the peace between top people in the social space you are serving.  Sometimes you are trying to explain the company line even when it is not the popular choice.  There are days you have PR teams and other business leaders against you because you spoke honestly about a situation that was happening live.  The community was thrilled with your performance but others could not understand you were only acknowledging what was already well known.  The trouble is product owners are very proud of their product and they never want to see any bad light shed upon it.  They do not always view things with a Customer lens, as a community manager must do.

In January, 2010 Jeremiah started the annual Community Manager Appreciation Day.  You can read his original post here or the announcement of the 2011 recognition day here.  This year the celebration will be January 24, 2011.  Please use the day to recognize community managers who build your company’s strongest advocates or recognize community managers who have served you.  For me, I plan to recognize my Citi and Comcast teams, Becky Carroll from Verizon’s forums, the Consumerist team, broadband reports forum leaders, Mac Rumors forum leaders, the HP community leaders and of course my friends at RIM (Blackberry).  Who do you plan to recognize?

I have a great piece of real estate to sell you….

Posted on : 22-11-2010 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Business, Marketing, Social Media

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Throughout time we have seen irrational exuberance (As former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan once stated).  You can easily look back to the gold rush, numerous times in the stock market, real estate a few years ago, gold and bonds today.  Can social media being seeing similar irrational exuberance?

This has been a thought I have had for some time.  I have been watching and talking to numerous businesses over the years but I have seen a shift in their emotions from a little fearful to today where I worry many businesses are being taken advantage of.  What has changed?  Many companies have started in social and realized it is not as fearful as they once thought so now they want to take advantage of the space and make real money from it.  Also because there is much interest from the C-suite, many people in business want to prove how smart they are.  I also think there is some blame that goes to many ad agencies and PR firms who are selling social to firms without providing the insight necessary.

Recently Jeremiah Owyang and the Altimeter Group put out a new report about the Social Media Strategist role.  I highly recommend reviewing it.  It provides a little insight into the difficulties of the role.  Many times you are dealing with this irrational exhuberence throughout different silo’s within the company.  Putting out the fire for every person that want to create that next Facebook page or create that ‘viral’ marketing campaign.  C.C. Chapman put out a post on Friday after hearing a preview on the Today Show stating:  “Our most ambitious viral video ever coming up this half hour.” I did not get the chance to see the show, but with that quote alone I know they did not understand social.  Make sure you check out his post and when you have time read his new book Content Rules (it is co-authored with David Meerman Scottand friend Ann Handley, @Marketingprofs).  If you want to create something viral, first rule is you do not decide what goes viral, your audience does.  It is also important to offer something that is unique (first wins in social) and finally it really should offer something to the viewer or others and not focus as much on the brand.  They also tend to be fun.  A few good examples are the Swagger Wagon videos by Toyota, Blendtech: Will it blend, Old Spice Guy.  So next time your marketing, PR firm, or internal employee talks about creating the next viral campaign, I urge caution.  If you are in a position where someone asks you to create one, it is very important that you educate the people asking.  Are you sure you want to be the social strategist?

Even the best laid out ideas can easily fail.  The question is how much risk does the organization want to take?  What is the appetite for risk and failure?  How connected are they to their Customers? 

Beyond the viral marketing angle, I have other concerns I have noticed increasing in the past few years.  I have seem a large interest in engaging ‘influencers’ with the belief this will make the message grow.  First there is a myth when it comes to this term.  First I believe many organizations by the way they have engaged people have created poor expectations with this group by treating them differently.  I highly recommend treating them as any other Customer.  Special treatment creates further expectation of special treatment.  This is not sustainable.  This is a topic I can discuss forever, but my focus was influencers do not create viral actions, good content is what creates it.  Many of you know of a famous video from my prior employer with a sleep technician.  Did you know that it was posted by someone with only 2 videos posted?  That became a huge brand influencer.  What has made many people rise to the ranks to be considered an influencer has been strong content.  If you want your brand to rise up, provide strong content, great Customer experience and the best products.  This will create the viral effect you want.

Finally I have a fear that some companies are putting too much money toward a variety of social efforts with unreal expectations, or because they simply do not know better.  This is being caused by social strategists, PR and marketing firms alike.  They are asking for large number of employees for tasks that could be done by a few, or large dollars for campaigns that do not go anywhere, etc.  For those of us who believe social is a key communications tool of the future, and in many cases now, it is imperative that we set the right goals, and create the right expectations.  This helps us all by creating trust and showing the right business acumen to ensure long term success.  There are many PR/marketing firms who have done very well for the companies they serve, including companies like Edelman, Weber Shandwick and many others.  I also have the utmost respect for anyone who has the Social Strategist role, because as you can tell from this post, it is not easy.

Who is a Leader?

Posted on : 19-11-2010 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Business, Social Media

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I apologize for not posting for a while.  With my recent job transition I have been taking a lot in and continuing on my personal path of learning and growing in my career.  I promise you that I have been thinking of many posts that I want to share and discussion I would like to have with my readers on topics from Customer Service, social media, marketing, and leadership.  Hopefully you will see many more of these posts in the coming weeks, and I hope many of you take part in the conversation.

As many of you know I tend to be very opinionated on a variety of topics.  Most of these opinions have been built over time by listening to others, reading and trying to think through various topics of interest.  At the same time I love alternative views because they add to the learning experience.  At the same time I am never afraid to be a lone person on a topic, even if it is not a popular position within the discussion.  As an example I always see the debate who should own social media.  The two areas discussed are PR and marketing.  Of course now I work in marketing, so I should probably take that side of the debate, but instead I like to point out that the Customer is the one who really owns the discussion regarding a brand in social media, so why not Customer Service?  They are the most suited for the discussions with Customers.  At the same time, I think it really needs to reside throughout the organization, especially since many employees are already taking part in the conversation, no matter what your company policy may say.  But this takes me to the point of this post.  Over the years I have read many books on leadership and other business related topics.  Many of the books are from the most respected people in the business world.  I have always had (and still do) the utmost respect for these business leaders, but as I grow I wonder how many were truly leaders vs great business people?  I do not see anything wrong with being a great business person.  That means they had a phenomenal career and did well for their shareholders and employees (in most cases).

I have always had a fascination with Jack Welch, who many consider a leader who not only brought great profits to GE shareholders, but has also been emulated by many other business people.  According to Wikipedia, he also teaches leadership to select MBA students at MIT.  But was Jack truly a leader or a successful business person?  This is a point that can be debated for days.  On the leadership side he was relentless in cutting costs, driving units to be 1 or 2 in their business, and he grew GE from a $14 billion dollar company to $410 billion dollar company.  In the mid 1990’s he brought Six Sigma to GE from Motorola and made it a basis for reducing more costs.  In his book “Straight from the Gut” he has a chapter called “The People Factory.”  In this chapter he outlines his belief regarding forced rankings, and how imperative it is to cut the bottom 10% every year.  In other parts of the book he also outlines his belief regarding professional development and bringing in the top talent.  He created the famous training facilities on the GE campus.  I used to be blown away by his success and what I perceived as leadership.  Six Sigma became popular through business culture for over 10 years due to Jack.  But today as I look back I wonder how much of this was leadership?  Six Sigma was simply following.  Who does not want to be number 1 or 2 in the business they are in?  Rankings and cutting the bottom 10% seems easy and not that uncommon?  At the same time the reason why rankings, and curves became popular was because it is always easier for managers to rate people higher, even when it is not deserved.  That was the point behind his chapter.  At the same time the trouble I have always seen with Six Sigma is people used data that made sense to the point they wanted to make, even if there was conflicting data elsewhere.  Anybody who has worked with forced rankings have seen ways that it’s manipulated (oh this person quit, so now we will rank them low so we can bring up someone else).   As I look at GE after Jack has left I have seen an NBC unit that has not performed as well, and a culture that was simply broken.  The competitive nature made it hard to get things done, and the organization ran on fear.  Jeff Immelt, the current CEO, in my opinion has done a great job, but much of the early years were spent making the organization more nimble and creating a culture that is innovative, more nimble and more team oriented.  I recommend reading more about Jeff and the post Jack period in this 2005 Business Week Article “The Immelt Revolution.”  History will decide the leadership of Jack, but it is an interesting discussion on what leadership has been and what it will look like in the future.

So that was enough about Jack!  Now let’s take a look at a few people who I believe truly meet the definition of leader:

Jack Bogle is the founder of the Vanguard Group, but many do not know the details of this company.  As you may know Vanguard Group is a financial services company that is mainly focused on mutual funds.  What you may not know is the company is actually owned by the funds it operates, which is very unique and is the reason they have had such a focus on the Customer.  It did not come about in a usual way.  Jack was chairman of Wellington Management company when he was fired.  What you may not realize is most funds have their own board.  He convinced the board of the funds to allow him to create a company to service the fund for low cost.  The fund’s board followed him and now Vanguard offers some of the lowest expenses in the business thanks to this new ownership structure.  It was outside the box, and in many ways permanently changed the mutual fund business.  Expenses continue to be driven down around the industry thanks to Jack.

Steve Jobs has to be on this list, no matter how you may feel about him or Apple.  Steve does not follow anyone, but instead works of instinct as to what Customers want, whether they realize it or not.  There is a lot of risk in leading the way, but the reward, as Apple has seen, can be great.  Apple was not the first computer, phone, mp3 player or touch device, but each device was designed in a way that was and continues to be a game changer.

Bill Gates and Warren Buffett under any definition have been great leaders in business, but I am more fascinated by the work they have been doing to lead others in giving back to society and the world.  They are leading their peer group and much of it is by example.

The reason leadership is so fascinating to me is I see a change being caused by social media in business.  This will cause new leaders to arise, and many we have seen already.  Because this form of communication is so new, we really do not know what will happen in the coming years, but many of us are connecting the dots and taking our positions.  As we look back we will see many who were true leaders who use this technology to drive change.  Many, like me, see large changes in organizations which will bring a new focus on the Customer and the employee.  We see greater efficiencies, sales opportunities, and many other facets that social media can bring.  None of us know truly what will happen, or when our thoughts will come to fruition.  We are willing to take the risk and enter the debate.  Whether you agree with someone or not, they are showing leadership in their willingness to take the risk.  History will judge where the leadership is.  I think history can already declare the following as true leaders:

Cluetrain Manifesto was written by Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls and David Weinberger was written in 2000, well ahead of time but their thoughts were on target.

Brian Solis has been talking about the impact social media will have on business well before many of us even knew what social media was.  His insights have been coming true for a long time and this has made him one of the most respected people in social and in business itself.

Chris Brogan has made a career out of teaching us how to effectively use social media.  He has taught us how to best speak in the space, understand the marketing benefits and connect with each other.  Chris is one of the most giving people I have ever met.

Tony Hsieh and Zappos have  shown us the importance of running a business with the right culture in this new world.  What some may refer to as an experiment, is a successful business model that will tried to be emulated by others in the coming years.  Reading Tony’s book Delivering Happiness provides insight into this model, but beyond that interacting with anyone from Zappos shows what it is all about.

I can go on forever speaking about people like Paul Greenberg, Scott Monty, David Armano and so many others.  My point is social media is filled with leaders, and no matter what, it pays to at least listen to many views.  We all can learn from each other and maybe some day we will be viewed as the leaders.

A View of Social Media from a TV Guy

Posted on : 19-07-2010 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Business, Social Media

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While reading Wall Street Journals “Social Media Draws a Crowd” this morning I was inspired to write a post that has been on my mind. The basics of the article point out facts that many of us already know. First social media is fashionable, not unlike the characters in HBO’s Sex in the City. It is currently the buzz of the marketing town. In addition to being perceived as sexy by companies, marketers, and especially the social media “experts.” This is a dangerous perception.  My favorite line in the article was:

“You can’t walk out your house without bumping into a social-media expert today, says Sean Corcoran, an analyst at Forrester Research. The reality is the space is still very much a Wild West.”

Many social media “experts” remind me of Larry David of Curb Your Enthusiasm fame. They awkwardly guide people in directions that may not be productive. In some cases they are very adamant on their view, even if it is proven wrong. Prior to todays article, I had a few encounters that prompted this post. The first was a presentation by a marketer proclaiming that social media was the biggest win for marketing. He even went so far as to state that it would mean the end of corporate communications departments. Although this shortsighted view is to be expected from Larry Davids character, it is also prevalent with some social media “experts.”  I am sorry but all departments are key to success. The other day I saw a blog post by a social media “expert” who is part of the digital strategy team for a major PR agency. In the post he declared “Facebook is Now a Corporate Necessity,” ending with “the question is no longer why should companies and organizations be on Facebook, but when are they going to launch their Facebook pages.” Definitive statements regarding social media are dangerous because the space is changing each and every day. I guess he never heard of the Nestle/Greenpeace experience.  If the post did not emphasize being part of Facebook and instead made the emphasis listening, I may have agreed more. Some of these “experts” remind me of a standup routine on the Larry Sanders show.

As Sean Corcoran noted, it is still the wild, wild, west when it comes to social media. Just like Deadwood, there are con artists willing to sell you lots of land loaded with gold at every corner. For just a small investment, you too will be rich from the gold in social media. Unfortunately as they are telling you this, they are smirking behind your back at the real money they are taking from you. This is not to say all experts are bad, they are not. Many are competent and well respected.  Just like hiring other experts, I would advise seeking recommendations and reviewing prior experiences.  In addition to learning who they have worked with, ask to speak directly with the companies.  Some experts may claim that they have worked with top companies, yet this will fall through as you ask specifics. Just like recommendations for TV programs, social media recommendations from those we trust are golden.

As marketers want to get the most out of social media, I would first recommend listening.  Listen thoroughly, just like Gina from In Treatment. There is another key point that is often misunderstood. Many spaces in social media are owned by the Customer/prospective Customer.  It is their right to turn you on or off and they will!  Just like a vampire on True Blood, who must be invited into a humans home, in some spaces you need a similar invitation to fully take part. If you are not invited in, the space may not be right for you yet or you may not have the right plan. When I think of Big Love, it is apparent that the wives do not always get along, yet they seem to be there for each other. The same is true with your spouses in different parts of your organization, such as marketing, Customer Service, PR, and HR. It is key to involve them, even if you do not always agree. In the end you will get value from each other.

If you feel like Tony Soprano is holding a gun to you forcing you to participate in social media, first think through all these HBO shows, and what you have learned .  Isn’t it funny how HBO shows can imitate life!

Editor’s Note: I apologize for not blogging for a while.  As I noted on the Comcast Voices blog, I am moving on to new challenges.  In upcoming posts here and on the Social Customer, I will be sharing some of what has been going through my mind, the experience and other thoughts.   I missed everyone, but this post is to let you know I am back!