The Great Fracture

Petermann Glacier September 2008 [High Res]
Image by NASA

Every mature market experiences rising competition that carves off specialized pieces of the leaders’ established footprint. It’s how Southwest, JetBlue and others brought the major traditional airlines to their knees (and bankruptcy). For social networking leaders, the great fracture is upon them. Those of us on the front line are left to pick networks and tools.

Facebook has run away with the race. Twitter, LinkedIn, and a host of smaller social networks have taken their seats behind the leader. Yet as time continues, more and more niche networks like Tumblr, Instagram, shiny object du jour Pinterest, Reddit and others carve off their piece of the pie.

The phenomena of so many social media choices has moved from creating to social media fatigue for the most faithful to full-on overload. Even the most tech savvy people find themselves making tough choices.

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No One “Consumes” Social Media

Food Mob! mac and cheese
Image by ugod

Ever notice the phrase “consumes social media” or a variant of that in market research and social media wonk discourse? Of course, media consumption as an idea matches our consumer economy, but the idea is a bit off. Think about it, no one “consumes” social media.

No one goes home and says, “I think I’ll consume Facebook for three hours.” “How about some Disqus or Quora at dinner, this is boring.” Or, “Can I have some Flickr for that blog?”

Perhaps this is a rant about semantics, but the phrase also denotes a siloed attitude towards the way we as people use media for communication, information and entertainment. Many Americans use three or more actively used viewing screens for media — TV, computer, and now mobile/portable. They use them for these purposes interchangeably, and often without specific thought of media type. Dominance in media form is passing. For example, “cord cutting” from paid cable services continues as a growing trend.

The reality for communicators is understanding how irrevocably intertwined media have become. Just a movie? Maybe, but it’s on Netflix, and you can watch it on your Android tablet. Or just a mobile check in? Perhaps, but on a laptop you can add in prescient tips. Then on a TV screen you can screen roll who checked in recently. How about watching a TV program, while using your phone to rate it on Facebook?

People see a mosaic of media throughout their day. Impressions about brands are formed through diverse experiences, media types as well as peer conversations, usually as a body of work. Rarely is a media moment, positive or negative, strong enough to form a stakeholder’s full impression. Thus the need to strategically integrate communications.

In a networked media environment, to assume siloed singular media use is to deny the true nature of how People (not consumers) interact with media. These media are increasingly dependent on one another, and digital makes them intertwined. “Social” or not, communicators need a more holistic view of media. And stop eating so much Twitter, it’s bad for one’s diet!

Strategy: The Wind Book


A Book of Five Rings, written by Miyamoto Musashi in 1645, is one of the world’s classic sources of strategy. Its influence extends beyond military schools to the entire Japanese business culture, and has made its way into Western culture, too. Musashi’s work is one of the texts that comprises the foundation of Zoetica’s strategy services. This blog series looks at each of the Five Rings (chapters), and discusses how some of the phrases apply to the modern communications market.

The Wind Book is the fourth primary chapter of the Five Rings, following the Ground Book, the Water Book, and the Fire Book. It is the last real lengthy chapter of the Five Rings, with the final “ring” serving as a one page treatise on the “Void”. In the Wind Book, Musashi examines some of the competing samurai schools of his times, and the lessons one can draw from them. Here are five interpretations about how these approaches apply to today’s communications marketplace.

1) Don’t Overfocus on a Tool Set

Tooled Flatty
Image by flattop341

Some other schools have a liking for extra-long swords. From the point of view of my strategy these must be seen as weak schools. This is because they do not appreciate the principle of cutting the enemy by any means. Musashi

It doesn’t matter how you achieve communications objectives, so long as you achieve them. Using one tool set because it’s hot, shiny or comfortable is not the way of a strategist. When considering objectives, a strategist finds the commonality between organization and stakeholder(s), examines budgets, and selects the tools that will achieve the objective with the least amount of unnecessary action and expenditure. Successful efficiency is the sign of a great strategist.

If raising money is a nonprofit’s primary objective, suggesting spending $100,000 on a social fundraising campaign instead of hiring a development director would be a strategic error. charity: water does a great job fundraising, but they also have a development team.

Say one needed to reach moms aged 20-30 in urban and suburban areas. Solely focusing on blogger relations would be a mistake. One needs an integrated outreach that combined advertising, traditional PR, direct marketing and blogger relations. The Gap Magic campaign used blogger relations to market to this demographic, but they also advertised.

If one needed to strengthen word of mouth reputation, relying solely on advertising would be a mistake, you need to engage in two-way social conversations, on and offline backed with substantive action. BP made this mistake trying to clean up its reputation after the oil spill.

2) Success Means Avoiding Distractions

Image by Nick Webb

…if you fix your eyes on details and neglect important things, your spirit will become bewildered, and victory will escape you. Musashi

Ever become distracted in the midst of a communications program? Organizational or personal ideals suddenly come before the effort (though they both seem to work toward the same goal), ankle biting issues arise, individual events happen. All of these seem very important. Perhaps they are, but if one focuses on achieving secondary goals rather than the primary objective, then they become distractions. And distractions detract from one’s ability to attain success. So if an action is obviously going to waste time, don’t do it.

The difficulty comes with knowing whether an activity is worth the investment, or if it is just a distraction. Measurement can be a great aid in determining success with these secondary actions. If they do not contribute to the desired outcome in due time, cut them from your program. To some extent given the speedy evolution of media these days, experimentation is necessary, but long term investment is not necessary. Knowing when to cut a program is part of a strategist’s job.

Last week, Cisco announced that it would cease manufacturing Flip cameras to focus on its core business to business objectives. Flip was a successful brand within the online social media space, but it became a distraction for Cisco and hurt its core business. Obviously, profits weren’t high enough to justify retaining the brand. Cisco’s move to shut down Flip is a great example of making a tough, unpopular decision to achieve an end result.

3) No Right Way

Image by Kaiban

In as much as men’s opinions differ, so there must be differing ideas on the same matter. Thus no one man’s conception is valid for any school. Musashi

We live in a time where people differentiate their skills by declaring the right and wrong way to communicate. The right way can only be determined by a successful outcome, one that achieves objectives while not tarnishing a brand. Everything else is just opinion.

Dell often gets cited as an organization that communicates well within social media forms. Apple is viewed as a company that doesn’t participate in the conversation, and is antisocial. In reality, neither assessment is 100% accurate.

Dell successfully achieves its desired result, and therefore practices A right way. Apple clearly uses bloggers indirectly to maintain interest in its products, and it listens online, too, as demonstrated by responses to prior moments of consumer outrage on the interwebs. Its success as a brand within social media worlds cannot be dismissed. While not offering an orthodox social media conversation, Apple practices A right way.

4) Measured Expenditure Matters


If you try to beat too quickly you will get out of time. Of course, slowness is bad. Really skillful people never get out of time, and are always deliberate, and never appear busy. Musashi.

Expending time and effort in a meaningful, purposeful way is an art. It means knowing when to communicate, and understanding how long it takes to achieve a result. Sometimes this is includes the art of saying no, or at least not yet. Saying no can be very difficult acts for marketers. Turning away a sale or an opportunity can be scary. However, going full speed and “red-lining” a marketing effort can break a brand or an organization.

In many ways, Quora’s hype bubble this past winter is a great example of this. There was too much attention, too quickly for the question-based social network. The service (and its community managers) were not ready for the massive amount of traffic it received. The result was a negative experience for many.

Is Quora done? The above chart shows the social network is recovering from the bubble burst, but it still has not reached the levels of traffic during its peak hype cycle. Rebuilding after a disappointment is a hard road, and it takes time. The more measured approach seems to be working for the company.

5) Hams Violate the Profession

#306 Melon & Parma hamImage by Like the Grand Canyon

…it is held in other schools that there are many methods of using the long sword in order to gain the admiration of beginners. This is the selling of the Way. It is a vile spirit in strategy. Musashi

As has been said before, the use of social media to build popularity as a professional communicator is a mindless, elitist approach that hurts the business, and violates the purpose of using these tools. To some extent serving as a public spokesperson may be necessary to achieve a communications goal; however, it is done so as a path to an outcome (for example, attracting clients as a marketer). When personal fame and popularity becomes a primary objective, that communicator sacrifices professional integrity.

Calling oneself a ninja/jedi/synthesizer/[fill in the blank]; creating schema to become an A Lister, telling people that Facebook should not be measured; and, encouraging communicators to build personal brands rather helping their organizations achieve results all represent examples of this transgression. It’s not worth rehashing (or giving links to) individual cases. They are distractions, and in the worst cases, typify the timeless practice of carpetbagging. Be wary of those cultivating endless admiration instead of fulfilling a larger purpose.

This series will conclude with the next and final installment, The Book of the Void.

Strategy Lessons: The Water Book


A Book of Five Rings, written by Miyamoto Musashi in 1645, is one of the world’s classic sources of strategy. Its influence extends beyond military schools to the entire Japanese business culture, and has made its way into Western culture, too. Musashi’s work is one of the texts that comprises the foundation of Zoetica’s strategy services. This blog series looks at each of the Five Rings (chapters), and discusses how some of the phrases apply to the modern communications market.

The Water Book is the second primary chapter of the Five Rings, following the Ground Book. This book primarily focuses on the The Five Attitudes and Approaches to strategy; Upper, Middle, Lower, Right Side and Left Side. Here are interpretations about how these approaches apply to today’s communications marketplace.

1) Read the Tea Leaves

Loose Leaf Tea Sparrows (Stray Dog) Coffee 1-6-08 2292
Image by Steve Depolo

“Your attitude should be large or small according to the situation. Upper, Lower and Middle attitudes are decisive. Left Side and Right Side attitudes are fluid.” Musashi.

To be successful in strategy, one must be able to assess the situation, which in turn determines your approach. This requires research to garner a basic knowledge of the marketplace dynamics and stakeholder motivations. By assessing this data, a strategist should see obvious paths towards attaining desired outcomes, and choose the one that is most likely to succeed with the resources at hand.

In social media, the meme is to listen before participation, content marketing and other actions. This is no different than focus groups in advertising or public relations, market research studies prior to product marketing, or competitive research in all fields. The market landscape, current attitudes and opportunities should be revealed in research.

Dell is one of the better modern examples of consistency when it comes to listening and research. From its original online reputation turnaround campaign Dell Listens to its current social command center efforts in Austin, the company constantly reads its community to anticipate response and direction.

2) Direct Community Interaction with Stakeholders

Lance Armstrong pre-Boston Marathon Event at Macys 6
Image by Stewart Dawson

“The Middle attitude is the heart of attitudes. If we look at strategy on a broad scale, the Middle attitude is the seat of the commander, with the other four attitudes following the commander.” Musashi

Whenever possible, marketers and communicators want to directly interact with their primary stakeholders. This is the best and fastest way to achieve an outcome, if it is mutually advantageous to all parties. Whether that is sales, donations, input on ideas, agreements on civil action, public resolutions of customer or donor issues, customer reviews, or other actions, direct communications are more likely to produce outcomes.

One of the great benefits of social media to the strategist is the ability to build relationships and conduct direct interactions. Direct community interaction through conversation is one of the most powerful Middle Attitudes that a strategist can take.The travesty of the media form has been the use of it like a PR newswire or advertising media, when these media clearly lend themselves to different tasks.

Other direct interactions include a true opt-in email list (in some cases a preferred interaction to social media for core community members), live events like conferences and trade shows, and direct mail. Some of these approaches are more effective than others, and depend on execution. Integrating several approaches may be necessary for success.

One of the best examples of direct community engagement remains the Lance Armstrong Foundation via its LIVESTRONG brand. From its very visible Facebook, Twitter and blog efforts to its grassroots fundraising platform, email efforts, and experimental marketing via platforms like Gowalla, LIVESTRONG consistently directly engages its community with great successes.

3) Top Down Influence Approaches

Steve Jobs and Bill Gates

Image by Joi

“In the second approach with the long sword, from the Upper attitude cut the enemy just as he attacks… In this method there are various changes in timing and spirit.” Musashi

The Upper attitude is one where media and influencers are used to “inform” the marketplace about the right direction. One addresses the marketplace from a position of authority, in essence hoping that the position of media voices and bloggers are enough to trickle down to the community and persuade it.

This has varying levels of success depending on the communicating organization’s position of trust within the community. When an organization has a prominent place in the market and is trusted, it is likely that the approach will be accepted easily. Apple masters this approach better than any company or nonprofit in the marketplace. Consider how Apple successfully uses blogs to leak information, media to report on blogs and vice versa. Every product announcement is like watching a symphony.

When trust is not in place, dissent occurs. Both Facebook and Komen suffer from dissent because they are not fully trusted.

If an organization does not have either a prominent place or trust, than at best influence can buy the entity an opportunity at success. Quora’s hype bubble and subsequent reduction in traffic, and Jumo’s unsuccessful launch are both examples of the inherent weakness in this approach.

Top down PR and PR 2.0 approaches are good as a primary tactical direction when an organization can dominate a market, or cannot engage with its community directly. Otherwise it should be used as a tactic to galvanize a community within a larger strategy.

4) The Groundswell

Tahrir Square Country
Image by magdinio20

“In the third approach, adopt the Lower attitude, anticipating scooping up. When the enemy attacks, hit his hands from below.” Musashi

A more powerful, yet difficult approach to successfully garnering strong community interaction is the Groundswell, as first discussed in concept by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff. The Groundswell and its Technographics ladder helped dissect online grassroots actions, but really word of mouth and grassroots efforts occur just as frequently offline as online. A synergy between both is ideal as the Obama presidential and GOP 2010 midterm elections have shown us.

To successfully influence a market using a groundswell, one most focus on both content creators and critics (commenters). Both have voices, and as they continue to speak they create momentum that trickles up until the heart of the community is abuzz. There are a variety of ways to achieve groundswells and word of mouth, including David Sifry’s Magic Middle theory on the social webs, a trickle up media relations theory via trade press to influence mainstream press, and the use of community gatherings to drive larger community and media attention.

In many ways, the Middle East uprisings with their blend of community protests, behind the scenes, organizing, social media peer-to-peer networking activities, and blogging from outspoken dissidents created the most powerful groundswell we have seen since Europe’s nationalist revolutions of the 19th century. On the for-profit side, one of the greatest examples of word of mouth is Zappos.

This is a hard strategy that requires time, patience and constant effort. Do not assume you can achieve it over night. It takes practice.

5) Flanking Techniques

“Left and Right attitudes should be used if there is an obstruction overhead or to one side.” Musashi

The techniques discussed so far — the middle, top and bottom — are from the social, public relations, networking or direct marketing disciplines. But sometimes there is no community in place at all, no way to engage with the media, and/or there may not be time or the means to use a direct approach. This could be because of lack of market attention as a start-up, the need to circumnavigate an entrenched market leader, or other market factors, such as restraining communications or legal policies.

It is in such times when flanking techniques such as advertising, content marketing or SEO must become a primary thrust for a communications effort. BP’s failed communications effort last year — grounded in ethics issues and fear of liability claims — resorted to advertising and SEO placement to combat negative publicity about the Deep Horizon oil spill.

Perhaps a better example is Chrysler’s Super Bowl ad. The Chrysler product deservedly suffers in market perception, and the acclaimed Eminem ad may have bought the car company an opportunity for reconsideration. While there is good reason to be skeptical of the car company based on the overall product, given the handicaps at play, this ad did more than almost any other communications technique could have for Chrysler‘s chances.

All of these strategies work best when integrated as part of a holistic campaign, but invariably one technique or another is the primary lead for an effort. In addition, the Water Book has many more interpretative lessons to offer from bearing and stance to specific tactical technique.

Related Reading

Strategy Lessons: The Ground Book

What ARE Influencers Good For?

Towed Out to Sea

The influencer hype bubble overvalues the role of popular digital voices in an online marketing program. Influencer attention can’t sustain a community over the long term, and using them often fails to produce strength of online community and actual business measurements. Rather than producing another post deconstructing the influence model, let’s try to take an objective look at what influencers can and cannot lend to an organization’s communications program.

It’s important to understand what influencers achieve in the larger social context. For the most part that consists of bursts of attention, and a perception of validity. In essence, this is the online version of media relations: Earned social mentions creating an aura of credibility.

Just like the traditional PR world, this tactical choice has its limitations. Mostly, it simply creates a word of mouth opportunity that needs to be backed by an actual product and service that a real pre-existing community likes. In addition, if deployed in an advisory role, influencers (the trusted servant kind, not the personal brands) can serve as a barometer for how a community will respond to an initiative.

Conversely, influencers don’t create the day-to-day participation and conversation necessary over long periods of time to develop and sustain a community. They can’t create valuable content for your stakeholders — unless you’re willing to sponsor full time bloggers. Influencers don’t manage communities and distributed networks of loyalists in such activities as crowdsourcing. Finally, influencers don’t produce the business outcomes that a loyal community delivers when it has embraced a symbiotic two way relationship.

A tow boat can only take a freighter out to sea, but if the actual ship is not sea-worthy it will sink with or without the tow. Similarly, influencers can only draw attention to something, but they can’t make a business, cause or idea succeed over the long term. Far from it. Let’s take a look using a familiar and recent case study.

Quora’s Mountain of Hype

Quora Traffic Post Influencer Bubble

As you can see by the above chart, the excitement over Quora has slowed down after the Silicon Valley influencer-driven bubble that started during the holiday season. It’s also interesting to note the drop in traffic preceded recent criticism and squabbles about Quora from that same Silicon Valley influencer community. Arguably the debates have given the site small, barely noticeable spikes. However, Quora’s overall traffic has increased since November, indicating the social network has successfully retained a minority of its new users.

The post-influence bubble decrease in traffic occurred because many found Quora’s product to be less interesting than advertised (and somewhat misrepresented as a blogging service). The spike featured industry specific conversations, and did not offer a broader consumer or cross-sector appeal. In essence, the influencers served as trade press, creating an echo chamber, but one that failed to compel non-insiders.

The higher plateau post influencer attention shows that Quora was able to retain some people who like question-based and information wiki-like products online. This can be credited to the preexisting community that had already seeded many questions and served as moderators. In actuality, the site was already growing in traffic naturally without the influencer bubble. The newly retained traffic after the influencer spike may have hastened Quora’s growth, but not by anything more than a few months.

Similar to an advisory board’s role, the usage created public feedback about problems with Quora, from its wonky interface and geekiness to popularity based answers as well as questionable moderation and editing. In some cases, influencers complained about censorship and their posts disappearing. Quora will need to respond and address these serious flaws if it hopes to become anything more than a niche community.

All in all, using the tow boat analogy, Quora has been brought to sea, but there are serious questions about its sea worthiness. The ship labors off the coast.

The influence bubble brought great attention, but Quora did not fully capitalize on the opportunity. It also needs to get beyond the confines of the Silicon Valley influencer circle and generate a much broader series of topical questions and answers if it intends to become a mass market success. It should be noted that there’s no business model in place to monetize, and given the large influx of traffic, this too can be considered a lost opportunity.


While Quora was “discovered,” its experience serves as the perfect example of the positives and limitations of influencers. As such, it should serve as an example of what to use influencers for… And what they cannot offer in the context of larger marketing programs that include product marketing, broader public relations efforts, advertising, as well as additional Internet marketing and tactics.

As for Quora itself, the question-based social network has work to do, but it still has business value, and should be monitored by professionals. Keep in mind that overall, in spite of the spike, traffic is still increasing.

What do you think an influencer’s role is in an online program? Does Quora have what it takes to make it?

P.S. Quora users seem uninterested in the question, “What are online influencers good for?

Marketing Causes Harder Than Products

Homeless Image by Raileen Viorel

Marketers love telling nonprofits how to market their social solutions. They get miffed when they see a perceived slow road to change, an underfunded website written by someone in their 20s, and a general failure to resolve society’s ills. Of course, the answer must be the crappy marketing. Having worked with both types of organizations closely, it’s easy to definitively say social change marketing is much harder than marketing a product or service.

Quora Response

Look, whatever your experience is — Procter & Gamble, Old Spice, Cisco, start-up sold — great! Yes, selling domain names and marketing organic strawberries is hard. But the difference between marketing and activism will always revolve around this truth — People want stuff, but they don’t want to change. Getting people to want to change themselves is much, much harder.

Think about it. Do you want to change? Do you want to buy a more expensive electric car (kudos to Ford for announcing the world’s third major electric car at CES)? Yeah, most Americans get sustainability — it’s one of the most over-marketed words out there. But when push comes to shove, people don’t want to change, otherwise green legislation (forget electric cars) would be a top priority in the United States.


How about cigarette smoking? In spite of every marketing trick in the book including severely negative product packaging deployed by the best minds in the business via the Ad Council, in spite of every piece of cancer causing knowledge out there, 20.6% of U.S. adults still smoke.

Beyond that core communications difference, causes are not businesses. They do different things than shilling burgers or IT services. Causes and people fight to affect social change. They have to make every donor dollar count. They don’t have the resources, staff or the wherewithal that a business does.

Quora Responses

There are too many causes because every entrepreneur who made a little scratch goes off and starts yet another Foundation or cause to do it “their way.” And for every fat well-known cause out there like Komen, there are dozens fighting an avalanche of apathy, scrapping to make ends meet.

Yet business people think they suck because they don’t market right. Maybe the marketers are that good, but there’s only one way to find out… By doing some actual field work. Please report back the research!

What do you think? Is it easier to communicate for causes or for-profit endeavors?

Thanks to Florian Engel, Jennifer Rosenberg, Stacey Monk, Kevin Vine, and Joe Waters for their answers on Quora.