Cause Marketing Brilliance: @HardlyNormal Receives GMC Terrain at SOBCon

In a brilliant moment of guerilla cause marketing, GMC gave road warrior and homeless advocate Mark Horvath a brand new Terrain today at SOBCon. SOBCon regularly attracts 150 of the world best professional bloggers. The moment created an immediate splash on major social networks.

Adrants publisher Steve Hall was at SOBcon and had this to say about the marketing moment, “We all cringe when a brand gets in front of a crowd at a conference even though we know it’s the brand’s money that helps make the even possible. And we especially dislike when a brand turns their presence at a conference into a commercial. But that wasn’t the case with this giveaway. GMC handled it well and offered support for a good cause. I think it was very nicely handled.”

The cause — InvisiblePeople — is a natural tie for GMC. Friend Mark Horvath drives around the country every year helping individual homeless citizens along the journey. His efforts seek to highlight the many and often shocking examples of homelessness through personal stories, and to help the individuals with their trials (see case study).

“I often use the term ‘wrecked’ when things mess with my heart either good or bad,” said Mark Horvath, “What just happened here has me wrecked beyond words. The GMC truck and free gas is wonderful, but it’s the relationships, and that people believe in me it what has me so overwhelmed. I am so very grateful.”

GMC’s effort took advantage of several key factors; the high concentration of influential voices at the conference, an open opportunity with the cause (Ford sponsored InvisiblePeople’s U.S. cross country trip in 2009), the selection of a cause that matches their business, and selecting a cause that has high visibility, at least online. The well planned move was a brilliant example of guerilla marketing, and working with a cause to help achieve its mission.

Kudos to Mark, GMC, and SOBCon Organizer Liz Strauss for making it happen.

“Social Business” Can’t Replace Product Marketing Skills


Jonathan Bask published a fascinating article in AdAge discussing the dangers of the social web for real businesses. While the article meanders to become the latest in a flurry of “ills of social media” articles, the real takeaway was social media doesn’t replace business skills. At the behest of the queen of successful blogging Liz Strauss, this write-up discusses core business skills — specifically those of product marketing — and how they cannot be replaced with social media savoir faire.

Somewhere along the way, social media folks thought they should completely reinvent business. That they knew better, and that could they completely disregard history’s many lessons about how to build great products that work. But more goes into product marketing then just listening to memes of what’s cool. Online idea markets have inherent weaknesses to them, including making bad ideas popular (personal branding, anyone?).

Bask writes, “[The business owner] needs to sell better hubcap fasteners, and there are a wide variety of operational ways he can do so. Sharing that reality with his customers is the marketing opportunity offered by the social web, not a substitute for it.” Meaning that having social media conversations — or even a neat collective idea about a cool thing — can’t replace hard product marketing skills.

Perhaps a recent example can illustrate the point. This week’s launch of Jumo was supposed to be the second coming of cool to the causes segment of the social web. But the launch was a nightmare, bogged down with bugs and early adopters questioning the network’s purpose. Frankly, Jumo as a product offers no new value to a cause-oriented social web that already has established private networks serving it. Some have argued that this was just the beta phase. If so, major changes need to happen for Jumo to survive.

Founder Chris Hughes is supposed to be a social media genius (Facebook, Obama campaign), but clearly the basics of product marketing were missed. Specifically, what makes Jumo different, does the market really need it, who will use this, and how will it be marketed to them? The marketing launch could have been tested a little more closely to avoid the many errors in code, content and interactivity on Jumo.

The polar opposite of Jumo would be Apple’s iPad. Steve Jobs and company had little social web interaction at all with the iPad being a thing of conjecture. The name was railed upon by social web sycophants, and it was an oft questioned product. Nine months later, the iPad is a runaway hit. Why? Brilliant product marketing and development by Apple, an example of why the company continues to stay relevant.

That’s not to discount social business and its usefulness towards product marketing as a whole. Consider that this tension has occurred with each new wave of communication technology. The dot com era had its fair share of winners (eBay) and losers (, too. Just like social media, the dot come bubble changed businesses but did not unwrite core tenants of business like product marketing skills, salesmanship, human resources, executive leadership, etc.

In reality, social media can work as a two-way communications toolset to help facilitate product marketing functions and make it better. Consider how Dell has used Idea Storm to generate many product suggestions, 400 of which have been vetted through product marketing and development and released to the marketplace.

For more on collaborative product marketing via social media, read New America Foundation’s analysis of the three types of collaborative design for community technologies; human centered, appropriate and participatory.

Punk Social Media

Punk Is Dead, Punk Is Everything

On February 2006, the Sex Pistols — the four original members plus Sid Vicious — were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Their response: “Next to the Sex Pistols, rock and roll and that hall of fame is a piss stain.”

The height of disco was the mid 70s. The movie Saturday Night Fever prolonged the light, synthesized pop music’s stay on top of America’s charts, but it had a new competitor: The very raw irreverent birth of punk music. One could say that Andy Gibb gave birth to Johnny Rotten. This new anti-establishment movement was led by the Sex Pistols, and many other acts like the Ramones, the Clash, Patti Smith (so many to list, one blog post) and later evolutions through New Wave, and general cultural diffusion.

Punk challenged the mainstream and forced it to reconsider many aspects of what was considered “good” and “normal.” Today, thirty years later we are in the midst of a new media revolution where norms and “best practices” have been dictated by an echo chamber, mostly by top tier bloggers, that don’t necessarily understand the medium or deserve the ability to dictate best practices. It’s a time for punk social media.

You can see punk tones rising throughout the space. People are losing faith in the follower counts, popularity contests, influence determinations (often based on bad formulas), and control your message dictates. Don’t forget, more than 10 tweets a day is bad! Consider the birth of unicorn social media, the star spin smackdown, the anti-influence project, the Twitter snob theory, and yeah, I’ll throw one of my own in this hat, the anti-fan page (with all 150 members, please join and write something nasty on my wall).

Why so much discontent? Because people are having BS stuffed down their throats on “proper” social media use. Thanks, Miss Manners! It’s time to deconstruct the noise and really question it. It’s time to say no, I don’t have to follow everyone.

What Is Punk Social Media?


“Anything that Chris Brogan doesn’t do is punk social marketing. Read that carefully,” said Richard Laermer, author of Punk Marketing.

Ethics and attributes generally associated with punk include individual freedom, anti-authoritarianism, a DIY ethic, non-conformity, direct action and not selling out. Funny, those same attributes used to be associated with bloggers.

But success arrived. The A-List kool-aid became potent. Now it’s about protecting the established leadership. Bubble gum social media has come, and everyone wants to keep their 15 minutes of nano-fame.


Meanwhile… Customers want to know what the heck these social media people are doing with their dollars. Where is the value? Enter the ROI expert meme, unfortunately, that doesn’t equate to doing it. Customers aren’t stupid, and thought leadership, excuse me, thought respect, is something that is earned by DOING respectable things, not talking about it.


Punk social media — call it whatever you want, I don’t really care — means not buying into the Facebook fan page hooplah. Instead, it’s about using the tools to achieve populist actions with customers, donors and volunteers. It involves people (plural), not individuals stroking their greatness with their fabulous ideas or by playing the top ten community song. Doing it requires making other people into heroes, not yourself. That’s the art of community management, of real substance. That’s using your Clout to achieve direct action, as opposed to blowing smoke up people’s butts.

How did it become a communicator’s purpose to become famous? When did books go from idea vehicles to personal brand credibility vehicles? What are we doing with these leaderboard driven conversations?

Give Us Substance or Go Away


I did a mass purge on my reader about 18 months ago getting rid of almost every social media and PR blogger that is considered top tier today. Why? No depth or substance, only memes and BS about Twinfluence or the like. I stopped linking, and stopped engaging with the PR 2.0 crowd.

It’s arguable that my credibility and industry stature took a serious hit. Oh. Well. I knew it was time to exit stage left when personal branding and trotting around with Hollywood stars on Twitter were the most important conversations of the day.

Conversations online can offer substance, and I don’t care what’s popular. The tools won’t save the world. They are tools. We are the people behind the tools, and we can use them to do more than Like and share music (although those things can be fun, too), but that’s a choice.

Stop talking junk and theory, and show me what you are doing with the tools, and where you are taking your community. How are you evolving the medium? Are you organizing people to move the ball forward or are you abusing the tools for your own popularity? Are you following blindly? Stop! Stand up and think for yourself instead of saying, “Me, too!”

If you have guts and you’re real, you won’t yield to the community all the time. Sometimes the idea memes are off. Seriously. If I listed to what PR people have been telling me to do my whole career, I’d be working in a cube in some crap agency today.


If you cave to the Kentucky Fried Chicken Freaks and the Watermark Paperazzi just because they disagree, what do you stand for? Nothing. You’re just another piece of disco tech bubble gum.

Want to play a popularity game? Great, it’s not happening on this blog. Want recognition for doing great things? Awesome, let’s have a conversation. You don’t have to have a mohawk to win my respect. You just need to be substantive. Are your outcomes real and measurable? I’ll write a case study on you. Seriously. Standing offer.

Don’t like what I have to say? I’m not giving you what you want? We can have a conversation, but don’t expect a patsy response (or one at all). Still not happy? Unfriend me. Unsubscribe. The tune’s not changing. Shocking isn’t it?


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Mindfulness the Key to Finding Female Speakers


It’s late in another summer, and another thought “leader” has said that the blame for the lack of female speakers (or success) should be laid squarely on the shoulders of women. While there have been several great direct responses to this latest link frenzy, I felt that instead of participating directly (like I did last summer), the best commentary I could make is to outline how as a conference organizer I successfully garnered approximately 50% female speaker rates for all three BlogPotomacs.

First, I co-organized the first BlogPotomac with Debbie Weil, and together we set the precedence for the event series. We mindfully decided that at least three of the seven speakers will be women. This seemed like the right thing to do, especially considering that there are more women in communications than men. We wanted to represent our stakeholders with a group of speakers that at least came close to matching our audience.

Each of the three BlogPotomacs had predetermined topic areas, and speakers were matched to the topics. In almost every instance there were natural choices that made sense. A couple of times the would-be speaker was not available. So we found someone else! In one case, I held the spot for two months until my networking yielded the speaker.

But I didn’t give up. And when men asked for speaking spots (women rarely solicited a speaking spot, in fact I cannot remember one), I said no. I did not want the loudest chest beater. I wanted quality lady speakers, was committed to achieving that result, and would not be distracted.

We had some fantastic lady speakers including KD Paine, Maggie Fox, Kami Huyse, Shireen Mitchell, Liz Strauss, Amber Naslund, Jen McClure (emcee), Beth Kanter, Natalia Luckyanova, Jane Quigley, and Shonali Burke (emcee). Two of them are so great, they are now my business partners.

So, the morale of this story is as a conference organizer, it’s a conscious decision to either have women or not. As I told my friend Allyson Kapin, “If you spend time in a homogeneous social network like Silicon Valley’s VC community, then you will only get white, male venture backed candidates. It’s your job to go beyond the comfort zone. Victimization may be an easy out, but it won’t stop the criticism of your inability to break out of limited social circles.”

BTW, if you would like to hear some outstanding lady speakers sign up for some of the WomenWhoTech Telesummit on September 15. I’ll happen to be one of the few men participating, a refreshing change.

SOBCon NonProfit Give Back Day


Brian Clark (@copyblogger) Presents at SOBCon 2009

On Sunday May 2nd, SOBCon 2010 will highlight four charities (501c3) that have volunteered themselves for a social media coaching session from its attendees. I have the great honor of serving the conference as the NonProfit Give Back facilitator.

Each of our four charities — Anixter, Ashoka, InvisiblePeopleTV and Vitamin Angels — will discuss their strategy, current social media efforts, and online hopes. From there the room, comprised of some of the brightest minds in social media, will match the mission and goals of the organizations with the tools, with the end game of providing meaningful social media strategy that can impact the world.

Like my Zoetica colleague and CEO Beth Kanter likes to say, “Even better, what if we all learned from the process?” In addition to group sharing, we will have break-out sessions where each table

Sounds like a plan to me. The following is a brief description of each of our four participants. I hope to see you at SOBCON!

Our Participants

anixterlogo293.gifAnixter: The mission of Chicago-based the Anixter Center is to enhance the ability of individuals living with or at risk of disabilities to live, learn, work, and play in the community. Each year, at dozens of locations across greater Chicago, Anixter Center provides an array of effective, innovative services to more than 5,000 children and adults. These services include education, employment, life skills, communication, recreation, health care, counseling, and support.

image_preview.jpgAshoka: The global association serves the world’s leading social entrepreneurs—men and women tackling system changing solutions for the world’s most urgent social problems. Since 1981, more than 2,000 leading social entrepreneurs have become Ashoka Fellows, providing them with living stipends, professional support, and access to a global network of peers in more than 60 countries. With its global community, Ashoka develops models for collaboration and design infrastructure needed to advance the field of social entrepreneurship and the citizen sector.

invppl.jpgInvisiblePeopleTV: Mark Horvath (@hardlynormal on Twitter) will come and discuss Invisible People. For years mark used the lens of a television camera to tell the stories of homelessness and the organizations trying to help. The reports were produced well and told a story, but the stories Mark produces now on Invisible People are much different. These are the real people, telling their own, very real stories… unedited, uncensored and raw. The purpose: To make the invisible visible.

VA_logo_2color_RGB.jpgVitamin Angels: This socially-savvy charity seeks to mobilize and deploy private sector resources to advance availability, access and use of micronutrients, especially vitamin A, by newborns, infants and children in need. Vitamin Angels reduces child mortality worldwide by connecting essential nutrients, especially vitamin A, with infants and children under five. Essential nutrients enable young immune systems to fight infectious diseases, helping children attain good health and the opportunity to lead meaningful and productive lives.