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7 Social & Behavioral Lessons for Renewable Energy Marketers

Kelton Research, funded by Schott & SEIA

Can the way we present environmental messages help or hinder true behavioral change?

Too often, in order to encourage the adoption of environmental products, green marketers send messages pursuing simply the line of information, environmental benefits (eg. CO2 reduction) and, sad to say, even the use of what I'd call "scare factics" associated with the woes of climate change. Seemingly, there's a belief that more information per se can sway opinion and therefore sway behavioral change.

Let's look at the website of the Solar Energy Industries Association, which proudly displays on its home page, The Solar Barometer, based on a national poll of Americans' attitudes on solar energy. Truly, it's a very positive message: 9 out of 10 Americans  think it's important to develop and use solar power.

Yet there is a growing consensus that this purely informational approach is not working. As Douglas McKenzie-Mohr wrote in his recent book Fostering Sustainable Behavior: An Introduction to Community-Based Social Marketing


The failure of mass media campaigns to foster sustainable behavior is due in part to the poor design of the messages, but more importantly to an underestimation of the difficulty of changing behavior...Information campaigns alone will rarely bring about behavior change.


Now I'm not saying that that the Solar Barometer's messaging is poor. The graphic was primarily designed to appeal to legislators, as a "voice of the people", particularly as the data indicates that both Republicans and Democrats alike support solar. In this respect, the message serves its purpose.

But McKenzie is making an interesting point - particularly for those who think that messages such as the Solar Barometer are effective in encouraging solar adoption. In his book and his highly useful CBSM website, McKenzie  shows that such informationally based campaigns as well as those based on self-interested economics (eg. price discounts), simply aren't cutting it. And yet these strategies persist. Are the solar companies which I see rebroadcasting this Solar Barometer graphic reaching out to legislators? Or do some actually believe this will influence public perception and action? McKenzie brings forth data to raise doubt.

And so my last blog post  reviewed One Block Off The Grid's The Science of Social Pressure, an awesome infographic capturing the results of recent behavioral studies on the power of friends and neighbors to influence positive environmental change. The graphic makes a great case that renewable energy marketers would be better off to throw off the the strictly informational approach: Instead, they would be better served in devising a more compelling message to create a new social norm, using a gentler, more positive "Join us" tone of voice. 

As Tina Rosenberg has written in her book Join The Club: How Peer Pressure Can Change the World, if we really want to effect a social change we have to appeal to a basic instinct of all human beings: Our longing to connect with one another.

Today's social networks provide a fine vehicle for marketers to build these connections. For in the end, these online networks are simply a mirror of people's day-to-day real life interactions. But because of the "network effect", these social networks also have the power to amplify influence, aka change behavior, even while extending over a much wider reach than real life.

What lessons do the new behavioral studies, particularly when combined with social media, tell us that green marketers can use to advantage? Interweaving results from the offline behavioral studies and social media marketing worlds, I've summarized seven lessons below for green marketers which promise a more compelling approach.

1. Friend and Follow Your Installation Site Customers 

Most vendors of renewable energy technologies - particularly solar and wind, products which makes a significant physical and visual statement - are well aware that their new installations attract the interest of neighbors , both individual consumers and nearby companies. Solar contractors are quite familiar with this. The equipment goes up on a customer's house and, suddenly, passers-by are stopping. The typical (hopefully rhetorical) question is, "Hey, is that solar on your roof?" 

Less acknowledged is that this same curiosity effect can be multiplied significantly by using social networks. If these same solar installers were to hang out online and watch the stream of conversations, they'd find the same questions and discussions were occurring. 

Lesson? Reach out beyond the real-life physical neighbors of a customer to their online neighbors.  Study the social networks your new customers belong to and listen in. You may well find them bragging. (And if they aren't bragging, well, that's more reason to listen in.;-))

But, hopefully, you already knew all this.

You didn't know this? Your company is  late to use social media or has been giving it scant attention? OBOG's infographic as well as the data summarized in McKenzie's research, should give you pause to reprioritize.  You are not just missing out on conversations about your company. You are missing out on one of the most powerful marketing mechanisms to convert customer's friends and neighbors.


2.  Engage Directly Online

Just as when a solar consulting firm is onsite and fields questions for passers-by, this very same tactic can be used online. For it is perfectly acceptable social netiquette to chime in oto an ongoing online conversation, offering more information if the dialog asks for it. For example, a friend may ask a technical question of your customer online regarding your product that the customer can't answer. These types of conversations are occurring all over 24 x 7 the social networks. Below I show a couple of examples from Google+ and Twitter.


Don't expect your customer to necessarily point to you. Feel free to respectfully chime in with a substantive answer. And because we tread lightly these days, initially present commercial-free advice representing yourself as an industry source. If the person is moving closer to questions that fall within your product line, then and only then answer with a commercial response. And while it's  my observation that this is hard for many renewable energy marketers to adopt, the rewards for patience can be great.

3. Aim for Shareability and Likeability

As part of their social behavior, human beings who like each other tend to engage in mimicry, resharing good positive messages, particularly if what's provided is information rich , eg. a useful link or a witty statement or one cast alongside an emotionally-riveting photo or video. (You don't have to read the behavioral studies to know this. Twitter users know this well as retweeting, Facebook users know this as sharing)

So stop worrying about that marketing-speak phrase, 'company messaging" or rebroadcasting messages intended to influence legislators. Worry more about how your company conversations  fit inside the social fabric of your customers ongoing conversations. Once you acknowledge this highly social context, you become more aware of how off-putting one-way broadcasting, especially emitting purely commercial messages is.

 By adopting this polite but helpful demeanor, you are on the path to truly personalizing and humanizing your business and products. (Remember, some patience is required: You have to earn that spot to be put inside the trust circle of your customer's social context.) 

By the way, if you don't understand what I mean by "humanize" your company, I highly recommend your getting a copy of the book, Humanize: How People-Centric Organizations Succeed in a Social World. (A great introduction to the book's concepts can be found in this interview.)


4. Speak to People's Desire to Be Part of a Group 

You may remember from the OBOG infographic, that hotel visitors are much more likely to re-use their bathroom towels if the message is not just environmental, but encourages them to join in an environmental activity as part of a group.  "Save the planet" is 25% less powerful than "Join Us in Saving the Planet".

What's even more interesting is that  we are not only  more likely to be influenced by the behavior of a group, but results improve considerably  the more that group resembles us. The original study by Goldstein, Cialdini and Giskevicius showed that the more specific the messaging called out a group a hotel guest could relate to, the higher the rate of behavior adoption.

Effect of Social Context in Influencing Hotel Towel Reuse Behavior

When the marketing placard referenced towel  reuse figures for the hotel, the percentage increased to 44%. However, when the specific room that the guest was staying in was referred to, 49% reused their towels.

Given what we know from these behavioral studies, appealing to group behavior should be much more compelling than simply showcasing peoples' attitudes toward your technology.


5. Don't "Use", But Be a Participant in Social Networks

This may seem  a nuance. But too often i hear companies and their consultants alike talk about "using social media". That phrase I believe perpetuates a very superficial level of usage.

Here's a great cultural reality check: Are you comfortable describing that your company as belonging and collaborating on social networks?  If you can answer a definitive "Yes" to that question, great! Your company is more likely to be gaining the benefits of social interaction, not simply  replacing your traditional marketing broadcasts with, for instance, Twitter broadcasts or Facebook re-plays of your latest press releases.

Remember, because we are social creatures, it's often the one-to-one interactions that carry the most credibility to other online observers.

6.  Leverage Group Online Buying Psychology

Renewable energy retailers in particular can take a social lesson from One Block Off the Grid's use  of Groupon, an online daily deal site promoting discount coupon sales. During the past year, Groupon and competitor LivingSocial have rapidly expanded their membership base to tens of millions of bargain seekers seeking discounts on all forms of mainstream products and services. One Block off The Grid's use demonstrates that these coupon services can also be valuable to vendors of much high-priced items. The below one-day deal attracted 26 people to spend nearly $100 apiece to save some $1000 on a solar installation.


Yes, we've always known as marketers that customers respond to"One Day Only!" as an urgent call-to-action.  But the online daily deal companies go a step further, using an onsite counter that shows how many people have taken the deal, giving onlookers an index of the deal's popularity. This again, speaks to  basic human social psychology: We see other people taking the deal and the deal becomes more appealing to us. These daily deal sites are leveraging the Principle of Scarcity:  The  changing deals-sold counter number appearing nearby a countdown clock fuels urgency among potential buyers-- especially where there is a limited supply. 


7. Return to Community Marketing Basics

In a sense, with both social networks and the successes of neighborhood action efforts , we are seeing a return to grass roots community-based marketing. For a great example, check out out Oakland's Solar Mosaic project, a community-based action and creation financing effort, putting solar tiles one by one on community centers.

Oakland Solar Mosaic from Solar Mosaic on Vimeo.

True enough, neighborhood action efforts, especially where arising from an NGO or government initiative, are not disposed to endorsing specific vendor technologies. But that said, companies who  keep their ear to the ground (both offline and online) for these neighborhood action campaigns, especially those ready with easy-to-install, use and maintain products accompanied by solar lease financing,  stand to benefit immensely.

presentation from the National Renewable Energy Lab captures well some of the fundamental state changes we are seeing in energy marketing, moving toward community-based social marketing. Although intended for energy conservation efforts, for renewable energy companies as well, it's a very worthy read.

Both social marketing studies and social media marketing share some common values. Authoritarian voice is out, peer discussion is in.  One-way broadcast persuasion is out, collaboration is in. Madison Avenue tactics are out, recommendations made between neighbors on Facebook or during a group bicycle ride are in.

In both cases, neighbor to neighbor communication is The New Black. (At least in the context we are discussing here, the main difference between the two is whether the successful behaviors are done online or offline.)

So in communicating with the online neighbors of your customers, hyperlocalize your online message for advantage. Don't hold back in calling out in tweets and Facebook  status messages the town names and neighborhoods where you have recently installed a renewable energy technology. This not only adds concreteness and reality to your messages, but provides a valuable search term for your message to be discovered online. Most importantly, in spelling out your familiarity with a locale, you are already one leg up in building trust within that locale.


Wrap-up. Before devising your next great marketing campaign around your environmental product, think of it more as a social experiment, one where you connect your company into your customer's community circles.

This is best done as a peer, not as a broadcaster. Sad to say, too many renewable energy companies are still not aware of the behavioral science studies indicating these 80s-90's environmental  marketing tactics need to be abandoned.

What we know now is we should table the information statistics. It's really back to basics, folks.  Your social experiment will be more effective if your message speaks to a very primal social need in people: Their need to collaborate and belong to a group.

Has your environmental company been successful in leveraging social behavior - either offline or online? Feel free to share in the comments.

Photo 1 image credit


Goldstein, N.J., Cialdini, R.B., Griskevicius, V. A Room with a Viewpoint: Using Social Norms to Motivate Environmental Conservation in Hotels  J. of Consumer Research, Inc. ● Vol. 35 ● August 2008




The Viral Nature of Doing Good & The Search for The Subservient Chicken

Like many a marketing consultant, I often get questions from clients on how their business can achieve a greater brand awareness, more influence, more twitter followers, more mentions, more likes on their Facebook fan page, more WOM, more buzz.

When it comes down to it, most companies have the desire to "go viral". And underlying this is the belief that if only they had the right PR stunt, the right social media strategy and the best platforms and tools to support these, that somehow all would converge to create an unstoppable force of demand for their product or service. I like to think of all this as The Search for The Subservient Chicken.

Yet as much as its relatively easy to go through all the motions - to get the tools and platforms, implant your company on the social networks- the truly hard part is adopting a sustained cultural change of acting outside the usual corporate boundaries. Some of the most successful viral PR stunts work because they go outside these boundaries, striking directly to a pure emotional connection between a company and its fans. Certainly there's a wide spectrum of activities to align a brand with a wider  social and world purpose - whether its to position the brand within a social cause, an environmental concern or by participating in disaster relief. These are so close to corporate philanthropic roots that most companies get that part. The far harder part is to realise that it's the simple acts of kindness, of generosity and helping that can create a powerful wave of good will - the much sought after humanized brand. One of the main posts of this post is that even fewer realize that there's a potent source of viral energy that they're already paying for today - your employees.

Do you really need grand gestures to seize a PR moment? Take a look at the recent publicity when HARO founder and CEO of The Geek Factory, Peter Shankman tweeted on a plane that he'd really like a Morton's porterhouse steak. As described on his blog, the company listened and when Shankman arrived at his destination, a nice 24 ounce steak was waiting for him, brought by Morton's Steakhouse employees. All took place within 3 hours.

Now that's a fabulous PR and brand coup for Morton's.  But I'd submit (along with Danny Brown) that part of the reason this act of goodness met with some controversy  is that the stunt was viewed as not part of the day to day culture of the Morton's brand, but rather a pure PR stunt aimed at a customer known to have 10,000+ Twitter followers. It might have been a steak delivered, but many smelled a subservient chicken in the bag.  (To Morton's credit, the company followed up later by delivering steaks to lesser known customers who tweeted a hashtag.)

But too often, as I'll expand on here, companies have blinders on: The day-to-day actions of their company and  employees are outside the larger world and social context. The majority of firms consider that these externalities are light years away from their daily business interests.

Want to go viral?  Be a mensch of a company. Allow your employees to do good.

For there's a fundamental state change underfoot. And there's indication that humanizing a brand is not an institutional act, but rather best carried out by letting "the humans formerly known as your employees" more than occasionally hold the reins of your brand.

Here are a few stories that make this point in entirely different but interweaving ways.

Twitter: Technology for Scaling Good

Take Amy Jo Martin's recent piece in the Harvard Business Review.  Ms. Martin, founder of Digital Royalty,  knows a lot about scaling smiles to a national level. In her agency's wildly popular "Random Acts of Shaqness", famous NBAer Shaquille O'Neal  posed as a statue in Harvard Square so fans could take pictures of him. Like the steak delivered to Shankman, this is quite a simple act of kindness and celebrity-to-fan connectivity.

Ms. Martin's thesis in the post can be summarized by her revelation that "Twitter creates a strange chemistry between the seemingly immiscible elements of self-centeredness and altruism".  In her view, the brand amplifying power of Twitter, what makes goodness scale on the platform, is that "Twitter connects 200 million participants 24/7 on an open network that enables instantaneous delivery and nearly instantaneous delivery."


Similarly, reflecting on what made this year's Woman's World Cup Finals between Japan and US such a phenomenally viral Twitter event,  where twitter records were broken with 7,196 tweets per second, Ms. Martin explores the value of emotional connections of brands to their fans, writing,

"This was about live emotion, feeling good and creating more "good"... People want to help and people want to witness others helping each other."

One feature of Twitter she points out captured my attention. She writes,

"Accountability and transparency spin narcissistic acts into selfless acts. You tend to be on your best behavior in public and on Twitter, everything you say is public...Twitter invites constant surveillance of your ideas. It's the epitome of positive peer pressure, and leads to people using the channel to broadcast what they want the rest of the world to think about them"

Her message to corporations is that too few realise that  these same desires for human-to-human connection as well as  peer pressure forces are operating when people as employees are interacting on social networks. Extending her observation to the corporate world, Ms. Martin intriguingly suggests "This is an opportunity to motivate employees and to add purpose to their work day in a way that's unmatched historically".

Many companies may pause on this point: Is this branding expert really saying Twitter can influence employee motivation? That human to human interactions on a social network can work to a company's unplanned benefit and impact brand? Yes! She like others has come to the view that the emotional ties, the simple day-to-day reciprocities which occur on Twitter and other social networks can create stronger emotional ties to the company brand. It's not viral ad-powered, it's people-powered.

But there's even a more compelling reason for brands  to attend to the emotional connections being sparked by their employees on the social networks. Namely - there's a significant "humanizing" movement  taking place in business practice offline.

You can sniff this  change in the air particularly among new wave of social entrepreneurs. Far from the common corporate view that doing good and philanthropic acts are add-ons to a brand, the movement sees doing good, interacting and collaborating as a key part of a company's actions, as important as its products and services offered.


Designing Good into the Product: Stanford's d.school 

The new movement afoot dislodges the traditional corporate mainstay dependence on safe insularity and product focus within a company, emphasising instead integrating the outside world and highly social connections into product design.

Case in point: The Stanford d.school. Most of the write-ups on the d.school focus on its innovative use of work space, its non-hierarchical approach to the design process and its "IDEO in the Classroom" method of  encouraging multidisciplinary and cooperative thinking.

And while all these elements surely play in the d.school's emergent success, my interest here is in its human-centered design, where often social good is a key starting point in teaching the product and service design process.

As d.school founder, David Kelley describes,

"We want to try to develop empathy for people, see what the value is to humans and try to use that to create big ideas, so we call our method human-centered design. There's a creative act in trying to decide what problem is worth working in the first place".

A key part of the school's process is that students themselves think of what problems need addressing, focusing on social or institutional conditions that pose challenges for human beings. Encouragement is offered by the types of courses offered:

  • Designing Liberation Technologies focuses on fostering democracy.
  • d.health: You've Been Warned covers aiding individuals with threatening medical profiles
  • Entrepreneurial Design for Extreme Affordability, focused on products for the developing world

And societal purpose is obvious in the projects and products delivered:

  • A water pump that dramatically improved the ability of Myanmar farmers to irrigate their land
  • The "Embrace", a low-cost baby warmer, designed to decrease the large number of hypothermia-related infant deaths around the world
  • Project Goldfinger, addressing remedies to male mid-life crisis
  • Project Amplify, a crowdsourced micro-investment strategy benefiting emerging musical artists.

It's no wonder that students from many disciplines at Stanford are fighting their way into the d.school.

What's important in our discussion here is that for the first time we have a new generation of entrepreneur and business problem solvers entering the world that are trained to work collaboratively and with passion. 

Common & How The Subservient Chicken Has Evolved

This brings me to a second and highly related case of the new humanized business movement: Common, the brain child of world-class designers and sustainability business thinkers, Alex & Ana Bogusky, Rob Schuham and John Bielenberg, is a newly formed creative community whose mission is to rapidly prototype social ventures --- all done under a unified and collaborative brand. 

Prefatory but important side note: Given that we are discussing the virality of doing good, it is somewhat ironic that Bogusky is best known as one of the primary creators of Burger King's 2005's Subservient Chicken campaign. But let's continue..

As the founders describe, the goal of Common is to "lift up the little ideas that are big enough to change the world." Much as in the d.school, Common's view is that collaboration is the new competition. And their endgame is to create an umbrella brand  "designed by the community, owned by the community and for the community". 

Warning, Onlooking Corporations: These entities are forming a new generation of companies where good is embedded in the product. This is what happens when collaboration is allowed to run rampant. Harkening back to Paul Hawken's The Ecology of Commerce, in these new social entrepreneurial organizations, the corporate good is merged with the common good.

The question is: Why can't today's corporations see the power of harnessing the collective energy of employees much as these newer organizations are harnessing the energy of students and social entrepreneurs?  

It is worth asking yourself: If your company isn't comfortable now with employees collaborating offline and online with customers, how well will your company fare in a new world where...

The New Competition is Collaboration?

Some insight into harnessing the motivational energy  that Ms. Martin is referring to and that both the Stanford d.school and Common are exploring, is provided by Yochai Benkler, Harvard professor and author of The Penguin and the Leviathan: How Cooperation Triumphs Over Self-Interest. Benkler's thesis is there's a misbegotten framework adopted by most of today's corporate leaders trained in an era where  humans, and ergo employees, were believed to be, by nature, hardwired to be selfish, uncooperative and hence, to be distrusted in acting good. (Note: PR, marketing and advertising humans seem to be exempt from this belief system). Instead, Benkler's research - drawing from behavioral studies, nueroscience and more recent economic theories -  supports a view that humans are naturally generous, cooperative and selfless.

In a recent article, The Unselfish Gene, Benkler gives several examples of how humans are naturally collaborative. 

In 2009, Elinor Ostrom was awarded the Nobel Prize in economics for showing how commons can—and do—sustain themselves for centuries as well-functioning systems. The most striking example is in Spain, where thousands of farmers have been managing their access to water through self-regulated irrigation districts for more than five centuries. To take another example, 75% of U.S. cities with populations of more than 50,000 have successfully adopted some version of community policing, which reduces crime not by imposing harsher penalties but by humanizing the interactions of the police with local communities.

He goes on to describe other technology examples of fairly low-assisted human collaboration which are reliable and sustainable: From Wikipedia, the user-generated reviews of Yelp to TripAdvisor, he contrasts these as triumphant over the more traditional command-and-control architectures managed by appointed editors. eg. Encyclopedia Britannia, Zagat's and Fodor's.

The crux of his case though seems to rest on more recent cooperative behavior studies which suggest that only 30% of people act selfishly in experiments whereas 50%-70% behave cooperatively (more or less, depending on the context).

Benkler concludes that "Anyone designing a cooperative system - be it an organization process, a legal regime or a technical platform - optimising it for only 30% of the of the population - leaves on the table a massive amount of human potential".

In a sense, Ms. Martin and Mr. Belcher are discussing the same phenomenon:  There's wasted motivation, unleveraged human (and brand value) potential in the traditional corporate assumption that employees cannot productively and sustainably engage, online or offlline, with other humans.

The Power of Saying Something Nice

So we see, from a variety of different angles, brand savants, design creatives and organizational experts are coming to the conclusion that traditional corporate settings and processes restrict the natural human creative ability to perform their best.

If only there were a palpable, very concrete means to demonstrate to corporations the power of humans as a collective brand?  After all, we see this daily when someone steps out of their way to tell a stranger a kind word, offers a helping hand. We see it in grand gestures such as "Jonathan's Card", where Jonathan Stark offered his Starbucks Card online to whoever wanted a free coffee. The act enthralled many, especially when we saw others pay it forward, adding to the balance of the card, allowing still others to join in. (Yes, even though the venture was "hacked", note this was done by someone intending a different form of good purpose.)

One direct experiential proof of the inherent virality of doing good is captured by last week's YouTube video  created by Improv Anywhere. The agency simply put a wooden lectern in the middle of a busy New York City intersection with a small sign indicating, "Say Something Nice". Then they let the cameras roll. Take a look at it.


To me, perhaps the most startling moment in the video is when a small toddler, held up by his mother and with a Buzz Lightyear doll in tow, comes up to the megaphone and shouts, " To Infinity and Beyond!"  Why that three year old boy gets it better than most management consultant trained corporations. And the purity of the message is amplified as we know its unplanned, without contrivance and free of corporate governance. It's said simply because people, with the little nudge of a "Say something nice" sign  and a megaphone, want to share. It's a pure human-to-human communication. And we rejoice in hearing it.

Improv Everywhere's social-inducing street props and the distinctively  human behavior which ensued -  voluntary and spontaneous as it was  -  clearly had a positive effect on the onlooking passersby. The 1.6 million viewings of the YouTube video tell us viral distribution occurs through emotional connections sparked - from individual to individual.


Humanizing a Brand: The Human Formerly Known as Employees


Strangely, most companies do not realise that this collective human force can be extended to their own brands. They are too impatient for Subservient Chicken to be served.

Yet the power of the legendary @ComcastCares twitter account was not any single viral ad campaign or PR stunt, but rather the persistent and diligent customer service efforts of one employee, Frank Eliason, in serving hundreds of customers online. So too with Zappos: There never was any singular PR stunt, any grand gesture, that humanized the brand. Rather Zappo's reputation for being human evolved from the thousands of tweets from hundreds of individual employees interacting with enthusiastic customers.

Fortunately, as Francois Gossieaux points out in his insightful post, Three Ways Brands Can Be More Human,  we see some companies stepping up to the For-Humans-By-Humans plate. He writes,

At IBM, every employee can create a community about whatever they want, with whomever they want, and using whichever tool they want. What is the company trying to do? It's trying to get 300,000 human seats at the tables where buying recommendations are being made.

At Xerox and Humana, they identified all internal active bloggers and social networkers, 80 percent of whom talk about things that have nothing to do with work. The companies pre-brief them about major company announcements as if they were press. What are they trying to do? Get more human seats at those tables where buying decisions are being made.


As much as some managers may blanch pale at the thought of unencumbering employees, it's clear at least some companies are allowing their employees to share their humanity (and indirectly and directly the company brand) on company time.

The irony is that, despite the fact that public trust in government, institutions and large business is low, and that PR and advertising are viewed as among some of the most highly suspect industries, most companies are quite resistant to leveraging  "Brand Force Human", a brand that hasn't been tarnished. It's as though realizing  that word of mouth and product reviews are out of their control and now rampant on the social networks, these companies hold tighter still, controlling their remaining precious cargo.

Perhaps enterprises can learn from recent upheavals in the journalism and news world. There, Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at NYU, coined the phrase "The People Formerly Known as the Audience"  , used to describe the closing gap between the professional media world and readers/watchers wrought by New Media and its newly engaged participants. Rosen was referring to the fact that today's "news readers" are active participants: They can pick up a camera, tweet a nearby event, provide thought pieces on a blog. In short, the traditional tools of professional journalism were now firmly in the hands of the people. Indeed, even as the news democratized, many resisted unleashing their own staff to have the same level of autonomy and access to social tools. For many, it took their news organizations down.

Enterprise business needs to confront the fact that the forces that broke down the barriers between the publishers and end users in traditional media are also at work between corporate brand makers and their audience. More corporations need to realise that  "the humans formerly known as employees" can play an active, constructive role in humanizing their branding, and, as Ms. Martin points out, use inexpensive social networks to do so. 

Until they do realise this, the new social entrepreneurs will lead the way. 

Photo credits:

Women's World Cup: AP Photo/Koji Sasahara
Stanford's d.school whiteboard: Fast Company



The Future of Social Advertising: Can We Turn Brillo into Art?


Andy Warhol once said one of his goals was to be regarded as such as a brilliant conversationalist that people would pay him to attend parties (and he could list his party expenses as a tax-writeoff).

 Who  of us, whether celebrity or not, would not like to monetize our personality?

 Pay for Tweet companies (think Ad.ly, MyLikes.com, Sponsored Tweets) know this only too well. Actually, the problem is, they don't care if you have an engaging personality or tweet talent, they only require your willingness to serve as a passive vessel for an embedded link.

 And yet, these folks have not had it easy. With the ethos of the TwitterSphere valuing  transparency and authenticity,  the imposition of the FTC guidelines on advertiser  disclosure  as well as Twitter's own advertising guidelines, the Tweet-for-Pay market has had its challenges.

Even with these barriers, social advertising, specifically, ads appearing in the social stream, is inevitable. In February, Twitter released a video indicating promoted tweets would be hitting the public timeline of users by April. Facebook too is moving to provide a version of Twitter's promoted tweets into the Facebook news feed. We've not only seen Skype introduce ads recently but investor confidence behind social advertising was signalled with the March $5.6 Million investment in MyLikes.com. Providing the backdrop to all this, Twitter has indicated that sponsored tweets result in a 3-5% engagement ratio compared against today's 0.3% CTR of banner ads.  So it's no surprise that advertisers are chomping at the bit to get in your stream.

Interestingly, while the Tweet-for-Pay market was stalled in 2010, Klout, with its Klout Perks reward program, thrived well. Even as much as the exuberance for Klout is somewhat waning, CEOs of Tweet-for-Pay companies must surely look upon Klout's PR and market  position with some envy and frustration. Klout traffic is up nearly 50% over the year, whereas Sponsored Tweets is down 25% and Ad.ly down 71%. (Now some of these companies may argue that traffic isn't an indicator as they've repositioned for the exclusive celebrity tweet business. However, I will argue later, that that may be problematic long-term.)


Soure: Compete.com

On the one hand, Klout Perks and  Tweet-for-Pay are not that different: In the end, both business models reward tweeters, one with direct monetary reward, the other with sponsor gifts. On the other hand, there are some critical differences, ones which suggest some lessons on how future advertising might be incorporated into Twitter with less disruption.

Differences that Make a Critical Difference

1. Klout Perks are a Customer Loyalty Program

Klout Perks are achieved not by advocating specific brands, but rather by attaining a high Klout score, done only through online engagement.  Avoiding the FTC challenges, Klout Perks specify that rewards are received with no obligation to acknowledge the sponsoring reward company or its products. The company knows that many of the Klout Perk rewardees will in fact cross the line anyway and, in so doing, reward sponsors with their due.  This is powerful psychology: Leveraging the guilt of accepting the gift motivates the tweeter to mention the advertiser's name. Examples of these actions (and the envious/admiring reactions of others) are shown below:


2. Klout Perks Do Not Obnoxiously Intrude upon the Twitter Ecosystem

This one I realise is debatable. But overall, Klout Perks have a fairly high threshold to achieve a reward. Even while the average twitterer has a Klout score of 11, generally Klout Perks do not kick in for scores below 40  and for follower counts less than 2000-3000. [Post Update: Pls note these numbers are based on my qualitative observations, not on any known published figures from Klout or others.] As much as this high threshold eliminates a great deal of the Twitter hoi poloi, the relatively infrequent post of the Twitterati boasting of their Perks, keeps the Twittersphere abuzz and Wannabees reaching for the prize.  Happy Happy Closed Loopness.


3. Klout Perks are also in Twitter's Business Interest

As Klout rewards high Klout scorers on the basis of their participation levels in using Twitter (and yes, Facebook and LinkedIn) their interests dovetail with Twitter's desire to encourage participation on their platform. (Contributing to keeping the two companys' business goals in line, Klout has overlapping investors with Twitter.  For awhile, both companies even resided in the same building.)


4. Klout Perks Create a Game-like Atmosphere

As pointed out by Thomas Moradpour, Klout's social scoring system provides not only a game-like, addictive and competitive vehicle, but in viewing the Klout score components, users better understand the levers to increase their online influence. Yes, I've pointed out in the past this can be used to game the system, but it also can be used productively.


5. Klout Successfully Interloped the Celebrity Tweet Ecosystem

Living out Andy Warhol's vision of getting paid for personality, today many celebrities have lined up for the MyLikes, Ad.ly and Sponsored Tweet programs. However, most of these programs also use the Klout score as a core component in calculating the $1000 - $25,000 dollars paid for a celebrity tweet. Effectively, Klout has seized position as the online Q-score for celebrities, allowing it to fulfill the role of a "Nielsen rating for Social Media". This has allowed the entrance of a new generation of social media stars that also need a metric for calculating the value of their tweets. In the end, we remember that it was Klout, not Sponsored Tweets, that Britney Spears managers came to when they wanted to increase the star's social pay-grade.

When it comes to winning over the hearts and minds of Twitter (and after all, that is how a company connects the users to advertisers) Klout has taught the Pay-for-Tweet players that you have play into the Twitter infrastructure, making it a win for the service provider too.  As Twitter develops its own advertising model, it will become even more imperative for  Pay-for-Tweet companies to achieve synergy, not competition, with Twitter.

The Future of InStream Advertising: One Scenario

It seems there are two very different underlying currents driving future social advertising: Everyday Joes and Janes seeking to monetize their tweets and Celebrity Tweeters, a world that traditional advertisers are familiar with from the old school channel world of celebrity endorsements.

In pursuing both these groups, Tweet-for-Pay companies can learn much from observing Klout. Should they too diversify their offerings to provide a rewards program, balancing their existing FTC issues? Should they not be rewarding for pure engagement also, allowing a better fit to Twitter's own business model,justifying additional server infrastructure? What can they do better than Klout? Certainly, leader boards would urge-on ad-tweeters in a more game-like, addictive fashion. And, as pointed out by The Brand Builder , there are openings for Klout or a reward-diversified Tweet-for-Pay company to better match the gifts received to influential blogger's interests. (Hint: Olivier Blanchard wants Faconnable and chihuahua accessories, Beth Harte wants Hermes).

Whether it's Klout, Twitter or others meeting these needs, a serious upswing in Social Advertising is clearly in our future timelines. But as obnoxious as it is to do a Twitter Search on terms like "MyLikes" or "ad.ly" or "sponsoredtweet" and see the roiling carney show of artless broadcast advertising, I do not think the Tweet-for-Pay companies are ignoring the lessons of the Klout Perks program. Please don't - for the quality of the Twittersphere and your own survival depend on it.

How will the social ad market play out? The figure below is what i believe is the most likely play-out of Advertising's entrance into the Twitter feed, shown by the projected ratio of ad-related tweets to generic tweet volume. (The envelope reflects both the tweets of individuals seeking to monetize as well as celebrity tweet ads.)


Yes, initially, we can expect a steep uptick in the volume of sponsored tweets.  However, this initial hyped volume will not be sustainable for several reasons:

  • A likely  initial rebellion by the "Let's be authentic" twitter population. (Twitter's March ad video forecasts this.)
  • Increasing pressure on Twitter's server load, and related, 
  • The  conflict of some Pay-for-Tweet companies with Twitter's own advertising model.

Even post an initial shake-out, I do see a secondary but damped peak as advertising companies take on a more sophisticated "Klout-like" model,  providing engaging leader boards as well as encouraging more artful, entertaining ad-tweets (including @MayorEmanuel style parody accounts and the equally hilarious Big Lebowski and Seinfeld tweet bots).  

In the spirit of turning Brillo into Art, there are efforts by celebrity tweet advertisers to keep the advertising in the style of the celebrity's own personality. For instance, Snoop Dogg's tweet for Toyota's minivan...

 Some of this Brillo-into-Art alchemy will work: But will Charlie Sheens' tweets sell more JagerMeister or bring on more Miami Bang Van customers? Maybe in those cases. But overall, in the second (green) phase of social advertising, I expect a decline in overall celebrity pay-for-tweet volume  associated with poor ROI results. Why? As I've posted before on the ill-begotten belief in large numbers ,  there is good data  that large follower counts do not necessarily lead to online opinion change or product sales.

After the Celebrity Tweet Bubble bursts, we can expect a damped third peak(blue phase) leading to a sustainable level of sponsored tweets.  This will be driven by  then-smarter advertisers and their agencies redirecting sponsored tweet dollars and gifts toward less-connected users but ones with identifiable networks of influence for particular product/interest groups. Because this is where the ROI lies.

The good new is there truly is a New New Market for non-celebrities  to monetize their tweets. The Twittersphere will tolerate this - a normalizing market correction - by users opting out, un- following those whose  tweet ads do not fit their line of interest.

In the end, instream advertising - especially where it is artful and engaging - will prevail.  

What's your vision of the future of instream social advertising? Do you think we can turn Brillo into Art? Or is Twitter doomed for ad clutter, where our Art  will turn into Brillo?


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Skyfire, App Launch & The Accidental Genius of Server Crashing

(A version of this post previously appeared  in Digital Pivot)

In case you hadn't noticed, there's a whole new way to get media headlines for your software product or app, make your competitors cry, get your VCs  to wet their pants with excitement, and in the midst of technical chaos, gain a whole new crop of customers on Opening Day.

It’s simple. On opening day of your app launch, have your servers go down.

Here’s the flow logic: Consumers want your product, they can’t get it , they get angry, they tweet, the media reports your servers are crashing, and more consumers arrive to download what they can’t get.

Hot dang, your company didn't forecast the server load requirements accurately, and for this technical error, the market rewards you with valuable public relations and social networking buzz.

Is there an app company out there that doesn’t want this hot mess?

Technically speaking, server crashing on Opening Day is nothing new. It’s been going on since Web 1.0 and the high-flying days of Amazon, AOL, and eBay. While I am not in any way advocating you crash your servers purposefully, it is my perception that the phenomenon is not only increasing in frequency, but taking up more “air time” during a product roll-out day.

Think I’m exaggerating? Check out my collection of media-significant server crashes and service outages.

Crush-It-by-Crashing-It Hall of Fame 

My Hall of Fame includes Skyfire, Angry Birds/GetJar, FlipBoard and, of course, Twitter.

Two weeks ago, app maker SkyFire released a new version of their mobile browser, noteworthy as the first browser  to support Adobe Flash for iPhoners. Was there much demand? Oh yes. Were their servers unable to service all the new users? Yes.  So SkyFire pulled the app off the market the very first day, citing they were " taking time to upgrade their servers".

What's interesting is that the way they pulled it off (no pun intended) was to post signs all over the Web saying they were “sold out.” This is, of course, an impossibility for a mobile app, but it’s wonderful market repositioning (aka turning a fail into a feature).

Then there's Angry Birds...or more properly, their distributor, GetJar.


Angry Birds & GetJar

Much of  SkyFire’s “we’re too popular for our bandwidth” bravado seemed aimed at one-upping the wildly popular mobile game, Angry Birds.

It was only some two weeks ago that mobile game app maker Rovio released a new version of their app Angry Birds and independent app store GetJar’s servers went down.

Looking into the GetJar blog gives a feel for their  angst.


Eight to 10 times higher peak loads?

More than 10 million downloads a day?

At one point GetJar’s Twitter account reported it had 90,000 downloads "in seconds." Yowza. That's technical agony but marketing ecstasy, right?

FlipBoard, the iPad App

Our next server crash celebrity is Flipboard, the personalized social magazine that works on iPad. On opening day, with glowing write-ups from the likes of The Wall St. Journal and  Robert Scoble, consumer interest was piqued. However, as users downloaded the app and attempted to use the service’s social networking features, it became clear that the servers were overloaded.

With the technical problems continuing into the next day, the media and popular blog news headlines turned cynical.


No list of crashnauts would be complete without Twitter. Though not an app, but a social networking platform, their numerous service outages are legendary. In some ways, Twitter legitimized the server-outage-as-popularity indicator: After all, the Fail Whale became a much beloved icon, having its own Twitter group and its own fan page.

Ironically, this month PC Magazine reports that in September Twitter experienced the best up- time in three years. However, doesn’t that make us Twitter users a little sad too? Gone are the days when we all had to fight our way into Twitter?

That’s what’s really what’s going on here -- whether intentional or not. It turns out scarcity has its virtues.


Server Crashing and the Scarcity Principle

We’re all familiar with the scarcity principle from retail store sales. (Think “while supplies last" or “this week only!”)

It seems if something is rare or only available for a limited time, humans somehow will find it more desirable.

Recognizing this, some companies overtly control  the supply of their goods to put a lever on demand. The classic case is De Beers. Buying an immense quantity of diamonds on the world market, the company releases their supply in highly limited amounts, thereby maintaining high desirability and a high price.

Are some software companies “leveraging demand” by creating  scarcity on  their Opening Day?


"Accidental" Genius?

Why do otherwise highly tech-competent companies (often venture-capital rich) fail to forecast their server load?

If you didn’t know better, you might suspect it to be a specific activity called for in the Marketing Plan. (At least one blogger suggested Microsoft was guilty of this during search engine Bing’s service issues in late 2009.)

But we do know better. Clearly, angering customers by announcing a marketing launch and not having product or service available is not a good practice. Even more clearly, if you are charging for your downloaded products (or like GetJar, if you are distributing for a popular app), it’s not survivor behavior.
In this age of freemium, one must wonder that when the spotlights are on, does just a little bit of downtime do just a little bit of good? Is it too nefarious to ask: Has any behavioral cyber-economist studied whether bringing a server down for one hour on opening day spurs on incremental demand over the next 10 hours?

What do you think? Did I miss any good crushing crash stories?

Have companies just become clever at repositioning an execution flaw, or is the Fail Whale sometimes winking at us?



Small Businesses & Social Media: Many Missing in Action?


A recent Reuters release, Small business, social media not mixing caught my eye. The release highlighted a survey of small businesses conducted by Citibank Small Business with the somewhat surprising finding:

Three-quarters of small businesses say they have not found sites such Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn helpful for generating business leads or expanding business in the past year.”

On the face of it, this seems to fly in the face of several studies showing the tremendous impact of social media. Three studies, using online marketing tools used often by small business, come to mind:

1. Paid search

A recent study published by GroupM Search and comScore. showed that consumer’s exposed to a brand’s social media when combined with  paid search programs are 2.8 times more likely to search for the brand’s products when compared to users who only saw paid seach.

2. Blogs

 A HubSpot study of 795 small–to-medium sized businesses that blog found that the average “blogging” small company  gets 55%  more visitors.  Although not addressed in that study, considering that Twitter is micro-blogging,  one would expect it to raise a small business’ web traffic as well.  And certainly  some reports  (eg. O'Reilly's  “Twitter Drives Traffic, Sales”  indicate that it does.

3. Email Marketing

A study by Silverpop, found that combining social networking with email as well can be very powerful. Looking at email marketing reach of emails which included links to Facebook, MySpace and Twitter,  the study found

....shared emails evaluated for the study delivered an average increase in reach of 24.3 percent (based on original emails delivered), and this figure is expected to increase exponentially once sharing becomes mainstream.

Small Biz SocialMedia Wunderkin are Outliers?


You don’t have to go very deep into the social bookmarking sites, to find many fine super-list collections of small business case studies describing spectacular results from social media. Some of the better known include:

52Teas, an online tea e-tail site

CPA for Small Business

Coffee Grounds, a Houston coffee shop

 Kogi Taco Truck

Or check out Jason’s Fall’s recent roundup of small business case studies

Are these well-known small business case studies startling exceptions?  Are they the cherry-picked, well-trained poster children of the Marketing Elite, selling their Social Media Kool-Aid?

Well - as all technology bubbles are prone to encompass a greater sphere of influence than reality can measure, so too with small businesses and social media.


Why Would a Small Business Not be Benefiting from Social Media?

Why would small businesses report  finding little business advantage to using social media, given the remarkably positive results of the above studies?

Certainly, my own experience  with small companies is that they often do not have the resources to blog, Twitter or set up multiple presences on social networks. This in itself is no profound or new insight. The  HubSpot study mentioned that  a considerable number of the small businesses they sampled do NOT blog (nearly half of their total sample, or 736 companies, did not ).  But cultivating a blog is a well-known social media tactic for fully using Twitter and other social networks as a distribution mechanism. (Okay- now we are starting to get somewhere in understanding this...)

Many Small Businesses are Actually Living in Web 1.5

Following this line of thought, there are two simple explanations for the disparity:  First, in line with the fact that only 50% are blogging, many small businesses have unfortunately, not caught up with even the first generation of Web 2.0 tools to leverage the newer social networks and social media tools. 

Many Small Businesses do not understand Social Media integrates with All the Assets within their Current Online Marketing Strategy.

Second, and I believe more important, it may be that many small businesses are not  properly integrating their social media use into their other online marketing activities.

If there is anything we are learning about social media tools and social networks, it’s that they are  not stand-alone devices.  Rather, they are best used when combined in concert with other online marketing  tools and , certainly, when integrated into an overall online marketing strategy.  As the paid search and Silverpop email studies demonstrated well, the effectiveness of these well-known online tools is magnified by their co-use with social media.

Perhaps, stepping quietly and timidly into these tools, many small businesses are not aware of the synergies inherent to social media use:  Social bookmarking, blogging, participation and co-linking across multiple social networks are well-known to exert a compounding effect on a company's brand.

Are small businesses failing at the strategy level, i.e. not setting a social marketing plan in place?  Or are they failing at the tactical execution level, i.e. not integrating their online marketing tools properly?

They Can't Listen when They Aren't There

The answer may lie in the other intriguing statistic uncovered by the CitiBank study, namely,

86% [ of small businesses surveyed] said they have not used social networking sites for information or business advice.

 Wow! There's part of our answer.

If  the small company executives can’t find their way to the experts, surely, they cannot find good guidance to proper use of the technology, including the large cultural shift we are learning is part of the social media experience.

 A very self-fulfilling prophesy indeed!

Your thoughts?  (I'd  especially love to hear from you small businesses that have ventured into social media.)



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What if The Beatles and The Pope Used Twitter on the Same Day?

Posted on Tuesday, July 7, 2009 10:00 PM EST

Admittedly, that's an absurdist title. But, as I'll show, perhaps not so absurdist given recent postings on Twitter.

Believe me. I am a great fan of Twitter: I'm as ardent an advocate, passionista, social media evangelista as nary can be found in the Southeastern United States. I carefully curate my small Twitter feed. I endeavor to keep a pretty high S/N ratio of information flow. I promote Twitter as a highly-effective low-cost new media channel to clients. Why I don't even attach much credence to recent forecasts that Facebook (through its continuous "Follow Twitter's development path" updates) ultimately prevails over Twitter.

But something, well, specifically four tweets and their associated blog postings, struck me as a bit odd yesterday.

Mind you, not one of these postings alone seen on separate days would capture my extended attention. However, that all of them occurred within the same 24-hour period definitely captured the cross-correlators within my pattern recognition system.

It all started with the subject of a Friendfeed posting yesterday....

What If the Beatles Used Twitter?

This somewhat whimsical blog post of course asserted that The Beatles would have doubled their professional and personal fortune if they had been able to mirror their lives on the Net, much as celebrities MC Hammer [1 Mn+ followers] and @britneyspears [2.28 M followers] do today.

Okay- I'll buy that argument: Twitter access would have made Beatlemania larger than The Sloan Great Wall. (Hint: largest known physical structure in the Universe). Sure.

While still ruminating on that, oddly enough, I encounter a tweet leading me to...

What If the Buddha Used Twitter...


A thought-provoking, sometimes profound and definitely charming piece, Soren Gordhamer's article in yesterday's Huffington Post focuses on how the key figure in Buddhism would use Twitter. For instance, he writes...


Better than a thousand senseless verses is one that brings the hearer peace. -- The Buddha

The second [approach] is that the quality of our tweets matter much more than the quantity of them. One meaningful tweet a day is much better than posting numerous tweets that do not add value to the world. Of course, what "adds value" can be debated. There are a lot of silly tweets and links to videos that bring smiles to millions of people. Tweets do not have to be serious, but I think the Buddha would say that the real mission of life is not to produce large quantities of anything, including tweets, but it is instead to make a positive impact. One tweet that does that is better than a million that do not.

Yes, I thought, this too all rings true. And in fact Soren's observation is a great palliative against some of the depressing scores some of us get from the Twitter grader/scorer algorithms. To be ranked a "Great Tweeter", many of these programs insist you tweet with the frequency and ferocity of @cnnbrk (CNN Breaking News).

Perhaps Soren's observation even makes us look a bit more sympathetically at the AdAge twitter lashing that some marquis name ad agencies took yesterday --- for not tweeting enough or properly. (With some 8000+ bit.ly click-throughs to the original article link so far, there's clearly a swarm of on-lookers to watch old media get bashed for not being cool enough to fully and quickly enough imbibe their social media juice.)

Here I think: Hmm..Buddha should know. Even at the most conservative estimates, there are some 300 Mn to 1.3 Bn Buddhist followers worldwide. Compare that to Twitter's 10-20 Mn followers (loosely correcting the Comscore estimates against the 60% "Qwitter" factor from the A.C. Nielsen study. (Luckily, Twitter isn't competing with Buddhism for venture capital...)

Some hours later... I stumble upon a tweet from the intellectual Utne Reader, informing me...

Okay- this is getting big. The Beatles.  The Buddha.  The Pope.   How many marquis name co-brandings can be out there in one day alone? (Okay- I'm stretching the papal reference i know...)

What possible other illustrious groups can we associate the brand name Twitter with?

Surely, there are no higher authorities -- after all this is one 24-hour timeframe here, folks.

Well, rock my K.D. Payne sentiment analyzers, folks, if there wasn't one more in the daily queue...

Twitter Suggested for Nobel Prize


By the end of the day, no less than the Silicon Valley Business Journal confides that "Twitter Suggested for Nobel Prize". That's right, Mark Pfeile, a former Deputy National Security Advisor for the Bush administration, is apparently nominating Twitter for the Nobel Peace Prize. True enough- with foreign journalists and media thrown out of Iran, Twitter provided oft times the only window to the world to follow the post-election Iranian situation.

As The Christian Monitor put it,  "... in the past month, 140 characters were enough to shine a light on Iranian oppression and elevate Twitter to the level of change agent."

Most remarkably, Twitter's SMS news service included the participation of more technically-inclined Twitterers (eg. John Perry Barlow and the EFF) who aided in getting the news out of Iran via proxy servers. This provided us with a humanity-bonding linkage to news events that the world had not previously experienced before.  (So I hope it's clear: It is not at all my position to dispute that Twitter deserves a Nobel Peace Prize.)

What Then is the Point of All This?


My point here is simply that such a 24-hour tweet roundup of Twitter associations with some of the world's mega luminaries has me feeling --well-- just a bit of woozy "story stock" sickness.

It's as though someone were trying to pry my jaws open to swallow a 15-course meal including oysters rockefeller, roast duck, foie gras pate and baked trufled brie en croute - all down my gullet in one swallow. Frankly - it's feeling March 2000-ish (the period immediately preceding the dotcom bomb where new e-commerce stock valuations were running their highest).

Now what's particularly a little uneasy-making is that any one of the these stories has merit. But the gestalt of their conjoint appearance, while not arousing suspicion of a strategic PR initiative, at least makes one think that some of this confabulation is encouraged. Perhaps it provides a "psychic PR bridge" for Twitter investors, a much-needed bridge until the much-awaited hard-nosed monetization model appears.

To me, Twitter is a fabulous technology. But that doesn't mean it needs confabulation.

What do you think?

Is Twitter over-hyped? Do these articles centering on "What if [INSERT FAMOUS NAME HERE] Used Twitter" enlighten or obscure?




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Twelve Fab Twitter Reads for Newbies

Okay, for the past couple of weeks now, I've done a bit of scrambling, poking, stumbling and head plants around on Twitter. While still cracking the egg to emerge to the next stage, I thought other new Twitterers would find some of these sites useful. (Note these are ordered in rough order of approachability.)   Source

1. TwitterTips Beginner's Guide: 10 Quick & Easy Steps to getting started. There's no faster way to get up and running than via this well-crafted guide. Daily following of @TwitterTips and @Twitips is highly recommended.


2. Ten Twitter Tips to Get you to the Top

Far beyond mastery ofthe mechanicals (commands and syntax), the tricky part for many is understanding how Twitter rewards openness, honesty and transparency. NerdwithSwag.com's worthy posting helps move you into the right twittertude to "get this", avoiding some embarassing gaffs.


3. TwipTips: Top Ten Niche Twitter User Lists

Updated regularly, this list covers the top ten people all Twitter beginners should be following as well as those in various niches, from finance to journalism to gardening.


4. Learning or Teaching Twitter Yourself: A Teacher's Guide

Who better to learn Twitter from than teachers?


5. Renegade ProBlog's Twitter Training Videos

I'm not into MLM like these folks, but if you are seeking a moderate pace and a free training video that leads you mouseclick by mouseclick, this is it.


6. Craving a Book on Twitter?

Check out pre-ordering Twitter for Dummies by Laura Fitton, Michael Gruen and Leslie Poston. (According to Amazon's website, it'ns not due out until Augusut 2009).


7. Ten Twitter Tools that Help you Work Smarter

Twitip's exceedingly popular and updated reference covers everything from ping.fm (broadcasting your tweets to other social networks like Facebook, MySpace, etc.) to Twittertools (integrating your tweets into your WordPress blog) to Tweetburner (see how popular your tweets are) to Quitter (helping you undestand when and why people stop following you.)


8. Twitter Fan Wiki

A comprehensive list of twitter apps, covering PC and Mac desktops to web apps.


9. TechCrunch's Top 21 Twitter Applications (according to Compete)

Want to know which particular apps are catching on? Based on data from Compete, TechCrunch tracked the top 21.


10. Tweetstats: Top Ten Twitter Applications of the Day

Hungry for more frequent updates? With an estimated 10-15 new Twitter apps being put out to market per day, you might want to check Tweetstats close-to-realtime watch where you can find the identities of the most popular apps as well as new and lesser known ones.



For recommended reading that speaks more to the fabric of Twitter, exploring some of its unique qualities and why it's addictive...







11. Does Social Media Make Us Better, Happier, Nicer People?       From Tony Hsieh of Zappos and Pete Cashmore of Mashable, these two articles consider how Twitter and other social media tools are changing the way we act.


12. PR 2.0: In the Statusphere, A.D.D. Creates Opportunities for Collaboration and Education

Brian Solis' article will move you up a few log units on the Twitter learning curve, capturing most eloquently the essence of good Twitter usage.

It's the art of curation. Producing and posting updates that people find invigorating, insightful, entertaining, and enriching is how you build a meaningful foundation for which people to follow, admire, and trust you. You are a beacon for all that moves you.

Remember, the secret to attracting comments,
likes or stimulating retweets is not governed by a formula, but instead by the intent and nature of sharing something worthy of response

The article goes on to explore Twitter in relation to other social media environments and tools like Google Search, giving new users some glimmer of what might happen next.


Please feel free to comment on any critical resources for Newbies I might have missed.


Related posts

Twitter: On Emerging Business Case Studies & Participatory Marketing

Skittles Skuttles Static Web Marketing




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Skittles Skuttles Static Web Marketing


Wordlet of 100 tweets from Skittles.com, March 3, 2009

Taking a clue from twitter.zappos.com, and a March 2008 Modernista campaign, on Thursday, Mars Snackfood, maker of Skittles candy, redefined its home page, skittles.com, to contain the ongoing chatter of any Twitter remark containing the word "Skittles" in it.

Heralded as a bold high-risk marketing move, the Skittles website now has minimal company-controlled branding messages (too little say some), focusing on user-created contents of the Twitters and video posters.

Designed to appeal to its mostly teenage audience, the marketing results are shaking up the online advertising world. As described in today's WSJ piece,

The Skittles.com site doesn't usually generate much traffic. In January, Skittles.com attracted 20,000 unique U.S. visitors, according to comScore.

However, as the initial data from Buzzmetrics published in WSJ shows, the initial market results are phenomenal.

Adage.comhas pointed out this morning that Skittle's Facebook site is cooking with new friends, some 582,604 as of 11 am today. By noon (the posting of this article), Skittle's Facebook friends numbered 584,886, in other words, up more than 2000 in roughly an hour or so.

To quote Freddie Laker from today's AdAge article,

The reality is, Skittles has done this completely right. This solution was quick to produce, leverages existing communities that have great interest in the product and creates a platform that further engages the consumer. I would recommend any brand with minimal budget and the right kind of audience drop the brand sites they currently have, which I'm guessing aren't terribly effective.

For companies targetting a young demographic target and a minimal budget, the Skittles campaign is worthy of study.


Twitter: On Emerging Business Case Studies & Participatory Marketing

Posted 2.25.08. What's hotter than genome dating, celebrity sitings or cool nanotech muppet videos from UC Berkeley? It's Twitter, the latest social media tool redefining the marketing landscape. In case you haven't read CNN. the WSJ or NY Times lately, Twitter is a "social networking and micro-blogging service that allows its users to send and read other user's updates (known as "tweets"), text-based posts of up to 140 characters in length". (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

A brand building network? A public relations device? A market research tool? Twitter is all of these.

Inspired by Sarah Milstein's recent article in O'Reilly's Radar compiling business case studies backing Twitter's application to real business, I set out to find not only what hard-nosed data existed, but also under what conditions it seemed to be working.

To start, if you're dubious on the value of Web 2.0 tools as the preferred new platform for corporate communication, you might want to check out the McKinsey Quarterly's Six New Ways to Make Web 2.0 Work. (Perhaps even more telling, check out how much time McKinsey itself is spending on Twitter...). You might also note that as of Feb 20th, the Obama administration put out an OMB announcement mandating the use of RSS feeds to report the uses of the money by takers. (Much cheaper than a SOX implementation, but more on this later....) And as to Twitter, an indicator of its rich green field opportunity is the estimated 10-15 Twitter apps that are put on the shelf daily.

So what data exists that Twitter is having a significant effect on conventional business metrics- items like revenue, web traffic and brand-building measures? Where do we see results and how is that happening? What are the mechanisms? Does Twitter per se achieve results or isn't it interacting with pre-existing core assets of the company?

Case Study 1.  Dell Computer's $1 Million in Twitter-associated Revenue

What first caught people's attention was a Fall 2008 announcement by Dell's Bob Pearson, VP of Communities and Conversations,  that the company credits Twitter sales alerts with over $1 Mn in incremental revenue. Dell's Twitter followers receive messages when discounted products are at the company's Home Outlet Store where they can click over to purchase the product or forward the information to others. Beyond coupons, Dell also credits that they have successfully identified and acted upon customer concerns up to three weeks earlier than previously, thanks to blog and social media commentary.

For a full discussion of Dell's social media strategy, check out  Forrester Research's interview, where we found this nice video interview.

Case Study 2  Twitter.Zappos.Com: When Every Employee Becomes a Customer Service Rep

Perhaps one of the most superb busness uses of Twitter is exemplified by Zappos, the Amazonian style e-commerce company stocking over 3 million shoes, handbags, clothing item and accessories from over 1100 brands.

The 24-year old CEO Tony Hsieh, not only twitters himself (with some 140,500 followers), but has encouraged its Zappos' employees to twitter, as can be seen on their twitter.zappos.com web page.


Zappos now claims it is twittering with over 9 million customers, or 3% of the U.S. population. The company;s efforts with social media networking before the public eye, including blogs, Zappos.TV, Facebook and Twitter have resulted in over $1 Bn in sales, 75% of which are from repeat customers.


Now it shouldn't be surprising that a CEO who sold LinkExchange to Microsoft for $270 Mn should grasp the importance of driving web traffic through well-placed self-linking in public conversations. A web page like twitter.zappos.com is worthy of study as the "secret sauce": It drives inbound links, its employees create a good deal of internal web links -- all magnets for search engine activity, in particular, raising Google Page Rank.

But as much as Zappos spectacular results have surely been enabled by Twitter, it should be pointed out that Zappos, like Dell, is delivering on some mighty good customer service offers in those tweets. The company offers free shipping both ways, has a 365-day return policy nad supports a call center that's always open. Then there's outrageously wonderful benefit that Zappos randomly bestows free upgrades to customers.

So those believing that Twitter per se is a magic technology bullet are over-simplifying: Twitter can clearly magnify great customer service, but the offers, the compelling content, still need to be there to fully experience the full magnification of this great new social lens.

Will large companies get the ramifications of Tony Hsieh's battle cry "Customer service is a branding opportunity?" The twitter.zappos.com page is a mash-up: It's not only a customer service forum, it's a public relations, branding and search engine attraction platform. Companies that continue to view these functions as separate corporate silos aren't going to "get it".

For companies new to Twitter, it's time well spent to view Tony Hsieh's slideware show on exposing your company as much as possible with Web 2.0 tools. (Inspired? Zappo's Quick Start Guide provides a highly approachable description of how to begin.

Case Study 3   Early Twitter Advertisers Get Subscriber Count Windfall

Another great example of the new green field opportunities offered by Twitter was described in a recent LA Times piece covering the impact of Twitter's new "suggested users" feature. To help new users get started, Twitter began offering this feature, a link list of showcased websites and personalities. Putting aside the fact that this new feature did arouse some protestations, the latent power of Twitter advertising was revealed in the traffic counts of the beneficiary companies. Per TwitterCounter, TechCrunch, already one of the internet's most popular tech blogs, jumped from 41,000 to 111,000 Twitter followers in one month while the Guardian's technology page jumped from 4000 followers to 66,000. (It's doubled this already.) According to the LA Times piece, @GuardianTech added new users at a pace 300% faster than the previous two weeks and The New York Times Twitter account increased its subscriber base by a factor of six - to 145,000.

Case Study 4: Gary Vaynerchuk: Personality + Wine + Web 2.0 Tools = Twitter Force

Following on the Dell-Zappos theme that it takes more than a social media tool per se to make a good business use of it, let's look at Gary Vaynerchuk and Wine LibraryTV.

First, it's important to realise that well before the advent of Twitter, Vaynerchuk had already brought up his family's wine business from $4.5 Mn in sales to $45 Mn. Today, Veynerchuk hosts 38,000 followers. More significantly, he is beginning to monetize his Twitter and other social media use, striking a deal with Revision 3 whih is producing 3 minute segments of Wine LibraryTV.

While Gary's Keynotes  ar well worthy of watching to understand his approach, his Feb 19 video post really captures best who he is and attitude toward traditional media and new media. (Do watch it: he video comments back to Twitter posters.)

What are the operating rules that have made Wine LibraryTV such a social media phenom? Even though this is a near one-man show, there are 4 rules that Vaynerchuk goes by that we believe translate up to corporate use of Twitter. (Most of these have been abstracted from Gary's videos. He's writing a book on social media, in case i did'nt quite get these right..)

Rule 1. Use the Social Media Tools, All the Tools.

Arriving at Tumblr-driven GaryVayNerChuk.com, it's clear what's part of the secret sauce accompanying Vaynerchuk's wine. There's just a plethora of social media tools, applications and widgets here. Seemingly, every bit as much as Steve Rubel's Micropersuasion or Scobleizer, both of whom make a business of social media per se.

Rule 2. Offer "Free-mium". Pour It On Generously.

In one of his keynote addresses, Gary explains that he's a great believer in "free-mium", namely, giving away stuff for free. But what stuff? The viral hook that keeps Gary's followers hooked is sure, the guy knows tons about wine and enthusiastically shares it, but he's also a great source of tracking and knowing about the latest social media tools. In other words, if you follow Gary, you know where the new hot channel and tools are - whether it's Twitter, Tumblr or probably something new next week.

Rule 3. Be Completely Transparent.

Observing Wine LibraryTV, one is struck by the intense blend and merging of personality, product and media. This stems from Vaynerchuk's philosophy of imbuing his brand DNA into his products and services. After all, the product idea came from you - it's your inner child. Twitter and web video just expose your inner child publicly. Transparency, and with that comes authenticity and honesty, is part of the juice behind people's attraction to these tools. And part of being transparent means you let the rough edges show. When Gary's Cork'd  blog got hacked, he was open about it, getting interviewed in TechCrunch's coverage of the story. And in the end, he ends up looking all the more human for it.

(Sidenote: It is also the transparency factor that drove the Obama administration's use of RSS feeds as a mandate to taking stimulus money. If everybody can watch the Stimulus Money RSS channel, we all know where the money's going.)

Rule 4. "Don't Listen to Anybody, Listen to Everybody" (Gary Vaynerchuk)

There areat least two meanings behind this great quote. First and obvous, it's clear that savvy business people do watch what people are twittering about their company. In fact, there's probably no faster way to convert executive management to Twitter than to take them to seach.twitter.com and type in the company name.

Second meaning. It's impossible (especially if your real business is selling wine or shoes) to stay up on all the social media tools real-time, but if you've added value to your followers, among those "followers" are "leaders", people who have tools, insights and news relevant to your business to share with you. This is the true genius of Twitter business use: Even the smallest of compaies can have 10,000 low-overhead marketing and customer service evangelists.

Other Great Examples?

There are many other profoundly great examples of Twitter use contributing to real business results.

  • Ushering in a new era of fundraising, Pistachio Consulting's combined use of Twitter and micro-lending to raise $25,000 for a nonprofit called charity:water URL. In four day, @wellwishes had raised $5000 among its Twitter followers. It also earned Pistachio and Laura Fitton a mention on HuffPo.
  • Combining Twitter with a contest, domain registrar NameCheap raised web traffic 10% in December, resulting in a 20% increase in sold domain registrations.
  • Then there's a host of small business case studies emerging.


Take Away Lessons

Lesson 1. Judging from Dell and Zappos, there's good support for the first of six factors identified inMcKinsey's Six Factors Behind Using Web 2.0, namely, "The transformation to a bottom-up culture needs help from the top". Executive management not only sets precedent for behavior, it provides best practice examples of how to use the tools with customer, the public and others.

Lesson 2. The Dell and Zappos case studies also support McKinsey's factor, "What's in the Workflow Gets Used". These organizations have embedded Twitter use into their customer service operations with compelling results.

Lesson 3. Effective use of participatory technology leverages not just "cognitive surplus" or the untapped potential from employees, but from customers and partners as well. Wine LibraryTV's deal with Revision 3 as well as "free-ium" cool tool trading with outsiders illustrates this well.

Lesson 4. Companies with great brands adopt the latest brand-expanding technologies early. This is perhaps the greatest lession of the Twitter business success stories: It is no longer sufficient to have a great brand inside your industry, companies have to be seen as technology leaders, specifically adopting the latest brand communication channels. And today that channel is Twitter.

Ironically, a great number of highly sophisticated tech companies must be realizing at this point that the marketing benefits of Web 2.0 are being best leveraged by a shoe company and an alcoholic beverages supplier.

In the end, the trick to social media tools is no trick at all: Twitter just happens to be the latest green field marketing channel. There are many more new social media channels to come. As Gary V might say, you have to be ready to sample them, swirl and savor them in your mouth (perhaps biting a few rocks and pebbles along the way), and then spit the whole thing out with a ferocious force.

For companies that can't ascend to recognizing that marketing has become 360 degrees of mass participation? To paraphrase Francis Fukayama from "Are We Approaching the End of History?", there's the danger of being "still in history", the equivalent of being left behind after the Rapture, where everyone else will have already transcended to a celestial "participatory marketing" plane.

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