Archive for category SocialMedia

Lunch For Good Sparks Critical Thoughts

The Lunch For Good event format has really proven to be magical after a fountain of insights erupted during last month’s event discussing critical thinking. In San Francisco on Thursday October 23, 2009 we asked participants “How can online contribution evolve to encourage more critical thought?”

Apparently, it was a powerful question as you can see from the videos we captured summarizing the conversations happening at each of the tables.

I also spoke with Ravit Lichtenberg about the importance of critical thinking and she ended up turning the camera on me. For me personally, having a society in which a greater number of people apply critical thinking to what they are being told by others is essential for the well being and prosperity of everyone. Critical thinking skills are a foundational element of a media literate society, which means it is very important part of Social Media Club’s mission.

So today, as part of my ‘social work’ coming out of last month’s Lunch For Good event, I am seeking support on a project to assemble, organize and if necessary develop an educational program focused on critical thinking for digital citizens. It would seem this project would fit best under the SMC EDU program, but we can discuss details together.  If you are interested in participating, please let us know by commenting below or emailing socialmediaclub at gmail dot com.

So today work begins in earnest on our final Lunch For Good event of this series where we will be focused on how online contribution can evolve to help more people find common ground.  This event speaks directly to what I believe to be one of the biggest problems we face in the world today. The problem of “us vs. them” is something I have been speaking about for a long time as even Apple’s TV ads are further propagating a sense of elitism and social division.

We must transcend looking at the world as a matter of ‘these people are like me and they are ok, but these people over there are not like me so they must be bad’. It is not only based on race, sexual orientation, religion, politics and appearances any longer – today it extends to what brands you wear, what music you like, what social tools you use and even even what your job title is. So today more then ever, its important for us to explore the issue of how do we work to ensure more people can find common ground with one another instead of demonizing others for not being completely homogeneously alike…

The invites are going out over the next few days but if you havent been previously and have not received an invite, you can stillrequest an invitation on the Lunch blog and if we have room as the event approaches, we would be happy to have you participate.

On a closing personal note, I just cant thank JR Johnson, Melissa Cunningham and the whole Lunch.com team enough for sponsoring this great event series and Myles Weissleder for co-producing it with me.  Myles and I are truly blessed to be able to do the work we love and have a client who really wants to contribute to the greater good.

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The End of Marketing, The Return to Markets

Every time I travel to another city for another conference, the need for deep, broad, real, systemic change in our approach to marketing becomes more and more clear. This weekend at IzeaFest was no exception. Having the IzeaFest advertisers together with their bloggers along with social media professionals, SEO experts, affiliate marketers and some big brands was a real eye opener on many levels. Mostly though, what I saw was a lot of people trying to figure out how to do the right thing and a small few who were just focused on the money.

As more people come to realize that we are all in this market WITH one another instead of AGAINST one another, the tolerance for traditional advertising, publc relations and automated customer support phone systems will eventually reach zero. We have already lost our tolerance for not being able to get an answer from the company representatives assigned with that task, how much more efficiency can be squeezed in pursuit of profits over brand prosperity?

Marketing is not real.

Its what we design to seem real, to seem believable, to create a sense of desire, to tap into a need, to increase awareness, to communicate value propositions, to drive a call to action, to create a sense of comfort and familiarity with the brand and to create a sense of urgency. But let’s be honest, its carefully crafted, tested, refined and carefully controlled as its being deployed. It’s not real, and often times, its not really nice or considerate either.

Or as David Weinberger has infamously said, “Somewhere along the way, markets, what we did WITH each other, became marketing… what we do TO one another.”

Or as the Cluetrain Manifesto so brilliantly stated “Whether explaining or complaining, joking or serious, the human voice is unmistakably genuine. It can’t be faked.” But the best ads are the ones that transcend the chains of its innately false nature, to either really be genuine or too fake it so well as to seemingly create no doubt.

There is a very serious need for us to fully return to an emphasis on markets and get away from marketing altogether. Once and for all.

But where does it begin?

I had thought this was very clear over five (5) years ago in the time leading up to the first BarCamp. Going beyond interactive marketing, required genuine ENGAGEMENT. Or as I saw so clearly at that BarCamp in the summer of 2005, participation is marketing. But it’s more then participating, it’s contributing value, it’s respecting market participants, it’s having integrity and embracing transparency.

Since then, all segments of the communications industry has struggled with defining it, as the competing qualitative and quantitative camps argue about what is really most important with it. Engagement is dialog. Engagement is empathetic. Engagement is human. Engagement is mutually beneficial. Engagement can be measured by how it feels. Engagement can be measured by how the new philosophy starts to shift the bottom line.

Serve the Market

If markets are conversations as the Cluetrain posits, then what are executives supposed to do about it? The more we converse with each other, and the more we do so openly, leaving a trail of thoughts on our experiences and insights upon which others may stumble, the greater the importance of serving the market for mutual benefit.

This realization came to me during Community 2.0 in 2006 when Craig Newmark remarked that “all organizations used to be community service organizations”. It’s what was lost as we focused on scaling our ability to create profit during the industrial era and as profit above all else was so enthusiastically pursued without concern by just a few too many ‘leaders’. Then modern marketing evolved in certain corners of the profession with the goal of separating as much money as possible from as many customers as possible.

Of course, this wasn’t everyone, its just a few bad apples, but they certainly make the rest of the barrel full look unattractive.

Over time, the focus shifted for many companies to serving the stock market and the shareholder as opposed to serving the market itself. Research shifted to finding ways to tug at heart strings and wanting to be hip with trendsetters. Market researchers put people into “fish bowls” to observe their behaviour under fake conditions measuring their responses as if they were real and pure.

In short, and putting it bluntly, the science of marketing has for too long been focused on manipulation, not value creation.

The shift away from traditional marketing is finally gaining steam as a few brave souls lift their heads from our economic situation to once again think more optimistically instead of defensively. As the pilot projects of competitors become long running programs even though we never seemingly have enough B2B case studies, the increase in activity across multiple sectors is clearly evident. It is also seemingly proof enough for many in what Geoffrey Moore would call the early majority phase of adoption in “Crossing the Chasm“.

Serving the market requires you to have real relationships with the people within that market, just as you did if you were trading in the original souqs. Your reputation both preceded and followed you… everywhere. It requires the development of trust, that only comes with time and experience and that can never be created competely in a 30 second commercial.

As social media continues to make more information visible and the increasing market transparency shows us the little man behind the grand curtain working the controls isn’t all that he claims to be, the number of organizations not operating from a place of integrity will diminish. Of course there will be those that obfuscate, that wear their masks well and that pull the wool over our collective eyes, but they will hopefully be fewer in number.

Perhaps if we are successful at getting more companies to serve the market, the end of marketing as we know it won’t be as far away as it still seems today. Or perhaps, I am just overly optimistic about the level of change we can really have on this very well entrenched industry.

Let me know what you think, share your thoughts below.

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My 1999 View on Holistic Business Strategy Services

Forgot about this page, but just seeing all the talk about the need for executives to take a more holistic approach to business made me look. This old static html page described the services I was offering in 1999 for my now closed consulting and software development firm called Conversal. It was a bit ahead of its time, and I really never connected with big brands to do this the way I wanted to… but of course this was also inhibited by the crash and my great time working with Palm, Inc.

I have been ahead of my time a few times too often. It seems like now with the rise of social media and the emergence of social business design, many of these ideas need to be dusted off and rewritten. For now, I will just quote it in its old entirety and add to it this weekend…

Holistic Business Strategy Consulting

Holistic – (adj) – taking
a view of the whole rather than focusing on the components;
the fundamental approach executives should take in setting strategy;
also used in holistic medicine, where a practicioner looks at
the whole body to diagnose a health problem and provide the
best solution.


Don’t get us confused with some new
age group wearing purple Nike’s and bringing a bunch of crystals
into the board room though – holistic business strategy is serious
business that will revolutionize your company. The foundation
of each engagement is based on a holistic approach, looking at
the whole of your situation, not just one part of it. For example,
while engaged on a simple web site redesign project with limited
budget, we were able to discuss and radically improve the company’s
positioning strategy and corporate voice. This has lead to a clearer
and more consistent line of communications with customers and
partners that is being affirmed anecdotally and measurably.

With Holistic Business Strategy consulting, Conversal is focused
on helping you to see your entire business in an entirely different
light. While many consultants may offer
you "out of the box" thinking, it is our deeply held
belief that there is no box! Adopting this powerful belief is
the first step in making dramatic improvements in the way you
work, and most importantly, how you feel about the work you do.
This isnt some ra-ra jedi mind trick with a turn of a phrase and
a pumping of the fist. At Conversal, we firmly believe it is fundamental
to operating a successfull organization in the world of today
for you and all of your fellow team members to change your approach
and broaden your situational world view.

Conversal’s ability to contribute dramatically to your bottom
line with a Holistic Business Strategy engagements originates
from these core beliefs:

  1. A successfull business begins with an understanding
    of the value your organization creates today and establishing
    a simply understood set of brand values which define your potential
    offerings and purpose for existence.
  2. Trust must be built between employees, managers,
    partners and customers and constantly nurtured.
  3. Communication across all of the channels must
    be in an authentic voice while remaining consistent, accurate
    and most importantly, honest.
  4. Things don’t always have to be the way they are
    today, change can happen in an instant if the situation can
    be seen clearly.
  5. Management does not equal leadership. Leaders
    earn the respect of their peers and those they lead through
    courage, honesty, right action and through a genuine love for
    everyone with whom they interact.
  6. In order to be effective, leaders need to see
    the forest as well as the trees. The only path to long term
    success is through a holistic understanding of your organization’s
    strategy, its values and its operations.
  7. Technology for the sake of technology is worthless
    – all key initiatives should primarily focus on value creation
    for the stakeholders, which means getting them involved in the
    decisionmaking process before technology is bought or developed.
  8. The knowledge exists within your organization
    today to take you where you need to be tomorrow – you just need
    to find a way to listen and respond better.
  9. We are now living in the knowledge economy, where
    your assetts walk out the door every night, or at the end of
    every shift. Ensuring this knowledge and the people employing
    it constantly grow in their ability to innovate, learn new knowledge
    and constantly improve must be your primary goal.
  10. There is no box. Whether inside or outside
    of a box, people remain to focused on the box itself and what
    it looks like, feels like and is. Without a box, your best assetts
    will be utilized for your best benefit.

If you are curious about what a holistic business
strategy engagement might look like for your company, let’s
talk
and see if we both have a good fit for our mutual success.
If you just have some ideas you would like to share on this topic,
we would be glad to hear from you as well. Regardless, we hope
these thoughts may have contributed in some small way to your
knowledge and ultimately your success.

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Conflict of Interest, Perceived Imprecisely From Afar

I randomly caught this post from Leah Jones talking about Chris Brogan working with Sony on a project after meeting them during a Panasonic ‘junket’ to CES earlier this year. I was going to leave this as a comment but I exceeded the character limit by over 50%, so here is my reply to “Is this trust

Its an interesting conversation but haphazardly pointed at Chris (a long time colleague and friend, but I am writing here not for him, but for the broader conversation as a whole) While I can understand where there might be some hurt feelings, it should be about an opportunity lost to develop more then a passing relationship. But its not like Chris is Brett Farve and a one and only fleeting opportunity to have loyally fighting for the Panasonic team!

This was a Blogger, being given the VIP treatment at CES. Happens all the time.

Have any of the folks commenting and thinking this is unheard of and rude and insulting been there? If you have then you would know that no company paying for anyone’s way (and I know the Intel Insiders pretty well personally and professionally) would expect they could keep those people from meeting and talking with competitors.

In fact, seeing other competing equipment is a comparison that Chairman Yoshi Yamada is hoping for people to make – because he believes in the quality of his company’s products against those of rivals. From speaking with many other people who were engaged in different aspects of Panasonics CES work, I understand that the Panasonic Chairman is a wise man and do not believe he would fret over such concerns as this.

Chris was not hired to be a consultant by Panasonic, he did not steal their trade secrets to give to the competition, and most importantly he did not harm anyone, not even the PR people behind the CES program. Chris was flown out to CES for his credibility and reach (lets face it, most blogger relations as Chris alludes to is only about reach). Sony hired him to manage a project and for that project to benefit from his credibility and reach.

What’s the common thread? he was compensated for his time… Panasonic got some coverage, some WOM from Chris at CES and a chance to make sure he was considering and trying Panasonic equipment. Sony is paying for his time to run a program, which already by your post has been a bit more successful in getting attention.

For a moment, lets just look at the practical situation one more time. Had this been an invite out to the Panasonic corporate headquarters, and while on that trip that Panasonic paid for, he met with and started selling his services to Sony, that would be something to merit a discussion on trust and loyalty and good judgment… but it wasnt a private meeting, it was the biggest event in the industry with every competitor in the same 2 square mile (or so) area.

I do not even believe this is a question of trust or loyalty, unless you think you owe everyone who gives you something (which is totally so messed up for so many reasons) a debt for the rest of your life. It’s just a matter of business…

And this post titled “Is this Trust” is honestly just an observation that turned into an implied accusation perceived imprecisely from afar that IMHO has no real merit – in fact, I think in re-reading the blog post that an inflamatory, headling grabbing word was chosen for the title merely because it is so prominent now with Chris’ recently published book… I do really think the rightly focused topic is loyalty.

As for whether Chris Brogan is less trustworthy as a result of his working with Sony, bollocks. Trust is about honesty and character demonstrated over time, and there is nothing here or anywhere to indicate that Chris was dishonest…. nor was he disloyal in that he owes no loyalty to Panasonic except respect and perhaps the friendships he might have with various people involved there.

There are plenty of people out there who are not trustworthy and who are disloyal, it would really be great to see more people telling those stories.

Is This Trust as a post title certainly works at getting attention, but it also serves to potentially harm Chris’ credibility.

To illustrate, just on WED someone asked me what I thought of Vivek Kundra being a phony? I heard the allegations, but didnt know any more about the story, so I expressed my optimism about Vivek based on the perceptions of people I trust who know him and went home to find out the latest news… even I was shocked to see that Om Malik had shot down the false accusations within hours of the story first surfacing. Point being, this person was spreading false information caught in a fleeting moment through the stream because he trusted the stream and formed a negative opinion of Vivek that may never be corrected as a result.

The better question here that other’s alluded to rightly is the matter as to what are the potential conflicts of interest we could get into when individuals can be a journalist, a celebrity and a consultant for hire all at the same time.

As for broader lessons learned, its important for brands to not think they are going to own a blogger’s stories if they treat them to a nice time.  If a PR firm was selling them that, then there is something to really be upset about.

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Social London Week?


London_Misc_Sep2006 - 06.jpg
Well its not an official event like InternetWeek NY was, but for me it is a great Social Media Week in London.  While I still have a few open appointment slots on Monday morning, the week is pretty booked up.  I hope you will be able to join me at some point and say hello and we get a chance to talk about all the ways in which social media is creating growth opportunities and changing the way we work.

  • TWEETUP!
    Thursday 25 June – 1700-1930pm
    Open to everyone
    The International Bar (near Charing Cross and Leicester Sq) 
  • Gov2Gov UK
    Friday 26 June 1600-1900
    Registration Required (sold out, but contact me if you really need to be there)
    Canadian High Commission Office
  • Tweetcamp
    Saturday 27 June 1000-1800
    Waiting list only now
    Richmond, Surrey
  • Geek Field Trip – Tate Modern
    Sunday 28 June 1100-1400
    Open to Anyone – Show Up at Main Entrance, Look For Me
    Bankside (on the Thames) 

So it is pretty much a Social London Week for me and I hope it will be for some of you who join me as well.

The reason I am coming over is for the Gov2GovUK event and all the other opportunities to get together and talk present themselves when you think differently about how to connect with a community.  We are really hoping to see Social Media Club take off again in London (Lloyd Davis was organizing Social Media Club events before starting Tuttle).

We are really excited about Gov2Gov as I think it will be the start of something very big, where we are bringing together an array of events to facilitate international knowledge exchange on social media between governments and amongst their citizens.  This is one stone that kills about 20 birds, as the outcomes from these sorts of meetings are filled with amazing potential.  Not only does it improve international relations and facilitate cross border knowledge exchanges, it creates opportunities for entrepreneurship, business development, new ways towards civic engagement and so much more.  Pay attention to the conversation around this as the next announcements coming later in the month are going to be very big… in fact, we will start talking about it on Friday evening, at the Gov2Gov UK event.

I would be remiss if I didn’t give out a lot of credit for this event to Lovisa Williams from the U.S. State Department who helped in so many ways from introductions to organizational support and Dominic Campbell of FutureGov Consultancy who (very humbly) has contributed his expertise, his network and so much more.  These are the sort of people that get me excited and make the work we do so much more fun. Am so glad I can call them both friends.

Of course, huge thanks to the High Commission of Canada’s office for hosting the event.  Of course, we have always known how great our friends to the north are (particularly Our Vancouver Crew) – I have now found that their representatives in Ottawa and in London are just as wonderful.

So I hope to see you in London sometime this week, if not at our Tweetup on THUR at The International Bar, or The Gov2Gov UK Event on Friday at the High Commission in London, or at Tweetcamp on Saturday, then you better come out on Sunday for our Geek Field Trip to The Tate Modern.

Or, if you want to meet with me independently, I have some time for business meetings on MON morning 29 June and would be happy to book appointments with you while I am in the UK.

Cheers!

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Up for auction, two creative, social media strategists

eBay

eBay

You are bidding on 2 hours of AdHocnium’s consulting services to be delivered byAdriana Lukas and Chris Heuer in London on Wednesday 13 May 2009.  This is a one time only opportunity (for this moment in time 😉  This is a low cost way for a smart company to take our minds for a test drive, to see if what we know, and to improve what you are doing with social media, marketing and web strategies to make your organization more succesfull in these efforts.  At present, the bidding hasn’t begun, so it is starting off at $50usd!

Place your bid on eBay now.

Why would we auction our time off instead of working hard to get our going market rate of $350 per hour for our time? While the answer is a bit complicated, its also very simple. In short, it comes down to these primary reasons.

Our Story

For a long time now, I have been proselytizing the idea that companies need to stop selling and start helping people buy.  This is one way in which this can be done.  We advertised our rates on the AdHocnium site for this reason, and are extending the concept to see what people are willing to pay.  While we limit the market for our services to a specific geography while I am traveling, reducing our ability to get top dollar perhaps, it is another chance to ‘eat our own dog food.’

The Economy

The mid size businesses, or even smaller ones that are seeiking real competitive advantage and are willing to take bold risks also dont have as much money.  An auction gets us in front of people who normally wouldn’t seek out our services. Of course, even if you are in a big company, and perhaps especially so if you are trying to sell the idea of social media within your organization, we can create tremendous value to help you thrive while your competitors are struggling.

Our Experience

No, I dont mean that we dont have any experience and are forced to do this, but rather that we get more chances to work together, on short burstable projects.  Doing this auction with Adriana Lukas is a fantastic oppotunity for me to get in front of a client together – to get to know each other better, to learn from her while helping others.

Of course, we also get another client to list in our case studies too. Naturally, the more experience we have, and the more we have doing this together, the more valuable our time becomes over the long run and the more we can charge.  The more people giving us testimonials, like Kym Wong, the more you and people like you are going to be willing to trust us too.  Kym told me she had a huge return on her investment of $162.50 when I offered this up in DC back in March as an experiment.

Kym’s feedback on eBay was “Got tons of actionable ideas and advice! Worth 10x the price, highly recommended”.

Our Time

While my time and Adriana’s time is maxed out regularly, I always have a few hours when I am traveling to sit down with people and talk about their business and innovative ideas to help drive to the future.  When I do, as was the case after my session at Next09 with a few people, I always offer up some free advice… to them as individual’s, not to their company.  So if we can get paid a little something, instead of nothing for this, it creates a win-win for everyone.  The reality is though, that we both spend a large percentage of our time on community works and big ideas that dont pay the bills in the short term.  We simply dont invest as much time as we perhaps should selling outrselves (partially because we dont like doing that).

If we were to try to sell our time actively during my visit to London, it would take dozens of hours over several weeks.  If you factor in all the time making the sale, along with the time delivering the education or training, we have to charge a lot to make a reasonable rate of pay.  This auction path allows us to be more effcicient, and hopefully get a better per hour return on our time then we would if we worked hard to sell that halfd day so some of the same people who would buy it.

Increasing Awareness

Is this story interesting to you? Might it be something you might try yourself as Rebecca Caroe suggested? Well, that means more people are going to hear about AdHocnium, about me, about Adriana and about others who are doing this with us.  Our business model is pretty unuque too, so we get a chance to highlight the fact that we have reimagined what a gobal agency should look like, how it should operate, how we can attract the best and brightest talent and how we are leading our clients into the future. So while some may call it a stunt, it is much more (and honestly, it’s a little bit of that too).

The Auction

So what do you think? Anyone in London want to bid on a 2 hour consulting session with Chris Heuer andAdriana Lukas on Wednesday 13 May 2009? Let the bidding begin.

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Social Innovation Camp 2009: Call for Ideas

I was very fortunate to attend the last social innovation camp in London last December. The passion coming from the great social entrepreneurs there was inspiring! In fact, if you didn’t see them, check them all out:

We are proud supporters of their good work. So if you have a great social innovation, the time to submit entries is now!

Prizes announced at half-time for Social Innovation Camp call for ideas!

You’ve only got four weeks left to enter your idea for Social Innovation Camp Scotland.

Over one weekend at the Saltire Centre, Glasgow we’re bringing together some of the best of the UK’s software developers and designers with those at the sharp end of social problems.

Their mission will be to turn six back-of-the-envelope ideas that could change the world into social start-ups – complete with working software. And all in under 48 hours.

And here’s what the two most promising ideas will win:

– Up to £5,000 in start-up funding from Firstport

– Three days of time from creative web development company, IfLooksCouldKill

– Branding workshop from design agency, O Street

You can check out all the details here.

So why not give it a go and enter an idea!

Remember: your idea must be really, really early stage and you don’t need your own team. Find out how it works here and check out all the details of how to enter your idea here: http://scotland.sicamp.org

You’ve got until Friday 22nd May 2009 to get involved!”

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Is it ok for companies to pay to be featured users in Social Media sites?

TwitterI don’t know how I let this distract me from my work I am doing in my hotel room [oh wait, is that an Eagle flying over the BC Place Arena out my window? shoot, where was I? oh yes, Twitter] – So I stopped in on Twitter and happend to see this tweet from Robert Scoble and mistakenly clicked the link, only to get my panties all in a bunch at the level of pettiness and noise in the comments on his post about the importance or unimportance of having more followers on Twitter and on this one about whether or not TechCrunch paid to be featued on Twitter’s list of suggested user’s to follow. [if you can spare a few hours and resist the temptation to scratch your eyes out, there are some really good points in both of the threads if you can get past the baseless and off-topic ones]

As Robert admitted in the comments, he did a bad job of framing the question on TechCrunch and Twitter, partly driven by a desire to get you involved in answering it (ie getting more ppl like me excited and upset which is what people with journalism degrees sometimes do, obviously with some effectiveness).  As such, I want to try to reframe the issue with some clearer questions and thoughts. NOTE: I did not read all the comments because I don’t think I cold avoid the impulse to scratch my eyes out or go deaf because of all the noise in that thread (personal aside: wow, do we need Insytes more then ever today).

Before going further, I want to point out that we should not unfairly target our good friends Ev/Biz and their hard working team which needs a real business model to ensure their service is sustainable.  The reason for me dropping what I am working on for Social Media Club Portland tomorrow night and Social Media Club Seattle Tuesday night (both sold out unfortunately) is that this is really important question that should receive some critical examination.  The issue is important to consider for all organizations online, most especially social networks, blogs and web services – but also for media companies, associations and other non-profits who work with advertisers, sponsors, donors and/or patrons.

This is clearly a discussion on disclosure first and foremost, but as a result, I hope other important lessons can be learned too…

Q1: Is Twitter adopting a pay to play model for being featured anywhere on its site? Are other sites doing this without making it clear? If so who?

A1: I don’t know, do you?  Besides answering here in the comments, maybe we need a wiki page to list those who do things like this but dont disclose it properly?

Q2: Does this sort of advertising (and the sort that has GaryVee using adsense to promote his twitter account) have a positive or negative impact on other users? on the Web 2.0 / Social Media era? on the broader society?  Does it matter at all? Q2b: Does this conversion of dollars into the power to get attention take away from our open/transparent/meritocratic ideals? In which situations is this ok?

A2: I think it is ok accompanied by simple disclosures and transparency as that will reveal true intentions and we, as informed citizens, can make our own judgments on the value of that reccomendation. In the case of Garyvee, it just seems odd, but there is nothing wrong with that.  Strategically he is the BRAND of his company (do you know what his company is?) so advertising his Twitter account does help his company/.  Personally, I believe that strategically he would be better off putting WineLibrary.TV in the ads for increasing the overall awareness of his great wine buying advice site, despite the likely decreased click through rate from a non-personal, company branded ad. Of course, the mere fact of breaking ground in this way has led to plenty of other new followers for him as a result of people like me writing about it… but that’s Gary, always passionately leading the way for others to follow…

Disclosure: Just last week I contacted the folks behind TwitterCounter to see if we (aka me for @SocialMediaClub) could buy a ‘follow us’ ad on their top 100 page – as the noise gets louder, we need better ways for getting noticed. @SocialMediaClub was in the top 100 on TwitterCounter for several months until recently being kicked off the list by the volume of hollywood celebtrities joining conversation (which is a more interesting issue in itself to talk about a bit later).

Q3: Will the user community (especially new registrants) be better off if Twitter is open about how they are doing it?

A3: This is the only one I will answer in detail because I am sure that everyone will be better off.  This is similar to the need to put the word advertorial on top of paid placement in print. People know a banner ad when they see it, but a ‘friendly recommendation’ that is soley based on the ability of people to pay that doesn’t inform the consumer is harmful to the  spirit of transparency we are trying to manifest in the world. It may even potentially be an issue for the FTC, so let’s do our best to solve this before someone else does.

This hits on two of Social Media Club’s missions, both Media Literacy and Ethics.  It’s hard enough for most people to know when they are being advertised too already, so this, if true, is a real problem for me personally and professionally.

Q4: Should celebrities and companies be on separate lists – should we have user ‘types’ to differenentiate and allow people to see different accounts? Shouldn’t companies (including perhaps our non-profit Social Media Club) with over 10,000 followers pay a reasonable fee for the service? It certainly would still be cheaper then a newswire for a press release]

A4: Well, let’s be honest, this is my suggestion not a question, so my answer to these questions is yes.

What do you think?

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Sears Grants a Wish, For My Wife and Perhaps You (sponsored)


Disclosure: I was given a $500 gift card from Izea on behalf of their client, Sears, to participate in their campaign and “grant a wish” for someone, then to share the experiences shopping at the retail store. There is also a contest you can enter with details below for me to grant perhaps one or more of your wishes. From my perspective, I see this as getting paid to provide my feedback more then getting paid to write a blog post, but as we have seen over the last few days with regards to Chris Brogan and his involvement in the K-Mart campaign, everyone has their own perspective.

Sears at Aventura MallThe spirit of the Sears “Don’t Just Give a Gift, Grant a Wish” campaign is laudable, and also very difficult to live up to IMHO – giving a gift is easy, a wish is really, really deep.  I was able to choose whether to grant a wish for myself, for someone else or for a charity.  Given the fact this was going to be a light Christmas at best, I wanted to do something special for my wife, Kristie – we do a bit of charity work throughout the year as well as several donations, so I felt its time to do something nice for her. (video re-enactment forthcoming 😉

I believe the reason I was selected for the campaign is that

  • I have a small audience aka ‘reach’ (bigger on Twitter, smaller on my infrequently updated blog)
  • I have some insights to share which will hopefully help Sears and Izea
  • I have privately been beating up Izea and Ted in personal interactions for a while, giving him a good ribbing but also talking to him seriously about how they have embraced disclosure and evolved their business in response to complaints from people like Jason Calacanis, myself and others about disclosure and business ethics
  • I am generally known for my integrity and truthiness – which you will see here
  • I was previously invited to join Izea’s blogger advisory board but really wanted an insiders look before fully agreeing to join (though perhaps I may not be wanted after this post)

The program ‘rules’ are simple, Sears provides a $500 gift card to me, I go to one of their stores, then, after the shopping trip, I post about our experiences (which wasn’t all that good as you will soon read).  Now here is the part that makes it cool for you. I hopefully am granting one of your wishes. Izea, who is running the promotion for Sears, is also going to be picking a winner of another $500 grant a wish package (instructions for entering below, but first a bit about our shopping trip and our experience with Sears).

For starters, I should point out that Sears is not one of the stores I would shop for Christmas.  For me, Sears is top of mind when thinking power tools, appliances and car repairs even – but not clothes, electronics or even furniture.  In fact, most of our furniture in our house we have purchased off of Craigslist or a second-hand store, but it wasn’t my wish, it was Kristie’s, so I thought I would just ask her instead of worrying about it and really felt grateful to Ted for inviting me.

Of course, Kristie’s first response was that she wanted a trip to Paris (where I just came from).  Then she said, well we aren’t doing Christmas gifts this year so it doesn’t really matter.  After a bit of haggling over what I meant by the word ‘wish’ (fix the world, solve for hunger, get a big sponsor for Social Media Club so we could hire an executive director etc..) I finally conveyed it had to be physically something I could buy – in other words a gift.  After a few minutes she finally said what I knew she wanted, a Karaoke machine so she could let out her inner chartreuse.  Of course, if she was going to get a Karaoke machine, I needed noise canceling headphones to be part of her wish 🙂 The other big thing she has been trying to get for the past year was a Wii.

Kristie at Sears AventuraSo we had our shopping list set up and after Social Media Club hosted a Social Media Breakfast, we set out to Sears at Aventura mall in North Miami.

I grew up here in Miami (where we are visiting for Social Media Club events and also to spend some holiday time with my 92 year old grandfather) so I knew generally where it was, but I wanted to be sure.  So we searched Sears on the Google Maps app on our iPhone.  There were actually too many listings for Sears in North Miami to easily find it so we went to the sears.com Web site, which was actually optimized for mobile.  The only complaint with the mobile site is that they need to have the store’s addresses linked to a mapping service, because we had to manually transfer the address into the map app which made it a bit harder.

The one unfortunate thing about the timing of this campaign is that we are only two weeks away from Christmas and ended up heading to one of the busiest malls in the United States on a Saturday afternoon at 1pm. Needless to say – the mall was packed. In fact, parking was so tough we had to use the valet service after searching for nearly 30 minutes, but once that was all sorted out, we headed to Sears with the gift card in hand and our simple shopping list at the ready (though I still have no idea which Wii games we really want other than Rockband – see the musical theme of this wish?).

Walking into the store, we noticed the new signage highlighting the campaign “Don’t just give a gift, grant a wish” – but the rest of the store felt the same as it did when I used to shop here with my grandparents. Even the Christmas yard decorations setup felt a bit less then modern.  I guess the best word to describe it is that it felt ‘dated’. In fact, when talking to my aunt about it later, she said “Sears has always been the same, they never change”.  For some people this is good, for me, this is not so good.  Reminds me of the many ad campaigns such as “this isn’t your parent’s XYZ any more” except in this case, it still is.

Anyway, we headed straight for the electronics department and found the karaoke machines. We found the one Kristie wanted on sale at a great price, only $90 down from $150. Though we couldn’t find the extra microphones or music, but that’s another story.

Knowing we had more shopping to do, we asked a nearby sales associate if there were shopping baskets available. Her English was poor and she couldn’t understand the question, even after asking it several times – this is something I have become used to in Miami retail, and while unfortunate is not uncommon – I wish I spoke Spanish fluently, but I don’t.  Realizing there weren’t shopping carts available and not wanting to carry it all over the store, we left the karaoke machine and headed a few aisles over to the video games where…

We didn’t find any Wii’s… so we found another sales associate who told us they were sold out and didn’t know when they were getting it in.  Bummer, but this has often been the case with Nintendo for the past year plus, so that is not entirely Sears’ fault.  In fact, when we got back I ran across this article about November being the biggest month of video game console sales ever.

At this point, we said, ok, lets go check out the noise canceling headphones – unfortunately the choices were limited and I didn’t see the headphones I wanted.  We did find something suitable though, but then I couldn’t get it off the rack (it was locked in somehow).  With these frustrations mounting, we realized we should just wait to get the Wii from sears.com and since we had to fly home anyway, should get the karaoke machine online too.  After all, why spend $25 to check an extra bag? or waste the time going back when you can just order online and get free shipping.

Of course, in going to look at buying it online, they are only offering it in one of those silly packages designed to make you buy games you don’t really want – really not very good marketing on their point (Nintendo’s) in building a good relationship with folks like me – we are seriously considering a PS3 now, but I digress…

While walking out of the electronics department to check out the rest of the store to see if we would be inspired, we did see a great deal on a Panasonic cordless phone for the house, to replace the broken ones we have been using.

The electronics department was situated next to the appliances and our eyes moved to a beautiful stove that reminded us of that really cool and expensive French one we saw elsewhere, but this was made by Kenmore and was about half the price of the one we saw previously. If we owned our house and had a few thousand extra dollars, we might have been tempted to purchase it as our current stove is relatively small. Since we rent our flat and are paying down our debt instead of making major purchases, we set aside the big wish.

After a quick lunch break, Kristie decided she wanted to use some of her wish to buy some gifts for my nephews, so we went back to the store for round two. After searching both floors of the entire store, we finally found the toy department, by the power tools and the weight lifting equipment. Unfortunately there really was not much of a selection, just an aisle or so with a good percentage of that being toy Craftsmen power tools. They also had a small display of Hasbro board games, many of which were priced at $29.99, essentially $5-15 more than the same games cost at other stores. While it was ‘free’ money to us, there is still a sense of wanting to find value so we passed.

Kristie also needed a pair of socks (because she forgot them at home) so we picked those up while there.

Outdoor Christmas Decorations SetupSo all in all, the Sears shopping experience hasn’t changed much since I was a kid – in the case of the floors, shelves and overall feeling of being in the store, it doesn’t seem like it changed at all. If I am looking for appliances, I still trust Kenmore.  If I am looking for power tools, I still trust Craftsmen.  Now, the one thing that did seemingly change is the clothing department, they actually have some cool stuff there, including some great styles from LL Cool J, who has also put together this good video as part of the grant a wish campaign.

In short, we had some really tough challenges which shows why programs such as this one being run by Izea are risky for companies to pursue, but also invaluable if handled well.  I still haven’t seen them engaged in the kerfuffle with Chris Brogan this weekend though…  Further, campaigns such as this expose the real shortcomings of the end to end branding experience and how important it is for all different groups within a company to work together.  Finally, it proves once again that marketing alone cant solve a company’s problems with its’ market relationships.  Hopefully though, this is a learning opportunity and not a censorship opportunity.

To summarize, here are the problems we faced:

  • Went in to buy a karaoke machine, noise canceling headphones and a Wii, came out with a pair of socks and a new phone system for the house. We are going to order the karaoke machine online, and it seems we have to wait to try to get the Wii at a later date as we realized Sears currently only sells the Wii bundle ($500+) which is not what we want – we just want the Wii console ($200+) and the chance to select our own game and accessories. Shame on Nintendo, shame on retailers for going along with this exploitative bundling that forces people to buy games they don’t want or need.
  • Tried to also get toys for my nephews, but the selection was not very good – specialty stores and other Sears competitors clearly perform much better in this regards.
  • While there were some cool styles in the clothing department, the overall feeling of the store (at least the one in Aventura) was that it was ‘dated’. This is particularly troublesome in light of the fact that Aventura Mall has some of the most upscale brands in the world, so by comparison, Sears looked even more dated then it probably is.
  • The clerk in the electronics department didn’t speak English well. The other two clerks in the same department were seemingly disinterested in offering help. When we paid for our phone, the clerk didn’t even bother to say thank you, let alone happy holidays or something more cheery.
  • The store layout was really tough. Hard to find the departments and items we were interested in. The directory by the store front was a list of which departments were on which floor, not where they were on the floor.  Perhaps a design choice in getting people to stumble upon something else to buy?
  • Overall, prices were not that good really, though there were some great sales prices (like our new house phone and even the karaoke machine).  A recent steam mop I purchased from a comepetitor was offered for $20 more.
  • No shopping carts – understandable with aisle layout and for ‘department store’, but also making it very difficult to go shopping in multiple departments with more bulkier items like electronics
  • Actually paying for the items was tough – we had to track down a sales associate to pay for the phone.  When paying for Kristie’s socks, we looked around for a few minutes and eventually found a staffed customer service station (not a ‘check out’ stand btw).  Unfortunately, we had to wait several minutes because a customer had started checking out, then went back to search for more clothing for his grand daughter, tying up the cashier for several minutes.  After some audible groans from us, she did finally suspend that transaction, but by that point, we were finally at the front of the line for the other register.

Some Positives:

  • Sears.com is pretty good, though minor tweaks would make the shopping experience even better – for example, the shopping cart is missing some little things like “update all items in cart” (requiring me to remove each item one by one) which is more likely to make me abandon the purchase entirely (ran into this while trying to build the wish package for you.
  • They are experimenting with programs like this and from my perspective the marketing campaign is really good – it would be great if the top to bottom experience matched it
  • The sale prices were really pretty good and Sears stores are everywhere.
  • I was really glad to see Sears is working with the Heroes at Home program to grant some wishes for military families – they are taking care of their own, with a very socially conscious program which makes my time invested here doing the review worth the while.

I can’t say I will be running back into our local Sears store anytime soon, but I am happy to see Sears engaging. Unfortunately, the campaign really is a great lesson that a fresh coat of paint and a great pitch can’t change the brand by itself.  It takes a complete retooling of the operations first and foremost, then to change the attitudes of the work force in order to change the product itself before you can make people feel different about your company.  From the choice of flooring, to shelving, to hiring practices, to motivation, to inventory selection, everything is permanently inter-linked.  One weak link may be overlooked, but several kills you and your opportunity to develop a meaningful relationship.

Perhaps I am just not the target customer that Sears is reaching for.  Are you?

I wish to extend my thanks to Sears, and to IZEA, for inviting me to get involved in this program.  As I have said for a long time to my clients (as a consultant), its not so much that people have negative things to say about your company insomuch as it is how you respond – what you say and do as a result.  So in light of the relatively positive experiences posted around the K-Mart campaign, I am interested in seeing what happens as a result of this post.  Is it a learning opportunity or is it time for corporate speak and a blind eye?

Now for the Fun Bit – Let me (and Izea) Grant Your Wish

I have selected a great package for you for feeding the mind, body and soul, or you can ignore my shopping choices (and the time I put into assembling the package) and pick your own item #’s from sears.com and include that in the comments below or your own blog post. Please do read the rules completely as I am not in charge of the contest, Izea is, but here is a general overview of how it will work.

Readers can enter via blog comment, tweet or blog post.

Blog Comment: A reader can leave a comment on this blog with the name of the wish package they would like to win. (I only made one, so its either the mind/body/soul wish or your own wish.

Twitter Tweet:
A reader can simply tweet out the following message:
“RT @chrisheuer, please grant my wish to win the #Sears XYZ package – tweet to win your own wish http://urlbrief.com/73ce6d”  – replace XYZ with Mind/Body/Soul or Media or Gamers or My Own

Blog Post:
A blogger can enter by writing a post about the contest and linking back to your post. Be sure to leave a comment with the URL to their post as trackbacks don’t always work.

Each tweet, comment or post counts as one registration. A person can register up to three times by tweeting, leaving a comment and doing a post on their own blog. The winner will be chosen at random by IZEA based on all entries. The contests are separate, each blogger participating in this promotion will have their own package to give away.

If readers don’t want to win the specific package I selected you can put together your own Wish package by leaving the package item#s from sears.com in the comments (up to $500) in value.

The Mind/Body/Soul Package

The Media Package

The Gamers Package

Some Further Thoughts

So you may think this post was paid for by Sears, and indeed it was – but in my mind they didn’t pay for me to post this (would you pay for a review like this?) but they paid me for my time (and underpaid me at that as I sit here at 5am completing the post after spending several hours in the store, browsing the online store and reviewing program details for compliance). In short, it feels more like a mystery shopper program with complete transparency, coupled with a giveaway.  Its not about getting paid to promote them so much as it is getting paid to invest my time interacting with their brand and then sharing my experiences with you.

The original issues people had with the notion of getting paid to blog about a company had two main points: 1 transparency of transaction and intention – make it clear what you got paid and what you got paid for; 2 perceived lack of objectivity – in that people believe that honesty goes out the window when someone gives you something, which just isn’t the case for everyone, while it may be for some. I believe that this post adequately addresses those issues and believe you will find that to also be the case, though your opinion of such programs may not change as a result.  Regardless, I learned a lot so far, and expect to learn a lot more this week as I hear your feedback.

Best of luck – I hope you win and I hope you enjoy one of the packages I selected for you.

Oh yeah, and just in case the title wasn’t clear enough, I received a $500 gift card to shop at the store, share my experience and give you a chance to win $500 wish too.

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PR Newswire Emerging Media Event

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Yesterday I had the pleasure of sitting on a panel hosted by Michael Pranikoff and PR Newswire focusing on emerging media (though we talked a bit more about present day uses of social media). Joining me on the panel was Louis Gray and Tom Foremski – two uber smart guys. Louis wrote an excellent blog post reviewing some of the key points in the discussion, but really this is worth listening too – it was quite an insightful discussion all around, touching on both the strategic and the tactical. Listen in and let me know what you think.

Mobile post sent by chrisheuer using Utterlireply-count Replies.  mp3

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