February 2007 Archives

Sizing the industry

Lots of news in social media analysis this week. The Cymfony acquisition got the big headlines, of course, generating a healthy selection of articles and some useful analysis. One thing really amuses me, though: the notion that there are only seven companies in the business. If you want to buy a social media analysis company before they're all gone, you have more than five choices left. And if you're looking for a vendor or partner, please note that the field is bigger and more varied than some of the articles suggest.

smacount.gifIn the process of developing the Guide to Social Media Analysis, I've found 48 companies in 11 countries so far (Australia, Belgium, Canada, China, France, Germany, Japan, Norway, Sweden, United Kingdom, United States). I'm referring to the headquarters locations here; some of these companies are multi-national, and their staffs are frequently international, too.

I'm sure there are more; I learned of four in the last 24 hours (Echo Research, Ethority, Primelabs, and Sports Media Challenge). No doubt language barriers are hiding even more. And if there's really only one company in China, look for others to enter (sorry, Sam).

Not all of the companies I'm talking to are direct competitors to Cymfony, Nielsen BuzzMetrics, Umbria, et al. In fact, their differences are part of what makes this interesting, and it's an area I'll explore here and in the Guide. After I finish with the company briefings.

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Negative buzz at warp speed

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Two airlines, two tough days for air travel. The contrast between American's reaction to the mess in Austin and JetBlue's reaction to last week's chaos will be a good case study for someone. Have you noticed that passenger groups from both incidents have blogs? There's a difference, though. JetBlue's passengers got an even quicker start.

American's bad day was December 29. The stranded passengers blog launched January 9th—11 days after the incident. JetBlue Hostage launched February 15th—the next day.

At this rate, the next incident will have a dedicated blog before it happens. How's your reaction time?

Every customer's bill of rights

What if the fine print were customer friendly? Would it still be fine print, or would it be up front and bold?

Mark Hopkins was our last-minute panelist today, since David is fighting a virus. I'm sorry we missed David, but glad to meet Mark.

Mark has a blog, so of course I read it before today's meeting. He says it was an experiment to help him understand the blogger mindset, but I don't think he can stay in experimental mode. He's already making interesting points. Case in point, terms & conditions vs. bill of rights:

If this works well for JetBlue, we may see many companies in other industries stepping forward with their own “Bill of Rights” to appease their mob of angry customers.

...

It’s a fundamental shift in power and perpective here—companies put forth the Terms and Conditions, which a customer must agree to and abide by. But a Bill of Rights, is a more customer oriented piece that clearly establishes performance objectives and remedies, it frames the expectations from a customer perspective, not the company’s. It’s about providing the customer more choice, more recourse and control.

Here's an easy test to see how customer-oriented a company's policies are: what size is the text? Terms and conditions are fine print; a bill of rights goes on the front page.

Blogging to a print audience

How do you use a blog to reach an audience that doesn't read blogs? Be found by a reporter who does.

I talked to Travel Weekly's Andrew Compart last week after he found my post on the fallout from AA flight 1348. His timing couldn't be better, given the heartburn JetBlue is feeling this week. Andy's article, Blogged upside the head (free registration required), takes the message of listening to social media to travel industry readers:

So what is a company to do?

For one, the ability of consumers to air their grievances to a worldwide audience has made it more important than ever that companies respond quickly and appropriately to consumer complaints.

It's probably not realistic, however, to believe even the best companies can identify or satisfy every unhappy customer before he or she tries to exact revenge via the Internet. That means they need to be proactive by closely and continually monitoring what's being said about them in cyberspace, or hiring someone to monitor it for them, so they can nip trouble in the bud.

I'll resist the urge to quote Andy quoting me. Take a look at the article. We're getting the word out.

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Eating an elephant

It's been a busy week at Social Target World Headquarters. We're making the final preparations for next Wednesday's panel on listening to social media in Raleigh, and I found out about one person coming to the event from Maryland. That's a long way for lunch. The first responses are coming in for the Guide to Social Media Analysis, and more companies are hitting my radar. If you haven't responded yet, it's not too late to be included.

A few companies have been hard to reach. Are you monitoring your own brands, bc.lab, Gala, and Infonic?

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Introducing Social Target

"So, what do you do?" Interesting conversations about social media and business always come around to The Question. Here's the answer.

I like to figure out new technologies and their relevance to non-techies, and I'm good at translating tech to English. During the last boom, I connected the dots for companies in the broadband Internet arena. Now, I'm focused on how social media and related services and technologies can be useful in non-technical business roles.

Today I launched the updated web site for Social Target, my research and consulting firm focused on the interactions between social media and marketing. My initial research project is the Guide to Social Media Analysis. The guide, covering over 40 companies worldwide, should be available in April. I've written about it here, too.

Consulting and the blog go together nicely, and the research is giving me lots of blog material. Social Target gives me a vehicle to go deeper with paying clients.

Just in time, too. I gave my first media interview today.

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I'm preparing some questions for next week's panel discussion on listening to social media, when up pops a Kent State/BurrellesLuce survey that finds 72% of PR professionals have no formal system for monitoring blogs (via Ed Lee). Even after the mainstream media coverage of blogs and online influence? Looks like we need to get more people on the learning curve.

Students of PR are learning about social media in class, but the old dogs seem to be taking a wait-and-see attitude. Maybe they assume that it's safe to ignore bloggers, but what's really happening is that the 72% who aren't monitoring blogs aren't aware of what's being said about them and their clients. In effect, they're betting that nothing important will happen there.

The marketing/blogging crowd knows the stories and has even grown tired of the usual examples, but too many practitioners haven't learned them. You can't influence what you don't know about, but it can grow into something you can't ignore. Interesting stories in social media have a way of generating traditional media crises, and PR in the 21st century has to learn the modern ways.

Kent State professors Bill Sledzik and Jeanette Drake will present their study on how PR agencies track and use blogs at the International Public Relations Conference next month. I'm looking forward to the answers to their follow-up questions.

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Surveys keep telling us that younger generations are more likely to use new communications channels—though to someone who came of age after its introduction, it's not new technology, is it? Adults over 40 are less likely to use blogs and social networking, while the under-25 set is assumed to live in MySpace, Facebook, IM, and text and probably thinks of email as a way to communicate with old people. Whether you buy the stereotypes or not, young adults have another advantage: some of them are learning about how social media affect marketing in class.

Faculty teaching social media
Toby Bloomberg writes about the Information Technology Marketing class at the University of Delaware, where her blog is on the assigned reading list. In addition to reading the required blogs, students will create their own blogs, blog the class, use Bloglines, and contribute to Wikipedia articles. Instructor Alex Brown also posted the course outline, which features many of the usual topics in marketing and social media.

Walter Carl uses blogs in his Word-of-Mouth, Buzz, and Viral Marketing Communication and Advanced Organizational Communication classes at Northeastern. I'm sure a few minutes with the blog search tools would uncover more class blogs. The point here is not so much that faculty have adopted these tools for their class, though. They're bringing topics that generate so many blog posts in the working world into the classroom. For their students, there's no conflict between what they learned in marketing class and today's environment.

Students filling the gaps
Over at Syracuse University, the Newhouse New Media Series started this week (via Toni Muzi Falconi). In an independent study project, student Eric Hansen has organized discussions of social media and PR, including some high-profile guest speakers. The series blog includes handouts, links, and—coming soon—recordings of the sessions. The series also has its own Facebook group—because a student organized it, perhaps?

Jeffrey Treem put together a discussion and a wiki on blog writing for PR while he was a grad student at USC Annenberg. The interesting part of this one is that Jeffrey solicited contributions to the wiki from bloggers and practitioners in advance of his talk, so the outline became an example of the benefits of social media.

Digital natives at work
Youth doesn't automatically make today's students net-savvy, but they do have the advantage of being in school after the effects of social media have appeared. Graduates of these programs aren't going to view social media as a new challenge when they go to work; it's just the way things are, and they will have used the tools since they were in school.

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Fast learners at NPB

They started off on the wrong foot, but the National Pork Board quickly corrected its course with an apology and other good moves. Collecting donations for the Mother's Milk Bank of Ohio is a particularly nice touch, since the Board can't make donations directly.

Jennifer's wrap-up, Well done, pork, is worth reading if you've been interested in the story. She tells some fun details, clarifies some points that were muddied in repetition, and makes this key point:

There's nothing wrong with protecting your trademark folks. [...] My argument was that they should do it by hiring a lawyer that won't make asinine assumptions about the site in question and that they could do it a little more politely.
Play nice. Try connecting with the person. All the things NPB did right, after the first try didn't work out so well.

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When it comes to dealing with bloggers, maybe what companies need is a dose of naïve literalism—a reminder of the relations part of public relations and what it implies about how to deal with people. Briefly, remember that you're dealing with people and that your interactions with them will define a relationship, for better or worse. Let's look at how a relationship-based approach can foster better blogger relations.

First, what doesn't work. The National Pork Board showed us once again that leading with the lawyers is perhaps not the most effective method of dealing with bloggers, but it's a lesson that too many people only learn the hard way. The board has apologized, but the Lactivist post is now on the first page of their Google search results. Forgiveness doesn't prevent consequences.

A better approach
What works? The personal approach. Derek Karchner of Rosenberg Communications pitched Jim Durbin on behalf of a non-profit client in a good example of how to pitch a blogger. Here's what he did right:

  1. Derek read Jim's blog first. He wasn't blasting a message out to a list.

  2. He sent a personal note that told Jim why he thought the story would be useful to him, and he invited questions.

  3. He responded to Jim's questions by getting him in touch with the client, and then he followed up to make sure Jim got what he needed.
The result? A post for his client, and another post on Jim's appreciation of Derek's approach.

Derek had a nice story to pitch, not a complaint about trademark infringement, so his situation was easier—no temptation to let the lawyers handle things. Still, his success shows that the human approach is worth trying.

Walter Lim heard something very similar from John Kerr of Edelman: PR's new formula for success:

Develop better relationships -> humanizing your offering
Now there's an idea.

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Pork vs. mother's milk

For a while, it seemed that every conversation about companies interacting with bloggers fell back on the same few anecdotes. It was as if our economy were based on Dell and Kryptonite. For better or worse, that's changed now. We're seeing more examples of bloggers calling out companies, and all too often, the companies don't understand the culture. Today it's the National Pork Board.

Jennifer Laycock is a work-at-home mom and founder of The Lactivist, "a site that aims to promote breastfeeding through humor." One of her activities is selling shirts with funny slogans at CafePress, and one of her designs—The Other White Milk—was too close to The Other White Meat® for the eat-more-pig crowd.

We understand the need to defend trademarks, but the Pork Board skipped a step and went straight to the threatening letter (PDF). Look at Jennifer's complaint:

Now let me make one important point. I don't much care about selling the shirt. In fact, CafePress had removed it from the site before I ever even saw the letter from the law firm. It really doesn't matter to me if I ever sell it again. It's certainly not the cleverest slogan I've come up with so it's no big loss. What I'm ticked about is that rather than taking two seconds to send me a nice email to request that I remove it, they came in guns a blazin' with a lawyer crafted nasty gram that actually includes the phrase "We trust that after you have reviewed this matter, you will conclude that the better course is to promptly comply with National Pork Board's demands herein."

I don't have a lot of tolerance for bullies.

I still have a few days to decide what I'm going to do. Anyone know a good pro bono lawyer that's sympathetic to the breastfeeding cause?

Try being nice
Where a personal note might have resolved the issue to the Board's satisfaction, a C&D has Jennifer thinking of fighting for a design that even she says isn't her best work.

There's a great summary I've seen too many times to attribute: Social media are about people. We tend to be more casual and personal here, so when you can, try a casual and personal approach. There must be some way you can ask nicely while preserving the ability to get nasty if that doesn't work.

Choose your battles
The popular perception of a fight like this is easy to predict. They're messing with Motherhood. How's roast pork with Apple Pie, anyway?

Just to make this more interesting, Jennifer's also the editor of Search Engine Guide, which means she hangs out with people who change search engine results for a living. As a result of this incident, her post is likely to rank well for "National Pork Board," since other search marketing bloggers are picking up the story.

The story, by the way, is "national trade group picks on advocate for mothers' milk." And a few people have seen it—remember, this happened today.

It's been Dugg.
It's on Reddit
It's on Netscape
It's on The Small Business Ideas forum.
It's on Marketing Pilgrim
It's on Traffick
It's on Breastfeeding 1-2-3
It's on Search Engine Land
It's on Shoemoney
It's on Search Engine Guide
It's on The Feeding Choices Board at BabyCenter
It's on I don't Know
All because they didn't ask nicely.

Social media are about people. People with their own presses and empathetic audiences. Try engaging the person before you send the attack dogs; you might get what you want if you just ask.

Update: They apologized. Matt Bailey has an insightful view into how blogs and citizen marketers change the environment for these disputes.

Update2: The last word.

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Viral marketing in Boston

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Guerilla marketers 0
Security establishment 0

About Nathan Gilliatt

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  • Voracious learner and explorer. Analyst tracking technologies and markets in intelligence, analytics and social media. Studying complexity and futures.
  • Principal, Social Target

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