The voluntary move to separate Armstrong from LIVESTRONG came almost at the same time as Nike’s decision to pull sponsorship, in effect retaining the integrity of the LIVESTRONG community. The departure provided a clean break, an opportunity to stay on mission as opposed to suffering a long protracted struggle to reconcile Lance’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde public image.
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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
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.
One of the more powerful tools of the social media set remains photography. That’s why I proposed a panel at the 2011 NTC 11 on social photography (if you like this post, please vote for the panel. September 30 is the last day of voting). The old adage, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” still holds true. And social network users know this with photos on Facebook, Twitter, and Ning always ranking as one of the top feature functions, and a frequent source of comments.
Though one of the oldest forms of social media, photography is one of the least thought about when it comes to communications strategy. Social photography is a critical component of a good online program. Here are four benefits that can increase your online capital:
Granted the Twitter post was not a popular one, but every month my Flickr blog competes with my regular blog for traffic. Some months it wins. People say it’s because I’m a good photographer, but others say that I’m a pretty good blogger, too. I think people like images more than essays.
2) Better Calls to Action: Perhaps it’s an advertising principle that most communicators think about, but compelling people takes more than words sometimes. People need to see images to understand the severity of a situation, or how cool a technology or product can be. Photos can make the difference in compelling people to act with donations, volunteering, and other efforts.
We saw this with CitizenGulf. Once people saw Kerry’s face they realized fishermen were real people they rallied around our fact finding trip. Eventually, Kerry became the icon of our logo.
3) Search: Social photos via Picassa, Shutterfly, Flickr and other photo sites offer search benefits and can be sourced in any primary site, including Google, Bing, Yahoo! and more. Contextually speaking, visual imagery can be more powerful in helping someone find their desired item.
Each of the many photo sites have strengths and weaknesses as far as their search value. Of them all, Flickr is strongest and Facebook is the weakest. Combine photos with strong blogging and the combination can be incredible. Consider this Google image search for LIVESTRONG brand.
4) Crowdsourcing Photos: Many organizations, and in particular causes, do not have the luxury of hiring a photographer for blogs, web site pics, and even e-newsletters. But many of their community members take related photos, and represent a great resource. So crowdsource photos through contests, social groups and event tags! This is something we did with the COPD Foundation to find images of folks with pulmonary disease.
Crowdsourcing is a great way to build a network of topical photographers as well as building a repository of photos that you can use in your work (so long as you get permission). However, don’t kid yourself. Crowdsourcing requires work and you need to make sure your ready to invest in the effort.
5) Contacts: It’s still social networking albeit via photos, and this time with photographers across the web. Consider the power of Flickr groups. A great resource to add to your network. And if you’re an enthusiast it really makes for a stronger personal network, too.
Then they blame the media forms. You can hear them now, “FourSquare, Facebook, Twitter, Gowalla, YouTube or blogs [take your pick] don’t work! And don’t even start with the Augmented Reality conversation! This isn’t what was promised in the New York Times. We were told this was where people met!”
The truth of the matter is simple: Companies and nonprofits alike are hitting a real wall with social media. They’ve established their beachheads. They’ve built their Facebook and Twitter and X accounts. They might have even gotten a few thousand followers. But the results have been lackluster for most.
These are the things I hear when I talk with the disenchanted, “Click throughs are minimal. There are no tangible leads, donations or sales. No one follows us.”
When I look at their social outposts, the reason why is invariably obvious: Organizations don’t talk with people!!! Instead they play with their social media tools like they were press releases. They content publish like social media was a PR feed, controlling the message and trying to look good. That’s not what social media enables.
Social is about conversations within a larger ecosystem. And big business has come to play, yet when companies and nonprofits have done so they have rebelled. Executives and communicators alike don’t want to invest the time to be successful or allow for uncontrolled conversations.
Organizations insist on publishing hard pitches to deliver ROI. And brand control is of the ultimate essence. While this can happen (ROI and branding, not control) in social media, these objectives are all by-products of building a networked community through long term, sustainable relationships that are nurtured with real conversations! Social media is still organic!
So what’s an organization to do? Stop content publishing, stop pushing your spiel. Start talking, practice the law of natural attraction, bring your network to you by becoming part of the larger ecosystem. It’s what Dell and LiveStrong and so many other successes have done.
When you let go of the postured brand control methods of mass media communications, and become a contributing part of ecosystems, things start to happen. You see organizations entrenched within larger conversations. People start paying attention, and a community starts to take hold.
When nonprofits and companies get over themselves and all of their contrived communications — like an awkward young adult finding themselves — they are able to focus on the big picture, and participate online in meaningful ways. They can add social to their larger communications mix as a real means to begin conversations with stakeholders. Whether that’s for fundraising/sales, community relations/customer service or volunteers/community loyalty, it really can happen on the social web.
Madonna vs. Lady Gaga
Let’s analyze a couple of stars that all of us can identify with… Madonna and Lady Gaga. The storied brand and the networked phenomena.
Yet Madonna is not a huge social media success. The branding doesn’t translate. Why? I think you need go no further than her community page, which reads: “Please note that posting Madonna unreleased material (including photos, audio and video) to your profile is not allowed. Doing so could result in the immediate termination of your membership with Icon.”
Madonna is in control, Madonna is messaging at you. And her image is complete, her content quality secure. And no one really wants to talk about her in conversational media forms, and given how she has controlled her community, is it any wonder? Prince has made similar strategic errors on the social web.
The there’s the current phenom, Lady Gaga. Lady Gaga plays the networked game, encouraging her Little Monsters in real dialogue on Twitter and elsewhere. She empowers them too, letting them take her content and repurpose it anyway they want to. Recording at a show? Post it online, no problem ( a la the Grateful Dead’s long-time community embracement). She has done everything in the face of the recording industry’s usual command and control approaches to marketing artists.
2) Lady Gaga made Little Monsters bigger than her, creating a larger ecosystem
3) There are shared symnbols, and content, too.
4) She makes her customers feel like they are rock stars, too (Chris Brogan is also a master at this)
5) And lastly (note lastly) she has used social media tools to achieve these networked community objectives
Both artists are brilliant writers. They both get the stark, wild sexy imagery that captivates us all. I think it’s fair to say that while Lady Gaga doesn’t have the brand track record of Madonna, she understands branding very well.
Yet only one owns the most viewed YouTube video in history, quickly approaching 200 million views: Lady Gaga. Is it any wonder that her first six singles, good or bad, like them or hate them, have gone straight to #1? Lady Gaga has transcended 20th century marketing to become the ultimate brand of the 21st century.
I think you get the point. Getting a packed room to listen within social channels requires a networked approach, an ecosystem ethos that caters to your community. It’s not just a flash flood either. It takes consistency, a commitment to keep delivering a larger conversational experience over time.
Unlike Madonna or other command and control organizations, it’s about making it easy for people to embrace the brand and run with it. Keep finding ways to enthrall your community, starting with the most important influencers who are the trusted voices in the community all the way down to the lurker who bookmarks content religiously.
We all have to deliver return on investment in some fashion. Measurement remains crucial. But remember, campaigns end while networks live on. When your community doesn’t respond, don’t pound home your sales message. Find out why. Look at your conversation (is it compelling and ecosystem centric?), your calls-to-action, your integration into other marketing channels. Because the problem — and the answer — is not the network, and it’s not the social media tool of choice.
Updated 3/14 at 10:30 a.m.: WE MADE IT! We have raised $5125. Thank you to the more than 100 donors!
As some of you know, I have a close relative came down with cancer last year (he chooses to remain unnamed, but his cancer is now in remission). It turns out that my Cousin Paula (photo below) also came down with breast cancer last year, too (also in remission). That’s why I have decided to donate a little piece of my body to fundraise for cancer research with the Lance Armstrong Foundation.
Before you laugh too much (OK, go ahead), I just want explain a little bit. The family cancers caused me to become interested in related charities. . There was a possibility of a three year old toddler without a parent, and how we were all going to help out the surviving parent. After my cousin Paula was diagnosed for breast cancer (early stage), she could not get health care coverage for three months. I believe we can change this.
And yes, I am no stranger to tattoos. This would be my seventh, and yes, I can live with LIVESTRONG on my body. I don’t think this is everyone’s cup of tea (see related post)…
So on to SxSW. And with your help, a nice contribution for cancer research and a new tattoo.