The Challenge Rambles and riff raff about all this and that

3Feb/093

Train Wreck: Social Media to meet Commerce in 2009

Crisis. Market Crash. Layoffs. Lowered Margins. Need for profits.

Perfect scenario for Social Meda to go profitable. And Ugly.

Since I've been recently called out "Emo" due to the nature of my recent posts and Mark made the valid point that "We need to [...] call out the frigtards", I decided to go upbeat and have a little fun with how ugly some things will turn out for social media this 2009

As CFOs shake up the dust and make a comeback to steering companies' fates we're witnessing budget cuts everywhere. If you can't prove what you do can earn money (not just save, but earn) your have good chances of facing a difficult reality. Difficult as in "job hunting" difficult.

I'm prepared to witness a ton of experiments that will make me want to go and live as a hermit in some obscure and inaccessible cave with no internet access. Dire situations require desperate measures. This can be the recipe for:
a. unprecedented originality or, much more frequently:
b. nasty efforts that smell, look and taste like desperation.

This can be a good thing for a couple of reasons. For starters it will be fun to watch and blog about. It will also put many the self-proclaimed social media experts in evidence as little more than hot air.

As water levels go down stuff that was previously hidden starts to pop-up. Exposure can be ugly. Particularly for those exposed.

So, what is a Social Media marketer to do?

Accountability is an excellent concept to stay somewhat in the safe zone. At least it can keep you in the safe zone if you have some results you can be accountable for in the first place. So, in case there are results to be proud of the challenge then becomes one that is common ground already: how to measure in Social Media. But that is a matter for a separate post.

Generating direct revenue and increasing ROI should also be high on any social marketer's agenda. Signing off the papers to wipe out a department or team is always herder to do if that same department or team is earning money.

Yet the risk resides in trying to make money at any cost. The infamous bread for today, hunger for tomorrow. Spam email is the perfect example of this sort of behaviour. It might generate some revenue. It will sell a few products, but the negative impact on the brand is perdurable and undermines future profits. It is the same principle that yields Soil degradation as a product of overgrazing. Fit too many cows in a plow of land (or try to sell too many products through the wrong channel) and you'll have one moderately good year and a nice desert (or lack of customers) soon.

That is what we'll witness during 2009 and that is the sole futurology attemtp I'll make. It is going to get nasty. And that is always fun.

2Feb/091

Disenchantment

One of the reasons accountable for the lousy number of posts in this blog in Jannuary is probably disenchantment.

Let me frame the picture.

For starters I'm not a summer person. I was born and raied in Patagonia, cold is my game. If it is hot I don't function, I can't think, I can  barely react. Air conditioning helps to a certain extent, but it is not 100% effective.

Recent events have also shifted the perspective in which I see many things. My job and my line of work included. I have been sort of forced to re-evaluate priorities, and the result is not that nice for Social Media. There are things far more important than that in my life.

With that in mind and the fact that I'm not too fond of where parts of the Social Media industry (is there such a thing?) are heading builds up my disenchantment.

I am still a believer. Heck! I'm more than a believer I'm a friggin' idealist, thus, chances are, I'll be back to my normal mood soon.

In the meantime I'll pay some attention to my family's needs (which I've neglected way too much) and divert some thoughts to different places to look for inspiration. I need to rest the mind, rethink plenty of stuff and get back to doing breaking ground stuff.

I'll be back, realoaded, and more of a smartass than ever before. Watch out.

(Editors note: bare in mind that disenchantment is not the same as disappointment)

17Jan/094

Minority, What minority?

I'll start by self-quoting and self referencing. After all what can be more reverberating that one's own voice? In March, 2007 I wrote:

Some “visible” customers yield a lot of power over companies. Possessing a blog, for instance can be used as a weapon to threaten with creating bad fuzz for a company. The result is that if you threaten or actually post a negative review, comment or experience, chances are you’ll get a sort of VIP treatment.

Now others have seen this light. Or so it would seem. Yet, the usual misconceptions and hurried conclusions seem to show up, at least

First (in my radar) was Peter Kim who, quoting Churb, ranted about the echo chamber and lack of original content. Welcome to the club, Peter.

Chris Hall, inpired by Peter, wrote a post on Vocal minorities:

Just because I’m able to get on Twitter or (insert social tool here) and complain about a policy or an ad campaign that I don’t think applies to me, while amassing a bunch of sympathizers to take up my cause, doesn’t give me the right to automatically get my way. Whether I’m in the majority or I’m part of the minority in any given group, bullying is not cool.

After visiting Chris's post I read two related tweets by Aviansh:

Aviansh Tweet

I have the highest respect for Aviansh, he's one of those rare cases of people who actually generate well thought and valuable content. Yet, I have to agree with David's Tweet reply to him:

Churbuck's Tweet

So, after way too many quotes: what is the point?

Social media is about minorities.

It is about the minority that connects through facebook because they went to a certain school, about the minority that works for a company and connects through yammer, it is about the minority that takes UFO's pictures and places them at flickr.

The whole point (and one of the original flags) of social media is that minorities and the underpowered get to have the same voice than the majorities and those in editorial control. And that is nothing more and nothing less than plain good old democracy.

I have a personal problem with majorities. Huge atrocities have happened in the name of majorities. I tend to feel that when you try to please too many people at once no one gets what they want.

Although I am a believer of croudsourcing I think it does not apply to every single situation and that the masses can numb individual creativity.

Masses are great to aggregate collective knowledge, but I have yet to see enough examples of collective creativity to become a believer of that.

So I can drive to my point I need to quote Chris again:

I smell a trend… What gets me is that these vocal minorities of less than 1% of their group’s total population are imposing their collective wills upon millions of other group members because they have realized that they have a platform.

Is that right?

Nobody’s asking that question, so let me take a stab at it. I’m not an unreasonable man, I think that a case can be made for the vocal minority.  However, I don’t think that people with complaints are always right, nor do I think that they’re ever immediately always right.

For starters: I already made that question ;)

There are several observations I have to make.

It should be noted that the 1% Chris mentions might be influencing the other 99%. People use to think the world was flat, remember? A minority came, stating the world was a sphere, were proven right and now the majority of thinks the world is not flat. Paying attention just to munorities does not seem like a smart thing to do. He raises the question of what opinion matters most and concludes:

Rather then proclaiming a groundswell every time the little guy raises a stink, we should be championing the opportunity for dialogue and understanding.

Well, I sort of agree.

The problem is that there is a lot of noise in the conversation. And that noise is increasing; probably more rapidly than the signal. The real problem then becomes how to tell what in that ocean of conversations is of value and what not. So we end up with "judgment". Nasty.

All of us in the social media world need to make judgments about where the important conversations reside. And that is an error-prone process. Thus we end up in a conundrum: we can't possibly pay attention to all conversations, so we make a selection and we end up either listening to the vocal minorities or just to those that agree with us (the infamous Echo Chamber).

Sound familiar? Yup. That are the exact problems Chris and Peter started complaining about.

Listening to conversations brought us to this point in the first place.

So, what could be the solution? Minorities. Ironic, isn't it?

Let me explain:

We need to connect with those representative of minorities to get in touch with what those minorities think. We shouldn't be trying to add minorities one in top of the other to get a majority, we should be respecting what makes them different, listening to that and we might be in good course for that concept called "long tail".

Minorities are important. Listening and respecting them is crucial. As I stated, Web 2.0 fosters minorities, so we will only see more of that, not less. We better start getting used to that. Need I remind the readers how Obama used to be minority facing both Primaries and Presidential election?

What we need to do is smarten up while connecting to and with minorities. They will have lessons to teach us. We also need to find ways to connect minorities between themselves so we don't all end up living and talking inside walled gardens.

Wait... that IS already happening.

Bottom line is: We need to break all the walls around our gardens.

29Dec/082

Social Media taking Flak

some ammount of flack is good

A big number of posts, articles, studies and analysis attacking or undermining Social Media's foundations have surfaced lately. And that is a good thing. It is an awesome thing. I’m tempted to say it is the best damn thing that could happen at this particular moment in time.

Let me remind the casual and distracted reader that the individual writing this post makes his living out of Social Media.

I’ve been known to criticize Social Media and its experts in the past. To be fair I have also raised the flag of “we’re too cool to be true” from time to time. Mea Culpa.

Being somewhat violent and critic of one’s own line of work should be implemented as an exercise for all employees, but particularly for those of us who work in Marketing since, given our above-average exposure, we tend to believe we’re more important and enlightened than those working on less “gracious” activities.

Social Media Marketing is far from perfect or being perfected. It is a very novel field of work. There are tons of things to be discovered and explored and there are a lot of mistakes and learning to be made. Probably that is the reason why it is so exiting to work with in the first place and what causes what Joel Mark Whitt calls “Social Media Incest”:  Social Media analysts and specialists tend to write and talk about just social media (I’m personally more fond to the term “in-breeding” for some undetermined reason).

Social Media-ites are in grave risk of talking just to their own breed and species as it was duly noted by Robert Scoble: “We’re talking to ourselves”. (Via Uberbin)

Although I do speak about more stuff than just Social Media, I am guilty as charged in that matter as well, since this blog revolves almost exclusively around Social Media / Web Marketing / Web Analytics.

So, we’re in love with ourselves, like the sound of our own voices and are enchanted by the stuff we do for a living. That isn’t necessarily bad, right? It is when we fail to be critic about what we do and when we stop caring about what the outside world says about us and the things we do.

Gibraltar Searchlights

need to look for good criticism

That is the reason why I think the recent attacks and criticism are positive: they get us off our pedestal. Royal pain in the ass, but a necessary and much needed one.

It is time to think again, guys.

We can’t base our work and expectations on just Cluetrain and The Long Tail. Both are awesome, interesting and radical; but things are changing: audiences, markets and companies are evolving and we need to revamp our “theoretic” baggage pronto.

Whether the current economic state is the-end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it or just a rather big bump on the road is irrelevant. Companies can’t or will no longer fund programs that can’t prove its worth. And by worth I mean money. We need to put “brand” and “reputation” in a slight pause for the time being. Let me rephrase that before I start to take flak.

Companies need to make profits while they build brand and reputation.

In other words, CFO’s and CEO’s won’t wait until Social Media programs are fully built, running and start to indirectly make profits. Might be tough, but such is reality.

The risk under such circumstances becomes one of trying to make profits at any cost.

That is why I don’t like the pay-per-post model. I don’t care how much sense it might make for some. I don’t even care if authors put “sponsored post” in double underline, bold and blinking text, pay-per-post it is (under my black-and-white perspective) just plainly inappropriate. Yet, the whole izea ordeal got me thinking that this type of program makes paid writing “official” and I’m certain that there is a lot of pay-per-post going on under the table.

But I digress. (I do that).

One of the latest attack has to do with the long tail theory, or rather a contradiction of it recently published by the times. Since the data set and sources are still undisclosed it is yet unclear if the authors have a real theory-breaker or just a minor setback of limited reach.

Even if the study has sturdy data to back it up it does not necessarily mean the theory is wrong, just that the model might not apply to everything at all times. It could also mean that just stating that something like the long tail is possible does not make it happen overnight.

The particular universe analyzed by the study published by the Times is the music industry. And although some of the fundamentals of the long tail apply to it better than they apply to other merchant models there are some dark spots in it which might of been overlooked when Chris Anderson draw his conclusions.

The music industry has over 70 years of doing business the same way: Scout or find an artist; make a record; promote, promote, promote; hope for a hit; sell millions of albums. This has two very obvious consequences: a. the audiences have been trained for over 4 generations to be spoon-fed music and b. the record industry knows no better model. This might very well be the two reasons why the long tail might not (yet) be successful for selling music.

But there are other scenarios where the long tail has proved to be right to its full implications.

Content publishing and distribution comes to mind as an obvious example. The proliferation of blogs that focus on a single topic and from a single perspective have had moderate success all around the globe. This has forced traditional publishers (Newspapers & Magazines) to change their perspective towards content generation and open blogs on their own to stay somewhat competitive.

There is another thing we tend to forget given how used we have become to changes. The Long Tail as a book and as a formal theory has only two years of age. I’ll risk it and say that most companies have not even give it a thought. Also, most consumers are unaware of the new and endless options available nowadays. How can I purchase a track from an obscure band at the other end of the world if I don’t even know they exist?

That leads me back to the need to develop new theories that adapt to shifting times. Long Tail, for instance could take advantage of a “nouvelle promotion” theory, or: “how to market for the long tail”. The risk resides in assuming that just because the options are available, they will be magically found by users.

When TV advertising was in its diapers, agencies struggled for well over a decade before they hit the right formulas and perfected their methods. and they have kept evolving as their target audiences evolved with them.

The real point now becomes: Now that novelty has worn off and that social media marketing needs to become mature: how will things evolve?

The criticism and attacks are just signs of the fact that people are no longer blinded by the glitter and brightness of “Social Media”; but are starting to demand real and tangible results. It is up to us, the people that make a living out of it (analysts, marketers, corporate bloggers, everyone) to step up to the challenge and prove its worth.

21Dec/082

2008 in review

Despite economic crisis and some personal dark notes 2008 has been an awesome year. Putting it in perspective is a hard task; too much happened.

Beijing 2008.

Until September everything in my life had olympic rings attached. Unlike some other projects, we had a due date written in stone: 08-08-08. Everything needed to be oiled and working by then. It was one-in-a-lifetime oportunity.

"Voices of the Olympic Games" was a fun and demanding projects I was ever involved with. I have written several posts about it all over the months. Here's a link to the tag "Olympics" in this same blog in case you want to read them all.

On the "lowlights" side of things: during the games my father got seriously sick and passed away the last thursday of Beijing 2008. Talk about messy weeks.

Public Speaking.

I am really fortunate. Some people think I'm worth listening to, and I was invited to speak at We Media Buenos Aires, WordCamp Buenos Aires and DigitalTalk. Hopefully I'm getting better at this thing of trying to share ideas, visions and experiences with others.

Oddly enough I think I get more out than I give back to this events.

Huge thank you to the people who invited me.

Lenovo.

It has been a crazy year at lenovo. Olympics, new product launches (such as the X300, the IdeaPads, NetBooks, servers... ) and a global crises.

I got a little bit more settled in my role within the company. I must admit I don't quite like "settled" and I will be looking at new ways to make me uncomfortable and drive myself mad soon.

Personal.

Despite the noted lowlight, it has been a nice year personally. The most important news is that I'm bound to become a parent in March.

There's still a lot that needs to be worked out. I really don't like living in Buenos Aires, particularly I'm not fond to raise a kid here (since I was able to grow up in the mountains and forests of Patagonia) and my apartment has started a self-destroy sequence some months ago.

Yet the good news is so overwhelming that all the problems and issues become secondary.

Also, in the "growing family" department I got to meet a "new" Brother. Life has some very strange twists.

Posting.

I haven't been posting too often to this blog. Yet I think there are a couple of entries readers might find interesting:

Note: it is an interesting exercise to read thoroughly a year worth of posts to see how much rubbish I usually write and how little substance.

For 2009.

High expectations and profound changes. They will either happen or I'll force them to happen. Although responsibilities should increase with parenting the adventure and nomadic spirit within me is about to burst.

17Dec/083

Riding every single wave

Remember the times when we filled our mouths with the "Social Media Marketing is about Authenticity, Transparency, Straight Talk"? It would seem those days are over, if they were not an illusion in the first place.

David made some criticism over his blog regarding the bloggers (erm, "writers") that will take money from companies to talk ang generate buzz about them. I won't spend too long going through his point, but I'll say that I agree overall.

That post had a trackback from Jeremiah's own blog, where he writes in support of the izea model:

Recent research shows that corporate blogs are not trusted, but we know that consumers trust their peers, so savvy brands will want to benefit from word of mouth.

So, I'll try to use logic to digest as much as I can of this.

People trust peers more than corporate blogs. So, let's pay bloggers to write nice things about companies. Yet, people have higher trust on emails from people they know. What are companies to do? a. pay every single person that has a friend to recommend your brand on an email or b. spoof addresses to make people think their friends are recommending our brand.

Of course someone will eventually find out and users will no longer trust "emails from people they know".

(need I clarify I tried to make a point through absurd?)

Using my crystal ball I can foresee: Programs like this will slaughter blog's credibility the same way miss-use of corporate blogs demised how much people trust them.

It is a program that is bound to fail in the long run. Once people start to be suspicious about if what they read on a blog is being "sponsored by Huge Inc." there's no turning back, since bloggers do not have the leverage mass media has to revert such negative perception.

In a couple of years we'll be gazing at a similar report, looking at blogs standing at the bottom of the trust pit, scratching our heads and wondering what went wrong.

But there are two major issues with this type of study.

  1. They tend to generalize
  2. They are impossible to compare against other facts and figures.

I agree that 80% of corporate blogs are rubbish. Nothing more than an ill-applied, poorly executed and sad shadow of what a blog should be. I wouldn't trust them myself, and I'm both a blogger (corporate and individual) and a blog-reader.

But there are some awesome examples of decent (and influential) corporate blogging as well. I wonder if that 16% of the people the study showed trusted corporate blogs read the decent ones.To be honest, forrester's report (available for free w/ registration) gives some advice into how to save corporate blogging.

Now, back to the title of the post: "riding every single wave"; that is exactly what (us) marketers are doing wrong. On a couple of speeches I gave this year I underlined that corporate blogging was not suited for every single company ("don't do it because its hot") and that before engaging into it those in charge should be fully aware of how it needs to be done.

(As a general rule of thumb: if your corporate blog pisses some "old school" people within your company, you're doing it just fine).

So, now that the new trend is pay-per-post we'll find tons of companies jumping into that without really knowing who they are paying. Recently I was talking to a local a-list blogger (most probably Argentina's top blogger), a very controversial figure for some, but stainless in terms of ethics. He said "a company that advertises with me should understand that I might criticize them nonetheless". If I managed Argentina's Marketing budget he'd have a Lenovo ad over his site.

Once marketers understand the new game they should realize that some things that look bad on the surface can have a longer lasting possitive effect.

But advertising is different than pay-per-post. Advertising is clear and direct. Pay-per-post is misleading. It doesn't matter if authors disclose, there is still some degree of deceit happening. If a user goes to bigcompany-dot-com he expects that the copy is going to be biased towards what bigcompany sells. If the same user goes to averagejoeopinion-dot-com he expects to read what Joe has to say, not what bigcompany told Joe to say.

The move of advertising pay-per-post can (and will) backfire in the nastiest of ways. Because it is fundamentally flawed as a concept within that other type of marketing that "social media analysts" (I am one) are advocating. One based on openness and honesty. It is not easy to do things the right way, and often it takes a long time to pay off.

Sure, in times of crisis people do welcome some extra cash, but not everyone should become a prostitute for that reason.

To conclude and since Jeremiah spent his time commenting on my previous post on the subject, I'll take the time to reply.

I respect Analyst's work. Half of my time I (should) spend looking at facts and figures, understanding what is happening, what the trends are and how to improve programs.

The main issue I see with analysts is that they see half the picture. The half the people within companies don't see. The main difference is that we know we're missing stuff, we need that information and are willing to pay big bucks in order to get it. On the other hands many analysts tend to think they own an absolute truth.

Another problem I usually have is that some conclusions they draw seem to be a tad short-sighted and shallow. It is only when such type of research goes public and digested by bloggers, marketers and others that the real deal surfaces. Yet, those other people who re-read and re-analyze, share their opinions and expertise don't make a dime out of it. Shouldn't Forrester pay all of them as well? After all, they are making significant contributions to the final studies (sometimes before the study is finished, other times afterwards).

16Nov/081

Social, baby, Social!

In case you were wondering why I have been so quiet on this blog lately, I am now entitled to disclose what I've been up to since it is all now in the public domain.

For starters Lenovo now has its first Japanese blog: Yamato Thinking. It is a actually dual language blog, both in Japanese and English.The guys at Yamato are responsible for much of the design of our computers, thus it shall prove to be an interesting read.

This is a big step for us in the right direction. Enabling a social media strategy on a more global basis is the way to go.

We have also redesigned our Lenovo social homepage. This should now prove to be a fairly useful hub for everything that goes on on the Lenovo Social Media Universe. This homepage will keep evolving and upgrading to usefully serve our visitors and customers. I have wild things in mind.

But that's just the tip of the iceberg for what's being going on.

We have also launched a new service for our customers called "Discover Social Media". The word "service" does not do justice, actually. I'll describe what the intent is and how we plan it should work.

Our aim is to build a community site where newcommers to Social Media can get up to speed with all the trends, sites and services around Social Media. Reviews and best practictices are written and revised by peers. For the time being the site works very blog-like, but that will transition to something more complex and social Networky.

Here's an excerpt from our welcome message:

When you hear about “social networking,” just know that computing is getting more personal, more about you, your success, your family, your interests and the ability to connect with people and information that can help you. Social networking is people talking… about everything under the sun and much more.

As usual the best part of this projects is the people I get to know.

Mitch Ratcliffe is in charge of much of the reviews you'll see on the site. He's done a terrific job, and, I must admit, I feared for his sanity, since he had to actually use all those services. And using them means Signing up and spending time on them. In case you don't know Mitch I strongly encourage you to subscribe to his ZD|Net blog.

On the design part we partnered with Erik Hahr. We got in touch with Erik thanks to our Forums. He is an active participant at the lenovo community and showed a lot of interest and will to collaborate with us. Our experience with him on this project is a good example of how good Social Media can work both ways, for companies and customers.

I'll probably be posting updates on how all this things evolve in the near future.

30Oct/080

WordCamp Argentina 2008

Since Mariano made it official, I'm proud to say that I'll be presenting at WordCamp Argentina in about a Week (November 8th).

You can check out the Agenda and registration to the event is now open.

I want to make something different from the usual keynote, but the lack of time might prevent me to go all above and beyond as I would like.

Stay tuned!

Post disponible en español en redtácora.

21Oct/080

Drawing conclusions: WeMedia Buenos Aires 2008

Almost a week has passed since WeMedia Buenos Aires concluded. I was fortunate enough to attend and other attendees were unfortunate enough to be forced to listen to me.The audience was somewhat challenging, not because they booed at me (they were respectful enough not to!) but because I had to keep the pitch very high-level, thus somewhat boring those initiated in the dark arts of social media.

Since I believe this things take a while to get digested (and my brain is taking longer than usual times to digest) an unordered list of thoughts follows.

  • Mainstream Media (is there such a thing) does not get it. Gross tonnage is no longer a valid argument to state that one "rocks" or "sucks". The overall ignorance of traditional journalists with regards to Social Media was put to evidence thanks to Mariano's intervention.
  • Video is going to keep migrating from TV to Internet. This is going to take a while. TV will become an "online thing" in advanced countries in the next 15 years or so.
  • Most of the action takes place at coffee breaks and lunch breaks. I guess the idea of un-conferences is to try to replicate that. I had a great time chatting people like Mariano, Ismael, Ivan, John, Nicolás and others (too many to link!).
  • I like presenting. I like it a little bit more every time I do it. One day I might even get moderately acceptable at it.
  • I got a ton of ideas from the BBC's presentation. And I mean real-life marketing ideas.
  • Inspiration comes from the oddest places.
  • Timing was too strict in some senses and too loose on some others. Some speakers could of got to the point in half the time. Others I would of listened to for hours.

I'll resume normal blogging habits now.

16Oct/080

We Media Buenos Aires – Day 2 (Part 7)

Final part is just John Bell's keynote on Perpetual Beta. Stating that John is one smart guy is like saying rain will soak people wet.It was quite an adequate close to the sessions, I just wish some of the media guys would present on day 1 of been there to listen.

John started by stating he was going to "try to tie together everything we've heard before".

Perpetual Beta: make our minds up to the idea that we need to be in constant change. Adapt to adapting constantly.

Ogilvy (or 360°?) holds up an annual unconference called stream, they start up with no agenda and then build one with everyone's knowledge and inteterests. (Esteban's Note: wouldn't it be nice to build something of the sort but "publicly available"? Agenda could even be worked up remotely in the form of a wiki...)

Mr. Bell then went ahead and showed the Video Ogilvy compiled as a culmination of the "Voices" program, as well as some other examples of Social Media engagement for brands.

"We need to try and be part of the power of Word of Mouth".

Influencers may not matter that much anymore. Thank the long tail for that.

Brands should build communities (AMEN!)

"Google is the big filter". What appears on the first two pages of a google search is more important than anything that appears on a major newspaper.

"Listening -> Planning -> engagement"

7 habits of perpetual beta:

  1. Experiment all the time (google labs as an example)
  2. Hire differently (people from diverese backgrounds) (Esteban's note: tell me about it, what's a musician doing at Lenovo's social media if not!)
  3. Implement a cross-training culture.
  4. Embed technology in your everyday life.
  5. Invite customers in to make products better.
  6. Re-think how to measure success.
  7. Re-think how to inspire loyalty

"We have to become comfortable about being in perpetual change".

This ends up the reviews of what was said. Soon I'll post my thoughts.