The world according to algorithms

I wrote this post over three years ago! Gosh – kinda of more scary now. Yikes.

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My personal, trusted search agent, my husband, cut out an article for me about DemandMedia, an innovator in offering a service for web owners to pull algorithm driven, highly moentizable content – fast and cheap.

Then a few minutes later I read about Cheaptweet.com and how it uses an algorithm to mine Twitter feeds for deals on clothes, electronics and services.

I began to notice a pattern.

The next day I read about new search methods that were smarter because of, you guessed it, algorithmic technology.

Now with a thud, I realized, a bit to my horror, that algorithmic logic drives a big part of our lives. It drives our searches and, as a result, what we learn about. It drives which ads we see and crunches through a formula to present us with the most relevant, contextual based ad possible. It filters what offers we see or don’t see online.  And the ever iterative algorithmic engines can even choose our future mates.

I even think some algorithm predicted the end of the world to happen sometime in 2012 *sigh*.

It then blindingly dawned on me (better late than never) that my perception of the world was being shaped by algorithms – aggregation of data points. I was taken aback by the fact that my world perception was not formed as I thought by my experiences with real people – but by mechanical machines spitting out numerical answers to questions I had not yet asked.

I realize I see the world through number colored lens. I am not sure I like the effect.

This shouldn’t be bothering me – but it does.

Judy Shapiro

http://twitter.com/judyshapiro

The Surprised Entrepreneur turns Rebel Entrepreneur

What makes a rebel.

What makes a rebel.

“Judy,” a sweet tech project manager said to me recently after I discussed some of the gaps in the social marketing ecosystem “You are on a crusade.”

I didn’t see that one coming so it stopped me dead in my tracks. What crusade was that I wondered? I probed but she dodged answering me. The word crusade is laden with meaning so it stuck with me – what had I said to give her that impression?

In hindsight it seems obvious but in the moment, I was oblivious to the shift in my thinking from simply being a Surprised Entrepreneur (as I posted here) to becoming a Rebel Entrepreneur.

My cause was simple – to put the human element back into the business of marketing that has been platform’d to a near digital death. I am driven to re-infuse marketing with the sense of wonder, joy and creativity that I had the good fortune to revel in during my earlier career days.

In those ancient days (one generation after Mad Men but before the Internet revolution had really hit) we could put hearts into our work because there were few tools or platforms or technologies to guide the work. It was pure creativity and smarts. It was hard to measure the effectiveness of the much of the work but you knew your work made a difference when the company did better – jobs were created and bonuses were happily doled out.

Over the years, technology improved how we deployed marketing but we continued to be driven by our nobler motivations to create great marketing that improved people’s lives. We knew we could make a difference.

But there’s been a shift in the industry over the past 3 years. Marketing, especially social marketing has become a tech-heavy exercise of manipulating retargeting platforms, or reward systems or algorithmically based big data platforms. Social marketing is reduced to a conversation about content syndication or sentiment analysis.

So it’s no surprise that over that period of time, inextricably, I have seen tech and platforms taking the joy and the nobility out of the system. I have become overwhelmed by the supremacy of marketing platforms over serving people and algorithms over inspiration.

My sense of alarm was quite publicly aired in the digital pages of Ad Age and Huffington Post. I ranted at Facebook when I felt defeated at using Facebook productively. I admitted frustration at the black-box techno-jargon wave that swept over us marketers drowning us in confusion. I’ve even had the chutzpah to question the funding strategies of VCs who are basing their investments on marketing principles that simply don’t apply anymore. But mostly I challenged the 20 something CEOs who created marketing platforms that are long on cool but short on practical application for real marketers.

In the process, I have been:

  • Flamed by Macboys and called a hack (look up “Judy Shapiro” and “mac security”)
  • Accused of being techno-phobic and capable of only kitchen related work, ideally pregnant at the same time thus preventing me from ever writing offending articles ever again
  • Tarred and feathered as an “old line” marketer unable to keep up with the iteration savvy tech guys
  • Harangued for questioning if the “Content as king” model was sustainable
  • And very nearly digitally lynched when I first suggested in 2010 that perhaps Facebook had jumped the shark.

And so against all odds – here I am, founder and CEO of a social tech company, readying the BETA launch of our new network called Eden for Q1.

Against all odds, this little venture that started a year ago will be introducing a different type of social marketing framework that is a based on an “opt-in” paradigm. We are going up against the big “push based” social marketing platforms and networks. It is an uphill but noble fight. In our vision, Eden is a place where users control the action – how they see content or which brands they interact with. It is a reversal of the; “It is our platform so you have to play by our ever-changing rules” social network that dominates social marketing today.

Against all odds, we managed to secure funding including from an early stage VC for which we are eternally grateful. We’ve created relationships with agencies ready to sell Eden to their clients and we’ve sealed meaningful partnerships that help us gain access to the highest levels within publishing and brands.

Against all odds, as one woman in her 50’s, I am privileged to be joined by a community of seasoned marketers to help in this crusade. Our collective goal is to right the marketing ship listing dangerously to one side from the weight of platforms and big data. I can’t express my gratitude to this brave league of fellow crusaders other than to give them full credit for their invaluable role in our noble adventure. I give them a place of honor in our company’s history:

  • Peter Hubbell, CEO of BoomAgers and former Saatchi Board member. www.boomagers.com
  • Griffin Stenger, a founding partner of Concept Farm, a leading social marketing agency [Crain’s]. www.conceptfarm.com
  • Robyn Streisand, Founder and CEO of The Mixx Group – a branding agency and an early investor in engageSimply. www.themixxnyc.com.
  • David Hoffman whose career spans four decades as a film producer and corporate strategic communicator. Wikipedia’s simply calls David: “One of America’s veteran documentary filmmakers.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Hoffman;
  • John Bowman, was Exec VP Strategy at Saatchi working on their premier brands and is now authoring a book about his great Grandfather, Archibald Stark Van Orden http://theassassinsassassin.com/about/
  • George Collins, a long time database expert and CEO of Research & Response – a database management consultancy. http://www.rresp.com/
  • Mark Bonchek, Founder of Orbit + Co whose strategic consultancy is “creating a new direction in business by shifting the relationship of individuals and institutions from PUSH to PULL.” http://www.thinkorbit.com/

Against the odds, I have been able to attract a seasoned management team of  marketing practitioners who had to “build it” after the consultants talked about loving it but conveniently left when the real work began. They were the ones who built those first generation eCommerce sites and created the principles that good UE designers use today. Our journalists understand SEO and our artists are offering their images for free all in an effort to be a part in the creation of an alternate social marketing reality – a fresh start called Eden.

So against all odds, I find I have become a Rebel Entrepreneur – so strange especially given my training, temperament and age. The potential high rewards of being a rebel all too often comes at a high price and we’ve seen our share of deals gone bad, betrayal by trusted colleagues and funding plans gone awry (Sandy was devastating to the startup community).

And yet, despite the odds, we are close to the launch of our network.

So I invite you all over to Bit Rebel to experience this journey with us as we sprint to Eden’s launch in Q1. Celebrate our highs and feel the unnatural lows that are endemic to startups. Share our anxiety as our burn rate increases but our funding outlook seems further out (we are doing a second round of seed funding now). Take a peek behind the startup curtain, see what’s really going on and help shape what happens. The success of Eden will be a triumph of us marketing practitioners like web designers, SEO geeks and developers over algorithmic feats of IP muscle.

Our mission is noble and our cause true.  Come join us.

I guess like any good crusade, we need a flag and a manifesto. Stay tuned – I am just learning how to be a rebel. Kinda of exhilarating actually. But

Judy Shapiro

P.S. My rebellion gets its own website: http://judyshapiro.wix.com/rebel-entreprenuer. Viva Le Rebellion.    

The Surprised Entrepreneur – Why Me?

These posts about my journey with this new venture are often characterized as a surprise. In fact, it’s a surprise on so many levels that the unlikeliness of this enterprise is, in itself, a pretty big surprise.

So in this sea of surprises – the biggest surprise rests in the unlikeliness of me as the one to coalesce this vision; only useful to ponder so that we know what makes us different from many other marketing tech companies out there today.

Clearly I am an outlier given my age, gender, training and temperament causing even the casual observer to wonder: “Why me?”

On the surface, one could point to my diversity of experience spanning B2B and B2C marketing. I’ve been fortunate to have worked in a diversity of industries spanning advertising (NWAyer), technology (Bell Labs, CloudLinux), software (CA, Comodo) and telecommunications (AT&T, Lucent, and Paltalk). The combination means I have a quirky understanding of how to look at a marketing situation from the brand point of view as well as the end-user perspective at the same time.

O.K. – That begins to answer the question but doesn’t wholly get at it since many of my colleagues are tech savvy too. While they express curiosity about the new marketing technology, they aren’t going off and creating new businesses.  Instead, most of my friends leading marketing agencies or marketing departments (like I was) are banging their heads against the marketing brick wall trying to figure out how to incorporate the “new” technologies into the “old” system profitably. In the chaos of “creative destruction” (a term coined by economist Joseph Schumpeter), my peers can’t see the marketing forest for the financial trees.

So again I ask; Why me?

In digging deeper, I then realize that my experience with communications networks gave me a unique understanding about social networks. Both types of networks serve a similar purpose – the efficient transport of a call or a marketing message from the network edge (the initiation point) through the switching stations along its way to its ultimate destination.

Side by Side Comparison: Telecom vs Social Media Network

It also became clear to me that as social networks evolved into a powerful marketing network – it urgently needed system architects. But I saw no hint of any serious understanding of the issue or how to address it – not at the agencies or the social network companies or even the armies of consultants who offer insights but few tactical road maps.

When at first I noted this architecture gap back in 2010, I wondered out loud in Ad Age about the impracticality of integrating new technologies into existing marketing systems in posts like “Five Trends That Marked TechCrunch Disrupt Conference 2010.”  Then, my wonderment continued unabated at the lack of system attention when I wrote: “Has Facebook jumped the Shark”. Actually, I was writing mostly in the hopes of uncovering the technology companies that were focused on solving this system gap. I knew someone had to it…

But all I heard was deafening silence. I seemed rather alone in recognizing the utter futility of trying to retro-fit the older marketing system with the newer technologies. The sheer tonnage of all these new marketing “platforms;” so defined because they incorporated some combination of the mighty  local, social, mobile triad; were built by technologists (usually under 30) and not marketers. This meant they were long on cool but pathetically short on practicality. Yet as slim as many of these businesses seemed, they were getting valuations disproportionate to their real world usefulness (think Groupon), further highlighting the underlying weakening of the business of marketing.  It was an ominous echo from a decade ago.

This explains “Why me.” It takes depth of experience to see beyond the buzz to the potent marketing model evolving. I wanted a role in that evolution largely because it seemed few of us with any real world marketing experience were doing the heavy lifting of operationalizing the brilliance of all this new technology.

The journey to understand “Why me” is useful in that it defines the business we are in – creating the system upon which the rich marketing innovation engine can flourish.  It’s a surprise that it is me – but perhaps, this is the sweetest surprise of all.

Judy Shapiro

The surprised entrepreneur – I’m having the time of my life.

I am not sure what I expected to be doing at this point in my career. I have been blessed to have been at the center of the changing, blossoming technology landscape of the last 20+ years.  My earliest days were at an advertising agency called NW Ayer which gave me a broad perspective on Corporate America’s practices, problems and possibilities for triumph. I then gracefully made my way into the tech stars of Corporate America itself with stints at AT&T, Bell Labs, Lucent Technologies and Computer Associates. I also had the great good fortune of working at small innovative technology companies led by visionary innovative leaders. Two prime examples include Melih Abdulhayoglu, CEO of Comodo and Jason Katz, CEO of Paltalk.

This unusual combination of corporate marketing experience coupled with the feet on the streets training born of working at tech startups, gave me a balanced perspective of how the marketing business is evolving in this technology driven world.

So here we are.

The marketing business is going through a fundamental shift that throws into question almost every tactical practice built over the last 20 years. And, amazingly, it seems that just as marketing becomes this new discipline that weaves creativity into an interactive user experience that is tech heavy – it’s a perfect fit for my peculiar type of networking meets technology marketer experience.  

This seems nothing short of extraordinary. Which is why I am all the more stunned at the work I am doing today. I had not planned on any such seismic move in marketing, so I certainly did not plan on launching a marketing tech venture.

But here I am.

My journey has been one of surprising excitement at the possibilities in marketing excellence that was simply not possible before. The vision of this venture, therefore, is to take advantage of these new trends to deliver a sustainable and productive “marketing machine” (a phrase I attribute to Melih) that can turn the tables on how marketing gets done.

In our vision, we don’t approach monetization like Google or Facebook’s who are about pushing more accurate marketing messages to consumers. We are looking to deliver a marketing platform that lets consumers decide what content they see, what ads they see, how their social networks are managed, how they conduct commerce, even how they communicate within the social networks. The organizing principle for this platform is not ad-driven monetization but oriented around Judy Consumer. Our vision is to create the kind of system that we want to live with for the next 10 years . In effect, we want to give Judy Consumer the tech power to create her own personal “Trust Web.”

To the few friends we have shared our vision with – all have come to a similar conclusion – it is an ambitious (maybe too ambitious) vision. They are correct. But as I entered marketing in the 1980s most of marketing at first was human powered with marketing systems emerging later on.  

And here we are – again.

This next generation collection of marketing technologies is rich in creativity but is not organized for sustainable marketing programs for brands. This is work that I, among others, are focused on – creating v1.0 systems to operationalize the business of social marketing.  

We are all at just at the beginning of this journey and it’s a journey I didn’t expect to be taking at this point.

But here I am – and much to my surprise – I am having the time of my life.

Judy Shapiro

The Twitter Secret for business. The simple, definitive “why” of Twitter – Rant #2.

Back in July, I wrote this first rant called: The Twitter Secret – why & how to use Twitter for B2B and technology businesses. Rant #1, where I give a detailed explanation of how to use Twitter properly in business applications. By now I would have thought most people would have figured out the “why” of Twitter.

But no.

Back in July, when I wrote this post, The Pew Institute reported that for 2009, Twitter awareness was at a remarkable 80%+ but usage was relatively low at around 7 – 8%. People tied themselves in knots to explain it. Many suggested that Twitter’s relative youth accounted for its low usage numbers and that surely over time, its influence would only grow.

Guess what. A year later and the latest Pew Institute usage numbers for 2010 say Twitter is still at 8%.  This time around, it’s harder for people to explain it away in the same way. So now a new crop of answers try to explain the awareness/ usage gap.

Therefore, in the interest of efficiency, I will explain the secret of Twitter in 140 words or less (yeah I know I am cheating – so sue me).

Twitter is important to you if:

  • You need to distribute a lot of content, e.g. media people, reporters, PR/ publicity folks,  agency folks, marketers, analysts, bloggers AND online commerce site
  • You need to consume a lot of content, , e.g. media people, reporters, PR/ publicity folks,  agency folks, marketers, analysts and bloggers
  • You want to outreach to specific media/ people in your industry
  • You want to outreach to specific customers or customer groups
  • You hope to develop a better way to hear customer input
  • You hope to figure out what Twitter is REALLY good at, write a book and get rich :)

So unless you fall into one of the categories on this list, don’t worry about Twitter for right now. It’s probably not that crucial to your business. Go ahead – you can definitively cross this question off your list. Now you know.

Happy new year!

Judy Shapiro

 

The surprised entrepreneur. A diary of a new tech venture.

“But isn’t that everyone’s goal” exclaimed a business friend who learned I had started a company. My friend, a clever software developer, expressed the reality for most of his kind – smart, talented and ambitious to have their own company.

It was never a goal for me actually. I had the best marketing career working at an amazing mix of large and small technology companies. I was fortunate to have learned from the best about digital and social media at an intimate, practical and hands-on level beyond the experience of most of my peers. But starting my own company had not been a high priority for me – at least not until about 12 months ago.

You see, I was working at a profitable social networking company and I wanted to create a marketing program to gain more subscribers. I had a very healthy digital budget ($ millions) and so I did a few agency RFPs. I struggled to assign the projects because the agencies pitching were often very narrowly focused. Sure, many of them had a cool technology or creative concept – but in isolation it had very little value. I found I needed to put together a few of these new technologies to create programs that seemed worthwhile.

But becoming a “system integrator” was not really practical so in the end, I usually did not award the business to any agency. While I nursed my frustration publically in AdAge.com, one day in September 2009 I simply snapped. I had enough after a particularly tedious 2 hour presentation with a large digital agency who, towards the end, insisted that social media could not be branded. That was it. I was done. I kept thinking to myself; “I can do better than these agencies” and I left my employer at the end of 2009.

This was the seminal moment where I made the leap to business creator. I knew the agency business well since I spent 11 years at an agency before going client-side. I knew many of my friends at companies could not find agencies that “got it” either.  Consistently they told me their agencies seemed stuck in a model that was becoming less effective and they (brands) were the poorer for it. There seemed to be a place for the type of agency I could imagine and I was determined to create it.

But how to begin? I began by I listening carefully to what my marketing peers were telling me; “My agency does not get it”, “I know I should be doing more in social media but I have no idea what.”; “We don’t do Twitter because we don’t see the value”.  In hearing the litany of complaints, I quickly realized that agencies were “stuck” because they were furiously trying to adapt their “one to many” business model of the last 30 years to the emerging “many to many” marketing world of the next 30 years. I could see that was not going to work. I could see that the agency model I had known for 25+ years was giving way… I was on my own.

I took a deep breath as I became amazed that this was my chance to start creating an agency fresh – with no assumptions or sacred cows. This was my chance to do a “green field” build as one might see in the tech space. This was to be an agency built entirely from the perspective of a “many to many” marketing model.

With clarity of purpose, therefore, I set about to the task of creating this “many to many” marketing agency. And in doing so – it seemed I had rethink everything.

My first 60 days (March and April 2010):

I was interested in offering a new type of marketing platform using this new technology so brands could efficiently execute social media and direct response within a sustainable engine. But it became very clear very fast that I had to build this type of engine for myself since all the attention was on individual technologies that VCs were pouring their money into. No one, it seemed, worried about how any of this technology was supposed to operate together at a practical level within a marketing system.

This realization meant, like it or not, I had taken (hesitatingly) my first steps to becoming a technology company. Once I took that first tentative step, I sensed there was no going back and the “Failure is not an option” mantra of a previous boss, Comodo CEO, Melih Abdulhayoglu rang in my ears. My friend, the brilliant writer Gay Walley encouraged me onward. As daunting as it felt, I knew I had to create the right technological platform that could execute the type of marketing campaigns I had seen work in my real world experiences. The agency in the “many to many” world is as much, maybe even more, about robust technology as it is about the creative (again many thanks to Melih for teaching me this vital lesson). There’s just no getting around that point.

The next 60 days (May & June 2010):

Using my training in direct response, I created the engine to functionally curate users (not content) within a “community of interest” paradigm. I designed a three part marketing platform that uses promotional video, live internet programming and custom content within a highly architected “hub” to curate users. I had worked with video innovators like David Hoffman and Stephanie Piche, who were doing amazing things using video to drive audience engagement. I asked them to join me and they did.

Next, I had to create my own custom content network so I could get messaging out there efficiently thus driving traffic to the hub. I realized ads were not designed to engage in a “many to many” architecture but content had become the “new advertising platform”. While the logic of creating a custom content network was sound, the task seemed beyond daunting. Then, right on cue came two wonderful people, Donnetta Campbell and Joy DiBenedetto (CEO of HUMNews), who had deep roots in the content/ media world. Soon they had organized all their media assets and outlets into a content network we could use to push our messages through. I asked them to come play with us too.

Then there’s the “hub” (note to self – need new name for this part ASAP!!!). It’s a different type of web experience that is a mashup of live communications, content, community, video and commerce designed on the “community of interest” concept. My previous experience in monetizing communities gave me a blueprint for which techniques, overlooked by many, I needed to include to drive results. The secret sauce to the hub was to build it as a real time community with a lot of real time connectivity and video engagement baked in (emphasis on “real time”).

All the pieces were coming together … but there some real technological challenges to deal with. The platform was clear in my mind – but it was in no condition to be useful to brands – at least not yet.

And the 60 days of summer (July and August 2010):

To make this vision a reality, I needed to round out my dream team. I found out about a cool company doing real-world work in measuring social media which we needed to match this system. The CEO, Dag Holmboe, whose background in engineering was invited to join and came on board too.  I managed to snag an ex technology leader from NBC, Louis Libin; a CBS network pro, Lester Spellman and Jerry Cahn, an IR pro with PhD in psychology (always useful). As the dream team came together, I laughed to myself when I realized the days where a creative guy, a copywriter and a biz dev guy can just; “put up an agency shingle” are long gone.

I spent hours and hours seeing what the leading tech companies were doing. I was writing for Ad Age DigitalNext as a way to learn about how marketing technologies were evolving in this “many to many” world. I wrote about the all the amazing technologies at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in Ad Age (and yes I did lament the lack of women at the decidedly he-geek con-fest). And every time I got stuck on how to do something – I wrote about it and asked for advice. I got plenty.

Then, I began to outline my business plan. The task was made easier by the fact that I had other tech friends who were generous in guiding my progress. My thanks to Igor Seletskiy, CEO of a new company called Cloud Linux who was an invaluable technology sounding board. With his patient coaching, I had crystallized in my mind the outline of a product roadmap largely so I could understand exactly how any agency could financially thrive in this “low billing, social media, many to many” world. As I started creating the revenue model, all I knew for sure was that the old agency revenue models were falling apart.

After more thinking and talking, the product roadmap came into view. Importantly, it does not solely rely on “client” fees. In this roadmap, our agency offers real products (not just services) that can be used by a variety of companies – large and small. It also includes healthy, alternative revenue streams from a wide variety of sources. I lay my “product roadmap cards” on the table even though some of you may gasp at my seeming lack of concern about competitors because TBH — I am far more worried that too few agencies are even thinking along these lines. The agency business needs outliers – agencies who are willing to go where few agencies have gone before…

Here we go (and if this inspires others out there to do something similar – have at it :)

  • Near-term product/ service roadmap (through 2010):
  • Goal – Create integrated marketing platform for social media/ direct response campaigns.
  • Revenue model:   1) Service fees from brands to create content assets for marketing programs    2) Licensing/ Media fees from Brands to run program through the Interactive Engine. IE can be sold as a whole program or in 2 modular “mini campaigns”;3) Partner revenue from affiliate partner technologies that are being integrated into the platform
  • Development status: This is a three part “platform” – 1) Custom Content Network, 2) Specialized Promotional program and 3) Hub web experience. Items 1 and 2 are live. Prototype hub under construction.
  • Sales readiness: Key elements of the Interactive Engine platform are live today (yes – I know – I need to update the damn website :(
  • Funding needed: None – this is self funded through sales
  • Mid-term product/ service roadmap (through 2011):
  • Goal – Create self-serve platform of integrated social media technology campaigns so companies (small/ medium businesses) can launch integrated programs without the need for a serviced based agency. (This concept is following the “control panel” model used today by web hosts to provision lots of services to their customers.)
  • Revenue model = 1) Service fees from brands to content create assets for marketing programs 2) Product fees: a) Brand use of IE with existing client content assets; b)License fees paid by SMB for “self serve” campaigns executed 3) Partner revenue: Expand affiliate fees from partner technologies since many more options can be integrated into offering.
  • Development status: Lead developer identified and overall architecture being mapped.
  • Sales readiness: 9 months to working prototype/ 14 months to sale-able solutions
  • Funding round = $2MM
  • Long-term product/ service roadmap (starting Q3 2011 through 2012)
  • Goal – Create the first “trust agency” for “Judy Consumer” so she can pull trusted information, software/ services and advertising for herself.  At this stage, we reverse the revenue model. Instead of brands paying to get to “Judy and Joe Consumer”, consumers hire “trust agencies” to curate their digitally connected experiences (see my article in Ad Age about “The Six Screens” – Aug 23, 2010).
  • Revenue model = 1) Service fees: – a) from brands to create assets for marketing programs; b) direct subscriptions from consumers 2) Product fees: a)use of IE with existing client content assets; b)License fees paid by SMB for campaigns executed 3) Partner revenue: a) affiliate fees from partner technologies; b) As a perfect “opt-in” ad platform, charge brands premium ad CPM rates; c) content producers via affiliate revenue (they pay us for new subscribers)
  • Development status:  not initiated
  • Sales readiness: 18 months to prototype/ 24 months to launch
  • Funding needed: $1.8MM

Which brings us pretty much up-to-date.

When I step back, I can see our progress after six months:

  • We created the tech platform, called Interaction Engine (IE), that integrates direct response techniques within a social media ROI program.  Today, companies are using elements of the engine effectively.
  • We have coalesced into a solid team of 8 people who all had “hands on” experience in this “many to many” paradigm. Rare folks indeed because they had (often painfully) walked the walk.
  • We are in serious discussions with 2 media agencies, 2 F100 companies and had “tentatively” closed one new direct response account (I say tentatively because as if this date – no contract has been signed yet).

These days are spent getting everyone on the team coordinated, getting some basics housekeeping done (e.g. web site is totally out of date!), pushing forward in the sale process and writing the biz plan. It is very intimating but amazingly exciting.

I will end this and each future entry in this digital blog (expect a once a week post), with my “What keeps me up at night” list. I expect this list to change over time.

  • While we are doing well at getting meetings, the close process is slow because prospects want to see a fully working engine in action. The classic chicken/ egg problem. We have some great clients who have used parts of the engine – but none is currently using all of IE in a singular campaign. Pressing ahead.
  • I don’t wan to be the Edsel of my industry – too far ahead of my time. My team keeps coaching me to keep my presentations simple and they are correct. The trouble is that this platform is simple in concept but not in execution to understand.  So the presentations swing wildly between being too complicated or too simplistic. *Sigh*. My biz dev head and CTO are on the case though. I hope they can come up with a solution – I have hit a wall.
  • I now have 7 senior, wonderful people who have joined this venture – this is in addition to the 8 or so junior workers that are also part of the company. Keeping them all motivated and engaged as we build our sales pipe will be hard especially since many of us are virtual. I have no good model in my head for this yet.
  • Knowing the difference between networking and over networking. There are many people who want to connect with me now especially since I also write for HuffingtonPost in addition to Ad Age. I have to make choices about which contacts I can commit to. I find this very very frustrating and difficult since I never know which contact can lead to the break we need. URGGHH! Anyone with advice on this point?
  • Figuring out what’s the best use of my time as I try to lead both the sales process and the business plan development process. Most people in the company have a role here, but it still requires lots of “hands on” management from me since too much in still in my head and not on paper. I wish I were 3 people (would I get 3 salaries – hmm).

Now, finally my milestones for the next 60 days (not necessarily in this order):

  • 3 page executive summary of engageSimply with financial outlook
  • 1 signed client using the entire new Interaction Engine platform
  • Initiate discussions with at least 2 possible funding partners
  • Get website up to date
  • Expand sales funnel to having 20 active leads in pipe
  • to write in this diary a minimum of once a week or 8 entries (hey – I need some wiggle room J)

So much of this journey is a surprise. I am surprised that as a woman, I am starting a tech business. I am surprised that I am woman of a “certain age” starting a new company. I am surprised at the generosity of people who have agreed to throw their hat into the ring with me – they are a very faithful and brave group of people.  I am surprised at the graciousness of our partners who give of their time and contacts unreservedly.

But mostly I am surprised at how utterly confident I am that one way or another this is going to work. My confidence (perhaps even overconfidence) is the biggest surprise of all because with my long experience with tech venturing, I know my chances of success are not, rationally speaking, in my favor.

I remain undeterred. I remain unabashedly optimistic which is why I decided to document my journey in this blog. When I first started this blog (about 3 years ago), I did it because I sensed that fighting the marketing wars happening “in the trenches”. That remains truer today as I start this new venture. So as the Jewish New Year begins later this week (Year 5771), it seems particularly propitious to begin this digital diary. I may be “in the trenches” in starting this business but my view is firmly focused on how we reach the stars.

Judy Shapiro, CEO/ Founder, engageSimply

P.S. – Have advice, an idea or wanna do business with us. Just drop us a line. We’re ready.

Crystal ball was not needed to predict Google Wave would fail

Forgive a momentary “I told you so” outburst because back in October 2009 as the tech world was dazzled by the Google Wave launch, I somewhat singularly wondered publically about whether it would succeed in a piece in Ad Age entitled:  “Google Wave should beware of the Communications and Collaboration Pitch”

It was an unpopular position to take at the time; after all, Google “Anything” was considered magic.  And after less than a year, being right like this is no fun actually because behind the failure are real people who invested a lot of heart and soul. It is a bitter pill to swallow.

History is a great teacher and in the Ad Age piece, I provide a history lesson on how “communication and collaboration” failed commercially utterly in the 1990s:

“Looking back at it now, I realize what we failed to do last time around is to symbiotically couple this whiz-bang technology with fulfilling a fundamental dimension of our humanity. Technology by itself is sterile and a communication and collaboration play was pretty sterile sounding.”

I also generously give them the secret of how to get it right given what we learned in our previous failed attempts to market unified collaboration platforms:

“This time round, though, Google Wave really has a chance to get it right if it forges a tight symbiotic link between this technology and a core element of our humanity.”

Finally, I gave them what I believed to be the secret to success with Google Wave. Clearly they ignored my sage advice (even if I do say so myself):

“It all comes down to understanding that Google Wave should be about the creation and management of our trusted communities. And if it can take those bonds and marry them with real-time, unified communications, the product has the makings of a technology milestone. But without the human dimension of community, “communications and collaboration” are just technologies. And technologies alone will not “connect” with Judy Consumer. At least it never has before.”

Never to put too subtle a point on it, I expanded my arguments and provided even more detail in a post here entitled; “What might Twitter and Facebook teach Google Wave about market success.” I fully explain why Google Wave has the potential to be a paradigm shift:

“Now I think Google Wave has the potential to be a technological milestone because it merges unified collaboration and communications (not new) within the fertile soil of a trusted community (this is new). “Pull” models coming online now enable this combination of dynamics to “gel” into a platform that can be vibrant and paradigm shifting. …”

I ended this piece in October 2009 hopeful; “I suspect that if anyone will know how to use this treasure it will be Google. I am rooting for them.”

So much for a happy ending :( .

Judy Shapiro

The Twitter Secret – why & how to use Twitter for B2B and technology businesses. Rant #1

This is one of those hissy fit posts I sometimes write in frustration when I see my friends at B2B or technology companies struggling with new marketing technologies when they shouldn’t be struggling at all. There isn’t a CEO, COO, CMO et al friend of mine who has not said to me recently; “I don’t get Twitter/ We don’t do Twitter”. URRGGGHHHH!!! This gets me going because using Twitter (or not) should be an informed choice not a result of ignorance. Yet, the lack of Twitter savvy spanning companies of every size, often reflects a lack of marketing leadership from internal marketing folks and more often than not, the agencies that serve them. Sorry – agency people, but nearly all of my corporate side colleagues express a near universal lack of confidence in their agency’s depth in newer marketing tactics.

So, here my dear friends who are CEOs, COOs, CMO, CIOs, CTOs  and directors of companies of all sorts, is the definitive guide to why Twitter matters for B2B and technology businesses. Feel free to share it with your agencies – gratis.

A deeper dive – who really uses Twitter anyway?

First it helps to put Twitter usage in perspective. A recent report from Edison Research gives us an excellent reference point (here is a PDF –   http://trenchwars.files.wordpress.com/2010/07/twitter_usage_in_america_2010.pdf )

Most importantly, it helps to understand that, despite the hyper buzz, at most only about 7% of US population actually uses Twitter despite an astonishing, almost universal 85% level of awareness.

So who are these “7%’ers”? IMHO it happens to be those people who pushed Twitter into the face of “Judy Consumer” with such success – the media/ marketing/ PR world. These folks love Twitter because it is a digital, communal bulletin board, water cooler and late night hangout all in one place.  It’s an efficient amalgam of interesting stuff, useless stuff, ego stuff and occasionally a real gem, like a source for a story. Hence media’s love affair with Twitter and the correspondingly high awareness among the Judy Consumers out there.

Now that we have framed the Twitter picture correctly and hung it on the wall, it’s time to make practical use of it in our marketing decorating scheme.

The secret of Twitter for B2B and technology companies.

At the most basic level, Twitter is mainly about;

1) Listening to what’s going on

2) Connecting with specific reporters, stakeholders and influencers and

3) Broadcasting to a large following

Let’s break this out in more detail (and for you impatient CEO friends of mine – I used as many bullets as I could for quick scanning :)

1) Listening:

Why do it?

In this mode, Twitter offers three excellent strategic advantages:

  • It is one of the best research/ early warning brand monitoring systems on the planet. With Twitter, you’ll learn of gathering negative corporate sentiment storms before they become too big or too hot to handle.
  • It provides you with an easy way to identify key stakeholders for your brand within the industry, media and regulatory groups.
  • Finally, if you become astute at listening, you can learn the hottest trending topics that can provide powerful platforms for your branding and any Corporate Social Responsibility campaigns/ programs you have in mind (more on this later).

How to execute:

  • I’ll start with a “don’t”. Don’t just follow people who follow you otherwise you will have too much noise. Be very judicious in who you follow.
  • To know who to follow at first, spend a week identifying well respected people, analysts, thought leaders who publish in leading trade journals and follow them. An agency can help you identify important tweeters in your space, but supplement that with your own research.
  • At this stage, focus on quality of information not on quantity of who you follow or gathering Twitter followers. Also, at this stage, do not try and outreach. Give yourself time to get accustomed to the character of the Twitter-sphere.

Who should do it:

Set it up so that everyone in the company follows the same key people for a consistent flow of information. Specifically, though, here is who should be “listening in”:

  • Everyone in the “C” suite:
    • I hear you, my C level friends kvetching that you don’t have time. Nonsense. To check Twitter every day is at most a 15 minutes task spread through the day. The rewards can be tremendous as it can be amazingly energizing and motivating – like a decadent chocolate treat at 3:00 in the afternoon.
  • Every marketing person in the company
  • Key people at the agency.

Best used with:

Nothing in marketing should live in isolation and Twitter is no exception. For the listening side of the Twitter value equation, this is best used as part of the strategic process that determines corporate messaging platforms, as in for example, a corporate social responsibility program. This provides a powerful “real time” voice in the internal strategic corporate brand tracking processes.

2) Connecting:

Why do it?

Simply, Twitter gives you direct access to media and industry thought leaders: Think of Twitter as an extension of your PR machine since you get unmediated access to many reporters that are important to you.  Focus on identifying analysts, trade journals and event organizers that are the gatekeeper for what the industry sees. You want to know what these folks think about.

How to execute Twitter for media/ industry outreach:

Strategically, it is wise to remember that Twitter provides the “public” with a very probing view into your company. I suggest you confine the connecting part of Twitter to people who have both intelligence and sensitivity to recognize that their personal brand will get attached to the corporate brand. It is something not easily outsourced to an agency TBH.

It’s therefore best to set up a formal program and a great example is Robert Scoble of Rackspace. He is one arguably one of the most respected tech Twitterers out there, yet his work is supportive of the Rackspace brand. The point is pick a person/ people with the temperament, passion and intelligence to do you proud.

Once your Twitter Dream team is in place, tactically, here’s how you do media outreach on the Twit-o-sphere. Respect the fact that Twitterers are etiquette sensitive so you want to give yourself time to learn the courtesies:

  • Start by simply retweeting the articles of these influencers that interest you. Be sure you actually look at what you are retweeting and that it is of high quality. What you retweet reflects what interests YOU, so please please don’t just retweet something from important people you follow without looking at it first. If you like, the retweet can have a brief personal comment just to add a bit interest.
  • After you get a feel, then directly respond to the tweets of key influencers with a thank you for sharing something interesting or a comment on their observation. You can even disagree with the Tweeter, but always keep the karma positive and always include their Tweet handle via the @ sign. Twitterers hate rudeness or snarky for the sake to impress. Keep it honest, simple and direct. BTW -don’t expect anyone to answer or acknowledge you. Just keep at it, over time it will pay off.
  • Once you gain some confidence (and that is key), you are now in a position to use Twitter to promote your own agenda using the platform of these contacts. This is the real payoff and it works like this.From your listening stage, you may have identified a powerful positioning platform I call the “ignition point”. Then:
      • Have a blog or article written about the ignition point.
      • Then create a google search alert on the topic and/ or the people within the field who cover the topic.
      • When an article comes up (and it won’t take long if you “listened well”), then comment on the article at the article’s website and point back to your article.
      • Once you have commented, then tweet about the article and include a link to the article – not to your blog. Why? Because people are more likely to discover your article if it is introduced on a well known website rather than a directed link in a Twitter update you post.

Quality content and ideas will attract attention and recognition. Not every platform will work – but over time, you will have a consistent engine for getting your ideas out into the marketplace.

Who should do it?

I will start by suggesting who should NOT do it — an agency should not do this unless they are totally immersed in your business. Period. Otherwise, pick a trusted communicator within the business. They can be in any department: product management, technology, marketing – doesn’t matter as long as they have your trust.

Best used with:

Combining this aspect of Twitter with LinkedIn rocks. Specifically, you want to join LinkedIn Groups from media/ industry thought leaders and you should also start your own LinkedIn group where white papers, company news and updates can be shared.  Continue to post/ share (they can be linked so it is easy to do once) regularly.

3) Broadcasting:

This one is easy because IMHO, as a B2B or technology company you need not worry about the broadcasting aspect of Twitter. Honest. The broadcast aspect of Twitter works best if you are a B2C company where you can REGULARLY pump out promo’s which is how you will build your Twitter following. Otherwise, it really is a waste of effort because in the B2B world, it’s not about scatter broadcasting but narrow casting in your segment. It’s better to have 600 well placed followers then 600,000 “whoever”. I know having a big Twitter following feels good – but that’s not a good enough reason to spend time building it.  The only possible exception to this rule is if you are B2B company hell bent on becoming heavy duty content producer. If not, believe me when I tell you it is a waste of energy.

There you have it – the why and how of Twitter for business. But probably the uber power secret of Twitter is this — simply to show up every single day. Consistency pays off in dividends – but don’t despair because it will take months of steady, deliberate practice. But patience and persistence will pay off.

Now dear friends that you understand Twitter, let’s use this power for good – please.

Judy Shapiro

A stranger in a strange land.

I am humbly borrowing that title from Robert A. Heinlein, one of my fav scifi authors of all time, but it captured my state of mind one afternoon as I was “working Facebook”.

You see, FB is not my social network of choice. I’m a hard core LinkedIn girl. LI is clear – business networking for business folks. Got it.

FB on the other hand is a weird mix of personal and business and trolls. Next to my niece’s picture of her (adorable) 3 year old is an important business announcement for a business luncheon that I wanted to attend. I click on what I think is a link for the luncheon information and I land on the home page of “someone” – not sure who and their niece’s pictures. At this point, I have no idea where I am.

I am a stranger in a strange land.

The strange land I speak of is where, unlike my real world, our social networks are morphing into a communications hub that has jumbled my life into a digital tangle of personal, business and many combinations in between.

I am a stranger in a stranger land.

In the real world, our social networks are well organized across “functional lines” – the parents in my kids school is one network, my business contacts is another or my relatives yet another etc etc. We keep these networks distinct unless during a crisis or some trigger event, e.g. your child is trying to get into a particular school, you create a temporary real time network of people from all your networks who can help you with this task. But once the need is gone, this “impromptu network” dissipates.

But in this strange new world, the networks intermix in a way that I find unproductive. In  this strange new world “on the fly” associations I create for a specific task become hardened in stone well beyond their usefulness.  

In the real world, my social networks are under my control – in this brave, new world – it seems – not so much.

I guess I find it strange. So does “Judy Consumer”.

Judy Shapiro

Creating trust in the new corporate branding model comes down to one person.

Time was before the advent of social media, corporate communications programs were well organized. You had your corporate brand strategy and position which was then communicated via well understood channels such as investor relations, PR, advertising and so forth. In this well oiled marketing machine, individual corporate thought leaders were used to support the corporate message and in this model the goal was clear: create a clear brand value proposition at a corporate level that customers would trust to do business with. The ultimate top down model.

That was then. This is now and the model is turned upside down.

In today’s social networked world, trust is not generated by the corporate communications machine. It is generated by a dynamic I call the Law of One — the brand proposition is carried by an individual who can create trust on behalf of the brand.

In the new socially connected world – individuals are far more effective at conveying trust in social networks than corporate spokespeople or an army of communication specialists. In this new world, non employees or line employees can be the most vocal and valuable trust creators.

Tapping into this dynamic requires a new approach commensurate with the opportunity.  For example, creating a programmatic approach to systematically create personal brands for company “experts” or thought leaders or front line employees integrating existing company social networks, affinity networks with a coordinated approach to content distribution. For non employee trust champions, driving these engaged individuals to a corporate sponsored community driven by a shared interest is a key way to harness and leverage the Law of One within the social network experience.

The new corporate branding machine – creating trust one person at a time.

Judy Shapiro

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