The Surprised Entrepreneur – Diary of new venture – Entry #3:

“Mama never told me there’d be weeks like this…”

It has been a while since my last entry and I am relieved to say it is mostly for good reasons. Over the last few months, this little venture has begun to take hold – to wit:

  • I have been on the speaking tour about The Interaction Engine capping it off with a spiel at ad:tech this month.
  • We have closed two new clients – one in the consumer electronics space and one in the mobile app space.
  • I am getting better at presenting our system in meetings – now I can kinda explain it in about 30 minutes. It still falls far short of the 2 minute elevator pitch – but hey – we are getting better.
  • A number of marketing and technology companies have contacted us to “partner” – not sure what that means though
  • We have done a few presentations to media buying agencies as they are challenged to “buy” social media. They are interested in working with us (again – no idea what that means)
  • Most important – revenue is beginning to accrue

Yet, despite the clear progress and momentum – I recognize the utter fragility of this venture. Of the dozen or so folks that are part of this company – most (but not all) are getting paid some compensation. No one is getting what they deserve – yet.

But my biggest challenge is that as we get more noticed, there are far more opportunities that need to be assessed and prioritized. Fundamentally, these opportunities run along three basic lines:

  • Technology Partnerships – there are 4 companies that we are talking to now in the marketing technology space. These companies are anxious to partner with someone like us because often these tech companies have no easy distribution channel. A cool recommendation engine is nice – but it’s hard selling a “stand-alone” technology to a big brand or agency. As a quasi “system integrator” of social media technologies – they see our Interaction Engine as solving this major channel issue for them.  thsi is not a pr 
  • Funding Options – my initial plan was to sell the Engine we have now (does not require any development) to generate about $500K in revenue. While that plan is still in play – I realize that getting to that sales threshold might take longer than I can wait to begin the second phase of this company – to develop/ sell “self-serve” integrated social media programs to SMB via web hosts. I am encouraged by experienced colleagues who tell me I can go get funding now with what we have. TBH, I am still unclear whether any VC would consider this investable. My colleagues are so confident that this can get funded that they are willing to spend their own time over the next few months to work on this. On the one hand, that’s a funding gift that I would be crazy to reject. But on the other hand, it will still require my time for an exercise that I’m not convinced will have a successful outcome. Getting VC funding is a huge time hog – not matter who helps you. I keep wanting to put it off or get a traditional loan to ease the short term cash crunch. this is since this is not any way understand how to make this spaceing this work. it is frustating to say the least but this need
  • Media Alliances – Unlike most other marketing technology companies, I focused on the technology platform but I built it within a holistic system that includes an organized set of content assets from a diversity of publishers. To me, content is not king – but rather the juicy bait to start the engagement process which is why I had to collect relevant content assets. So while I spend a considerable amount of time building these alliances – there are many more people looking to partner with us because so many content producers and writers have been caught in the tumult of “freep” (free and/ or cheap) digital content distribution. In our system, these folks have a voice and a stake, so we solve a problem for them too. The problem is deciding who we can take on.

Most interestingly (and yes – it is a surprise), it seems that our Interaction Engine System (a coordinated, tech mashup of a monetizable “community of interest”) is an approach that can integrate disparate marketing activities into an operational program. In essence, instead of pitching an individual program to a client where I have to plug into their operations – we are being seen as our own ecosystem and other marketing programs and/ or technologies have to plug into us. I won’t say I planned it that way – but I am loving how this is playing out.

Now on to my biggest “what’s keeping me up list?” for this entry:

  • Knowing which contacts are worth pursuing on the tech front, on the funding front and on the editorial front. The response to my presentations has been great – but overwhelming actually.
  • Keeping the pressure up on the sales front –  our issue now is too many great leads and not enough time to follow them all up.
  • Keeping the team motivated and monetized – always a struggle whether you are a new company or an old one

The next four weeks tend to be intense because marketing budgets are being finalized so we need to keep the pressure up – yet people’s mind are on the holidays. This requires an elegant and thoughtful approach to sales (I hope we are up to it).

Day after day, it seems the ride I am on gets more thrilling, more scary and more substantial. As the stakes keep going up, Mama never told me there would be weeks like this where too much is happening too fast. But I guess that beats the other option: too little happening too slow; by a mile.

“So dear Mama – I am grateful you taught me to appreciate a good ride when I see one which is exactly what I am doing  – even though it feels like I caught a tiger by the tail.”

I don’t intend to let go now.

Judy Shapiro

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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.

In the data business – stuff can go really wrong.

Here’s an ironic but sad way many marketing efforts can go awry.

Take a look at this picture.  This email blast from a tech company (left unnamed to protect the stupid) was offering “A deduplication guide.”

See my inbox 🙂

The dangers, difficulties and disasters of database management.

Is it possible for agencies to embrace marketing “complexity”?

The ad business is going through a change not seen in 3 decades.

For 3 decades there were three chairs at the marketing table — agencies, brands and the media. All 3 parts technologically evolved in a symbiotic “one:many” model to grow the business. Agencies “produced once and ran many times”; brands (one) had a message to get out to many and each media property created its media content for many people.

But Internet was a fourth chair that came to the table. It started to dominate the other three chairs utterly disrupting the “one:many” efficient, profitable marketing model in favor of a “many:many” model brought on by social media and mobile technologies.

As technology continued to evolve much faster than the other chairs at the table, the result of this disequilibrium was first felt by the media which suffered a near fatal blow. Agencies, now are feeling the full brunt of this dynamic largely because the “complexity” of social media is taking more and more of the traditional ad budgets.

So while the business has gotten more complex, agencies are trapped in an old “one:many” business model and have no clear way to evolve. Clients do not pay often for agency’s’ technological learning curves (how many agency folks were at TechCrunch Disrupt for instance???). And agencies can not charge $10,000 for a bunch of twitter updates (if you want to sleep peacefully at night).

That’s why in this new scenario even agencies that want to embrace complexity — can not because the profitable “one:many” marketing business model does not support the “many:many” business model. Case in point. Digital media buying agencies are paid as a percentage of billings, but since there are few billings in social media — they do not create those types of programs for their clients. There is no incentive for a digital agency to develop a program with no/ low billings and high complexity – now is there?

So before agencies can embrace marketing complexity – we have to figure out how to make money at it. Talk about complex.

Judy Shapiro

The best 9 lessons in social marketing mastery I learned from my Yiddishe Grandmother

There are others before me who gratefully acknowledge the marketing lessons their grandparents taught them, e.g.  Eric Fulwiler and I now happily contribute to this chorus of gratitude.

It was my Yiddishe Grandmother, long gone before social media ever hit, who when I think about it, was a “maven” (Subject Matter Expert) in the world of social media. I’ve seen her work the social “networking” dynamic at level that few people get to encounter and it’s probably why I am so bullish on social media’s potential to be the major platform that will drive marketing for the next decade.

To appreciate why she was such a powerful teacher requires a brief understanding of her life. My Grandmother, Margit Grosz was born at the beginning of the 20th century in Hungary – the daughter of a highly respected and mystical Hasidic rabbi. She married a young Rabbi and by the time World World II crashed in on her world, she had nine children. On December 3, 1944, she and eight of her youngest children marched into Bergen Belsen, (my father was the “oldest” at 15 and my youngest uncle a mere baby of about 8 months).

This story should have had a tragic end, but in fact she did the remarkable – she was able to save every single one of her children after having endured six months in the death camp. After the war, her influence broadened and she helped thousands as the “Rebbetzin”, literally meaning Rabbi’s wife but also conferring on her the honorary title of spiritual leader, of the shattered Hasidic survivors. As one her oldest grandchildren (out of 100ish), I often accompanied her on her expeditions (reluctantly I must admit) but  I had the chance to witness first hand how to create a thriving socially connected set of networks to the benefit of all. Her wisdom influences me today as I think about how to harness the power of social networking to achieve business results.

This list, inspired by her, I dedicate to her.

1. Keep it simple, direct and honest.

Perhaps the most powerful way to explain this point is explain how my Grandmother saved her children in Bergen Belsen. I will let my father’s account describe what happened next (written when he was in his in fifties):

The morning after our arrival, we were ordered to line up for “appel”, which was roll call. It commenced at 8:00 a.m.  One day, the snow was ankle deep and it was bitter cold. My youngest brother, Chaim, at only eight months was nursing. My mother tried her best to keep him warm and quiet in her arms. The other children were crying bitterly. The one-eyed officer suddenly approached my Mother and began to yell in her face; “What are they crying about? I have my job to do.”

My Mother answered simply; “Listen – can’t you hear the cries of my children?”

Then that one-eyed sergeant announced; “From now on, your children can remain in their bunks. I will come inside and count them in their beds every day.”

What is remarkable is that her simple, direct one line appeal, which seemed wholly inadequate, would have achieved such life savings results. This story cemented in my mind the power of direct engagement. Over the years, I saw again and again how her direct and simple approach achieved results beyond what would have been expected. I saw her get CEOs of major corporations to make major donations of money, goods and services and I saw politicians agree to her requests. Simplicity, directness and honesty is a powerful engine for influencing.

2. Keep engaging.

I never knew until my twenties that sometimes family fights resulted in a complete break down in communications. I had never witnessed it. In my world, if a family dispute escalated to the point of a complete rupture, she forced open the lines of communications. In her mind, keep engaging to keep people connected – no matter what.

That is true in social media too. One must keep the community engaged with people, management and technology. One must manage the interactions so that everyone can feel safe to participate.

3. Make sure everyone in the community benefits.

She had a remarkable ability to use the power of her diverse networks to the benefit of all. I saw how she fluidly moved from one network to another creating loose, cross network associations to achieve a task at hand. She got the CEO of Dupont to donate a huge shipment of contact paper twice a year to redecorate the heavily worn surfaces of the synagogues in the neighborhood (they could not afford new furniture). She then used the leftover it to redecorate and brighten desolate rooms in state run mental institutions for children. (Sidebar – It turned out years later, I learned that my husband’s uncle was a patient in one of the institutions she rehabilitated and who clearly remembered “The Rebbetzin”. What are the chances of that!!)

Translating this lesson to social network marketing means to learn to mix it up and create ways for different networks to cross pollinate so the there is exponential benefits to everyone.  For instance, create programs that pair x-genr’s looking to break into a new career with career veterans. Or create a program that pairs PC savvy kids from distant continents who share a similar passion. Well orchestrated, this is a potent power that can propel social networking programs.

4. Be generous with your time, talent and experience.

This lesson can be a challenge in today hyper connected, on call 24/7 business life. In the case of my Grandmother, if she was short of funds to buy gifts for kids over the holidays, she herself would crochet little dolls for them (and yes – she drafted us grandchildren to help her crochet her dolls). She devoted her time happily until the job was done.

In the context of social media marketing, this means showing social networking courtesy. If asked to donate your network to a good cause – do so. You can also create ways for members to be able to easily connect with each other by providing technology to enable video chat. Show communities how paying it forward always pays back in spades.

5. Assume the best in everyone.

I remember when I was little, my Grandmother was talking to a woman who had lost everyone in the war had become very bitter.  “How is it that you have no hate in your heart” in reference to a German neighbor. My Grandmother answered simply: “Eich hub niescht kan breraira”, “I have no choice”. In her mind, judgment or hate had no place in her world because she understood that it was a poison pill more harmful to her than anyone else. Instead, she assumed people to be of good character and intention and she operated accordingly.

This lesson holds true as we manage our social networks. We should assume that most people in communities are well meaning and well intentioned. Once we are guided by this principle, it puts a clear context for moderation business rules and community participation.

6. Be brave.

The most powerful way to bond community members is to be brave and share honestly with others. Being vulnerable demonstrates a strength that encourages others to gain courage. I learned this lesson when I observed her bravery time and again to venture outside her comfort zone to get what she needed for her community. Imagine the scene when my Grandmother, the Chasidic Rebbetzin who barely spoke English, went marching into the office of Dupont to ask for help. I admired her courage.

Bravery in the social media world requires guts and a willingness to put our company selves out there. A case in point is the recent Pepsi promotion where they used “crowdsourcing” to create their newest flavor. That kind of bravery encourages greatness in your community and in your marketing.

7. Create scalable intimacy.

There has been much research to suggest that our human brain can handle a community of, at most, about 150 people. A community larger than that and the cohesion begins to deteriorate. Similarly, it has been observed that, for instance, Twitter groups of a few hundred are intimate and interactive. Once you pass that threshold and cross into a group of thousands, interaction stops. My Grandmother understood this principle intuitively because she organized her social networks according to maternal line – not married couples. This was her uncharacteristic “data file system” which allowed her to manage multiple family groups of optimal size efficiently despite the vast expanses of family connections.

This lesson is probably one of the hardest for marketers to address because they need scale in order to achieve meaningful results, yet they must maintain the intimacy that social media allows. The trick, therefore, is to create tightly knit communities with synergistic interests that can bind but can scale too. An example, a book lover’s community where different genres can break off into micro communities. This might mean having hundreds of communities concurrently, but companies like Google, Dell and HP have developed programs to manage these diverse communities using lots of new technologies. At a smaller scale, there are self serve platform like SocialGo that help a company to manage groups efficiently.

8. Treat everyone with respect.

Seems obvious yet is surprisingly hard to execute in the social network world of today. The trick, as my Grandmother taught me is to refuse to categorize anyone according to stereotype segments. In her world she was blind to ethnicity, skin color, religious affiliation and or wealth. To her everyone was truly created equal and the simplicity of this approach created powerful allies for her. This principle applied to digital social networks would yield comparable results.

9. Think of others – not just yourself.

I leave this lesson for last because it was her hallmark and it was what made her beloved among the entire Hasidic community around the world. Translated to social media, it means that your goal for the network should be to create place for true connectivity and community – and not just for commerce purposes. It means introducing tools (e.g. video chat) and opportunities that enable connections and bonds that are can enrich all members.

If the orientation of the community is focused on the community — then there is a foundation for success. Focus outward before you focus inward.

There you have it – these 9 power lessons shape how I think about social networking today. I hope it inspires you too.

Judy Shapiro

Why did social media become so urgently important right now?

Nowadays, I sometimes feel like the doctor who is often asked his advice “off duty”. Once I say I am in marketing, the inevitable questions begin. “How can I launch a product with just social media?” (You can’t). Is social media really free? (No). Can I be successful at social media without an agency (yes…but). This is not just mere curiosity; there is urgency to the questions I have not encountered before.

Now aside from the inconvenient truth that I am practitioner of marketing and perhaps not an “expert”; the other inconvenient truth is that there aren’t many experts to found anywhere because social media has barely been on the corporate radar for 24 months and it is very fast evolving category of marketing that is growing in importance. This expertise gap understandably makes companies scrambling for advice with a frantic energy approaching panic.

So with that perspective, let’s return to our initial question; why has social media become so urgently important right now?

There are two primary factors driving this laser focus on social media worth exploring. First, I think it’s safe to say that from a purely demographic perspective, social media has just now reached the tipping point, a critical mass of adoption led by key demographic segments like women, baby boomers. (read: More women than men on social networks for more). But the second, equally important reason is that social marketing is emerging as a company’s worst marketing nightmare – it is where a company’s most important branding battles are waged and it is also largely uncontrolled and uncontrollable. It gets worse. It became very apparent that the old corporate branding rule book needs to get tossed out! Gone are the days when a core branding platform was centrally created and communicated to the various stakeholders groups in a coordinated way. In the new social media branding paradigm, the community now creates the brand positioning for companies – like it or not.

And the days when visual branding standards were created for distribution are dismantling in favor of a model where affiliate communities re-invent the identity of companies to suit the needs of their members.

In the end, the systems that companies used to pump out the corporate messages are caving under the more credible corporate branding connections happening in social networks outside corporate control.

So what’s a corporate marketer to do? This can be a tough one to answer, because this is still evolving. But a few principles will help ease the transition to this new model.

1) Develop a learning path for your people to understand the nuts ‘n bolts of social media.

Often, the mystery of social media reduces seasoned marketers to passive observers to these new branding dynamics. Change the dynamic by encouraging active exploration of this media.

2) Launch a secondary branding experiment using an “ignition point” topic.

Nothing instills confidence than real world experience. A way to accomplish this without risking the corporate brand is to find a topic that your users or prospects have passion for. Launch a mini social media campaign and start explore the tools, play with the networks, participate in the community and experience it just for the sake of learning. Agencies and consultants can only take you so far since nothing beats hands-on experience. Learn for yourself how the machinery of social marketing works and that’ll be invaluable in how to create the new corporate social branding paradigm for your brand.

3) Deploy a reputation measurement platform that tracks your social media visibility.

It is crucial to monitor the conversations going on about your brand and there are great platforms our there to help you do that. There are companies that measure Twitter influence, social networking topic trends and specific corporate conversation in social networks. Some platforms are free while others do not cost a lot.

4) Get serious about community creation and management.

Too often companies start a community but quickly realize that maintaining it is far more difficult. Commit the necessary resources to do community management well. If that is not an option – it’s best not to start at all until you can commit the necessary resources. But a well done community will deliver benefits ranging from engagement marketing to an early warning system should the brand falter.

So if social media seems to be taking over your marketing conversations – it’s useful to remember that it is going through a growth spurt. It has not yet matured into a systematic, predictable set of technologies and processes. Until it does, it helps to be brave and jump right in even if you seem to be splashing around. You’re not alone.

Judy Shapiro

Google-lanche

It would be impossible to read all reviews and POVs on Google Buzz. I have not read any of them. This post is about something entirely different.

This post is about what Google Buzz symbolizes for me. Google Buzz is the ultimate evidence for the deepest fears I expressed about Google last July as I wrote in Ad Age (Why Google Voice reminds me of AT&T and Google, AT&T and the DOJ: How to avoid History’s mistakes)  In these two different articles I argued that AT&T’s downfall started the moment it made the decision to dominate the information highway. Google’s march towards digital dominance seemed to be echoing that history for me and in the AT&T case it ended in divestiture. I wondered out loud whether Google headed toward the same unhappy end.

In the articles I challenged people to look at the big picture and see how similar their positions are. Many people disagreed with me. I understand why. The companies are quite different – literally speaking. But I am looking beyond the technology details to the heart and soul of the matter. The two companies are far more similar than one may expect. Their cultural context was similar and each held their company’s performance as a public trust, as a noble mission.

And this noble mission justified decisions made that were  necessary  to maintain brand position including creating products that served corporate needs first and customer needs second.  Google Buzz is an example of this line of thinking. It so clearly serves Google’s needs first and that of end users second that only a strategy borne of dominance could have stumbled so badly.

This is why the announcement of Google Buzz is so sad for me. It marks the precise moment when Google succumbed to the mistake of creating products designed first to maintain their market dominance over creating stuff people would really need. Some future business book will peg this as the moment when the tide turned and Google lost its grove.

Nor do I think this just another corporate misstep — but this causes me to imagine (and I shudderto think of it) that in 36 months Google will begin the process of being “dismantling” either by their design or by some other mechanism. I shudder because I know the personal pain that will be caused in the “reductive” process.

The launch of Google Buzz – whether it turns out to be a good or bad product is beside the point. IMHO, it represents the end of an era for Google and beginning of a much less certain future.

“Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat them.”

George Santayana; B: December 16, 1863 Madrid:  D: September 26, 1952, Rome; Philosopher

Judy Shapiro

Postscript – I wrote this post last at night and the next morning I wake to see this article from CNET:  Google gets go-ahead to buy, sell energy. ‘Nuf said.

http://news.cnet.com/8301-11128_3-10456435-54.html?part=rss&subj=news&tag=2547-1_3-0-20

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