Marketing: Why it’s a Waltz vs. a Tango

Spoiler Alert: I’m not going to tell you anything that you don’t already know in this post. I’m just reinforcing something that I was reminded of last night as I was helping my wife ramp up for her new job which is to do a little social media marketing for an online publication/content hub.

To be honest, it’s always easier to market a company that has great content and fortunately the company she is working for has great content in spades. It’s also makes it easy when a company hands you the reigns (with some guidance of course) but doesn’t give you eight billion rules and regulations that you need to follow (I know, I know… I worked in financial services for nine years… some companies need to be strict about how they market… but still).

Here comes the roll up the sleeves part. Yup, the part where I tell you why it’s the waltz versus the tango. As my wife was going through her company’s Twitter account we started talking about ways to engage their audience. By the way, as of yesterday, there had been seven status updates and seven followers and that’s not a knock against GC — hell, they at least had the self-awareness to know that they needed help — just a little background on the task at hand.

The easy thing to do might be to rush out and follow a list of 500 mommy bloggers. Or find a bunch of companies/people that auto-follow everyone back. That would certainly help with the optics around the follow/follower ratio. But would it do anything for the engagement level? Hardly. The first order of business was to reach out to a few of the seven followers and engage them in conversation (seeing some “@’s” in a company’s Twitter stream is the second thing I look for after a decent follow/follower ratio).

Twelve hours later, the number of followers on her company’s Twitter account had gone from seven to forty one. That may not seem like much in the grand scheme of things but now all of a sudden, her company has some content (a dozen new tweets) and a little groundswell (the new followers) at its back. Yes, they have a long way to go because realistically, they need to be closer to 4,000 or even 40,000 followers before they start to see some meaningful ROI. But as they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Image Credit: Wikipedia

Right-channeling: Where Does Yammer Fit into the Workplace?

While I hate getting tool specific when I write blog posts like these, some are deserving enough to get an entire post dedicated to them (in this case, three). Yes, I’m talking about internal focused micro-blogging tool, Yammer. When I first joined Powered 20 months ago, I was amazed at how much valuable information I was able to unlock by going back through our company’s Yammer stream. I blogged about my findings here (many still hold true). I also did a deeper dive on the purpose of enterprise micro-blogging over on Mashable with friend, Joe Cascio just two months earlier.

The reason I’m revisiting the topic is because our company (which is now a combination of four companies) is experiencing a renaissance of Yammer and it’s bringing new and valuable results. I also thought I’d help my Twitter friend, Charlie Browning, provide some answers to his company who is asking questions like:

  • How does Yammer complement other communications channels?
  • What kinds of conversations take place there?
  • How does Yammer differ from other collaboration tools? E-mail? Wikis?
Of course these are all great questions and to be honest, I’m not sure I have all the answers. But here’s what I can tell you from having worked at two different companies that have used internal collaboration tools including wikis, an employee community, Basecamp and of course Yammer.
Complementing other communication channels
In my almost two year experience with Yammer, the channel that most closely approximates it (other than Twitter which is public) is e-mail. And while I do sometimes use the two channels interchangeably, the two questions I ask before doing either is: 1) is this information critical — if so, it goes in e-mail because I can’t afford for key individuals to miss it and 2) would other people who aren’t the target of the message benefit from the update? Things that fall into this second category are PR wins, general announcements (sandwiches in the kitchen), requests for expertise (anyone have a contact at company X) or customer wins.
How is Yammer different than other collaboration tools?
Because Yammer (like Twitter or Facebook status updates) is life streaming, it’s not a particularly good place to store documents. Wikis or project management tools like Basecamp are much better places for that material. They have version control, checkin/checkout capability for documents and robust admin privileges. In a perfect world, a company might have an employee community but having run one for a bit, I can tell you that maintaining one (well) can be a ton of work. One other important note is that Yammer is not secure. That doesn’t mean that like Twitter, anyone can see your stream but rather that your company might want to be careful about just how much they share on Yammer. This means financials, highly confidential information and perhaps clients full names should be kept on the down low.
The X-factor (especially for distributed companies)
One of the things I like the most about Yammer is that it’s serving as a virtual employee directory for us across our four offices. That includes cell phone numbers, titles, org charts, e-mail addresses and of course a pic (should one chose to show their handsome or pretty face). Having this information in a central location that’s easy to access via any computer OR mobile phone is incredibly helpful, especially when one is on the road. There’s also a yammer desktop application that makes seeing peoples streams easy. By the way, if you’re wondering about functionality on Yammer, it works much the same way that Twitter does where you can @ people, DM them, hashtag topics and even follow people or groups.
Is your company using Yammer? If so, how are they using it? What have the benefits or downsides been? Feel free to chime in in the comments section below.
Note: the title of this post was inspired by a concept that friend and former Forrester analyst, Ron Shevlin, shared with me while I was at Fidelity Investments back in the early 2000’s. The idea centered around “right-channeling” or focusing on communications with one’s customers in their channels of preference (with more than a nod toward keeping an eye on cost benefit analysis). To this day, that concept is still one of my favorites.

Quick’n’Dirty Episode 45: Talkin’ BSides

Hmmm… seems like it’s been several weeks since I’ve had to do a recap of the Quick’n’Dirty podcast show. That’s both a good thing (one more hour back in my busy schedule) and a bad thing (it’s nice having ready made content to serve up to the 2-3 people that read this blog). At the very least, it’s good to have a little distraction from the exciting/amazing/all consuming conversation that’s been going on in my last post about location-based services. But I digress…

This week my co-host, Jennifer Leggio, and I had every intention of sticking to our regular Q’n’D format of social application of the week, featured guest, Twitter-o-the-week and then our trademark point/counterpoint. A compelling guest and a little technology glitch conspired against us so we had to punt on our P/CP. Don’t worry though, it will be back next week — we promise.

Jennifer got things kicked off with our social app of the week which was none other than Hot Potato [h/t to Damien Basile for the suggestion]. While Jennifer was skeptical at first about the need for yet another location-based service, we both agreed that Hot Potato’s functionality might actually meet a need in the marketplace. Mainly geared toward physical events (hello conferences), Hot Potato allows attendees to overlay a virtual conversation — which unlike Twitter, can be confined to a small group of friends or anyone at the conference. That’s not a knock on Twitter but I’ve been told more than once that some of my conference tweets aren’t always appreciated by those that aren’t in attendance.

Next up was our guest of the week, Michael “BSides” Dahn. Inconveniently, our switchboard dropped Michael midway through our interview so we didn’t get to dig in too much in part one of our interview. Fortunately, Michael was able to come back in after our “Twitter-o-the-week” and due to the richness of the conversation, Jennifer and I made the back channel decision to skip our point/counterpoint. Anyway, here’s the scoop on Security BSides:
“Each BSides is a community-driven event built for and by information security community members.  The goal is to expand the spectrum of conversation beyond the traditional confines of space and time.  It creates opportunities for individuals to both present and participate in an intimate atmosphere that encourages collaboration. It is an intense event with discussions, demos, and interaction from participants. It is where conversations for the next-big-thing are happening.  We’ve loosely based the concept on the BarCamp format… because it works.”
So what impressed me most about Michael/BSides were these three things:
  1. Jennifer is a huge fan. Because I trust Jennifer’s instincts implicitly, I am a huge fan (through transitive property of course).
  2. Michael and his team have created their BSides event quite organically. Given the fact that word on the street is that BSides “outshined” RSA at the recent RSA Conference, this speaks volumes about their level of commitment and creativity.
  3. Michael’s “tweetable” thought was hands down our most pithy. He kept his words of wisdom to one word, “participate.” Nice!
At the risk of tooting our own horn, Jennifer also announced that we were making a $500 donation to support the Security BSides Las Vegas event (you can do so too if you like on BSides sponsorship page).

Last but not least was our “Twitter-o-the-week.” Our choix de la semaine was the lovely, smart and elegant Yuli Ziv . According to her bio, Yuli is an entrepreneur, futurist, blogger, founder of Style Coalition and My It Things, organizer of Fashion 2.0 meetups. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Juli in person and listening to her speak at the 140 Conference in NYC last year. What I can tell you is that she is as good via Twitter as she is in person. If you don’t follow her yet, you absolutely should. And to that end (Jennifer, this will make you happy), “Yuli, we love your tweets.”

So that’s a wrap for this week’s show. Be sure to tune in next week to listen to next week’s guest, Winnie Hsia (the social lead at WholeFoods). And as always, you can always listen to archives of our show over on BlogTalkRadio. You can also read show recaps on Jennifer’s ZDNet blog or over here on the Stroutmeister blog.

As a reminder, we welcome your feedback. If you have suggestions for guests, social apps/networks or Twitterers that should get some love, please let us know in the comments.

Are FourSquare and Gowalla Just Shiny Objects?

If you follow my Twitter stream or listen to my weekly podcast, you’ll know that the question of whether I think FourSquare and Gowalla are shiny objects is a loaded one. Of course I am bullish on the value location-based services like FourSquare, Gowalla offer large and small businesses alike. Truth be told, however, I’ve had a hard time telling clients and prospective clients alike that it’s time to go guns a blazing with location-based services for two reasons:

  1. There’s not enough critical mass… YET
  2. Facebook with it’s 450 million users could come in and crush both FourSquare (~2 million members) and Gowalla (~1 million members) in a New York minute if it decides to get serious about geolocation
With that said, that doesn’t mean that I don’t think companies shouldn’t be starting to think about how to incorporate location-based services into their marketing and social media mixes. Fortunately, there are a number of big brands that are already starting to test location-based services (more FourSquare than Gowalla). TO that end, I’ve provided a list of the companies experimenting with Foursquare below [list is courtesy of David Stutts with a hat tip to the folks at SocialPath for pointing this work out).

  • Starbucks (side note: I’d like to think my wife and I played a role in Starbucks launching this one
  • The Bravo Network
  • Dominoes Pizza UK (I like this one a lot)
  • Jimmy Choo
  • Pepsi (interesting note on this one later in the post)
  • Zagat (this is a no brainer IMHO)
  • Warner Brothers
  • Tasti D-lite (what they are doing is very smart)
  • The Wall Street Journal
  • Marc Jacobs
  • Coach Men’s Store
  • The Financial Times
  • HBO
  • Harvard (sounds like fun)
  • Metro
  • VH1
  • Pennsylvania Tourism
  • History Channel
  • Planet Hollywood Las Vegas
  • Huffington Post (not using FourSquare but mimicking what they are doing)

And here is the presentation on SlideShare that David put together. Click through to get the details on each program.

20 Interesting Things: Foursquare
View more presentations from David Stutts.

So we’ve seen who is experimenting with location-based services like FourSquare but let’s take a step back and look at why companies might want to engage in location-based services.

At the end of the day, location-based services like FourSquare and Gowalla are ultimately going to be best at creating long-term loyalty with existing customers. Companies like Tasti D-Lite have started to figured this out by feeding their reward programs through point of purchase experiences which in turn check users into social sites like Twitter and FourSquare. And when a customer checks in, he/she earn points toward free food/drinks.

Let’s be honest, while it’s nice to earn frequent flier or hotel points, the act of earning them isn’t all that exciting. Yet earning bragging rights by becoming mayor or even showing off the fact that you are buying jeans at that cool new boutique downtown is much more fun. As a business, incentivizing more checkins and thus more opportunities to buy stuff and share that experience with your customers’ networks has nothing but upside for your top and bottom lines.

One of the things I like most about FourSquare from a personal perspective is the discovery element — both in terms of places and people. As someone that is still feeling his way around Austin, TX, I love watching colleagues like Natanya Anderson (big time foodie), Doug Wick and Kathy Warren alert me to good places to get a meal, watch a game or grab breakfast tacos to go. It’s also useful if I’m at a conference or sporting event to see where my friends are. Even if we’re not connected, many people cross-post their FourSquare and Gowalla status to their Facebook and Twitter pages.

Discovery also comes into play with people. If I’m at my local coffee joint, it’s fun to know who else frequents it. In some cases, it can lead to fun connections that one wouldn’t normally make. As an example several months ago my now friend, Jenna Oltersdorf, noticed that I was the mayor of her local Starbucks. Curious as to who the person was who laid claim to such an honor, she reached out to me via Twitter and asked if I’d like to grab coffee sometime (at that Starbucks of course). In related fashion, my colleague, Joe Jaffe, tells a similar story of him bumping into a prospective customer at a restaurant in San Francisco while seeking out the mayor.

Reach and Referrals
The win here is that while customers are working to accumulate points, bragging rights or free stuff by checking into your store on location-based services like FourSquare and Gowalla, they are also sharing you with their network. Better than that, they are also implicitly (and sometimes explicitly) endorsing you by letting others know they patronize your establishment. Think about the power of running a promotion where anyone that checks into your store more than three times over the course of a month gets a one day discount of 25% off all merchandise. In doing so, you’ve created a reason for customers to 1) visit your store multiple times and 2) let their friends know about it when they do.

Before I get you too hot and bothered, there are few additional obstacles that need to be overcome before location-based services really take off:

  • Scale – while location-based services are growing rapidly, they still only represent a few million people at best. This could change in a hurry if Facebook gets serious about location-based services but in the immediate future, it’s really the early adopters that are leading the charge.
    [POST SCRIPT: in publishing the post, I forgot to pay off the “Pepsi” reference above… several weeks ago, I h
    ad a hallway conversation with
    Bonin Bough, director of social media for Pepsi. We were talking about LBS and I told him my theory about Facebook swooping in and crushing FourSquare and Gowalla. He said that he didn’t see it that way and that his bet was on someone like FourSquare that truly embraced business and a desire to help them succeed would ultimately win. This was later confirmed when Pepsi announced that they were partnering with FourSquare as noted above]
    Potential impact on growth = BIG
  • Gaming the system – it is still possible to check into a location without physically being in that location. However, Gowalla has always been a stickler about GPS proximity to a location (to a fault when they first launched) and now FourSquare has followed suit by announcing that you can only accumulate points AND earn mayorships by being within a certain proximity of where the location was originally created.
    Potential impact on growth = SMALL
  • Privacy – this is a tricky one. More and more people (including myself) are becoming increasingly aware about whom they tell about what they are doing. I think the way LBS providers overcome this is to increase the security and the privacy around who can see what and when.
    Potential impact on growth = TBD
  • Pain in the ass factor = while checking in can be fun, it also requires a conscious effort that can sometimes take up to 3-4 minutes to accomplish. This is particularly awkward when you are meeting friends out and they have to wait for you to check in before they can talk to you. My belief is that location-based services over time will allow you to preset places that you frequent (similar to wireless spots that you’ve connected to in the past on your laptop or smart phone) that will auto-check you in. This would go a long way in increasing the checkins by customers with a lot less aggravation.
    Potential impact on growth = SMALL
While there are obstacles that could stand in the way of companies adopting location-based services, I am a firm believer that the rewards far outweigh the risks. In fact, if someone were to give me a truth serum and demand that I tell them what the next “big thing” was, I’d be hard pressed to not say location-based services. Don’t take my word for it though. Instead, keep your eye on the twenty companies mentioned in David Stutts SlideShare presentation above and see if they continue to embrace these new tools.
What do you think? Am I living in my own universe? Feel free to tell me how you feel about the future of location-based services in the comments below.