Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Birds of a Feather Redefined

Before social media, when transparency was considerably less in vogue, aquiring new customers and serving the needs of loyal already existing customers was not an easy feat and there certainly were not many options for conquering this feat. In order to aid this process, marketers formulated methods such as segementation, and even sub-segmentation to narrow down their target audiences and best utilize resources. In order to best identify segements within the population, different software tools became imperative so a business was not aiming blind-folded. Software tools identifying different geodemographics became a necessity, clustering people with the same zip code or census blocks into a segment. The premise of this segmentation was that people who live near each other are like "birds of a feather" having similar needs and wants. A marketing campaign was devised, and different flocks were targeted.

Consider the following story. Recently, on Twitter, I tweeted that while each morning I have many choices of shampoo to pick from, I continuously keep coming back to Pert Plus. Within 45 minutes, Pert Plus was following me. Now, consider what this means for Pert Plus.

A) they know that I am a loyal consumer of their product
B) they know I am female
C) they know that I am probably in the age range of 20-40 (from my picture, or elsewhere)
D) they know my name (one name down out of that flock! - - surely an improvement from geodemographics)
D) they know whatever else my bio highlights

...the list keeps going on depending on how much mining and interpretation you can do.

The same goes for Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.

I am the Marketing Manager for Computech, an IT firm. While we do not sell a product targeting consumers, knowing our customer is still just as important (whether it is an agency we are contracting with, or a potential new employee that will make us more robust). As the following grows, learning how to engage with the listening ears, asking questions, responding to questions, and in turn redefining/refining a better service, experience, outcome seems to be a social media path worth forging.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Twitter as the Ultimate Focus Group

Imagine if you will, a gallon of Tropicana orange juice.

Now...what did you imagine? A ripe orange with droplets of water? And a straw?

Most likely is my guess.

As you may know, in January of this year, Tropicana had its run in with the scenario Coke faced back in the '80s when it lauched "New Coke." Coke changed the class recipe and the public was outraged. The new campaign was a major flop, and Coke reverted back to its original recipe - Coke Classic. In this case, with Tropicana, owner PepsiCo rebranded the OJ with new packaging. However, immediately following was a clammoring of consumer distress, sending emails such as “Do any of these package-design people actually shop for orange juice?” the writer of one e-mail message asked rhetorically. “Because I do, and the new cartons stink.” Others described the new packaging as “ugly” or “stupid,” and resembling “a generic bargain brand” or a “store brand.”

When the company originally conducted a focus group to predict the success of the new launch, apparently the group lacked one major critical component for establishing a true reading on the liklihood of success: “what we didn’t get was the passion this very loyal small group of consumers have. That wasn’t something that came out in the research” Neil Campbell, president at Tropicana North America in Chicago, part of PepsiCo Americas Beverages.

Now, here's how Twitter comes in. As I mentioned in an earlier Twitter blog post, one of the best aspects of Twitter is that followers self-select to follow your stream of thoughts. Hence, at least on some marginal level, they care. When a company like PepsiCo rebranded its OJ, there was an outcry. It didn't take into consideration its best customers, and hence, blew it. If instead, PepsiCo had first gauged customer feedback through Twitter, it would have probably learned of this missed mark far earlier in the lifecycle.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Where the Fruit Is

This morning on the Federal Web 2.0 Virtual Webinar – The Rise of NOAA’s Goverati – different aspects and benefits of social networking were considered. At one point, the notion of “collective output” or “combined input” was mentioned. I did a little research on "collective intelligence" and found some sources on the subject including "The Wisdom of Crowds" which mentions Sir Francis Galton's (half cousin of Darwin) "surprise that the crowd at a county fair accurately guessed the weight of an ox when their individual guesses were averaged (the average was closer to the ox's true butchered weight than the estimates of most crowd members, and also closer than any of the separate estimates made by cattle experts)" (wiki page).

I found this to be particularly interesting in the context of Twitter. Obviously, Twitter as a site is only as rich as the collective output that is poured into it. And I believe it lives up to the adage “you only out what you put in” in the truest sense of the phase. My organization, Computech, started a Twitter site because we found the benefits pretty indisputable – better conversations with others in our niche and the industry as a whole, a way to keep abreast of all of the rapid fire daily news – just to name a few.

But when I think about Twitter being a resource to collectively get a better result, what I am starting to see is while Twitter has capabilities being dreamed up in every possible way – the way that it will offer the greatest contribution – will result from what people do with it above and beyond their tweets. In other words, the organizations - or grass roots initiatives - or even just thought leadership with action that will be spurred from it. In my mind, this is where the fruit is.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Benefits and Challenges Twitter Poses to Brands

6,000 companies join Twitter every day, so surely someone must see the value. What are some of the benefits Twitter can offer your organization?

A Little Humanizing Goes a Long Way

Huge organizations, public and private, public servants, etc are often viewed as monoliths. While this can be good in that it portrays strength and the “this ship will never sink” attitude (insert reactions here), a little humanizing can go a long way.

Previously, CEOs and directors were protected behind layers of public relations wordsmithing, producing boilerplate content and conversations. The problem with this is because such leaders were far removed from their customers and constituents, they never really heard from the very life blood that kept them alive. And when you don’t hear from your audience, it’s hard to know what is really best for them.

All Ears

We live in an advertising age - - an age where every time we blink, products / services / opinions are flashed before our eyes with the hopes of eliciting a reaction (usually a good one). Considering that we cannot self-select our environment, we see and hear countless unwanted propositions. Twitter is self-selective. Those who are following you opted to, so you are far more likely to have an audience that is actually listening. And with nearly 9.8 million unique visitors in February, that’s a pretty good pool to fish from.

What can you do with this “all ears” audience? The list goes on and on but to name a few…engage a dialog with your customers/constituents, recruit for specific hiring positions, share ideas with people in your industry niche, keep your customers up to date, get feedback on your new initiatives (because again, your audience is far more likely to care), find potential partnerships…it's pretty endless.

So here we have some of the benefits Twitter can bring your organization. But of course it is not all rosy. What are some of the challenges?

One voice

Unlike an individual, an organization is made up of personalities all shapes and sizes. When a company or organization decides to tweet, it is inevitable the question will come up, what should we tweet about? In my experience working for different companies, maintaining a “unified voice” – with the web content, PowerPoint slide decks, letter templates has always been a challenge. While in some cases executive tweeters will be singing out their individual executive melodies, not all companies or agencies will get this level of dedication from the top and often more than one person will want to contribute.

I say pick a strategy and go for it.


Clearly, tweeting successfully on Twitter requires a level of common sense and an appropriate filter. If Whole Foods President John Mackey had tweeted "Would Whole Foods buy Wild Oats? Almost surely not at current prices" as he did on a Yahoo! Stock forum post that would have been a good example of what not to say. Other concerns arise with this with regard to employees leaking proprietary information. From this perspective, it is no wonder that, “while the Web was founded on the principle of openness, the most honored virtue among senior executives seems to be control. Most companies have elaborate programs for top-down communication, including newsletters, CEO blogs, Webcasts and broadcast e-mails. Yet few, if any, companies have opened the floodgates to grassroots opinion on critical issues." – Gary Hamel, management guru.

This is obviously a challenge. But it appears many are leaning toward the side of the benefits outweighing the possible negatives.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

My Top Ten Reasons Twitter is Taking Off, Tipping, etc

A member of GovLoop asked me today “why do you think Twitter is taking off?” Here are the ideas that first come to mind.

Speaking on behalf of individuals:

1. I am unique. From the clothes I wear, to the social circles I fit in with, to the company I work for, to the ways I decorate my house, my hobbies, I can imagine most humans seek to manage an identity, knowingly, or not. Set up a twitter account, write a bio, post a few tweets, and voila, we have a sense of who you are.

2. I have a voice and I want to be heard. I don't want to be the tree in the forest falling victim to the old question "if no one is around, does the tree make a sound?" I want my ideas to be heard, my likes, my dislikes, and I want to spread good news, bad news, neutral news, the latest and greatest, or old ideas tested tried and true. And especially when it comes to idea sharing within the government, the melting of the glacier-like lock-down of information (someone used this metaphor at FOSE, sorry I can't remember who said it to properly give you credit) and emergence of transparency, people need and want to be heard. Besides, maybe government wants to be rebranded? "We need to make public service cool again.” -Steve Ressler

…and those inside (and outside) government can do this, one tweet at a time.

3. I am curious. As long as you have a pulse, you probably have a level of curiosity. With over 7 million tweeters, Twitter is a gold mine for emerging ideas, information, and other ways, quite simply, to stimulate our minds.

4. I can find others who I can relate to! I like fly fishing, the State of Utah, and Gov 2.0. I am sure there are tweeters out there with the same smattering of likings.

5. I like competition. My twitter following just tipped over 1,000! Hooray! - I tweeted a pic from a world known event that got my page 500,000 views! Hooray!

6. I like to be part of a revolution. Twitter is the fastest growing member community site, growing 1382% since February of 2008. The more who join and see the value, the more the site’s worth speaks for itself. And because this site is entirely user driven, there is a direct correlation between the volume of users and the value of the site.

7. Retweeting makes me feel good! People like to give praise, and do good works, or good “retweets” for others. While it is nice to give props to your coworker with a list you cc:, or congratulate a little league player in front of his teammates, it is pretty powerful to give someone a pat on the back with 100 potential listeners. Or 10,000.

Speaking on behalf of brands:

8. Brands can show their “human” side. The first time I bought a pair of shoes from Zappos, I was amazed that they arrived at my door 24 hours later. While I can read about a company in their annual report, it’s nothing like reading the CEO of Zappos tweet out stuff like “Happy birthday Twitter! Like most 3 yr olds, u make me feel happy, sad, surprised, overwhelmed. But in the end I still love u.”

9. Brands can engage customers/fans where there actually are. I spend quite a bit of my life at a computer and on the internet. I am far more likely to read about an initiative a company is doing through Twitter than embrace the junk marketing materials that land in my snail mailbox.

10. The economy stinks; free viral marketing isn’t so bad right now! And, it probably works.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Twitter Turns Thwee!

With the speed that technology swoops in, takes ground, and starts to proliferate, many often are very familiar with the in-s and out-s of the latest and greatest, tout the technology to no end, but for the life of them, have no idea where it came from.

This is true for me. And since I am a "technology anthropologist" by interest, I put together a little timeline of Twitter's first three years. This information is compiled from the article Twitter Trounces the Terrible Twos, Turns Three written by MG Siegler.

I must say, this is not bad for a three year old!

2006 - Twitter was launched in 2006 as a side project of Odeo founder’s Noah Glass and Evan Williams (now Twitter’s chief executive).

It was first known as Twttr.

Williams created Obvious Corp. to work on projects such as Twitter and sold Odeo in 2007, putting the focus solely on Twitter.

2007 -
In March of 2007, Twitter first really put itself on the map by taking the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas by storm. It won an award in the blogging category and it set up monitors throughout the convention center to show what other people were tweeting.

2008 -
This was Twitter's important year. It started out God-awful — crashing left and right.

But Twitter remained popular as it once again dominated SXSW in 2008. Then, the press coverage shifted to focusing on Twitter’s downtime and the “Fail Whale” entered the geek lexicon.

Then, in June, it brought in outside help from Pivotal Labs, a group of for-hire developers. From there, things started to improve.

In July 2008, it bought the Twitter search engine, Summize, renamed Twitter Search. This allowed Twitter to be a powerful search of real time information.

Later in 2008, celebrities and traditional news media started using Twitter en masse. And events like the Presidential election and the Mumbai terrorist attacks brought it to new heights.

2009 -
On the afternoon of January 15th, when the US Airways plane went down on the Hudson, this twitpic, tweeted byJanis Krums, or as he calls himself "miracle on the Hudson photo guy," demonstrated the sheer viral spread of information through Twitter.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Someone Lit a Match in a Dry Forest

Breaking News. Someone (in San Francisco) set a match in a dry forest with lots of dead leaves and brush with the right temperature and wind level and there is no water in sight.

A fire, you ask? In San Francisco?

Oh Yes. A fire. A huge, consuming everything in its sight fire (except for the more stubborn, moist logs that just smolder)...

Ok, let me get to the point. This is a Twitter fire. Twire? This fire has actually been growing for the last 12 months and has grown by 1382%. Or is you are more of a "show me the proof" kind of person, it looks like this:

February, 2008 -> February, 2009
475,000 users -> 7,038,000 users.

And the population group this wild fire is consuming the fastest? 35-49 years of age. Social media is not just for kids anymore...

Hi Mom!! :)

Let me properly attribute these figures...Nielson Wire highlights this growth in Twitters Tweet Smell of Success.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

A Catalyst for Creativity

“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste” - Machiavelli

As a proclaimed crackberry user (sorry, is that so 2005 to say now?), I look at my phone quite frequently. And what I’ve been noticing for the past 6 months is the frequency of WSJ updates I get that are quite simply put, scary.

“White House to Provide up to $5 Billion in Financing to Auto-Parts Suppliers”

“FedEx Plans More Job Cuts After Posting 75% Drop in Profit”

The list goes on and on. We all know. We live with this every day. And so while it is clear the economy is falling to bits, with huge brand names dive bombing all around us, everyday, Circuit City, AIG, Linens ‘n Things, Bennigans, this massive shake out can’t be all negative. There must be some possibilities for a silver lining? Thankfully, there probably are…

The WSJ article "How to Innovate in a Downturn" details with historical evidence some of this wishful thinking. The article describes that in times of downturn, when the natural inclination is to “hunker down” and merely try to “follow the status quo, and just try to survive in hopes that some day, this, too, shall pass” ...this is actually “the wrong prescription." It explains that "now more than ever is the time for innovative managers and entrepreneurs to come up with ideas that lead to opportunities to launch new ventures. There is considerable anecdotal evidence that crises can be catalysts for creativity.” It highlights how shortly after 9/11 the iPod was launched, and during the Great Depression “some contrarians pressed ahead with innovation, including DuPont with its investments in neoprene and nylon."

Of course this entirely depends on your industry/situation. But for companies that have a chance, "in difficulty, lies opportunity" (one of my favorite quotes by Einstein).

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Join the Conversation. Be the Conversation. -> Is Twitter Fueling Innovation?

Yesterday in my journey into the twittersphere I highlighted 3 observations that I find most appealing about the micro-blogging site. To summarize all three in one thought, I see Twitter as providing users a constant flow of interest-tailored mind-castings, a living discussion forum, and a place to take a penny and leave a penny. I've been using Twitter officially now for about two weeks. In this time span I've populated an articulate group of tweeters who appear to have this default setting: I am alive and am interested in the world. What I am starting to notice is that these individuals are happily tweeting about interesting topics and re-tweeting interesting articles posted by others, thus spreading information on a viral level.

What I am also starting to notice is increasingly more blogs taking shape on any number of topics ranging from the best social media practices to the best environmental tips. Before Twitter there was never a public forum with outlets for idea vetting and opinion unleashing that could match the scale that this micro-blogging site offers. So when you take an environment that encourages, and more importantly, feeds off of interesting thoughts, always seeking the latest and greatest, perhaps this is encouraging innovative thinking on a scale unmatched previously? It appears that with the open communication environment Twitter provides, increasingly more tweeters do not simply want to be part of the conversation, but want to be the conversation; be their own Queen Bee with their own colony of followers.

So perhaps Twitter's original goal of providing a micro-blogging site that asks "what are you doing" has metamorphosed into a forum driving entrepreneurship? If you ask yourself this, the answer Yes will probably easily come to mind...I mean...all you have to do to prove this is simply consider all the innovative new Twitter applications that have blossomed. This is surely innovation, after all. However, I am talking more about the less obvious innovation...innovation that would have only been made possible through a virtual connection.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Happy Smappy Tweet Tweet

Along my journey into the twittersphere, here are 3 observations that make me, oh, so happy.

Interest Gophers…24/7!

One of my favorite aspects of twitter is that you can search on topics of interest and review the pages of tweeters who land in your search. With a quick glance, you can get a pretty basic understanding of what interests and style a tweeter has. Once you get a gaggle of tweeters who then tweet on topics of interest to you, each time you log in, it’s likely you’ll have a steady stream of “mindcastings” that will nudge your interest. Hooray for personalized interest gophers!

Take a penny, leave a penny.

“What you put in is what you get out.” While there are certainly tweeters out there who provide a wealth of consistently updated, interesting ideas and opportunities for collaboration, they can’t carry us all. Twitter will only be as interesting as what we put in (collectively). So when you take a penny, leave a penny. If we follow this mindset the site will continue to grow as a powerhouse of transmitted, collaborated information that even the hardest to please may find value in.

A Living Resource

Before joining twitter, I considered my fascination with social media to be relatively unique. I have always had a love for marketing, human behavior, and collaboration via technology. Performing google searches on topics of interest such as “social psychology” however, resulted in pretty dull hits (textbooks, Wikipedia searches, classroom syllabi). Now, when I search on “social psychology,” for example, I get book recommendations, links to class lectures on itunes, and peeps wanting to discuss the topic. How cool is that?

Friday Follow

It’s day 3 of my journey through twittersphere. This morning when I started reading my fresh Friday flow of tweets, I noticed a significant number that read- #fridayfollow… and then suggested a username with @username… Friday Follow? While I’ve learned the basic twitter commands, RT (retweet), DM (direct message), tinyurl.com to shrink long, character wasting urls, the fact that this Friday thing went right over my head reminded me that I still had quite a bit to learn. So for all of you all there who are new to twitter and share my boat, this article, Tracking the Twitter Trend should help!

Tweet Type?

Last night at my firm’s Leadership Development meeting we were discussing Patrick Lencioni’s book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. Since it is quite true that you learn best by doing, our leader began a role-playing exercise by first splitting us up into different groups. Our goal was to act-out common team scenarios…while the audience judged us on our level of function/dysfunction. In order to mimic a more natural team environment comprising an array of personality types (or perhaps to give us the best possible chance of not making complete fools of ourselves in front of the audience), the group leader decided to first give us a quick personality test. Yet rather than having us go off to a quiet space and fill out 100 bubbles for the Myers Brigg, he simply had us look at four shapes - circle, square, triangle and squiggle. “Pick which shape you feel most at ease with…maybe which shape you’d most like for wallpaper.” For me, looking at the shapes and determining my preference was easy…like which hand to pick up a pencil with, or how I interloped my fingers - right thumb in front or left?

Since it is quite true that you bring your personality style into everything you do (unless you just won an award at the Oscars), accordingly, it probably also holds true that you bring your personality style to your tweets - hence having a tweet style? Maybe this is what the brain trust behind Twitter had in mind from the very beginning in branding this micro-blogging site with a bird theme? Maybe this is actually your melody? Luckily for the tweeter who is looking to use Twitter to grow his business or personal brand, the fact that there is a world of market research at your fingertips in your tweeps’ tweets seems like reason enough to get to know their melodies! So maybe work from the outside-in versus inside-out?

Anyway, regardless of your personality style, or the personality styles in your twaggle, do whatever you can to avoid any of these twitter styles…twstyles?…

My Journey Through Twittersphere

The first time I ever heard of Twitter was about a year ago through a facebook newsfeed pulled from my friend Peter’s status that read: “I am twittering.” Twittering? Too much coffee? Work deadlines? Big date? I soon forgot about the slightly strange choice of word and went back to my facebook perusing. A few days later I read a vague news article that mentioned a new “microblogging site” called Twitter. Hmm…where have I heard that word used before I thought? While I consider myself to be fairly social media savvy (a year ago I purchased Larry’s Weber ahead-of-the-times book Marketing to the Social Web circa 2007, which has no listing for Twitter in the index), it wasn’t until one night over dinner when a friend asked me “so, have you heard of this Twitter thing?” that I really started to put the pieces together.

Later that night I signed up for my own site and within a day a friend from my running club signed up as my first official “follower.” I tried to add friends through my email aol address book but the site said “importing from aol has been temporarily disabled.” Because most of my contacts were in this address book, I became quickly disenchanted and Twitter went to the wayside.

A few weeks ago, my manager and I decided to look more closely at Twitter, and in essence, do a little exploring. Since setting foot in the world of tweeters, I have to admit that I am amazed at the possibilities for collaborative sharing - all of which are entirely new to me. I started following a few champion tweeters – some of whom are social media aficionados with suggested articles and best practices so prolific it is no wonder that they have a following the size of Rhode Island, and some of whom are simply poetic micro-bloggers that infiltrate the list of tweets with inspired ponderings. Regardless of the melodies I hear (read), I am eager to adventure more into this unchartered twittersphere.

And with this I start my Twitter journey. Over the next month I will chart my course with interesting discoveries, trends, and learned do-s and don’t-s.

If you care to join me, I will be blogging for the next 30 days. Or if you care to follow me on twitter, you can find me here.