5 Reasons Location-Based Services Benefit Customers

Two days ago, I wrote a post about “location” being the last third of the “holy trinity of data” for marketers. In the post, I explained why Facebook’s move away from check-ins wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. In writing the post, however, I neglected to mention why location-based services (and perhaps Facebook with its new functionality in particular) make sense for end users like you and me. Thank goodness for friends like Jim Storer who reminded me that without customers like us buying into location-based services — and more importantly, finding value in these services — marketers won’t have anything to gain access to.

Rather than try and explain how customers derive value from location-based services in the comments of my original post, I promised Jim that I would write a follow up post here. To that end, here are five (of many) reasons location-based services provide value to customers:

  1. Deals – to date, many companies haven’t stepped up their “offers” to the degree that they’ve made it worth it for customers to check-in and give them data. However, as more companies embrace this, more people will engage. Facebook is slowly winding their way out of this game but foursquare isn’t. To date, a few deals in particular that got my attention are Starwoods offer to connect their loyalty program to your foursquare account. Once you do and check into a location that you are physically “checked into” (meaning you have a paid reservation), you get 150 Starwood points. American Express is also making it compelling to attach your foursquare account to your Amex card. If you do, you get cash back for checking into certain vendors locations. And then there is TastiDlite. They also connected their loyalty program to foursquare, Facebook and Twitter. Swipe your card when you make a purchase and not only auto-check-in but also earn valuable program points.
  2. Tips/photos – I travel a lot. When I do, I am constantly looking for Starbucks (or good coffee shops), restaurants, bars, etc. By consulting with tips and photos that others have left, I can get recommendations from friends in 140 character bites.
  3. Discovery/sharing – this may arguably be one of the biggest selling points for Facebook and their new location functionality. How many times has someone posted that they are at a Farmers Market, new restaurant, new dry cleaner and you think to yourself, “hey, I’ve been looking for a new _____.” Because you trust that person (or hopefully you do if you are connected to them on Facebook, them sharing that location with you helps you discover new places. And while it’s not essential to have the meta data attached to the check-in, it certainly helps when you can click on a link in your friends status update to see more information about a venue (including which of your other friends have checked in).
  4. Passport – Gowalla has already started to head in this direction i.e. focusing on collecting your check-ins and stitching them together to show trips versus just individual check-ins. Over time, these can benefit others like you that are thinking about a trip from Boston to Austin or Chicago to San Francisco. Collecting this type of data can also dramatically help LBS and marketers provide better services, offers and ultimately recommendations to their customers. The ability to tag photos is also powerful as over time, we may forget where we were when we took a serious of restaurant pics, or photos of the ocean. Or beautiful flowers.
  5. Fun – let’s not forget how much fun gamification can be. Earning badges, awards, points and street cred arent’ for everybody but there many people (myself included) that will go out of their way to do things to play the game (case in point, checking into Gold’s Gym every other day gets me that much closer to my Gym Rat badge). I’ve also picked a restaurant or coffee shopbased on the fact that I want to try win (or win back) a mayorship.
Do you use a location-based service? If so, why? If you don’t, what would it take you to do so?

Think Before you Speak!

No, this isn’t another post about Google + although the rapid rise and excitement of Google’s latest and greatest social network is the impetus for this post (that was originally to be titled, “Shut the F*ck Already with the MySpace Comparisons). However, with all of the recent tweets, status updates and blog posts predicting the demise of either Facebook, Twitter or both a la MySpace, I couldn’t not share my thoughts in a space that allowed for more than 140 characters. What I can tell you is that while I have seen too many big companies fail over my lifetime to not know that it can always happen again, if Facebook and Twitter fail, it won’t be for the reasons that MySpace did.

For starters, let’s clarify that MySpace did NOT fail because a newer, shinier object came along in the form of Facebook OR Twitter. MySpace failed because of several fundamental flaws in the way it operated, particularly once it was purchased by Rupert Murdoch (btw, Businessweek wrote a great article that goes into all the details of the rise and fall of MySpace).

In particular:

  • Once Murdoch purchased MySpace, there was significant pressure to deliver revenue (not necessarily a bad thing). Unfortunately, this forced MySpace to ramp up the advertising opportunities on the site which led to a lot of spammy ads for unsavory products. As a corollary to this, Twitter and Facebook are both venture backed and private. While both are feeling pressure to deliver more revenue, innovation has taken precedence over money.
  • MySpace made the fatal mistake (I’ll call this the AngelFire Boner) by allowing users to customize the background, fonts, layouts of their pages. While creativity is good, allowing for 8 billion different user interfaces (UI) across 350 million pages is not. UI 101 calls for putting things in the places where users expect to find them. Some people are good at this. Most people are not.
  • Demographics – while most companies love to attract the 18-35 set (male-skewed), there is a downside to this strategy. This demographic tends to be technology-savvy and fickle. The combination of the two allows them to pick up their “ball” and take it to a different ballpark whenever they like. You’ll notice that Twitter’s demographic came out of the gate closer to 32 than 22 and Facebook’s fastest growing (and most dedicated) segment right now are women over 40.
  • Lack of developer commitment. While Twitter and Facebook have both fostered rich ecosystems of developers, MySpace never went down this path.
  • After a few months of MySpace being the apple of Murdoch’s eye, a new “jewel” in the crown emerged when Murdoch opted to court and ultimately purchase the prestigious Wall Street Journal.
Does this mean that the rise of Googe + (which is still has only 5 million more users than photo sharing site, Instagram, and the same number of users as location-based service, foursquare) won’t kill either Twitter or Facebook? No. But if it does, it will be for different reasons than those that dethroned MySpace. To that end, I responded to a tweet by Edelman EVP and uber-blogger, Steve Rubel, regarding a post that tech-blogger, Robert Scoble, wrote the other day about how Twitter had become boring and what it could do to fix that problem. My message to Steve was that “Twitter has become like electricity. Boring but critical.” Facebook will be around for a while longer because of the “barriers to exit” it’s created with the over 40 set. What this means is that Facebook owns most people’s social graph and it has taught most parents and grand parents how to post, comment and share. For this reason, it will take a pretty significant change to get these people to leave (privacy be damned!)
What do you think?

Facebook Fan: $136.38? $3.60 or $0.00?

I’ve had this post in my head for a while. And given the fact that many of my Twitter friends were complaining about Facebook being down yesterday, I figured that this was as good a time as any to write this post about the value of a fan on Facebook.

Judy Shapiro of AdAge did a nice job this summer of summarizing the findings from two independent studies conducted by Syncapse and Vitrue (more on those in a minute). And my friend, Augie Ray who is a senior analyst over at Forrester has written a blog post about this. His assertion is that a fan is worth zero. It’s a conversation with Augie about this topic that was the original impetus for this post. And believe it or not I completely agree with him.

Before my fellow marketers decide to take me out back and shoot me, I should probably offer a little additional information. First, I don’t really believe that a Facebook fan is worth $0. And neither does Augie. In fact, it’s what the fan can do for the brand that actually makes them valuable. Without getting into all sorts of facts, figures and methodologies, let me paint a picture for you.

I’m a huge Starbucks addict. My wife and I both drink one of their iced venti Americano’s at least five times a week. Maybe more. Up until recently, both of us were mayors of two different Starbucks on FourSquare (I no longer own mine) so every time we go to the store, we let our social networks know we’re there. In fact, if you asked a number of my friends what my drink of choice was, they’d be able to answer without even thinking about it. BUT… I’m already a fan of theirs whether I’ve “liked” them on Starbucks or not. And yes, there is an outside chance I would buy more stuff from them if they gave me additional offers. But probably not.

Iced venti Americano

So I am a valuable customer. And I buy a lot of coffee from them every year. But I don’t by more coffee from them because I “like” them on Facebook. This is the fundamental “chicken and egg” problem I have with Syncapse’s methodology that pegs a fan at an average worth of $136.38/fan. I’m not valuable because I spend more money with Starbucks (my Facebook fandom is a by-product of my passion for the brand). However, I think I am worth something to them because of my network i.e. 1,700 people that I’m connected to on Facebook and 14,000 on Twitter and my blog. Especially when you consider that a lot of the people I’m connected to are like me… they too have big networks.

The tricky part is, it’s hard to put a price tag on what I or my fellow enthusiasts are worth because it all depends on how good a job the “brand” does to activate us and ultimately get us to amplify their message (or share our own versions of their message). Some sites like Atlantis Resorts (a Powered client) has done a nice job of activating their customers and the results are not only a steady growth of fans but a CEO that is now such a believer in social media that he is blogging about it on USA Today. Others like Expedia (a natural for social media) has a mere 12,853 fans (only 11K+ more than yours truly) and very little engagement on their wall. Right now, Expedia isn’t working particularly hard to engage or activate it’s enthusiasts. Instead, it’s more focused on a broadcast strategy… one that has obviously impacted their fan acquisition.

In the spirit of being prescriptive, here are a few suggestions on what companies SHOULD do to engage and ultimately activate their enthusiasts:

  • Post educational content vs. informercials. This means teach people how to scrapbook or how to take better pictures instead of telling them how great your products are.
  • Run fun contests. Black Star Beer did a fabulous job of this by giving away a dream vacation that focused on experiences versus cash value. Even I signed up for this and I NEVER sign up for sweepstakes.
  • Ask people for suggestions. My wife’s company, GenConnect, did this and they got some amazing responses on their wall.
  • Have some fun! When Dunkin’ Donuts is NOT allowing soft core pornos to post on it’s wall, they are actually doing an amazing job getting their customers involved in submitting ideas for their dream donut and submitting photos that might get them recognized as the fan of the week on DD’s Facebook fan page.
How about you? What are you worth? And are the brands that you love tapping into your full potential?

Looking at the Future: Onstar’s Live On

It’s an OnStar kinda night at Stubbs — Austin, TX

Last night, I had the pleasure of attending a fabulous event at Stubb’s BBQ here in Austin. The host of the party was OnStar (a Powered client) and the purpose of the shin dig was to announce OnStar’s latest and greatest in mobile technology called Live On. Without getting into too much of a marketing pitch, the crux of what VP of Planning and business development at OnStar, Nick Pudar, walked us last night through focused on these four areas:

  1. Innovative technology
  2. 9th generation hardware
  3. Enhanced safety features
  4. New marketing campaign
Rewinding a little bit, I had a chance to try out some of OnStar’s technology a few months back when my colleague, Joe Jaffe, and I were in Detroit for the Future Midwest conference. Friend and director of social media at GM, Christopher Barger, was kind enough to lend us a Cadillac Escalade. In addition to it being a REALLY sweet ride, it was equipped with OnStar technology. What I loved about the technology (in addition to coveting the ability to remotely unlock my doors) was the fact that everything is done via voice. As someone that is married to their iPhone, I can tell you that I know how dangerous it is to try and text or tweet while driving. I also know how aggravating it is to not be able to enter an address into my GPS en route.

Joseph Jaffe, Powered and Christopher Barger, GM
Back to last night… what I like about OnStar’s thinking is that they are working hard to keep drivers safe on a lot of different fronts. Considering the fact that over 6,000 people died last year in texting or other smartphone related accidents — a number that’s destined to go up dramatically — allowing people to do the thing that they will inevitably do in a safer, smarter fashion makes a ton of sense to me. In fact, OnStar President, Chris Preuss said it best in yesterday’s announcement:
Giving our customers control of their vehicles with smart phone application technology is a key advantage of OnStar’s in-vehicle connectivity. This technology empowers drivers to make decisions about their travels well before they enter the vehicle,  meaning their full attention can stay where it needs to be – on the road ahead.

To that end, allowing for the ability to use your smartphone’s bluetooth capability to to perform text to voice OR using OnStar to be able to update your Facebook status (and listen to recent updates) is huge.

Inside a Chevy giving commands to Facebook via OnStar

The live updates coming from our car as we update from OnStar

On the “room for improvement” side of things, it does take a little doing to coordinate the Facebook updates. And once you do an update, it results in a voice >> text >> automated voice update on Facebook itself. However, this is OnStar’s first shot of the gate with this stuff so I imagine that the technology and capabilities will smooth out soon. I’m also envisioning that services like Twitter and location-based applications will be included in subsequent releases of this technology.

One other thing to note is the ability to go to OnStar’s site, enter in a location and then send it to your car is VERY cool and something that is a no-brainer. As I noted earlier, I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve gotten into my car, forgotten to enter my destination into the GPS and ended up having to pull over onto the side of the road.

So a big kudos to OnStar last night for pulling off a fun and informative evening (something they replicated across the country). Also, a great big thank you to my friend, Kameya Shows, who was kind enough to invite me to last night’s soiree. You can see other pictures from the event over on Flickr.

Simon Salt, Incslingers, Aaron Strout (that’s me) and Wayne Sutton, TriOut & OurHashTag

What Do Facebook, The Social Network, Guy Fieri and Scott Monty Have in Common?

The title of this post is hands down the longest title in the history of this blog (I think). But I couldn’t think of a better way to respond to my friend over at Ford Motor Company, Scott Monty’s, blog post today. If you haven’t seen it, he riffs off the new movie, The Social Network which parodies Facebook and their march toward 500 million members.

As part of the fun, Scott decided that he would pick a few of us out of the social media marketing crowd (some more prominent than others, ahem, Seth Godin) that could possibly appear in the movie. And if we did, who would play us in the movie? I got a kick out of my dopplerganger and Food Network star, Guy Fieri, who ironically, I met last summer in New York City. Some folks including my darling wife thought better comparisons for me might be Ben Affleck, Billy Ray Cyrus or even Bruce Springsteen (Stephanie Agresta insists I am his long lost brother).

But that’s why I’m writing this post… instead, my goal is to continue with the meme that Scott started. In his post, he asks…

If they were holding open casting calls for extras and you were going to be featured, what famous person, dead or alive, would play you in the movie? Leave a comment below or reply with a post on your own blog with a link back to this post.

So I’m adding a few stars of my own. What do you think?

David Armano, sr. vice president, Edelman Digital / John Leguizamo [updated 7/20]

Maria Ogneva, social media director, Attensity360 / Scarlett Johansen

Brett Petersel, business development and events lead, Mashable / Christian Bale

Shannon DiGregorio, social media marketing, The CR / Angelina Jolie

Adam Cohen, partner at digital agency, Rosetta / Rob Thomas

And last but not least…

Kyle Flaherty, director of marketing, BreakingPoint Systems / Jack Black

[updated 7/20] And apparently, I look much more like Josh Beckett in this pic than any of my other dopplergangers above… (thank you Kyle)

Ensuring A Successful Corporate Facebook Presence

This contributed article for Mediapost originally ran on March 22, 2010

Not surprisingly, it’s difficult to find a large brand that isn’t at least thinking about how it can participate in social networking phenom Facebook. With over 400 million members, Facebook teases with an audience that is nearly four times greater than that of the Super Bowl… every day. Unfortunately, many brands are finding that there is a big difference between setting up a fan page and creating a meaningful presence that attracts real customer engagement.

The single biggest point of failure according to my colleague, Kevin Tate, principal of StepChange, is an unwillingness to follow the four golden rules of creating a successful Facebook presence. Kevin knows a thing or two about this topic, as he has worked with nearly 100 brands to create meaningful Facebook presences in a world where many have failed.

The four golden rules of creating a successful Facebook presence are fairly straightforward, but to rush straight to stage four is where companies typically fall down.

  1. Strategy – Before you start building, there are a few things to think about. For instance, who do you want to talk to? What do you want to talk to them about? What do you want them to do? Figuring these questions out up front will help ensure a successful step two.
  2. Presence – With most companies, creating a solid presence requires creating one or more fan pages with several tabs. This is the “getting the house in order” step. Presence can be a difficult step, as this step requires patience while you build your following.
  3. Activation – This is the “what do you want them to do” part. A brand can have all the fans on Facebook, but what’s the value of a fan just sitting there? Activation is the “what do you want them to do” portion of building a fan page. Real value is when a fan is doing something for you outside of being just another follower.
  4. Amplification – This is more of an outcome than a stage, but if you have the right presence and you’ve done your activation, amplification should allow you to tap your Facebook presence to amplify or build on current campaigns, in-store promotions and other marketing activities.

A good example of a company that has done a great job building out its Facebook presence, with a little over 1.1 million fans, is Dunkin’ Donuts. The company has a “fan of the week,” where it highlights that fan in its profile picture. In addition, fans celebrate promotions that are going on in the different tabs where they can dunk themselves in chocolate, design their own donut (leading to hundreds of thousands of likes and comments by fans) and even upload photos taken in stores or with Dunkin’ Donuts products.

Unfortunately, for every Dunkin’ Donuts, there are fifty other brands that have failed to lead with a strategy or even create a meaningful presence on Facebook, but instead have gone right to trying to “activate” their customers. Some will eventually figure out a way to engage with the 400 million-plus members of this increasingly popular site, while others will abandon their efforts and just assume that Facebook “isn’t for them.”

The Virtual Tongue: How NOT to Use Facebook for Business

Anyone that reads this blog or has connected with me on Twitter, Facebook or any of the other dozen or so social networks I belong to know that I’m a pretty reasonable guy. I know I need to be reasonable because I can be a little noisy at times (okay, a lot noisy). But I do try and create value for those I’m connected with whether that’s sharing good posts, interesting podcasts I’ve recorded or helping friends re-broadcast their own messages.

This morning, I had someone friend me on Facebook that did NOT share my same values. After sending me six messages in two and a half hours, I had to pull the plug and un-friend this person. Part of me felt bad because this was only the third person out of a thousand plus friends (and three years on Facebook) that I disconnected with. But enough was enough.
I’m not sharing names because for the most part just to prove my point, here is a timeline of the six messages I received (just in case I might be overreacting)…
  • 6:06 AM – A wall post thanking me for my friendship (I reciprocated by cross-posting on this person’s wall with a “nice to meet you too” message).
  • 7:32 AM – A request to become a fan of this person (I hate these requests for the most part unless a) you’re a company I REALLY like or b) you’re a close personal friend
  • 7:35 AM – An invite to join one this person’s groups
  • 7:38 AM – An invite to attend one of this person’s events/workshops
  • 7:51 AM – Another wall post thanking me for my wall post
  • 8:23 AM – Another invite to join yet another group
  • 9:15 AM – Aaron pulls the plug on our “friend-ship”
Did this person actually think that this type of behaviour was welcome? To bring this around to a dating analogy (you know I like dating analogies, right?) I felt an awful lot like I met this person in a bar, said “hello” as I was grabbing a round of drinks at the bar and then next thing I know, they were trying to stick their tongue down my throat. WHOAAAA! I don’t know about you, but even as a guy I would find this to be a major turn off.
Fortunately, most brands have figured out that creating a spam-fest, especially in such a condensed period of time, is NOT a good idea. I mean this person didn’t take any time to get to know me, engage me in any meaningful dialog or maybe comment on a post or two of mine. Unfortunately, there are more and more of these folks who don’t get it coming into the world of social with no regard to etiquette or best practices.
Do you have a good story about a “virtual tongue” or a bad case of social etiquette? If so, please share it in the comments below.

May 7: Weekly Content/Social Marketing Links

Each week, the members of Powered’s marketing, business development and product teams pick a news article, blog post or research report that “speaks” to them. With that article, they need to come to our weekly staff meeting prepared to give a 120 second update on what the article was about and why they found it useful. Links are below:

Beth Lopez (Marketing)
Will the IAB’s Social Media Metrics Definitions Help Crack The Engagement Code?   Found this article interesting particularly since we are solidifying our measurement framework and how we define ‘engagement’.  The IAB published social media metrics definitions yesterday and while they aren’t different from what you expect, it does help advertisers and marketers that are struggling with measuring their social programs demonstrate the value of it.  This would be good for all customer-facing folks to learn these as the IAB is regarding as the standard in defining how to measure online programs/advertising.
Here are a few of the things the IAB doc defines:
  • Application and video installs.
  • The number of relevant actions, including newsfeed items posted, comments posted, uploads, poll votes, and so forth.
  • Conversation size, which measures the number of content relevant sites and content relevant links, and the monthly uniques spread across those conversations.
  • Site relevance, which measures the density with which phrases specific to a client concern are brought up among relevant sites.
  • Author credibility, such as how relevant the author’s content is and how often it is linked to.
  • Content freshness and relevance, which defines how frequently an author posts.
  • The average number of friends among users of a specific application.
  • Number of people currently using an application.

DP Rabalais (Marketing)
Keeping in line with my commitment to alignment with our Sales Plan, I selected REI as the company to do a search on this week. My post this week is by Albert Maruggi, founder and president of Provident Partners and host and producer of the Marketing Edge podcast. I chose it because I feel like it builds a strong case to support REI as a strong prospect for Powered.
Bill Fanning (Business Development)
Jay McIntosh (Business Development)
My weekly share is actually not an article but a few tidbits from a recently released study by Razorfish entitled “Digital Mom.”
  1. Women control the majority of spending in the US and the world. To that end:
  • Consumer spending accounts for approximately 70% of GDP in the U.S.
  • Women a.k.a. “Chief Purchasing Officers” control 85% of household buying decisions in the U.S. and the majority handle family finances.
  • On the business side, women have accounted for 70% of all privately held start-ups over the last 15 years.

Marketers want to engage with people who buy things…women.

  1. Women, by and large, are much more “communal” than men. Think about it, women often turn to others for guidance, recommendations, etc., and they love to share (i.e. tell others about their experiences). Guys, we tend to be more independent and hierarchical. We hate to (i.e. won’t) ask for directions, we compete with each other in almost every- and anything, and usually prefer to conduct our own in-depth research rather than listen to someone who may have “better” research than us. Anyhow, the full report is about 37 pages and talks about a LOT of things, however, the three key takeaways that I found most interesting and relevant to us are the following:
  • Mom’s areas of interest are lifestyle categories…duh!
  • Their purchase decision funnel behaviors fit really well with what Powered does.
  • The highest value information sources for moms are a lot of what we provide in a Powered community.
Doug Wick (Business Development)
My post this week is from “Social Media Insider” written by David Berkowitz of 360i (cross-posted on the Agency’s website).
David does a nice job of offering his experience in running a self-service Facebook targeted ad campaign, including the results he saw. Many of his results are confirming of what we’ve heard – in a pretty targeted campaign he saw very low clickthrough, and he notes that FB must find another way to monetize if it expects to live out its large valuation. The upside is that Facebook ads are extremely cheap to test, and he predicts (I think rightly) that there may be ways to reach very specific, segmented audiences with compelling content-based ads – so he encourages people to test and see.

Don Sedota (Product Management)
A recent Forrester article called, Four Essential Components of Successful Innovation Initiatives, caught my attention due to the fact that, well I’m in the product innovation business ;-). The first two components, “Creating and getting executive support for an innovation strategy” and “Use central management and coordination to carry out the strategy” are pretty straightforward.

The third component, “Use individual contributors to feed the innovation function” struck a chord because it’s something we’re currently trying to implement more effectively for the internal product strategy process. Examples of this include Dell’s Ideastorm and IBM’s annual Innovation Jam. In fact, we’ve been tossing around the idea of creating an internal Ideastorm where employees can go to submit ideas and fellow employees can comment on them and vote them up/down. This could also tie into Yammer so that everyone gets notified when a new product idea is submitted. As far as I know this actually wouldn’t be that difficult to implement internally.

The fourth component, “Ties to community bring objective insight and can deepen relationships” has to do with using community (external resources) to inform product strategy. This struck a chord because it’s something that’s come up recently in the context of our product roadmapping discussions due to interest from Clinique and Sony. This form of product strategy “cro
wdsourcing” is becoming more and more popular.

Facebook as a Business Tool (Podcast)

Two weeks ago my friend, Mike Sachleben of Blitztime.com invited me to do a quick talk about Facebook and how it could be used for business. I didn’t have a ton of time to prep for the call as I was actually subbing in for one of my other friends, Eric Glazer. Knowing a thing or two about the socialsphere, I’m never one to shy away from giving my $.02 on a particular topic and in this particular case, I think I held my own.

Listen in as I talk about:

  • Etiquette for doing business on Facebook
  • The differences between the audience on Facebook and LinkedIn
  • Why Facebook Connect is going to be the next “killer app”
  • Recommendations for good marketing/PR blogs for people to read who are just getting into the world of social

As always, I’d love to get your reactions. I know there’s a ton more content to be offered up like that in CC Chapman’s recent Facebook Fanpage whitepaper. Recent “Experts in the Industry” interviewee, Mari Smith, also knows a thing or two about Facebook for business so you might want to check her out as well.

Image courtesy Widget a Day

Experts in the Industry: Mari Smith (65 of 45)

Let me start this post with a BIG FAT apology to Mari Smith. She is one of the first people that responded to me with answers for the Experts in the Industry series. Somehow, her answers got lost in my inbox so it wasn’t until the other day when I DM-ed her to ask her for her responses that she gently let me know she had done them a while back. Yup, Aaron = FAIL.

With that said, I’ve not actually met Mari although I look forward to doing so at some point in time. I’ve followed her Twitter and Facebook streams for a while now and love the pep, wit and smarts she brings to the socialsphere every day. If you haven’t checked her out, she knows A LOT about Facebook and how to tap into it as a tool for business. 
Now that you know a little more about Mari, on to her answers!

In one sentence, please describe what you do and why you’re good at it.
I build powerful, profitable relationships – and show others how to do the same – using social networking. I’m a natural people person as well as a skilled tecchie.

How did you get into the world of online community, social media or social marketing?
My entry into social marketing began in 1999 as I pursued two tracks: an information marketer and a relationship coach. I was thrilled when my two tracks converged in 2007 when I joined the alpha team of a Facebook application and promptly fell in love with Facebook and then Twitter. To me, social media is like “coming home” – it’s a perfect fit for my personality. Previously, I hadn’t appreciated sites like MySpace, LinkedIn, Ryze, etc. for business building until I experienced the power combo of Facebook and Twitter.

If you had $10 million to invest in one company and one company only based on their use of “social,” which company would it be and why?
I would say Facebook (though I’m not sure how far $10 million would go!), because in a short period of time they have powerfully built up a vast member base and a robust platform poised to spark transformation on a global level… if used effectively. Certainly, Facebook’s prominence in the ’09 Inauguration was most impressive – the ability to provide a common platform to generate community during a shared national/international experience.

I would use the money to build a division dedicated to (a) extreme customer service with phone contact and support via Twitter accounts, and (b) educating the business world as to the power of Facebook Pages for SEO, visibility and building brand awareness. Such education might be conducted via webinars, local live events, national conventions and more.

Which business leader, politician or public figure do you most respect?
Ooh, hard to choose just one! My faves are between Guy Kawasaki and Gary Vaynerchuk! I deeply admire both Guy and Gary’s business acumen, effective use of social media to build their respective businesses, and their consistent personable presence on and offline. (My all-time fave leader is Oprah Winfrey – now if we could just get her tweeting!)

Would you join a toothpaste community? Why?
Yes, I would! As it happens, I *love* my dentist and the natural, herbal products he prescribes by Tooth and Gum. I would more likely join the community to do with conscious dentistry or natural oral care though… which would likely include all of holistic care.

Freeform – here’s where you can riff on anyone or anything – good or bad. Or just share a pearl of wisdom.
Having recently met with several of Facebook’s team, including the Director of Online Operations, I know their #1 focus is growth… yet they still consider themselves a startup company. Much as I love Facebook and am hugely optimistic for their continued massive growth, I would certainly love to see new policies implemented around:

  1. not deactivating bona fide accounts (for violating unpublished limitations)
  2. increasing the friend max, and
  3. including global opt-out options for certain types of application or event invitations, for example. It’s early days yet; I’m positive Facebook are here for the long-term and will continue to be among giants like Microsoft and Google in years to come.