How I learned to stop worrying and love Being The Product

You've probably heard everyone from bloggers to writers to watchdog groups decrying the fact that, when it comes to Facebook, Google or Twitter, you're not the customer, you're the product.

It's true, after all. These companies make their money by selling advertising space and by collecting and selling your personal data.  The more data they collect from you, the more money they make. Everything from your Google search history to your favourite books and movies listed on your Facebook profile is gold to companies who have figured out how to turn this into a profitable revenue model.

People have been decrying this for years. When Mark Zuckerberg declared – almost two years ago – that the age of privacy is dead, he was skewered by the media almost as badly as his movie version was in The Social Network. After all, nobody likes to feel like the product. It's demoralizing, right?

Maybe. But maybe not. There have got to be some benefits to being the product. So for my 2012 New Year's Resolution, I've decided to make peace with the whole concept. After all, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

Therefore, here are my top 5 (ever so slightly tongue-in-cheek) reasons why Being The Product isn't so bad, and is actually kind of cool:

Continue reading “How I learned to stop worrying and love Being The Product”

The trouble with estimates

By its very nature, estimation is a game of unknowns. When we make projections for budgets, revenue or returns, we base them on a series of wobbly assumptions. Each assumption in itself might be somewhat reasonable, but the more of them we put together, the shakier the foundation is on which we build our estimate… and the more likely the estimate is to collapse in a heap.

The fact that we base so much of our decision-making on these estimates ought to be worrisome, when we consider how they’re actually built in the first place.

Continue reading “The trouble with estimates”

A portfolio approach to digital planning

How much money should you be allocating to each channel in your marketing mix?

One simple answer is that you should calculate the ROI of each channel and then shift your budget from the less profitable channels into the more profitable ones. But, even leaving aside various challenges with measuring ROI across a multitude of digital and offline channels, this approach is problematic even assuming you could get accurate numbers. It fails to take all sorts of factors into account, such as the value of emerging channels versus established ones, the difference between awareness marketing and lead generation, and the impact of one channel on another to create a sum greater than its parts.

But the opposite approach — not measuring at all, but simply planning budgets by instinct or by what “feels” right, is even worse. If you have no idea how your various tactics are performing, then you’re flying blind. And as demonstrating ROI becomes increasingly important for marketers, there’s no way that such a laissez-faire way of planning is going to work for very long.

It occurs to me that we need a different approach — one that takes a holistic view of multiple channels and tactics, and drives towards a common goal, but which allows for different performance objectives for each tactic.

Such an approach exists. Our friends in the financial planning industry have been using it for years. They call it portfolio planning.

Continue reading “A portfolio approach to digital planning”

The Shanahan videos: Lessons from the NHL on social media crisis management

Hockey season is back. And you know what that means, right? Yep, time for more what-hockey-can-teach-us-about-marketing posts. (Come on, you know you love them.)

This week, the social webs are abuzz with the series of videos being released by new NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan, explaining each disciplinary decision being made. The videos, released after each controversial call, suspension or – conversely – decision not to suspend a player – explain, in a matter-of-fact tone, the reasons behind the decision.

Hockey bloggers and journalists are agog over these videos. Here’s why marketers should be paying close attention:

Continue reading “The Shanahan videos: Lessons from the NHL on social media crisis management”

Finding new lands

The year was 1497. An Italian explorer, Giovanni Caboto, better known John Cabot, set off from Bristol, England in a ship called the Matthew, with a charter from King Henry VII giving him and his sons authority to “sail to all parts, countries and seas of the East, the West and of the North, under our banner and ensign. And to set up our banner on any new-found-land“.

As I prepare to embark on a new adventure in my own life, it therefore seems particularly fitting that I have prefaced it with a visit to beautiful Newfoundland. Standing at Cape Bonavista – widely believed to be the site of Cabot’s original landfall more than 500 years ago, I was able to look out at the vastness of the Atlantic and wonder how Cabot and his men must have felt when they embarked on their voyage. Were they enticed by the prospect of riches, fame and fortune? Were they fearful of the unknown? A little of both? (Photo: Cape Bonavista, Newfoundland. Photo credit: Sari Stein.)

Sometimes in life, you have to take a chance. You have to leave the comfort and security of the known, and embark on a voyage to undiscovered lands.

After four and a half years working with the incredible and talented team at Twist Image, I’ve made the decision to move onto the next challenge.

It’s bittersweet, of course. But, onwards and forwards. The new lands are waiting to be discovered, and my ship is rigged and ready to set sail.

This isn’t goodbye. This is the start of something that I believe will be awesome. Watch this space.

The Destructiveness of Anger

Can anger, criticism and negative feedback generate more creative and better ideas than encouragement and positive feedback?

That's the hypothesis explored in a provocatively-titled article in Wired Magazine by Jonah Lehrer entitled The Creativity of Anger.

Why does anger have this effect on the imagination? I think the answer is still unclear – we’re only beginning to understand how moods influence cognition. But my own sense is that anger is deeply stimulating and energizing. It’s a burst of adrenaline that allows us to dig a little deeper, to get beyond the usual superficial free-associations. In contrast, when our mood is neutral or content, there is no incentive to embrace unfamiliar possibilities, to engage in mental risks or brash new concepts. (Why rock the boat?) The absence of criticism has kept us in the same place. And this is why anger makes it easier to think different.

The article has been making the rounds on social channels and stirring up debate all day. Some people are lauding it as a breath of fresh air, while others are aghast at the attack on the sacred cow of brainstorming in a positive, non-judgmental feedback loop.

Personally, I think this sort of thinking leads us down a dangerous and destructive path. Here's why:

Continue reading “The Destructiveness of Anger”

5 tips for community managers

The list of job descriptions today that didn’t exist back when you were in school keeps getting longer. The job of Social Media Community Manager is one of them. Companies started up Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, YouTube channels, blogs and web forums because they were cheap and easy… only it turned out that it wasn’t so cheap or easy to manage and maintain them after all. Social media, when done right, is time-consuming. Chances are, the marketing manager or web guy already has a full plate of responsibilities, so the question arose: who’s going to be in charge of this?

Enter the Community Manager. Often, it’s someone with extra time to monitor and manage social channels. Increasingly, companies are realising that the low-paid intern is not the best person for this critical job, and are hiring professionals or self-styled experts. Some community managers are in-house full-time employees; others are freelancers who are hired on contract. The job of the Community Manager is to “engage” in social media spaces. Roughly, this translates into posting content to feeds, monitoring, replying and responding to things posted by the community members or the public at large, and keeping tabs on stats and metrics. Sometimes, though not always, community management includes customer service. Often, there’s an element of risk management or crisis management to the role, too.

If you find yourself – by design or by accident – in the Community Manager role, here are a few tips to help you make a success of it:

Continue reading “5 tips for community managers”

Is it time to redefine ‘fair use’?

A number of years ago, I signed up to a free travel website to blog my travels. The site provided the opportunity to upload text and photos from the road, and to share links to the blogs. It was a fun way to involve my friends and family in my travels, and to chronicle and journal my experiences as I went along.

Fast forward a few years. The company has been acquired by a large parent company that is well known in the travel industry. All travel blogs have ads woven through them, and the only way to shut off the ads is to sign up for a paid premium account. Fair enough; they have to make their money somehow. The blogs themselves are restructured in a way that implies the promotion of specific hotels or locations, using text scraping from the entries. Not cool, but also somewhat understandable.

But a few weeks ago, I was rather shocked to find that my photos and blog entries had been mashed up to music and posted to YouTube as slideshows, promoting the blog site's parent company. I was never asked or even notified of this, and only found out months later when I stumbled on them in a Google search.

To be sure, I uploaded those photos and posted those blog entries myself. I did so knowing that I was posting them in a public space, and that the terms of use of the site I posted them to were vague, at best. In a strict legal defintion, there's probably nothing wrong with what this site did.

But as a marketing tactic, I rate this kind of tactic as a massive Fail.

Continue reading “Is it time to redefine ‘fair use’?”

Is mobile “the new Prague”?

There’s a cliché in the travel community that refers to any potentially up-and-coming destination as “the new Prague”. Backpackers love to one-up each other with tales of visiting random destinations nobody has ever heard of, before they get discovered by the mainstream travellers, while they’re still cheap and cool and unspoiled and not overrun by guidebook -wielding types and evil tour groups.

I’ve heard the moniker applied to just about any destination, from the well and already discovered (Krakow, Riga) to the obscure spots that really only appeal to passport-stamp chasers (Nauru) to the downright dangerous (quick, go to Kabul now, before it gets overrun with tourists!) But, one thing you can be sure of is, say it to any seasoned traveller, and you’ll probably be met with a fair amount of eye-rolling.

Continue reading “Is mobile “the new Prague”?”