I just got off a call with Kyle Sollenberger and Aaron Gotwalt of TomorrowPants, a little company that “believes in the future”. Kyle and Aaron are working on a project called Co:tweet, which is a new approach to company/team tweeting. These guys not only have a solid set of technical goals, but I really appreciate their philosophical goals for the project as well.
On the call, I caught myself spout off one of the important bullet-points for me: “Raising the Intrigue”.
I liked that meme and while it was fresh in my mind, I wanted to riff here.
So the conversation we were having identified that one of the more common uses in social media is the more obvious one: customer service and feedback. Social media excites companies because they have the ability to monitor mentions of themselves, even their competitors, and respond. Unfortunately, in many cases, this gets out of hand quickly and runs the risk of becoming big-brother-y.
Remember, it’s better to guide than to impose.
But what’s this about intrigue? We’re getting there. Hang on to your (tomorrow)pants.
So the other side of the customer service angle of social media is the “open kitchen” marketing affect: in a business, like in a restaurant, I like an open kitchen because a) it’s entertaining and b) it lets me see where my food is being made. People don’t connect with brands or companies, they connect with other people, and the ability to get some insight into the people who make the company “tick” provides value for the customer.
So that’s a reason to initiate with a company’s social media presence. But why would I continue to subscribe/follow/listen? Because that company has done things to “Raise the Intrigue”.
I think this may be one of the many elusive variables to that nasty, nasty concept of something being “viral”. We all know and agree that you can’t manufacture “viral”. But we know what the end goal is: we want people to say “OMGWTF…I have to show my friends”.
But how long does that viral “moment” last? Most viral campaigns quickly hockey stick, and then vanish into the portfolio of the PR company that claims responsibility for it.
Most companies don’t really want to shock their customers into being interested. It’s got the potential to cast shrapnel all over the place (citation: the recent “MotrinMoms” debacle). Are there ways to Raising the Intrigue without shocking the audience? How do you make an experience worth sharing?
STORY TIME! How a little red fish made a big impact
My friend and one of my business partners, Matt Cohen, is the CEO of ChoiceShirts, a respectably large online t-shirt store. ChoiceShirts has always put a huge emphasis on customer service and responsiveness, so getting Matt involved on twitter was a natural move. But that’s not what this story is about.
One of the things that Matt made mention of in his early musings on twitter was his love of Swedish Fish. After a handful of responses from followers about that being their favorite, and Matt got a great idea.
By including a single-serving Swedish Fish and the note above, Matt did two things: One, he created an opportunity to connect with the PERSON behind ChoiceShirts, which is a memorable (and sharable) moment.
Two, he raised the intrigue. By providing some insight into himself, the customer has an opportunity to ask more questions, about Matt or ChoiceShirts. Maybe even about themselves.
That’s even better than a memorable moment.
There’s nothing sustainable about a memorable moment, especially with how short our memories are these days.
Intrigue, however, is easily sustained. So long as you’re continually growing and innovating as a company, there will always be opportunities to intrigue.
What makes you, and your company, intriguing?
I’ve communicated with a lot of professionals in my short career.
I’ve also spent most of my career working virtually, so I’ve got increasingly good at communicating. In some ways, my policy has become to over communicate.
If you’ve worked in any sort of communication role, either as a freelancer or within another business structure, you know the old game, “hurry up and wait”. When you’re juggling more than one project, this becomes increasingly problematic.
The key to any successful project is communication, that’s nothing groundbreaking new. Being able to communicate is one side of the coin. The other?
Regularity of communication.
This is often resolved by setting up regular meetings and/or calls. Anyone who’s worked with me in the past knows how much I hate meetings, and that’s only worse when it’s a meeting about another meeting. In every effort possible, I’ve implemented stand-up meeting policies. Part of the success of IndyHall has been our ability to move quickly. Our quick decision making came down to Geoff and I communicating regularly, but never for the sake of communicating.
This is tricky to describe: Geoff and committed to regular communication, in a less formal agreement to one another. The other part of the less formal agreement was to never bring something to the table that couldn’t be quickly discussed and decided upon, most of the time in under 10 minutes. Informally, we’d designed a stand-up meeting that we didn’t even need to come face to face for.
Communication happened often, and in short bursts of valuable, actionable information.
In between actionable item discussions was the other part of the overcommunication that’s often overlooked: status updates.
When working virtually it’s crucial to let your team mates know what’s going on, even in the briefest format. My friends at Wildbit have written some of the best stuff about this, from using twitter for the team to using commit messages correctly. No matter what tool or technique you use, there’s one core concept that I think is the most important:
being on the communication offensive.
That is, if you’ve got information that’s valuable to the team, don’t wait to bundle it with a larger update or, worse yet, to be asked for it to give it up.
If someone doesn’t need the information now, they may need it later and rather than have to bother for it later, they can simply check past updates.
Also, a “small piece of information” may be critical to someone else’s to-do list and you may not realize it.
I’d make a sports metaphor here but I never claimed to understand sports.
Okay. I’ll try anyway. A core value of teamwork when it comes to sports: even if you’re all star, don’t hog the ball.
Get the ball across the court faster with efficient, regular “overcommunication”.
I can’t believe I wrote a blog post with a sports metaphor. I’m sorry, it’ll never happen again.
Redux, or the A.D.D. version of this post:
- Scheduled communication is good, but communication for the sake of communicating is a waste of time.
- Communicate early, communicate often
- Don’t assume information isn’t important for someone else to know
- Alex is allergic to sports and still can’t believe there was a sports metaphor in this post.
Some would say, “Tomato, Tomato, Potato, Potato, Let’s call the whole thing off”. But the coworking “brand” is undeniably powerful at this point in time. International press, global community growth, and an extremely devoted collection of leaders helping continue to drive things forward.
So from that “brand recognition” perspective, I don’t think I’m out of line for desiring consistency. The problem? “Coworking” is not in the dictionary, nor is it in most spell check. So when reporters – who tend to be the guiltiest of adding the hyphen – go through their editorial process I’m not surprised when “coworking” gets corrected to “co-working”.
That still doesn’t excuse it. Think of it as a proper name – just because my name isn’t in the dictionary doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be upset if you misspelled it!
I’ve ranted and raved about this on twitter, the coworking google group, and mostly in person (those rants are the most animated, I assure you). This weekend I decided to do something.
Step one: launch a website addressing the issue. Enter http://doescoworkinghaveahyphen.com/
Step two: make it easy to add coworking to dictionaries
I’m admittedly a technologist, and see the hurdle of “contact Merriam Webster” as a pain in the ass. Instead, I’m proposing (based on a suggestion from Jesse) that we make available a “dictionary patch” to popular dictionary files: Microsoft Word, OSX’s native dictionary, and Firefox seem like good places to start. Major blogging platforms that have spellcheck (ahemWORDPRESSahem) I’d like to make these as close to “one click” patches, if possible.
Better yet, I’d love for someone to write a non-malicious virus that adds the word “coworking” to any native system dictionaries. Just kidding. Maybe.
Step three: spread the word
If you spot “coworking” with that dreadful hyphen anywhere, drop a link to the website [http://doescoworkinghaveahyphen.com/] in the comments. Maybe a badge campaign? Who knows.
Ultimately, I hope that this activity catches the eye of Merriam Webster and they take it as a cue to make the change on their own…I consider that the ultimate metric of success.
Care to join in on the fun? Help contribute to any of the goals I’ve set above.
It’s no secret that, like a sizable population of the internet community, I like using Twitter as a point of reference.
This past weekend was the first Barcamp in Philadelphia, which was a phenomenal experience. I was extremely proud of the volunteer team who put it together, led by JP Toto and Roz Duffy. Brilliant work. Absolutely brilliant. When’s the next one? 🙂
I’ve been to Barcamps before, and plenty of other conference settings. For a lot of attendees of BarCamp Philly, this was their first BarCamp (I surveyed the room during the kickoff announcements and it was a 90%+ “Barcamp Virgin” attendance). I’m sure for many, it was also an early foray into conferences/unconferences. At the same time, there were a good number of seasoned veterans.
This diversity and ratio of first timers got me thinking about the social graces of these types of events, and how they’ve changed. Historically, it’s been a ripe opportunity for meeting people, either randomly or more systematically. But introductions still played a crucial part in the interaction: you had better odds of having a positive engagement with another attendee with a foot in the door introduction.
But things have changed. We read each others’ blogs, we follow each other on twitter. We know an unusual amount about each other (that’s not to say we know everything about one another), and that’s not a bad thing; it lowers the barrier to entry to get to know someone better face to face. I like that.
So make up your mind, Alex. Are you bitching or not?
I want to go back to a metaphor that I’ve written about a couple of times, most recently on a Mashable post about coworking. I talk about coworking as an offline manifestation of the types of interactions that go on in an online forum. The broader explanation is that as geeks, we’re inherently incompetent in social engagement </broad generalizations>. The other thing is that geeks tend to be really good at reverse engineering things.
So we’ve reverse engineered our social deficiencies into a set of tools we’re more comfortable working within: software, social networking tools, etc. We get a chance to practice social engagement in these safe online constructs, and over time, shed the chrysalis and emerge into the real world again in coworking spaces, barcamps, conferences, etc.
Here’s where I’m gonna start bitching:
I don’t think every-one’s doing a great job of handling the transition from online social graces to offline social graces. The translations are taking place too literally rather than people taking lessons and actually applying them.
Here’s a couple of concrete examples of oddball experiences that I was involved in and illustrate both sides of the point that I want to make.
I’m thinking back to two specific examples from SXSW, two from ’07 and one from ’08.
Anecdote #1: I was pretty green in my career in interactive, and was attending SXSW for the first time. I’d come to a lot of realizations about how level the playing field was, and how low the barrier to entry was to brush shoulders with those who’d inspired me. I think it was at a Yahoo! party that I met Jeremy Keith. While I thought I’d been doing a good job of keeping my cool while meeting various notable people from the internet community, I flubbed in front of Jeremy. I was introduced to him and promptly made the situation extremely uncomfortable by saying, “Hey Jeremy, I know way more about you than you know about me”. I can confidently say that it was MEANT as a compliment, but regardless of the intentions, I sounded like a psychopathic stalker. I excused myself and got a drink, found some friends, and sulked in a corner. I THINK at this point Jeremy knows I’m not a nutjob stalker, but at the moment, he had to have been mortified.
Anecdote #2: I was attending SXSW for the second time, and after a particularly successful year between the first year and the second. My work with IndyHall had given me a taste of what it’s like to work in the public eye, and I was certainly comfortable with it. Ask anyone who’s known me since I was a kid, I’m not afraid of people, a microphone, or a stage. But I don’t think anyone could have prepared me for this choice encounter: I was walking through the Austin Convention Center and a guy walked up to me. He pointed and said, “you’re alexknowshtml on twitter, right?”. I cautiously responded “yes”, to which he enthusiastically replied, “DUDE! I TOTALLY FOLLOW YOU ON TWITTER!!!” and gestured for a high five. Clearly he meant it as a compliment, but in my head, it rang with a similar tone to my mishap with Jeremy the year before. I shook it off and took it as the compliment it was intended to be, but it’s still something I think about when meeting people I admire.
I try not to make relationship assumptions based on the “relationships” that are established online.
So yesterday at Barcamp I paid attention to how Twitter, and general online identity, play into real world engagements. Many people do a great job of engaging and use their knowledge of the people in the atmosphere as an opportunity to get what they seek out of a room or a situation. I think that’s the most effective thing to do with the knowledge you can gain from following some-one’s online persona.
But thinking hard, maybe too hard, about the common utterance of “I follow you” and “Are you following me?”, it just sounds weird.
I know to some degree we’re just talking about a new vernacular, but to an outsider, this HAS TO APPEAR LOONY!!
My overarching point is this: consider your choice of words in these interactions, because these are the sorts of activities that will ultimately hurt the adoption of the things that we’ve learned to love (obsess over) by the masses. These interactions are absolutely critical and I firmly believe they are the future of how we’ll interact, both socially and in business.
Think about the lessons that you can learn from online interactions and apply them to your “IRL” interactions, rather than direct translations that ultimately end up making you look, well, pretty friggin’ creepy.
- Companies that need it the most think they can’t afford a good evanglist
- Companies who can afford evangelists ultimately don’t benefit from it on the scale of their expectations, or don’t hire with the right criteria
- People who charge exorbitantly for evangelism aren’t any good at it
- People who are qualified candidates for evangelizing aren’t meeting the companies that need them
There’s no specific, single point of failure here, but ultimately there IS a massive mismatch problem.
Companies pursuing this venue to augment your existing market strategy: consider carefully who you are hiring. Do they carry enough whuffie to be worth your dollar? Do they even understand how whuffie works?
Individuals interested in product evangelism: being a paid megaphone is different from being an evangelist. And asking questions of the users isn’t quite enough, either. Processing feedback is hard. Be prepared for that. And assuming you are worth your weight in whuffie: don’t spend it all in one place.
Last weekend at Social Dev Camp East, I was sitting in a session about location based services. We were talking about cool examples of location in apps, adoption rate, the barriars to adoption. We considered the fact that social apps are great for presence, but the implications of location as a part of that presence were not only bordering on intrusive, but didn’t really have a huge payoff for the user so the attraction to adopt was low.
At one point, J.P Toto (one of our illustrious BarCampPhilly organizers) told a story about how he’d recently had his car break down in an area he wasn’t familiar with. Rather than panic, or even run for the phone book, he knew exactly what to do: he pulled out his iPhone and fired up the Yelp app. It automatically discovered where he was, and typing in “towing service”, the search became instantly relevant to his location. In just a couple of taps, he was on the phone with a reputable, nearby towing service was on it’s way.
After telling this story, one of the other session attendees pointed out that this was an example of success in location-based apps: when they behave as “Big Mother” (a guiding force) rather than “Big Brother” (an imposing, controlling force). I’d like to give credit to the session attendee who came up with this phraseology as I really love it – but I don’t know who it was. If anyone knows, speak up!!
“Big Brother” is a common concern when it comes to privacy, but I think that privacy is just one layer of intrusion. People don’t like feeling like their lives or experiences are being intruded into, especially with the purpose of being sold.
They DO, however, like it when their quality of life is improved and made easier.
Consider this when you’re working on your social marketing initiatives.
Having a clear value proposition is helpful, though it’s not always possible. In these cases, you can to create a related tangential value proposition – something that guides them rather than controls them – to gain their attention.
Once you have that attention, be mindful of intrusive actions.
In social marketing, it’s critical be a guiding force rather than an imposing force. Be Big Mother instead of Big Brother.
Last night I watched a new President of the United states address an onlooking nation planet about how his supporters came together for a common goal and overcame what many thought would never happen.
Not only did I watch this historic moment on television, I shared it with close friends in a living room.
Not only did I share this historic moment with them, I got to share it with thousands and thousands of other people on Twitter.
We are obsessed with Twitter. It’s a website. It’s a messaging tool. It’s become a development platform, and it’s arguably a protocol. It’s a point of reference. It’s an expression of ego.
But I don’t think that’s why we’re obsessed. I think we’re obsessed because Twitter does something that we long for: it facilitates shared experiences. Twitter, and many other pieces of social technology encourage shared experiences.
Social Media has been purported as a key to the shift in bi-directional communication in PR. That’s great and all, but I’m not sure how long the interest in being able to “talk back to the television” will remain meaningful. I mean how many times have we yelled at the screen and had it do nothing? Just because a human is on the other end of a commercial doesn’t complete the engagement cycle.
So currently, a lot of PR and marketing peeps are trying to get their heads wrapped around the best way to use the tools to engage with their communities. Here’s the kicker: I think they’re working too hard at the wrong thing.
Buzz monitoring has become one of the more common metrics being used right now, and I do believe there is value there. Quite a bit. The adoption of the metrics that can be gleaned from buzz tracking is important, but in this case, I don’t think it’s the point. In my mind, the need for buzz tracking identifies one very, very important metric that seems to be getting overlooked. Buzz tracking identifies that people are talking to each other.
That’s the most important thing.
Once your potential users, users, or ex-users are talking about you, you’ve won. You’ve got their attention, and they’ll broadcast every single thing you do. And, they’ll do it without you having to ask.
Take note: I’ve yet to say that anything about creating a community of users.
Why? It’s not that much work. Once you’ve got more than one user, you’ve got the makings of a community. A great community. A community that you didn’t have to create, it exists simply by being.
I know what you’re thinking…two people standing on either side of an dance floor make for a pretty boring party. Just because you put people in a room doesn’t make it a party, and just because you have more than 2 users doesn’t mean you’ve got a community.
But the game changes once you get them talking to one another. And that’s the role, the unsung metric of buzz tracking. Knowing that the conversations are going on at all, and being able to scan the proverbial room to make sure everyone’s got a full glass, is your most valuable asset.
So let’s move on.
Hear me now, marketing and PR people: people talking about you does not open the door for you to talk about you. Showing up in a conversation about you (or heck, your competition) to talk about yourself is not going to help your cause. It’s like walking up to two people at the cocktail party who are already conversing conversation and blurting out
“HAI, MAI NAYME IZ ALEX AND I LIKE TWEETER TOO!”
It’s not accepted at cocktail parties, and it’s not OK online, either.
What is ok? Be a good cocktail host. If you are listening in on the other guests at the party, be a facilitator. Make sure that their drinks are full, that they are enjoying themselves, and that they get a chance to meet as many guests as possible.
Your role as the social marketeer, the business, or the brand should be the same.
It’s counter intuitive, I know.
You’re used to talking about you. Cut that shit out. Please.
There’s an exception: customer service. The downside to that? Customer service through buzz tracking (be it blogs and twitter) still only service the “elite” technophiles who’ve adopted those tools. Sure, I like that as a blogger/twitter user, I can mention a company and they show up with VIP service. But, as Dave Troy pointed out at Social Dev Camp East, if they aren’t putting energy into improving the customer service measures they already have in place, they are effectively ignoring the majority of the current problems. I like that I’m benefiting from being ahead of the curve, and getting that VIP treatment. But when my mom’s cable goes out, she’s not going to bitch about it on twitter, and she’ll end up frustrated sitting on the phone.
Back to my point about being involved in the consumer’s experience. That experience needs to be like oxygen: it needs to be everywhere (ubiquity), it needs to not feel like work (transparency), and it needs to be something that they feel like they can’t live without (necessary).
You need to make this conversation about them if you’re going to play along.
Be a good cocktail host.
Throw a great cocktail party.
Throw such a great party that everyone talks about how great the party was. And then you can watch the buzz take a life of its own
As a brand, business, or marketer, it’s your job to make the shared experience worth sharing.
These are my most popular and most valuable pieces, to help you get started.