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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...


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Part of Marketing is Knowing Who You Are

Posted on : 30-12-2010 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Leadership, Marketing

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First I hope everyone experienced an amazing year this past year and is looking ahead to an even better 2011.  I started this post to be the typical well wishes and a handful of predictions for the year ahead, but in some ways that gets so passé.  But then last night and today a topic hit home and I decided that was a more appropriate post to end the year with.  I will still throw a few predictions at the end of this post.

So yesterday @BarryMoltz Twittered out “Can you celebrate others achievements without comparing them to your own?”  I quickly responded “sure. I am not trying to be them, I am trying to be me. I would be happy for their success.”  This conversation was followed up today by a post I really enjoyed by Chris Brogan “The Evolution of Chris Brogan.”  In the post Chris describes what his true brand is and what he is all about.  It was interesting reading his history.  I first noticed the post on Facebook and I posted the following response:

“The key is you are you and I respect that. Too many strive to be others when the key is be comfortable with yourself and achieving your goals. Thanks for writing this. It is a topic on my mind as well, although not who is Chris! Happy new year and continued success”

The one challenge to posting a comment to a Chris Brogan Facebook post is I receive a lot of emails with comments from others (I know I can turn that off, but I typically enjoy it. Of course Chris receives more comments than most people I know).  One of the comments was negative toward the post, asking Chris to focus less on himself and more on Chris’ knowledge of marketing.  To me the post was exactly about Chris’ knowledge of marketing and relayed a lot of information to the reader of what Chris has learned over the years, the value he offers his readers, his business value in this changing world and what his businesses are offering to non-profits and businesses that wish to hire them.

We also learn another, more human aspect, that ties into the Twitter conversation I had last night with Barry.  We are all a product of our history, and that is what makes us special.  There is never a need to try to be someone we are not or try to be someone else.  Every year we get the chance to evolve, learn, grow, and in some cases step back.  This is the best part of being human.  One of the biggest things I learned this year is I am happy being me.  There have been times where I contemplated where I was headed, even tried to emulate people I was not.  I think this is all part of the growing process.  I joked a lot over the past year that I was trying to decided what I wanted to be when I grew up, but it really was not a joke.  I was debating in my own mind and which path was the right one for me.  You see Customer Service professionals are not always looked upon as highly as they should.  This is part of my history and adds to this quest to be more.  Today as I write this I have come to respect that I am a service visionary and I have been provided a forum to help lead a change in the way business views the Customer.   I am not only comfortable with this, it is who I am, and I am proud of it.

Knowing who you are is key to marketing yourself, just as knowing what your business stands for is key to marketing your business.

Now I promised a few predictions for the year ahead, so here they are:

  • DOWNTURN IN SOCIAL – To the surprise of many but I expect a dip in social media activity, especially on Facebook and Twitter for at least two quarters next year.  This will not last long, but the everyday person using social media will have privacy concerns and will step back to determine how they wish to use the space
  • TWITTER SELLS – By the end of 2011 Twitter will be forced to sell as they continue to strive to build a sustainable financial model, investors will want to see a return on investment
  • TRADITIONAL MARKETERS BACK AWAY – Many marketers are still looking for that silver bullet marketing concept, and when they can not hit the magic mark, social will not appear as sexy as it does today
  • CUSTOMER SERVICE – We will see improvements from many companies as they start to focus more on the Customer experience.  We will also see a dramatic rise in the number of companies who have Chief Customer Officers as part of the C-Suite
  • SOCIAL TOOLS – We will continue to see a rise in the number of tools for social media, but the market will begin to mature and we will see a consolidation and reduction in the number of players for listening platforms.  The rise will be in CRM variations and visual analysis.
  • THE APP WORLD – I know many loves apps, but with so many variations in devices we will see a revamped effort of companies to focus on mobile web experiences, which will be easier to accomplish than multiple versions of apps

Leadership Buried in the Snow

Posted on : 29-12-2010 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Customer Service, Leadership

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This week many parts of the northeast experienced an unexpected blizzard causing massive trouble.  The cleanup is taking much longer than expected, especially in New York City.  I am sure over the next few weeks we will see a lot of finger pointing, and in most cases well deserved.

First lets take a look at this video that went viral yesterday (please note language many not be appropriate around children):

The video shows NYC workers who clearly do not care for the people they serve.  I know they will be the ones blamed, and I support that, but what I see here is an environment where they do not car about their Customers at all, and there is little accountability.  What would have happened if there was no video?  I would also be interested in what was going on behind the scenes.  Could there have been a supervisor demanding that they get the bulldozer back to work, no matter the cost?  It could be many things, but as I looked deeper at this issue it turns out the city is in the process of demoting 100 supervisors and losing 100 more through attrition.  Many are saying the union is actively having a work slow down based on these cuts.  If so, shame on the union for doing this to their Customers, and the people who could be the biggest advocates for them.  In my time in NY I have observed many of the sanitation workers doing their best to create the best city possible.  In fact in prior storms the city residents have usually applauded their work.  Not this time and that is sad because I am sure many are working very hard to do the right thing.  In this changing world the court of public opinion is key and it will impact how governments, businesses and even unions work.  The video you see above was viewed by hundreds of thousands of people in the past 24 hours.  I do not think it will help any of the parties involved.  Welcome to the connected world!

Now lets head over to the airport to see the fun going on there.  Yesterday I was horrified as I read this CNN article ‘Airline Passengers Unloaded After 11 Hours on the JFK Tarmac.’  Here is a video:

I should point out that the New York area airports are run by the Port Authority of NY & NJ and not directly related to the streets department in the video above.  I could not help but think about what it would be like stuck on a plane that had arrived at the destination for that amount of time.  On multiple occasions I have been on the tarmac at other airports for about 3 hours, and I know I was going stir crazy.  It is a little unclear as to the actual cause.  I have seen finger pointing to the airlines for not checking if a gate was available prior to taking off as well as statements about the lack of available Customs agents.  Customs has stated that they have people at JFK 24/7.  In my opinion, this is about neither one of those.  First the flight was permitted to land at the airport, so at that point the airport takes on the responsibility.  I am not well versed on how airports run, but I would venture to guess that a plane landing and sitting on the tarmac is the responsibility of air traffic control, as well as the leaders of the airport.  If I assume the statements of gate availability and lack of Customs officers are the true cause, I still blame airport leadership and air traffic control.  It is clear that no one cared about the passengers.  A leader is sometimes faced with difficult choices, and in some cases must break the rules.  In this case I am confident that individuals recognized how horrible this must have been but they were afraid to make decisions.  The rules are no international plane can disembark on American soil without clearing Customs first.  If I were the leader of the airport I would have contacted the highest levels available to me at Customs to find a solution.  As part of that conversation I would have proposed allowing them to disembark in another area, hopefully somewhat confined (but not remain on the tight quarters of a plane), until officers were ready to proceed.  If that was not acceptable to US Customs, I would have made the decision to move ahead if they did not find another solution in a reasonable time.  In terms of not having available space, there are 2 clear options.  First is moving planes in slots, but not actively in use.  I think it is safe to say that the airport has relationships with other airlines and could have pulled in this favor.  If this was not possible due to lack of pilots to move the planes, then I would have moved the planes closest to a terminal and then used stairs to disembark, or at least provide the option.  These choices would be difficult, and could have led to being arrested, but they would have been the right choices for the passengers, the Customers in this case.  The court of public opinion would have seen this as the right thing to do.

We are in a new world order, and in the past things like this would not be as open as they are today.  Leaders, whether they are union leaders, government leaders, or in business must be willing to make tough choices that are the right thing to do.  Trying to lead others by fear is wrong, but more importantly leading is sometimes making tough choices and partnering with others to find solutions.  I expect both these incidents will create change, but I hope people look at what was truly the cause of the incidents instead of just the people directly involved.

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?

Humanizing the Brand: Building Partnerships Throughout Your Business

Posted on : 17-12-2010 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Uncategorized


This post has been a long time coming.  Over the past few years I have sometimes been frustrated by the shortsighted views I hear regarding social media.  Over the years I have heard PR or marketing should own social, to which I always respond the Customer owns social, not the business or these specific business units.  To this point I have always asked the question as to why shouldn’t Customer Service own social, since they are the best equipped to have discussions with Customers.  This is what they do best.  Of course one could make the case that I am just being as short sighted as the PR and marketing teams who state the same about the areas they work in.  But in reality we are all right, yet we are all wrong.
Although the thoughts of this post have built up over the past few years, the inspiration to post it today is based on a post by David Armano in November called ‘Humanizing Business & Brands: Your Ambassador Ecosystem.‘  His post was also cross referenced on Edelman’s blog and today David and Chris Ehrlich exchanged comments that really add to what has been going through my mind.
“The approach to social media as marketing/communications only is not sustainable to business in the long run.” -David Armano

Social is the Disorganized Labor Movement

The sheer numbers of those on Twitter (over 175 million registered users according to their about us page) and Facebook (over 500 million active users per their statistics page) guarantee that many employees are participating in social media.  If you read many employee handbooks you will see restrictions on representing the company in social media.  I apologize to the lawyers, but that is not very enforceable.  Employees are a key part of what people think about the brand and people in social media like to talk about what is one their minds.  Since most people spend 40 hours or more each week working, this is a key part about what is on their minds.  They will and do share the good, bad and ugly as part of their day.  They also connect with many of their friends from work within these communities which helps magnify the voice that they have.  Over the years many companies have threatened, fired, or even promoted people for the voice they have taken in social media.  I have been asked my view on actions companies should be taking, and to me it is not much different then what I would recommend regarding Customers.  First if they are talking, they do have a passion for the company.  If you do not like what they are saying, it is best to listen to them, and talk about it with them.  Maybe it is a point they do not fully understand, so maybe you help them with that.  It can also be a valid point and I would highly recommend listening to them and seeing if there is a way you can improve the employee experience.  The fact is your employees are the brand ambassadors and it is key to give them the tools necessary to achieve this.  I know legal departments are scared of these blurred lines, but that fire is already started and there is not going to be a way to put it out.  Like it or not, the world as we used to know it no longer exists.  Employees are key partners.

Be a Part of the Customer Revolution

I have discussions all the time with Customer Service, marketers and communications experts from major brands. It amazes me the lack of understanding each group has regarding social media. Many marketers have visions of sales galore and viral marketing gone wild. Some of the communications experts have vision of their message spreading like wild fire. Parts of the Customer Service field views the space as snarky and in many cases the ‘lunatic fringe’ of the brand. Of course there are many individuals within these business worlds who do understand the space, and excel at it. The first key message is understanding Customers are really the ones who own the space, and they will be the ones who decide what messages spread. Over the years I continue to hear about ‘influencers’ and how they will drive the right messages. Today your everyday Customer is the true influencer. No one will want to spread a message if your own Customers don’t buy in. Imagine blogging about a brand that is not well liked? What would happen to your influence?

The easiest way to understand this revolution could be reviewing your own habits. If you are like me you do not make a purchase without reading reviews. I have been in the middle of Best Buy and using my phone to read reviews on Amazon or other websites. I have also asked friends their opinions via social media. It is amazing but in many ways we trust people we have never met in person to relay their experience with a product or service.

If you are among the many companies doing social service, I will be the first to tell you this is not enough. Jermiah Owyang over the years has spoken about social Customer Service not being scalable. Well, technically it is scalable. It is easy to queue a tweet or blog post. But I agree fully with his true thoughts, which is that companies need to correct the causes of the trouble in the first place. This means rethinking the way Customer Service operates, improving products based on this feedback and building your Customer base as a community for your products. Unfortunately most companies listening in social are not taking much action to improve the Customer experience. If companies truly want to be a part of social, they must understand the concepts of building community and create their own brand advocates. This is what will lead to the holy grail of social media: Customers leading the charge regarding your brand message and building sales.

We Are All Part of the C-Suite

The key to social media success is not fighting employee involvement or the Customer revolution that is going on, but to embrace it. Encourage your employees to participate in social media and educate them how. Listen to their suggestions as well as those of your Customers. Your employees will be able to build trust in the space and show the expertise they have built within the field. We know from many surveys that people tend to trust people, especially those who are like yourself. The reason Zappos has been so successful in social is their own employees build trust and we can relate to many of them as people like us. Beyond all this, it is key that we break down these silos that separate us within our business. As I mention above, many listen in the space but few take action. This is because much of the listening is taking part within a silo and not shared throughout the organization. I do not care if you are in PR, marketing, Customer Service, or even work for an agency of the company. Each of you represents the company and must strive to improve the business. The company must rethink the typical top down we have seen, but I also think all the other layers within the company must start to feel like they are part of the C-Suite and help the organization improve. You can no longer say it is not my job!

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.

New Beginnings

Posted on : 03-08-2010 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Personal


If you are like me, you like to think of a new job as a new beginning. This is not to say anything negative about prior experiences, but it is a time where you learn so much, meet new friends, and combine this new found knowledge with those that built up in the past. Yesterday was my first day at Citi, and my mind is still spinning. This is not a bad thing, it is just reality. I spent the day listening and absorbing. I would expect that to continue for the foreseeable future. I have watched others transition jobs and they take a bulldozer mentality into the new position as a way to prove their worth. This to me is so backwards. I know people are hired to bring their skills and knowledge to help a company, but as the new guy, it is important to recognize that many in the place have even more skills and knowledge and together you can change the world.

I have been realizing over the past few weeks that we need to change the culture of leaders that organizations value. I am not sure how to do it, other than show it, but I have a feeling the millennial generation will make sure this change occurs. Community is not only important in social media, but it is important in many ways in the workplace. While I was at Comcast It was very important for me to build that sense of community with my teams, and I will strive to continue to do that. This does not mean being a push over, because that I am not. I can and will make firm decisions when necessary, but that is not leadership. Leadership is guiding others and creating this bond that moves the needle.

I have also read where people wonder if I can continue to build on the success from Comcast, or as one person put it, find out if I am a one hit wonder. I never viewed anything I have done as a hit. My teams are the ones who gain that credit. This was true at Comcast, in the same manner it was true (in a less public way) at my prior company, Advanta. In both places my teams, and those around me helped bring change to the organizations. I know based on the team at Citi, we will see that same success due to their abilities.

I am still a bit overwhelmed by the sheer size and diversity of Citi. I work with a lot of smart people and I know they will help me navigate the waters (and rapids). As we move forward I will listen, ask questions (my Comcast teams have many stories about my questions), and show the world the people who have always made Citibank a great brand.

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!

Apple Store Employees Create a Raving Fan

Posted on : 28-05-2010 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Business, Customer Service

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It is not about being a Mac person or a Windows person. I know there are many personal preferences to that debate, but our decisions are based a lot on our history. This post is not about swaying you toward Apple or any other product. It is about services and what that does to long term value that it creates. My first Apple experience was with the Apple shore within the Comp USA store in 2002. I purchased my first iMac. This was not for regular use, but really a means to test websites using it. I did not start using it on a regular basis for a number of years after. After going through a number of Windows based machines, I did not want to purchase another computer, so I brought the Mac to the main place in our house where I use the computer. With this I began to get used to the Mac. The one thing I realized was it was still in perfect condition even as the years went on. Eventually I purchased a newer iMac and upgraded to a new one this year. Besides the iMacs (which are all still around, and working well), I purchased a Macbook for for when I am not at home. At work I also have an iMac and my work phone is an iPhone. All this is well and good, but it is not the software or hardware that develops a raving fan such as myself.

I have had a few incidents where I visited the Apple store. Each time I have found myself having a wow moment. This is the type of service most companies want to have, but very few are able to achieve it. Well Apple Store has in multiple locations (King of Prussia and Ardmore, PA). My first time was about a 1 1/2 years ago. My work iPhone was broken since the day it was delivered to me. The power button on the top of it did not work. The phone was not registered in my name, but the name of the company I worked for. They did not care about that at all. I showed no documentation. I told them what the problem was, he looked at it and immediately gave me a new phone and told me how to restore it. It was that easy. My next wow moment was when I decided to upgrade my iMac earlier this year. I went to the Apple store, not due to prior service, but I knew they would have the model in stock. It was a busy Saturday at the Apple store in King of Prussia. I loved the way they handled these sales, although at the time I was frustrated by the wait, since I knew what I wanted and just wanted to pick it up. When the sales person came over, he turned my frustration completely around, and he did not even know I was frustrated. He did it in a simplistic manner. He was having small talk as we were doing the order. This lead to me telling him how I preferred the larger keyboard. His reaction was to throw it in. I did not expect it, but I was very appreciative. He also included some other items, and even talked me out of a more expensive accessory I was thinking about. To top it all off he even realized I worked for Comcast and proactively added a discount available to our employees (I did not even know about that). All this was done in minutes. I did also find it cool that he did the entire transaction on his iPhone or iPod Touch. He even emailed the receipt instead of printing and I was ready to go.

Since that time I had a few more visits to the Apple store. The first was to check out the iPad when it was released (I already had the 3G version on order but that would not be in for a number of weeks. After checking it out, I could see the value it offered and could foresee fights in the house without multiple iPads. So about a week later I went to the Ardmore store to pick one up. While I was there had a great conversation with their business service coordinator. It was a personal connection that she was able to build as we discussed Apple in a work environment. She followed up with emails checking on the purchase and an invitation to a few events to learn more. After I received my 3G iPad I had a problem while I was flying to San Francisco. This made the iPad frozen on the boot up screen. When I arrived in San Fran, I tried to restore the device but I had no luck. I went to the Apple store. Unfortunately they did not have appointments, but I was able to wait for a Genius Bar member to have free time. It was a long wait, but much better than waiting 4 hours for the next available appointment. The technician tried some things, showed empathy and eventually restored the device. The wow moment was not at that time, but instead later on. While I was waiting I shopped for a few accessories since I switched bags prior to the flight and left a few things home. I went up to pay and the cashier was very pleasant. As he finished the payment and I was pulling out my credit card, he noticed my Comcast business card. He immediately stopped and said we can save you money, you get a discount. A fact I learned when I bought my iMac, but in my rush failed to mention. His proactive offering was very much appreciated it.

This brings me to what happened today. Earlier this week I was traveling and at one point I looked at my iPad and it was dented in near the power button (even though it was in a Sena iPad Folio). I was not even sure how it happened, but it obviously bumped into something, and my guess is, that it did so fairly hard. It was very odd looking, with 2 small indentations that went further in. I was upset, but what caused a problem was the power button did not work (not a big deal since it was on at the time). So I set up an appointment at the Apple Genius Bar to find out what the cost of fixing it would be. I showed the gentleman the damage. He took it into the back to see what he could do. He came back and told me the cost would normally be about $400, but since I have been a valued Customer (he tied in prior purchases), and said he would give me a new one for free. I was completely wow’ed by this offer. I did not expect and I knew it was not covered under warranty. I expected to have to pay for cosmetic damage. Instead I paid for a protective edge that I placed on the iPad and squeezed back in the folio (I am not sure I will get it back out, so if there are any designers out there, I love the Sena case, but would recommend making it a little bigger and include a protective piece for the edge).

Anyway, the moral to all of this is great products are just part of the picture. What really drives dedication is the employees within your company. Empowering them in ways like this will really lead to dedicated Customers. I know I will be an Apple Customer for a long time because these employees turned me into a raving fan.