The Mountaintop Insights, Inspiration and Perspective for Enlightened Marketers

July 19, 2011

Action, not Trust, is Social Currency

After taking a short break from blogging/writing over the past several months I have spent the last week trying to come up to speed on current topics/trends/issues that my audience cares about. Recently i have been hearing a lot about “‘social currency” and that “trust is THE currency” of the day. But why trust? I mean we can’t measure trust, we can barely agree on a definition of what trust is in business. So why do we hang our hat on something so intangible? This has troubled me a fair bit and while I never would begin to express that I have “THE answer”, I will certainly put forward an interesting argument to reconsider what your social currency is and how you can develop a social economy based on it.

To begin we need to understand trust…

What is Trust?

The classic definition from Wikipedia put forward that trust has the following elements to it:

  • the willingness of one party (trustor) to rely on the actions of another party (trustee);
  • reasonable expectation (confidence) of the trustor that the trustee will behave in a way beneficial to the trustor;
  • risk of harm to the trustor if the trustee will not behave accordingly; and
  • the absence of trustor’s enforcement or control over actions performed by the trustee.

If we can agree that trust embodies the above elements, after all it does come from a highly reputable source, then we will be able to at the very least establish what trust is as a human construct and that it is based on action and behaviours; and behaviours, of course, drive action. So if trust can be gained through action and underlying behaviours, then we can also assume it can be lost through action and behaviour.

What is Currency?

The next step is to reach a common understanding on what a currency is… again, we turn to Wikipedia, that trusted source of human knowledge where the actions of hundreds and thousands of people have created the biggest repository of human knowledge; refined through countless iterations. Again we see actions building trust. Interesting… but I digress.

Back to currency. It seems, according to Wikipedia, that currency has several key attributes as well that help us shape our common understanding.

  • Currency is commonly held to be a medium of exchange.
  • Its essential function is that is a “measure of value” which means it needs a constant inherent value of its own and stable purchasing power.
  • Lastly, a currency is convertible requiring no restrictions on the amount of currency you can convert or no fixed/limiting value to it.

So shouldn’t a social currency have the same rough definition? It begs the question… What human construct can be a medium of exchange? Is trust even capable of being a currency?

In my mind trust doesn’t have these qualities, in fact trust has all the qualities of a product; it is something purchased via continuous action. We certainly can’t exchange trust. Trust is most likely one of the most difficult human constructs to measure and apply a value; it is ethereal and personal and therefore lacks the ability to have a constant inherent value past a single person. You simply cannot measure it regardless of what the social measurement folks like Tweetlevel, Empire Avenue, and Klout tell you.  Lastly, trust is not convertible; at least not in a way we could apply to being a currency.

So what do we have that makes a good social currency? In my mind it is action.

How Action Forms the Basis for a Social Currency

So if we look at action as a potential currency it to also needs to meet all of the criteria listed above that trust seemed unable to adequately fulfill.

  1. Action can be exchanged. Action, by its very nature, promotes exchange; action and reaction. Further, we know that action acquires or loses trust, again another exchange.
  2. Action is measurable and can have a constant inherent value. For decades we have been applying value to action. We know down the penny what a customer service phone call is worth not only from an actual dollar value but also from an action-reaction valuation. I mean, this is the basis for Net Promoter scoring – will you refer us to your family or friends? It is a system where every action has an inherent value to the point where enough trust is acquired to promote a new action/reaction – a referral. Further, action is infinitely measurable – its the one thing we can measure in social for example.
  3. Action is convertible. Action can be converted at anytime depending on how the person you are performing an action for both values and builds trust. Understanding human obligation enables us to further demystify how action can be converted for higher values or converted faster. Obligation simply means that if i do something nice for you, you will (eventually) do something nice for me. Continued action that builds obligation will drive

By performing actions for our customers, we build trust. Trust is a result of positive action; it is the product we purchase with action-based currency. Over time and depending on how the individual measures the value of your actions they convert it to trust on your behalf – a trust they transfer to your brand.

How Do We Acquire and Lose Trust with Action Currency

So if we assume that action is what we use to purchase trust; its is cause and affect. But now we need to determine where trust-building actions come from in the enterprise. It is my opinion that the divisions tasked with direct service to the customers that are the instruments to deliver action and directly affect the value of that currency.

  • Marketing: Marketing sets the stage for the base value of your social currency. The value of your base currency is directly equal to the integrity of the actions that marketing takes. If your marketing bends the truth, over promises or misleads then you devalue your currency. Each action marketing takes whether its an email communication, a mobile app or event has the opportunity to deliver positive action.
  • Sales: The relationship the customer develops with sales staff is the primary set of actions that either acquire or lose the trust. The key here is to make it easy to do business with you and simplify the process of becoming a customer. Lastly, do what you say you are going to do when you are going to do it. Harder than it sounds for many.
  • Customer Retention and Loyalty: Probably the one department that holds the most traction with customers and the least valued in the social strategy. Why companies commit all of their actions to acquiring rather than keeping customers, I will never know. To continue to reinforce/build trust the actions must give them a reason to continue to be a customer; rewards and simple shows of appreciation are great ways to do that.
  • Customer Service and Support: One of the biggest areas of negative action is customer service. Why do we put our lowest paid, least trained staff on the front line and then limit their ability to serve the customer with selfish SLA or customer service policies? Nothing erodes the value of your social currency faster than the inaction or negative action of customer service.
  • Billing/Finance: It escapes me why we don’t ever consider the impact of finance department’s actions in relation to the value of your currency. One poor interaction or dispute with billing and your value plummets. Always look to resolve in the best possible manner.

Brands that understand that the result of positive action is trust gradually improve the value of their “brand currency” or actions enabling them to apply arguably less effort for better results. As we apply positive action to a person, group of people or market, we increase the value of our “brand actions” thus enabling us to purchase more trust faster. Where a brand performs actions that are either low quality, contradictory, negative or selfish they devalue their currency.

Brand Currency

Much like the world’s nations have their own currency systems, I believe each brand has their own social currency and while the basis of that currency is action, the value can vary wildly depending on the value and qualities of each action the brand makes to its customers. This makes it easy for us to begin to understand how some brands can purchase trust so easily and others struggle constantly. It is the perceived quality of that brand’s “actions” that create the value of their social currency.

I have learned the following rules hold true for building and retaining value in your brand currency.

  1. Be customer-centric: There is no action better than that we do for the needs of others. Give to receive.
  2. Simplify everything you do: In age of ridiculous complexity, simplicity in your actions and the actions you ask customers to take builds incredible value. Simple actions have higher value than complex actions.
  3. Be friendly: You don’t have to be genuine, but you do have to be friendly. Friendly staff can a long way to maintaining the value of your currency even when they have to do things the customer may not like.
  4. Be fast: The first step to good service is acknowledgment and in an age of live social interactions, brands must be expedient in their response to customer inquiries. This further

As a student of human nature, I have also been able to develop a theory on obligation and its role in building a highly valued currency. Understanding human obligation enables us to further demystify how action can be converted for higher values or converted faster. Obligation simply means that if i do something nice for you, you will (eventually) do something nice for me. Continued action that builds obligation will drive the acquisition of trust and positive customer reaction on behalf of your brand. As you acquire more trust you will be able to exert more influence over that customer and guide their actions in a more meaningful way.

Whether your brand currency is a Peso or a Pound is a direct result of your ability to acquire trust through the actions your company takes.

How Social Currency Leads to Influence

I would be remiss if i didn’t tie this back to influence, a topic I hold near and dear to me heart. In my journey to uncover the Nature of Influence and its many forms, I believe that in the context of social currency, the higher the “value” of your brand currency or actions, the more influence you wield over customers. Again, I turn to human nature and the relationship between action, trust and influence.

Actions buy trust and trust buys inlfuence. The more we trust a brand, the more that consumer becomes susceptible to brand influence and the more we are able to guide a customers interactions with our brand. It is an integral part of trust to lower our defenses as part of our commitment. Once we lower our defenses, we become easier to influence. So long as you never betray or abuse that trust, you will continue to be able to apply influence using your currency.

A Poor Value Social Currency Can Lose Customers

The same relationship works to acquire new customers whose trust has been eroded by brands with poorly valued social currency. Telcos are a prime example in Canada. Never has there been an industry where trust has been more exploited than in telco. I will give a living, personal example. I am in my last year of a 3 year contract with a major Canadian telco for my business mobile service, no names but it begins with “R” and ends with “ogers Communictions Ltd.”.

In my second year, I had issues with my Blackberry and contacted Rogers tech/customer support for help. They proceeded to let me know that i was not eligible for any handset replacement, nor would they compensate me for a month of non-service. This continued for over 4 weeks and eventually i was able to get to customer retention whereby they agreed to replace my handset and credit my account $200 if i re-signed for another 3 year term. Not that i am anything special, but my account is worth over $4K per year and while its not a large amount, its not small for an individual either.

By the time they had given that unsavoury offer, their actions and seeming lack of positive action lost my trust. I found an old handset, turned down their offer, and to this day they have not credited a penny to my account or followed up in anyway. Their brand currency is valueless to me. But now the currency of rivals has much more value to me even if my current provider takes decisive action to resolve my dilemma. Its simply too late for them. It is a message I have shared with many friends and colleagues via professional and social networks thus impacting the value of “R’s” currency with those whom I am influential.

The moral of this story is that as brands, it is within our power to develop a social currency that delivers enormous success, eternal mediocrity, or miserable failure. Every action we take with our customers defines that value.

So the real question is… do you want a Peso or a Pound?

May 15, 2011

The Nature of Situational Influence

In 1610 Galileo, now considered the father of modern science and observational astronomy, began to publicly support the belief that the sun, not the earth, was the center of our universe. His heliocentric beliefs met with bitter opposition from his peers and the church who condemned him as a heretic. It was no coincidence, as it has always been, that those who benefit most from the status quo prove to be the most resistant to any kind of opposing thought, no matter how much sense it makes.

After a year of exploring the nature of influence, I firmly believe I am now, and have always been, inconsequential. That being said I also believe, like Galileo did about the sun and earth, that our view of influence is strongly based on the beliefs of those that benefit from it the most. This current self-centered view of influence puts man/woman as the center of the influence universe – a view I do not share and believe to be the exact opposite of the truth; a truth many would consider heresy.

So what if something else is the center and we all orbit around it? Perhaps its more than one thing where we are torn and pulled into different orbits as we near forms of influence with stronger gravity?

In my mind, a form of influence known as “Situational Influence” is the center of the universe we all orbit. I will be exploring this topic over the next while in a three part series; the first part of which is the Nature of Situational Influence..

The Power of Situational Influence

If we think deeply and track back our actions in life many of us would see a series of situations that propelled our actions and became the major influence in all of our big decisions. Indeed, if we look at the myriad of small decisions we make each and every day, we will see our priorities are affected and shaped by a series of interconnected events and situations that rise and fall as they collide against each other and challenge our values, beliefs and perceptions to drive behavior.

The basics keys on Situational Influence…

  1. Situations directly affect action.
  2. Situations rise in priority according to urgency.
  3. Urgency drives immediacy of action
  4. We are oblivious to all of it.

Now, with that in mind, I am going to illustrate how this works using a rain metaphor and will return to our planetary metaphor in Part 2 and 3 of this series. But for now, rain is an excellent way to understand Situational Influence in its simplest form.

The Coming Storm

Have you ever been caught in the rain or a sudden storm? Imagine back to how that affected what you were doing and how you changed your behavior to cope with the rain or escape the storm. Our actions changed according to how intense the rain or storm became. As it rose in intensity, it drove more immediate action in us.

The nature of situational influence works in much the same and is amplified by urgency.

In the above illustration, Situational Influence is represented by four distinct states of rain from Drizzle, Rain, Storm to a Flood. Underneath these is how the urgency of situation makes it rain harder thus creating a more directly influential situation. While the examples underneath give examples of what can be possible motivating situations at each stage of rain.

Obviously, it would also be best to represent rough percentages that each person would experience each form of situational influence. While I am no statistician, I have assigned some arbitrary values to each based on the loose definitions and examples from above.

Further, if we wanted to really explore this metaphor we can add another factor which would be duration of the situation. The interesting attribute to duration is that while a duration can vary wildly anywhere from instant to a whole lifetime such as an illness, it can be applied to any situation and any state of urgency. For example, you can be laid off and be out of work for a day or you can be out of work for years. An illness can be instant like food poisoning or a lifetime like cancer.

So what we have are 3 factors which help put basic boundaries of understanding around situational influence…

  • Type of Situation: Drizzle, Rain, Storm, and Flood.
  • Level of Urgency: Mild, Medium, High and Life Changing.
  • Duration: From Instant to Lifetime; a single second to decades.

With this in mind, let’s now explore how a situation affects a single person such as one of your customers, and for this purpose i will stick to a consumer, although Situational Influence affects businesses equally.

Of Umbrellas, Shelters and Arks

Again I am going to ask you to remember back to being caught in a sudden rain storm without any kind of shelter or way to keep the rain of you. How did that make you feel? For most people, its not a good experience. So, if we continue that imagining so as to now picture that person in the rain as a customer in a situation and let’s assume its a negative situation. Like anyone caught in rain, the customer is looking for something to protect them from the rain such as an umbrella.

For me, an umbrella is a great way to represent an experience a company can design to protect a customer from a rainy situation. The umbrella experience delivers the potential of several things:

  1. It is the opportunity to turn a negative situation quickly into a positive situation.
  2. It arms the customer with ability to endure, solve or minimize a negative situation.
  3. It gives the customer something they can share with another because who hasn’t at one time shared an umbrella?

A great example of a rain situation and an umbrella/no umbrella experience is the following:

No umbrella: A mobile customer is having issues with their mobile device and attempts to get hold of technical or customer support. The longer it takes to get resolution, the more rain falls on them and the more negative they become.

Umbrella: The same mobile customer is having issues with their mobile device and goes to the companies Twitter support channel (the umbrella experience) for fast, effective assistance. In this case, the customer is protected from the rain and is likely to share that “umbrella” with others who are in the rain.

Now an umbrella will do you no good in a serious storm or a flood which brings us to two stronger forms of experience; the Shelter experience and the Ark experience.

In bad times, give them shelter…

Now, we are going to increase the intensity to recall a time when we were caught in a fierce thunder storm with driving rains, lightning strikes and booming thunder. For me, I distinctly remember a fair amount of fear when I was a boy and which grew into respect for the power of storms as an adult.  But as a child, I had no way to deal with it until my mother taught me the counting game and I’m sure most everyone knows this one.  Basically, from the moment you see lightning you count Mississippis until you hear thunder. If the count gets higher between the two, the storm was lessening. If it the count gets lower, the storm was getting worse. Now here’s the thing, as a kid, I would keep counting until the storm lessened because I was given a way to cope with the fear it created in me. It didn’t matter that it lasted 6-7 hours, I would keep counting.

As a customer, there are situations in life where you need shelter from a lengthy or intense storm – the kind that disrupts your life and impacts your emotional well being. The Shelter experience is designed to help through more difficult or prolonged situations. Again, give them somewhere to go and someone or something to rely on.  In this case the shelter could be a no hassle service (shelter) on getting a customer who has been in a car accident back on track instead of giving them a hard time (no shelter). But the important thing to do is give them, at the very minimum, a shelter experience based on your own version of the counting game to get them through the storm. They need to know you are down the hall and the storm, while intense and scary now, will go away if they keep counting.

Or follow Noah’s example and build an Ark…

In the late summer/early fall of 1988 in lived in Edmonton Alberta, Canada – a polite agricultural part of Canada much like the US Mid West. Now, Alberta can get some pretty severe weather and it can come out of nowhere. This one particular day we experienced what would become to known as the worst tornado event in Canadian history. I was eighteen at the time and stuck in traffic on a highway outside Edmonton when the sky turned ominous, the winds picked up and the hail began. Up to this point, it was pretty status quo for Alberta storms, but the wind kept growing in ferocity. I will never forget the feeling I had when I saw the funnel come down about ten miles away and begin to rip through south eastern Edmonton. That Tornado went on to devastate a large part of the city and killed many people. The clean-up, which I volunteered to do with many, many others, hit home with me. These folks literally lost everything.

Now apply that kind of devastating situation metaphorically to one of your customers. When the absolute worst happens, you need to get that customer safely out of the way of the flood. Examples of these types of situations abound from the death of a loved one to losing your home. An Ark experience, while not likely to happen often, is a part of a more complex customer/advocacy support program.  If you can’t get them in the Ark, then build your Ark experience around helping them rebuild or build their lives after a major life-changing event. The Word of Mouth Marketing power that comes from Ark experiences is enough value in and of itself to strongly consider doing it. If you leave them stranded, not only will they never forget that, but someone else might save them.

Before it Rains, Hand out the Umbrellas

So understanding the basics of Situational Influence means we can begin to map out the types of common situations that affect our customers. Even starting at the lowest form, Drizzle situations – those mild, mostly inconvenient situations that eat time out of our already busy schedules, gives us the opportunity to create a simple, highly effective umbrella experiences to deal with many of those for our customers. The best place for it? Customer service by far. Here are the questions you need to answer:

  1. What situations affect my customers?
  2. How do these situations affect my customers?
  3. How do they resolve these situations now?
  4. How can we make this easier, faster for them?
  5. What is the umbrella experience?
  6. What do we need to do in order to fulfill/deliver/enable that umbrella experience?

The key to success before you start? Make sure the customer is involved in answering every single question! Without customer involvement you will fail. If however you follow this formula, you can start handing out umbrellas to your customers before it starts to rain. Chances are they will share that umbrella with others over and over.


That last question I have in my mind regarding Situational Influence in this post is: Once we hand out the umbrellas, can we find a way to make it rain? By that I mean, is there a way to increase urgency for positive situations? Customer fulfillment is an often overlooked way to not increase share of wallet but also improve customer referrals and Word of Mouth marketing. By encouraging more active participation in your umbrella experience, you naturally drive more mutual benefit.

The best example I can think of is Starbucks Customer Engagement program – My Starbucks Idea. If you haven’t checked it out, it is a shining example of how a company created an umbrella experience, delivered exclusively online, that  increases urgency for participation in the community by rewarding involvement with both recognition and rewards (Ideas in Action and Leader Board). The point is, by being customer-centric,  providing a community devoted to the experience the love, giving the customer a means to use their voice and see action, Starbucks has successfully improved the urgency to become involved actively in the brand.  They are essentially making it rain by creating a positively influential environment and situation for their customers.

To leave you with a thought… I can’t help but picture the scene of “Singing in the Rain” where Gene Kelly has his solo dance/song scene overwhelmed with the joy of having spent a fine evening with a lovely woman. His joy and energy are inspiring and fantastic to behold. It is a powerful reminder that rain can be enjoyed if you have the right attitude.

Let’s make sure we work hard to build that attitude in our customers.

February 14, 2011

To Rule or Not to Rule

“What chance gathers she easily scatters. A great person attracts great people and knows how to hold them together.”

Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

Much debate has arisen in the marketing community (and others) about rules in and ruling online communities. This is my cautionary tale to you.

But before you SM fans read on, grab your Prozac, “Pass the dutchie on the left hand side”, do some hot yoga, spoon a friend or whatever you need to calm your anxiety and open your mind to the concept that, brace yourselves… online community existed before social media. I know it’s hard to believe, but back before FaceBook and Twitter many, many years ago when the web was young, people gathered together in online communities and they have some excellent lessons to teach us.

Don’t Judge Me!

For those that don’t know, I am/was an avid online gamer. No, I don’t put on tights and strap on a sword and run around swinging it at my friends, at least, not anymore… But it is a passion I thoroughly enjoy for many reasons:

  • Competition – I love to win. That could be an understatement.
  • Human behaviour – I love the dynamics of human interaction
  • Competition – Did I mention I am competitive?
  • Community – Truly the difference for any great game.

Community, you see, is a huge part of online gaming and Gamers in particular are a special breed.

A Look Inside the Gaming Community World

My perspective is based on not only being a member of multiple communities but also being a moderator and head moderator in many cases (what you would refer to as a community manager) for numerous gaming communities; some quite large at 100k+ active members.

The gaming community is hierarchical in nature when it comes to how it structures itself – I call this the “rule of threes”.

3 types of communities:

Official gaming communities: The game company’s “official” gaming community they create for the players. Typically policed, but a free for all for players to interact with each other and the game designers.

For you marketers, this is Twitter.

Unofficial gaming communities: This is really where the action happens. These communities are created, paid for and managed by super fans of the game itself. They love the community and enable them to the extreme, but typically they do not actively lead. They deploy moderators from the community to keep things civil and enforce basic rules of human conduct (no racial slurs, no porn, etc…). Further, these communities can have millions of active members.

For you marketers, this would be #usguys, #b2bchat, #smmanners, #ungeeked, #blogchat, #custserv, etc…

Clan communities: Clan communities are small, focused and leader driven with a defined chain of command and even ranks for people joining. New members typically undergo rituals or time-based trials to “earn” their stripes. Everyone has roles and it is highly regulated, even self-regulated for fear of being expelled from the clan.

For you marketers, this would be akin to a spin off group that forms a business venture together for a specific defined purpose.

3 types of people for each:

In official and unofficial gaming communities the people hierarchy is: (passive leadership)

  • Founders – Enabling the vision setting guidelines for participation
  • Moderators – Enabling the community
  • Members – Equal contributors


In leader-based communities the people hierarchy is: (active leadership)

  • Dictator/Leader: – Pushes down a single vision and rules
  • Commanders – Enforce and organize the vision and rules
  • Grunts – Do what they were bloody told


What can we learn from them?

  • In my experience, the truly great communities enabled their members and lead without leading, while the truly great clans galvanized their members into a sole purpose with firm but fair treatment.
  • Where certain individuals tried to insert a leadership-style into open communities, they failed – fracturing the community so that it either disbanded or becomes a shadow of its former self.
  • Selfish people destroy communities if they get any kind of influence or power. They subvert it for their own means even though many times their intent was for the betterment of the community.
  • The most selfish people are excellent at masquerading as the most unselfish people while they manipulate the community from different angles.
  • Great communities have basic guidelines for conduct and enjoying the community
  • Clan communities had strictly enforced rules and roles. You didn’t comply, you are out. But you knew that getting into it so eyes wide open.

In both cases however, one core thing made each community function well – honesty without political correctness. And believe me, its damn refreshing.

Politically Correct Community is an Oxymoron

“For evil to flourish, all that is needed is for good people to do nothing.” – Edmund Burke

For the hyper sensitive, ultra politically correct marketing community you are in for a rude awakening. The communities I have seen crop up are unnatural to the way vibrant communities actually work and in fact, build up negative undercurrents of drama and resentment that only surface in grand volcanic style.

You see in these environments built on Twitter especially, no one is really honest with each other in the open for fear of offending or being judged by the community. So what we get is truth draped in so much honey that it sends ambiguous messages, easily interpreted as something else. Further, we feel forced to accept whatever people throw at us for the same group of fears mentioned above.

Now what happens when someone does say something direct and honest? It shocks and upsets creating a slippery emotional slope that usually leads to regretful actions. Leaders or moderators within these communities are then tasked with trying to not only repair damage to the community brand as a whole (especially in live environments like Twitter) but these events polarize the community which requires tremendous effort to resolve.

Much can be gained from civil, constructive honesty and at the same time that not everything can be solved with group hugs. In my mind communities based on Twitter are in danger of becoming cultures of avoidance because the political correctness pendulum has swung too far to the left.

Suck it up Buttercup!

There is no doubt that your sensibilities are going to be offended fairly regularly in online communities. It’s natural. You could misinterpret what someone said or interpret correctly in some cases. It often arises out of civil discussions that become debates where one side refuses to acknowledge the other point of view.

Your reaction to that creates a chain reaction that is emotionally driven; both for you and everyone witnessing the interaction.

The best solution lies in how you govern your own reactions to others. You can’t control them, but you can control how others affect you and subsequently how you react. This can go a long way to improving your experience and interactions.

Me personally, I have a hide like rhino when it comes to online behaviour. It is exceedingly difficult for even the most controversial or opinionated person to phase me. This doesn’t mean I am necessarily tolerant of undo amounts of crap, I have just learned not to react emotionally to it. In fact, I am quite outspoken at times, especially when someone is acting in a way that is inappropriate.

But the one thing I never do is take it personally. Once you take it personally, you have shifted control to that person and your reactions will be emotional, defensive and irrational.

As my farmer father would tell me, “Pull up your socks boy. The only thing that got hurt is your pride”.

When Rules Ruin a Community

Many times, as communities grow, there is thinking that new rules need to be created to “govern” the masses. This is usually the brainchild of a small group of people that believe, rightly or wrongly, their community needs leadership, specifically their leadership. The rules are meant to empower the leadership to have greater control and leverage over the participants.

While it is true that some communities do need rules, many do not and this is the difference between natural, largely unspoken rules based on common values of the community and rules designed to “direct” the community.

So what happens when rules are introduced to an open community like Twitter groups? Well, it’s simple – you get conflict, resentment, and abandonment.

Guidelines on the other hand, while usually unstated, can enable the community and help them to understand how to participate to the fullest.

The simplest and only rule to apply to online communities is: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

When Rulers Ruin a Community

So your community has grown, people are flocking and you have aspirations for leading them to glory! There is no bigger mistake you could make.

What I am going to give you are some questions to really acid test the true reasons for wanting to lead your community.

  1. Does the community believe they need leadership or are you projecting it?
  2. What are your true motives for leadership?
  3. Are you looking to make money off what the community has done?
  4. Does the community already have unspoken leaders and how are they doing?
  5. Will the community resent or disagree with the direction you want to take?
  6. Are you the best choice for leadership? Why?
  7. If you asked the community, would they agree with the answers you gave above?

The vast majority of my experience has been that when someone wants to lead, it’s for all the wrong reasons. Leadership in communities is granted by the community to those who prove they are worthy of it through exemplary behaviour.

True community leaders enable everyone around them. A good example is the leader who continually looks to improve the community via new programs and activities to improve collaboration, relationship building, attraction of new members and growth.

A true leader doesn’t seek praise, acknowledgment, titles or control. A true community leader selflessly and fairly empowers every person without expectation of return.

While a great leader can come from anywhere, not just anyone can lead. If you are considering trying to lead a community you are involved in consider what you risk if your intentions are not in the best interest of the community. What you stand to lose is far more than what you could potentially gain.

In the end, every action has a reaction. The more important the community is to the people that are part of it, the more change will be resisted unless it is driven by the people, for the people.

Communities govern themselves and are self-correcting.

Remember, “What chance gathers she easily scatters”.

Choose your path wisely…

As a follow-up to this post in the coming weeks, I will be looking at how this applies to branded customer communities. If you think they operate differently, think again.

December 31, 2010

Embracing Social Change in 2011

It seems predictive posts are all the rage right now so in my own mad style, I’ve taken a look at the tea leaves in order to share some “Sensei-riffic” (trademarking in the works) predictions for marketing, social, and the relationship between customers and brands. So rather than give you the usual obvious predictions, I am going to take a step towards the ledge and peer into the darkness. The signs I see  herald tremendous change that is just off the radar.

So sit back, relax, and prepare to have your liberal marketing senses offended while enjoying or becoming outraged at this rum-nog fueled post! Cheers!

Prediction 1: Social CRM will be a huge failure.

Why? Because you cannot quantify an emotional human relationship no matter how hard you try. The quest to do so has begun anew with sCRM. To be clear its predecessor CRM is about numbers, not people. What other system does that to people? Right! The prison system!

The same people who created CRM are now pushing sCRM. Same shit, different steaming pile. CRM completely dehumanized the customer by reducing the relationship to math. Next it is horribly lop-sided designed to deliver insight into how to get more money from a customer, not how to build a better, mutually beneficial relationship. Does it actually benefit the customer in any way?

Maybe we should call it CWM (Customer Wallet Management), how about CMM (Customer    Money Management) or even CDM (Customer Decision Management) because it has nothing to do with actual customer benefit. Call me jaded but every company that has a CRM profile on me uses it to try and get more money from me with no clue on how to actually gain my trust.

Is sCRM the second coming? Not in my books. All we have done is given marketers yet another source to gather data to try and soak more money from our customers without working on the actual customer relationship. Still waiting for a company to actually put the R in CRM or sCRM for that matter.

My prediction, it won’t amount to much and most of the companies offering an sCRM solution will be snapped by bigger CRM players as “just another feature” while the ones that stay on their own will go stale. Its a great idea with the same poor execution that CRM enjoys.

Prediction 2: Customer Loyalty, not Customer Acquisition will Become the Big Social Play for Smart Companies.

The greatest mystery to me is why almost every company (B2b and B2C inclusively) focus social marketing on new customer acquisition. Is it that old human failing that we ignore the ones who love us? That we barely appreciate those in our lives every day? Maybe its casual indifference or perhaps something far more mercenary… Whatever it is, we have been ignoring those most important to us. Maybe we are just too dense to realize we are risking our current relationships for the potential of a couple new ones? Like the man who wakes up one morning to find his wife has left him after years of passive neglect.

I live by some simple rules and one of them is “you dance with the ones that brung ya”.  It may be my bumpkin simplicity talking, but the first people we should be investing in are our employees and customers – these are the ones that “brung us to the dance”. So what happens when you ignore the ones that love you and step out to find others? You make an ass of yourself in the international media, lose your endorsements, your fortune and your game.

Looking at how social networks actually work, I am shocked how many companies remain clueless to the value of social solutions for their customers and employees.

Here is the relationship chain I have identified…

  1. Happy employees deliver better customer/social experiences.
  2. These better experiences create happier customers, in turn appreciating employees more.
  3. Happy customers spend more, are more loyal and will defend your brand.
  4. Happy customers are in the public social networks where positive brand experiences spread very quickly.
  5. Happy customers and happy employees are the best brand ambassadors and will actively engage in thousands of conversations in blogs, FaceBook, Twitter and other “traditional” social platforms like kitchen tables, events and cafes.
  6. The actions of your brand ambassadors attract new customers!! Because everyone who hears the stories wants to be with a company that appreciates them! Go figure.

So why oh why are we focusing on acquisition? As for the execution of a social solution for customers and employees all I can say is make them feel two things: appreciated and exclusive. This is the gas in the social engine.

Do yourself a favor at your next marketing strategy meeting and ask “Are we ignoring the ones who brung us to the dance?” and see where it goes.

My prediction is the next big social play will be private communities for employees and customers; perhaps even allowing them to (god forbid) intermingle. These communities must focus on delivering a positive customer and employee experience to thrive. Don’t be a Tiger.

Prediction 3: The Rise of Social Risk Manager and Social Experience Designer as Specialized Marketing Roles

So now that we have literally millions of so called “Social Media Experts” to set-up our Twitter accounts and FaceBook pages, we need to look at more specialized positions past the technology. My prediction is that two roles will emerge for mid and large size enterprise: A Social Risk Manager and a Social Experience Designer. Let’s throw some lose definitions behind these two roles.

Social Risk Manager: A strategic and tactical position serving to homogenize PR, legal, strategy, and operations into one accountable role. Custodian of the Social Policy and Social Risk Mitigation Strategy, adviser to PR and Social team on risk management techniques/training, and “eye in the sky” on emerging issues/trends that affect the business and the industry. Throw in a healthy does of analysis to continually adapt the strategy too.

Social Experience Designer: Again a strategic and tactical role integrating the brand/communications strategy to ensure a consistently positive customer experience in the social channels. Social has been largely “by the seat of your pants” execution with little strategy or rationale, so this role is meant to make Social make sense to the customer. The social experience is designed to utilize the unique factors of the social channels to build the positive perception of the brand in the same way you would design a retail interior or website.

Prediction 4: The Employee Revolution

One of my first posts ever was about the Relationship Revolution over at So we have seen a customer revolution via Social Media, now I predict a social uprising within the enterprise. Why? One simple powerful goal:  Improving the Employee Experience. A couple factors at play here…

  1. GenY employees are less loyal, so to retain them you need to understand and engage them in different ways.
  2. An employee experience, much like a customer experience, is based on how you engage with them and the experience you design that must be consistent across the company, but diverse enough to promote individuality – be that cultural, gender, social, tribal, regional, etc…
  3. Allow employees to socialize on topics other than the company! For the love of Pete, when will we learn that we are not the center of their universe? Let them engage on anything they want and let them know its okay to do so.
  4. Global competition means keeping talent. Being social with employees let’s you understand emerging needs and issues before they go too far. Plus Social Media has made it way too easy for your employees to get poached; Linked In is crawling with recruiters as is Twitter…

Prediction 5: The Awakening that Social Media is NOT a Big Deal, but Social Relationships ARE

No I am not trying to grab attention by being a contrarian, but I think many people just don’t understand the real drivers behind the rise of the big social media platforms; that being the rise of social relationships. The basis of every good, long lasting relationship for any human being is communication. Communication or our drive to communicate is like a river… its fluidity is its strength allowing it find the easiest course to continue its way to the ocean. In much the same way human communication is fluid finding the easiest route or channel to enable two or more people to socialize.

So now let me connect the dots on this prediction. Social Media is both the channel and the technology that enables it. The success of a particular social platform is based on its ability to enable its participants to communicate easily and quickly while delivering small, measurable improvements to enhance the experience. The companies that deliver this technology are madly looking for ways to monetize these channels driven by the fear that the competition will outmaneuver them. They are currently adding layers of complexity not just in the technology and interface, but to the communication process itself. They are also enabling “intrusive” communication from corporations looking to reach the participants.

As the channel becomes more complex and more difficult for simple, uninterrupted  social relationships to work, human communication will begin to look for a better channel. Let me be very clear here…

It is the company that invests in the social relationship, not the social media channel, that will achieve long term success. Its what i refer to as a socially dominant brand trait. More here on the struggle for existence and social traits.

Prediction 6: The Real Role for Social Media is Lead Nurturing

In the same way you can’t use one tool to build a house, you can’t use one channel to take a net new prospect and drive that relationship through to a sale; especially in B2B marketing.

Lead Nurturing is the art of the relationship and is a long play. Its the same space in time as that point between the first couple dates and moving in together. It takes investment, patience, understanding and time. Has there ever been a role more suited to Social Media?

My experience leads me to believe this is the advantage in turning quantity of leads into quantity and quality of leads. The big challenge? Marketing and sales must work together for it to work.

Of course, once this realization has sunk in, you can actually begin to target your social at specific audiences and behavioral types – greatly increasing the power of your social marketing to engage and accelerate sales efforts.

Do you have a lead nurturing strategy yet or is your social strategy doing everything for everyone?

Prediction 7: The Rise of Mobile Marketing

This is a big one and is by far the most exciting communication tsunami coming our way. I have always said that when we looked at social marketing, we were looking at the south end of the horse walking north by focusing on web-based social.

Think about it for a minute. All of the emerging nations (Brazil, China, India, Africa, etc) are bypassing laptops/pcs and going straight to mobile. The magnitude of these market behemoths and how global companies market to these unique populations will end some brand empires and give rise to new ones.

Take India as an example, it is it is projected that India will have 1.159 billion mobile subscribers by 2013 effectively passing China as the #1 mobile market in the world.

How does this impact our ability to compete in these markets? Check out this cool review of Indian and Chinese markets

If you haven’t started giving serious consideration to the importance of mobile marketing (whether you are B2B or B2C) what exactly are you waiting for?

First movers always, always, always get the market advantage.

Prediction 8: Social ROI Measurement is a Waste of Time

I have watched for about 2 years as marketers focus more and more on measuring customer relationships; social or otherwise. Then it came to me recently… ROI measurement is the equivalent of marketing masturbation – We do it to pleasure ourselves. Don’t get me wrong, we should measure our success along the way, but I have seen this grow into a very unhealthy obsession for many marketers. Is it because we find solace in numbers? Or maybe we can manufacture success in the absence of real proof…

Every time I speak with senior execs it always boils down to one thing: Is what you are doing generating profitable revenue? Its another strong argument for marketing and sales alignment to measure the customer life-cycle from first contact to sale.

It seems to be an inferiority complex we can’t shake as marketers. We constantly try to prove to the rest of the enterprise that we do matter to more than just ourselves. The obsession has to stop. It takes valuable resources away from activities such as lead nurturing that drives profitable revenue and delivers constant touch with a potential customer.

My prediction is that most marketers will continue to go overboard on ROI measurement endlessly because its their comfort zone. We will continue to measure things that don’t matter and report on things that have no bearing to the bottom line.

The marketers that can align with sales and keep delivering simple, bottom line-focused analysis will win the day.

Prediction 9: The Beginning of the Great Social Mergers

You can almost feel it in the air. Some big mergers are coming. There are some real hungry large companies out there looking to get into the social scene in a big way. Meanwhile we have some high potential targets that are not big enough to survive on their own for an extended period, but not small enough to die out quickly.

The Hunters: Apple, MSN, Google and FaceBook.

The Prey: Four Square, MySpace, Twitter, Second Life and a dozen smaller social platforms.

The Dark Horses: Linked In and Skype and other indirect social platforms like Ebay/Kijiji and CraigsList.

Apple: Apple needs a viable social platform past its devices. I don’t know that Ping has any merit for them, but a social platform like MySpace makes a great fit to continue to dominate consumer demand for music. Four Square might be of interest as well as this geo-social application gives Apple reach into retailers and their quest for mobile marketing dominance on the iPhone and iPad. Of course this all depends on whether Jobs can get over himself…

FaceBook: Is Facebook reaching the point where an acquisition of a smaller, niche player makes sense? Maybe an acquisition to build out its business offering? This is where I see something like Second Life really giving huge depth to Facebook for both consumers and business. Skype would be a very cool addition to the consumer side giving the ability for real “face time” via video. Lastly, buying out Zynga might be an excellent strategic move as well, but the relationship is dodgey already. Social gaming is a huge part of FaceBook’s future to be sure.

MSN: MSN needs a better social footprint for sure. Bing is not a social platform and their deal with FaceBook is simply a strategic alliance. They need to get into the scene. For them Twitter, Linked In and Four Square make excellent targets and integrate well with their business and consumer offerings. With Windows on mobile devices now, perhaps a stronger relationship with FaceBook is in the works. Who knows.

Google: Google is a fascinating and dangerous company in my mind. They already own You Tube, Buzz is a failure, and its easier to acquire a smaller player than try to risk failure again with an in-house project. I really see Twitter being a nice fit with Google. Its adds great depth and power to Google’s already dominant search and would really put Bing on its heels. Any of the Dark Horses like Skype,  Ebay/Kijiji or CraigsList would also be a very interesting for Google to expand/consolidate its reach.

Prediction 10: No One, and I Mean No One, Understands What Influence is or How to Measure it.

If there is one thing Klout and Fast Company’s Influence Project showed us its that no company understands human influence at all. Let’s be honest with ourselves… number of Tweets/followers does not an influencer make. But this hasn’t stopped the bandwagoners from jumping on it early as a possible solution- how many bot owners do you think take advantage of Klout Klub in Vegas?

To me, Klout is an ingenious social game that uses heavy game mechanics to feed two human addictions: acquiring  prestige and competing vs. friends/peers. The result? A compulsive need to constantly check and improve your score by ramping up your Tweets to an obnoxious level fueled by a fear of being beaten by a friend or peer.

Can't stop Tweeting, Klout'll eat me.

For such a simple word, Influence is potentially one of the most complex human conditions that exists today.  I lamented this complexity recently…. To me, everybody has an “InQ” or Influence Quotient; that is the first layer of Influence complexity, but that is the simplest thing to understand and what Klout and Fast Company based their rudimentary assumptions on. But your InQ is affected by dozens of other layers and types of influence that nobody even talks about or gives any credit to; the most powerful of which is Situational Influence – a topic I intend to explore in an upcoming article.

Want to begin to measure influence? How about giving every person a trust rating that is voted on by their friends and peers? Make the trust button come with a string attached which forces the person who hits the button to say WHY they trust that person. FaceBook “Like” is wishy-washy and any bot can have 500 tweets a day with 1500 people, but trust is a serious commitment. Trust is the root of true influence.

So my 10th and final prediction is that Influence measurement is the holy grail and anyone saying they have THE way to measure it is selling you something. Sure, maybe that makes me a Klown, but nobody listens to me anyway, my Klout score is too low…

Thus ends my rambling end to a new beginning in 2011. Enjoy it, become outraged, or whatever you choose to do. I’m cool with it and wish all of you immense success in 2011 and beyond.

Cheers and beers!

Jeff – Sensei

November 23, 2010

Is Social Media Just a Channel?

I have been in some interesting debates recently on Twitter in chats such as #mmchat and #techchat on whether or not Social Media is just another channel. While I disagree with almost every word these particular people type, I wanted to make sure this topic was approached objectively… well, somewhat objectively.

Why not just share my intensely subjective perspective on this subject? Well, here are a couple reasons…

  • Its a burning question for many marketers (and now senior executives) that once answered provides perspective on strategy, integration, approach, internal/external policy, and execution of your social program.
  • I take my responsibility as a blogger and consultant very seriously when it comes to presenting and arguing issues. The last thing you want is a lop-sided diatribe for or against… unless that’s your bag.


The Answer to the Question Depends on Where You Sit in the Enterprise

The key to answering this question is perspective and perspective depends on your role and your ability to see past that role to the big picture of how a channel affects the enterprise ecosystem; defined as the company, its employees, partners and customers.

In fact, each of these communities within the ecosystem most likely view the social channel quite differently ranging between passionate adopters and fiercely indifferent.  But before we get deep into perspectives, let’s look at  some of the past winners and see their impact.

Television- Definite impact on marketing and customers for mass market reach, but didn’t really change the business model. TV became a deeply embedded part of the customer’s lifestyle and a focal point for many decades.

The Web- Huge impact on the enterprise ecosystem affecting every party (for good and bad). I have always viewed web/automation systems as the slow death of service and customer relationships as well as enabling global competition amongst other revolutions. The Web is also the birth mother of Social and the enlightened customer. Again, another channel that grew beyond its intent to become part of the customer’s lifestyle.

Retail – A channel and a business model really, but worth noting as it plays double duty. Keeps evolving and impacting the enterprise as the number one way to transact with a customer. Probably the channel that has had the broadest impact on any business forcing huge changes in supply chain, operations, etc.. but doesn’t apply to everyone.

So What is the Social Channel and How Does it Compare?

Well, for starters, its very early in its evolution and adoption by companies is slow, so its impact is still based on educated guessing. For many B2C companies however, the social channel is increasingly gaining in strategic value as it redefines the customer relationship – driven largely by the customer.

  • Social Channel for customer acquisition: The most obvious and plentiful application of social media as companies look to establish foot prints in the big social networks. What’s the impact on customer acquisition? Well, for companies who are not inherently social, low. For those that are socially aligned, its impact is broad. Just look at how Ford has evolved itself to apply Social to build market share.
  • Social Channel for existing customers: Sadly, the most overlooked and highest potential application of social media is for existing customer communities. Why is it that we treat those most loyal to us the worst? The current impact is minimal in my mind, but the future potential of enabled customer communities is immense becoming a key source of driving product and service innovation for smart companies. This is a game changer.
  • Social Channel for partners: Is this even on the radar yet? My feeling is the impact will not be felt for quite a while. Feel free to enlighten me if you know more or have examples.
  • Social Channel for employees: Interestingly, many companies, especially B2B enterprise are just scratching the surface on this. The mother to internal social is the intranet of course; a channel with questionable impact. But, in the same way that social can rapidly evolve the business’ relationship with the customer, it can also do so with employees; the lifeblood of the enterprise. Again, the impact is minimal now, but as companies become more comfortable with social, my bet is game changer.


Some Big Wins:

  • Revolutionizing customer service and support. Think of how Best Buy is using it.
  • Reach is immense, cheap and fast with the right targeting. Yes, I said targeting, but that’s another post altogether.
  • It has dramatically improved our ability to get up-to- the-minute research on our brands/customers
  • It woke us up to real customer need. Sometimes quite rudely. Such is the case when we ignore those most important to us.


Some Big Challenges:

  • “Always on Air” is a huge risk for companies especially for publicly traded ones.
  • Paradigm shift from one way communications to two way communications.
  • Attitudinal shift from selfish corporate agenda to being perceived as not having one.
  • Figuring it all out before it changes yet again!


Potential Enterprise Impact:

It has the capability to truly integrate customers, employees and yet-to-be customers into one harmonious ecosystem. Companies that master this new channel will quite literally dominate in their categories. An unfair competitive advantage to be sure, but we are far from that Nirvana.

So the question still stands, is Social Media just a channel? To answer this, let’s ask some other questions that may help bring clarity and perspective!

If someone asked you to sculpt a statue would you make a David or a pile of unrecognizable rubble?

If you were asked to make a fine wine would you make a Domaine Romanée-Conti or a bottle of low grade hooch?

How about something simple like a meal. Would you make an award wining creation or pot of good ol’ reliable Kraft Dinner?

Could it be that much like the examples above, Social Media is what you make of it? So what makes a master work versus a pile of rubble?

The Difference Between a Channel and an Experience is Mastery

Channels deliver experiences and the quality of the experience relates directly to the effort, passion and innovative thinking you put into it. Much like great restaurants are a blend of sophisticated cooking, imaginative ideas and respect for ingredients, Social Media is a blend of sophisticated service, imaginative ideas and respect for people.

Mastery is a long process of course, but the point is that if you have the vision and the tenacity to see it through, Social Media can be much, much more. Great social experiences remind us why some companies deserve to be revered and others deserve to be ignored – effectively separating the wheat from the chaff.

So is Social Media just a channel? It can be. After all, the people that use it are just customers…

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