The Audacity of Corporate Social Media Failure

Failure - Essentials
Image by Rick Audet

It was interesting reading all of the social media criticism about Google’s privacy policy changes last week. A measured critical tone offers refreshing context to the usual outrage pundits spout when analyzing the latest corporate social media failure. These dramatic declarations of “FAIL” include the anticipated demise of the brand’s entire reputation, the stupidity of the management team, and a lament about companies “never getting it.”

Another example: Last December’s dissecting of Apple’s rigid social media policy that bars any meaningful discussion of the company by employees. There was no great shocker here given the company’s approach to product development and public blogs that leak Apple product news. Yet, the company was painted black and evil for it.

OK. Apple just reported $13 billion of profit last quarter, its best quarter ever. Meanwhile, its more social media friendly competition never get close to performing on this level.

Let’s be clear. Marketing is not about pleasing social media aficionados. It should deliver ROI or outcomes that boost a company’s bottom line.

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How Instagram Restored My Faith in Social Networking

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If you have not played with runaway hit mobile social network Instagram, you should. Yes, it’s become known as a utility for iPhone users to send pictures to Facebook and Twitter, but make no bones about it, Instagram is its own social network, and a very enjoyable one, too. In fact, it has restored my faith in the media form.

With more than 13 million people on Instagram, you can see some fantastic sharing. It is innately personal and wonderful.

Gone from the mix is the usual social media punditry and sword fighting. Instead you simply have real experiences throughout the average day. It’s just photos, sharing and comments, and nothing more.

Instagram exists on the mobile web, and is not tethered to the web. Rather it is on your iPhone or iPad via application (soon coming to Android). It only lives on the most personal and portable electronic devices. I think that in combination with its simplicity is what makes the network so special.

You see, on the go people can only be people. It’s not contrived, and thus sharing is unusually naked and revealing. People show each other how they see the world. Yes, you can share professional or well edited photos via your phone, but generally Instagram is a social phenomena of the moment. It feels safe, and unbelievably relational.

Sure, companies are trying to figure out how to tap into the incredible Instagram phenomena. And Instagram itself is another social network in search of a revenue model (advertising looks like the probable path). With an open API, people are exploring how to harness the photos, including search by city.

But for now, Instagram is very pure in its simple peer-to-peer interaction. And in that sense, it is a welcome relief in comparison to the over-commercialized Facebook, Twitter, and blogosphere.

Current Social Network Punditry Causing Naps

nap time
Image by LOLren

Oh yes, there are many changes afoot amongst the social networks. Facebook, Google+ and Twitter, oh my! And of course, the social media punditry has ratcheted up with the competition. Could it be more meaningless and boring?

Seriously. New feature social network roll-outs are about as exciting watching the fall line-up of TV programming getting announced.

Interesting? Yes. Meaningful? No, not until you get to experience the show a couple of times.

The difference is that instead of several TV critics, we have tens of thousand of so-called experts offering declarations at ever opportunity. The social media marketers who claim to know how these features will impact business are just ridiculous.

Sorry. It’s laughable. Can anyone possibly know how these new features will work out before even using them? Even for just a week?

Point being, who really knows? No one.

Let’s be frank, there is no social networking revolution, no dramatic change in the way people interact online that has been caused by any of these updates. Just more options. And that’s why for those of us who use these tools to communicate professionally, the current punditry is worthy of a big long nap.

Some Truths About Crowdsourcing

Geoff Livingston (@geoffliving) at the Nationals

In today’s online world, the term crowdsourcing gets bandied about quite a bit. It’s the most difficult and visible form of community-based social engagement. For companies and nonprofits alike it has become a nirvana-like state to attain.

Yet, much of today’s conversations deal with fleeting uses of “crowdsourcing,” such as asking questions of Twitter communities. There are also plenty of interesting articles about benefits and the possible impact of sustainable crowdsourcing (as well as the tools to do it) but I find that the pragmatic how-to experience is missing.

The issue with the resulting lack of information is that most folks have no idea how difficult sustained crowdsourcing can be. I’ve had a couple of turns at it myself with major projects, one I would call very successful, the other average. Both required a ton of work and management that afterwards made me feel contemporary thinking can use some more depth.

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Just based on my own experiences, here are some lessons (some obvious) that you don’t see in contemporary discussions about crowdsourcing ideas, innovation and change:

1) The crowd has to care, and they have to be made into heroes. The latter part is well documented (rewarding active community members), but the prior isn’t. In my mind, crowdsourcing is the last stage of a well-thought out social media strategy (UNLESS you are having a contest with a notable purse as a reward).

The managing party must understand its subject matter AND the community’s inherent interest in that topic. The crowdsourced effort serves both parties. Otherwise you will crowdsource little to nothing. Or worse, you’ll be evangelizing to get people to participate.

2) While the crowd craves freedom, it desperately needs structure. People need to be told how to participate and the rules of engagement. These rules have to be clear, empowering of the crowd, and directive in their end result.

Believe me, I’ve tried it the other way, but your crowdsourcing effort needs to be well structured (See Beth Kanter’s discussion of Chase’s Community giving contest design). A recent crowdsourcing effort made me realize how much more simplified our process needed to get for the future.

3) Rules need to be enforced or adapted. Issues come all the time because people invariably do what they want, the rules be damned. The organization needs to either enforce them, or publicly change them and show why they are amending them. Then you have to be ready to deal with the haters.

For citizengulf, I threw out a day-time yoga event because it wondered too far away from the mission/purpose as well as the event style, and it competed with another event in the same city. No was the obvious answer. And as a result, I got plenty of email telling me I was an a-hole. So be it.

4) You’ll need to invest a lot of management resources. If you think social media is time consuming, try crowdsourcing. It involves grassroots customer service and handholding like you cannot imagine (I was amazed). You may publish a lot of information, but you need to be present for your community if you expect them to be present for you. Crowdsourcing innovation does not mean outsourcing human resources, just the innovation. And even then you may end up refining it like Cisco had to with its I-Prize innovation contest.

There are other issues, such as managing the idea market so that popularity doesn’t trump quality. Another is ensuring that while the crowd may want a result, that the business or nonprofit mission maintains its integrity.

I am not the biggest fan of Pepsi Refresh (I still struggle with understanding how this is impacting society and the incredible amount of Vote for Me #pepsirefresh spam it creates). That being said, I admire the hell out of Pepsi Refresh from a communicator’s perspective. It’s incredible that they can maintain interest, and handle the amount of issues that continually come up with their contest. From first hand conversations with their team, it is clear how hard they have worked, and continue to work to keep this contest going and to support their winners. The sustained energy is simply impressive.

The well discussed benefits of crowdsourcing are amazing, but going in with eyes wide open about the task at hand is critical. First hand experience and research about crowdsourcing are also helpful. It’s my intent to continue this conversation with best practices for causes from a tactical management standpoint via a by-lined article on Mashable. Stay tuned.