Podcast with Zach Braiker of Quiverandquill.com

I recently did a podcast with Twitter friend, Zach Braiker of Quiverandquill.com fame. Not only is Zach a talented writer but a great interviewer. His questions (below) were well thought out and did an excellent job drawing me out:

  • Tell us about your background and how that lead you to social media
  • You wrote a blog post on October 20th, on your company Mzinga’s blog, announcing you were leaving. Do you feel it’s unusual that your company provided you the forum of its business blog to share that message?
  • I imagine, over time, your personal brand become deeply associated with Mzinga’s brand. Will your leaving affect Mzinga more deeply than the loss of a marketer in different type of company?
  • Tell us about your new company.
  • Now that you work with companies do you still consider yourself a citizen marketer?
  • Where can one hire citizen marketers?
  • Who is your favorite company using social media right now and why?
  • What are some criteria a company should use to decide whether they should be on twitter?
  • What’s the best marketing advice you’re received?
  • If our listeners want to find more about Aaron Strout online, where should they go?

If you get a chance, head on over to his site and take a listen to our podcast on tying customer conversations into business goals.

My Biggest Influencers (cross-posted from Mzinga.com)

As I transition out of my current role at Mzinga, I’m selectively cross-posting some of my more memorable posts on this site. Don’t worry, I’ve obtained the blessing of the higher-ups at Mzinga (their a cool bunch). More to come!

Cross-posted on Mzinga.com (original post date, January 16, 2008)

Like Jake Mckee aka “The Community Guy, I too got tagged with a cool meme by my good friend, Mukund. As a result of being tagged, I’m now on the hook to share my life’s three biggest influencers. Not an easy excercise by any stretch but I’m going to take a shot. Here goes:

  • My Parents – I would be an ungrateful child if I didn’t include my parents in this list. I know, this list is supposed to be thought provoking and impart all sorts of wisdom to the people reading this blog post. But for this choice, I’ve got to stay grounded. My parents did a bang up job of teaching me life’s important values (respect, honesty, integrity to name a few) and for the most part, I think I turned out okay. As a father of three, I now have the pleasure of trying to figure out how I can do the same with my children. Any of you who have kids know that this is not an easy task.
  • L. Ron Hubbard - NOT! I couldn’t resist including him, especially given the leaking of Tom Cruise’s absolute whack job of a tape. This is a must listen if you haven’t heard it already.
  • Ms. Latin – Yup, she was my 11th and 12th grade honors French teacher. At the time, I hated her guts. As it turns out, Ms. Latin realized something about me early on i.e. that was that as much as I was a relatively smart guy — notice I said “relatively”‘ — but I didn’t apply myself to school nearly as much as I should. My reward for such behavior? Two to three hours of French homework EVERY night (on top of three to four hours of other homework.) Of course I bucked her every step of the way but as I close in on my 40th year on this planet, I can look back and appreciate the work ethic Ms Latin instilled in me. Most important (and impressive) was that she never gave up on me and for that I thank her.
  • Sean Belka – I met Sean at Fidelity Investments back in 1997. He was the head of our online partnerships group and I was working in the interactive group for Fidelity’s in-house ad agency. At the time, Sean was negotiating partnerships with the likes of companies like Yahoo! and Lycos (remember them) and my group was providing the online assets for these partnerships. I didn’t know Sean well at the time but I remember being impressed by his wit, humor and ability to target cutting edge companies for strategic partnerships.

    Fast forward to 2003 when I was re-orged into Sean’s group right after he was named the head of segment marketing at Fidelity. In no time at all, Sean resurrected a partnership group and tapped me as one of the leaders in the group. As a result, I had the rare opportunity to join Sean and our division president for meetings with luminaries like Eric Schmidt at Google, Jeff Jordan of eBay (he was the president of eBay U.S. at the time) and Dan Rosensweig of Yahoo (their COO.) These meetings left an indelible impression on me and I will be forever grateful to Sean for giving me that opportunity.

  • Barry Libert (I know I said “3” but I couldn’t resist) – Barry is our current co-CEO at Mzinga and my partner on the We Are Smarter project. I’ve worked with Barry for a little over a year and a half and I have to say that to know Barry is to love him. He’s hands down one of the smartest guys I’ve ever met and a more strategic guy you’ll never meet. He’s also very approachable which is one of the things I like most about him. I won’t lie, there have been times over the years that I’ve wanted to throttle him (I’m sure he’s felt the same way about me) but at the end of the day, he’s the guy that really pushed me into social media.

Who are your biggest influences? Let’s find out from Francois Gossieaux, Nate Ritter, Jim Storer and Dave Wilkins since they’ve all been tagged!

Francois Gossieaux, Nate Ritter, Jim Storer, Dave Wilkins, Pauline Brannigan

Enterprise communities: Build or Join? (cross-posted from ZDNet)

This morning, I was sitting on a panel for MITX called “Building Blocks of Social Media” with several other smart folks and one of the questions from the audience was whether or not companies should “build vs. join” an online community. I thought to myself, I’ve already answered this one so rather than recreate the wheel, here is a cross-post of the piece I did for friend, Jennifer Leggio, on her ZDNet Feeds blog back on July 23, 2008.

A quick side note to this post: one of the terms I used in my original post was “branded community” in reference to any customer facing community (vs. an employee or internal community). See Jennifer’s follow up post regarding the controversy it caused. Legal blogger (and ZDNet contributor) Denise Howell in turn did a post based on Jennifer’s post. High comedy to say the least.

Benefits of “Build“ vs. “Join”

If you’re reading this blog, there’s a good chance your company is in the process of formulating an online community strategy. Somewhere during that process, the question of whether to “build” vs. “join” is sure to come up. While both strategies make sense, there are definite benefits that come with each:

  • Building or creating a “branded” environment by either using open source technology like Drupal OR it can employ the services of a white label community provider like Awareness, Jive Software or Mzinga (the company I work for). This approach provides companies with benefits like:
    • Full control of the user experience including the branded elements of the site, data ownership and business intelligence.
    • Single sign on if a login is required for either the site or the community.
    • Flexibility to migrate the community to different providers/hosts if necessary e.g. many times, growth of an online community may dictate the evolution from an open source solution to a white label provider.
  • Joining or establishing a presence on already existing communities or social networks like Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn or Yahoo Groups. This approach also has numerous benefits including:
    • Ability to “fish where the fish are” i.e. there are 80 million plus users of Facebook. Depending on the customers you serve, there is a good chance that a number of them are already signed up, have created profiles and are already creating relevant content.
    • Little to no technical support and/or separate infrastructure.
    • Low to no cost depending on the site and the branding requirements/number of community members involved.

Why Not Build AND Join?

Have you ever heard the expression, “you can please all the people some of the time, some of the people all the time but you can’t please all the people all the time?” That saying has never been truer than in the case of online communities. While it seems logical to want to focus on picking one of the approaches above, my recommendation — one that several other social media experts like Forrester senior analyst, Jeremiah Owyang, also endorse – is to do both.

To be clear, both approaches (build and buy) require internal resources to effectively manage a company’s online community activities. This can sometimes be the same resource depending on the size of the community and the level of engagement a company seeks (more is better as one might imagine) but over time, these activities require two similar but different skill sets.

Although I am recommending building an online community along with joining pre-existing third party communities, it is wise to pick one to get started with and then phase in the second approach at a later date. In many cases, creating one’s one branded online community first often makes the most sense. After all, having a destination to drive traffic beyond just your company’s website is a great way to get your key constituents to engage with you. However, if as a company you are looking to “dip a toe in the water,” the fastest way to do so is likely via creating a presence on a third party community.
So what makes “build” AND “join” complementary activities? Here are a few reasons to consider this approach:

  • Some of your customers have likely joined other online communities. Many may have no interest in joining yet another online community. Conversely, some of your key constituents may have no desire to join a third party online community but if you’ve created a trusted environment, they may welcome the opportunity to become part of your company’s community.
  • If you create a community presence on a community where your customers already spend their time, the barriers to getting them to join your “group” is much lower. They don’t need to sign up for anything, request new “connections” or build out new profiles.
  • One of the keys to creating successful online communities is through content generation (think blogs, videos, podcasts, webinar archives, white papers ratings and reviews). If your company is making the investment in time, resources and dollars to create this content, why limit it to just your site?

Third Party Online Communities/Social Networks You Should Consider:

  • LinkedIn – I think almost everyone in the business world has heard of LinkedIn. What you may not know is that they are rapidly adopting a number of Facebook-like features (newsfeed, status updates, blogs) to increase the interactivity of the site.
  • Plaxo – This site started out as a way to virtualize your Oulook “contacts” list. It’s now a full blown social network. And like LinkedIn, they’ve also adopted a number of Facebook like features to make the site more useful and interactive.
  • Facebook – It’s not just for college kids anymore. In fact, Facebook is growing at a rate of 250,000 new registered users/day. It may be a better place for consumer package goods companies like Crest to engage their customers but B2B companies like Ernst and Young are also finding that it’s a great place to recruit top talent out of college.
  • MySpace – What started off as a music lovers site has now grown into an enormous social network. This might be the least “business-friendly” site out of all the online communities/social networks but it’s also the biggest with over 200 million users. Avoid at your own risk.
  • Twitter (also consider checking out FriendFeed, Plurk, Jaiku, Pownce and Identi.ca) – Microblogging sites have become all the rage in the world of social media. The main reason i
    s that they are fantastic places to engage friends, colleagues and customers in conversation. Just ask companies like Dell and Comcast.
  • YouTube – You may think that this is just a place to watch funny consumer generated videos. It’s not. With literally 100 million plus videos served up per day, businesses like Unilever are realizing this is a much more viral and considerably less expensive alternative to advertising on network television.
  • Digg – Maybe not as powerful or pervasive as some of the sites listed above, getting your content or website “dugg” or given the “thumbs up” can reap huge benefits in terms of driving traffic back to your site.
  • Del.icio.us – The most popular “social bookmarking” site may be a sutble choice if you choose to create your own company page. The greatest value of this site is its ability to let your customers which third party sites, videos, podcasts and blogs you think are important.

Who’s Doing a Great Job with “Build” AND “Join?”

If you’ve paid any attention to the current presidential race, you’ve probably heard about Democratic-elect candidate, Barack Obama’s, clever use of social media and online community to drive support, awareness and most importantly, funding. Obama campaign is anchored around his site “my.barackobama.com.” This is where Barack’s team create and house a majority of the campaigns blogs, videos and interviews are housed. If one Googles “Obama,” this the first link that comes up. It doesn’t stop there though. With 200 million plus users on MySpace, 80 million plus members on Facebook, 100 million visitors served up daily on YouTube and a million plus active members on Twitter (many of whom are A-list bloggers and reporters from mainstream media), Obama and his staff are also “fishing where the fish are.”

Companies like Ernst and Young [Facebook], Crest [Facebook}, Dell Computers [Twitter] and even Comcast [Twitter] are taking this approach and are finding that are not only garnering tons of positive media coverage for “thinking outside the box,” they are also engaging their customers where their customers like to hang out. This inevitably leads to things like better customer service, deeper customer loyalty, improved market research and of course increased viral marketing.

Getting Started

There are a few ways your company can think about getting started:

  1. If you don’t have an online community, decide whether or not you’re going to build one (or work with a white label provider to build one for you). If building is already on your radar, you should focus your company efforts there. That shouldn’t preclude you from encouraging your employees to start joining some of the online communities/social networks listed above, however. Understanding how these sites work, whether they are a fit for your customers and what types of content belong there, can be invaluable when you decide to put up a shingle there.
  2. If you’ve already got an online community, start assessing what content, widgets and online events (live chats, online roundtables, webinars) belong in each online community. For instance, MySpace is friendly toward audio and video, Facebook is a great place to include widgets and blog feeds and Twitter is bet at engaging your customers in conversation.
  3. Create a measurement plan that will help you evaluate your own third party online community efforts. While it is important to “fish where the fish are,” there is always an opportunity cost to managing all of these assets. If you don’t have the internal skills to help you do this, companies like BuzzMetrics, Radian6, and KDPaine & Partners can help you with these efforts.

Feeling overwhelmed by all these choices? Don’t be. The beauty of online community building is that it’s an iterative process. At the end of the day, what’s important is engaging your customers in conversation. Ideally you do this in as many places as possible but even more important is doing it right.

What is New Marketing? A Mike Lewis/Aaron Strout Perspective

Recently I had the pleasure of attending Cross Tech Media‘s New Marketing Summit. In addition to having a great lineup of speakers, dozens of savvy vendors and a ton of really smart marketing/social media folks, my friend Mike Lewis, President of BMA Boston, was doing video interviews for NewMarketingTV. Interviews included distinguished guests such as Christine Perkett of Perkett PR, CC Chapman of the Advance Guard, and Adam Broitman of Crayon. He was kind enough to ask me to join him.

A few quick notes:

  • I’ve done a lot of interviews over the last few years and Mike hands down was one of the best. He asked great questions and led me to what I hope were some good answers.
  • He talked about community and social media for business vs. for fluff. At the end of the day, it’s about ROI and results, not friends and conversations.
  • We went just long enough to cover the right ground but not so long that it dragged (you may disagree).

Here’s the video if you’d like to watch it…

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uqCEJ8ridos]

What to you think new marketing is? And will you be attending one of Chris Brogan/Cross Tech Media’s upcoming Conferences (the answer to that last question should be YES).