From the category archives:

Social Media

When I was a kid, there was a sugary treat called CrackerJacks. It consisted of caramel coated popcorn which got stuck between your teeth. But the big thing was, there was a prize inside–a cheap little whistle or toy soldier or something I would soon lose or break.

It was fun. It also generated conversations between kids who often swapped toys. Other kid marketers jumped in and soon we were mailing cereal box tops to cereal manufacturers who would send us magic decoder rings, in various colors so we could collect the whole set. We started buying gum that we would throw away, because it contained baseball cards to collect, share and shoot against stairs in competition with other kids.

Making marketing fun is nothing new. Making games of marketing is also an ancient art. Some of it was highly original and generated much conversation. That of course made it copied, and copied and copied until the thrill of surprise and the originality were sucked dry.

I’ve been researching my next book about the origins of social media and games are a significant part of it. Gamers gave us avatars, point systems, the thrill of competition, personal rating systems, badges, virtual money and intentionally addictive programming. Nolan Bushnell, inventor of Pong, the first really successful computer arcade game once told me, “The objective was not for someone to win. The objective was to get kids to put another quarter in the slot.”

I woke up the other morning and discovered someone had invented a new buzzword: “Gamification.” It has already found its way onto into Wikipedia. Last week I got my first invites to a Gamification presentation as well as a webinar. I’m sure I’ll soon see a business card from a consultant claiming to have gamification expertise.

I have to admit, the whole concept seems to be pretty long of tooth to be a candidate for the “Next Big Thing.” I think the whole idea of making marketing fun is a good one. It’s usually pretty transparent what marketers are doing and everyone likes a deal, a contest or a chance to win a free plastic whistle.

What I am afraid is about to happen is that all marketing and sites start copying all others in this gamification stuff. It can once again mess up what has started to happen in recent years in social media. There has been some motion toward making marketing about relationships with customers and less about seeing people who buy your products and services as sticky eyeballs with targets painted on their foreheads.

My really big thought for you marketers out there is to never underestimate the value of fun in business. Think about yourself and the people you hang out with. Think about the meetings, presentations, shopping experiences you remember fondly.

Be original. Use games, or entertainment to amuse, and even entice. But if you think cluttering a program with points and badges will really distinguish you from the competition in some sort of enduring way, then I wish you good luck in you next online job search.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s been a debate that has not raged on since Shel Holtz started it back in February. Rather,  it barely has trickled. It’s an issue about government deception and ethical quagmire in social networks.  Most folk these days seem to prefer chattering about things like “Six  Power Steps to Getting More Followers,” or the “Seven Best Left-Handed Social Media Gurus,” or whatever used to adorn the cover of People magazine.

Shel’s post was about the military using intentionally disguised avatars to spread venom about people they-or we-consider enemies. The anonymity was important because our military was lying in its attempts to capture hearts and minds, which I guess is more efficient and less messy than killing the people whose hearts and minds oppose us.

When I read it, the movie Avatar came quickly to mind. It wasn’t on Facebook, but it was an example of how you can fool innocent people who happen to be obstructing business or military goals.

Shel, one of the calmest and most rational voices in social media was clearly outraged and it showed. But his post got few retweets and fewer comments.

A full month later, social marketing author Jonathan Salem Baskin picked up the conversation in an Advertising Age column. With a good deal of eloquence he joined Shel Holtz viewpoint, but added another question: why was the social media community virtually ignoring the whole thing?

Now, John Cass has joined the conversation. And he has added a few questions of his own, that makes your realized there are nuances and insinuations that seem to make the issue more complex than Shel or Johnathan argued.

He and Johnathan are collaborating on a joint article and they are looking for as many voices and points of view as they can muster. It is an attempt to raise awareness, and more than that it seems to me to be an attempt to shake the apathy over important, complex and ethical issues that seems to have clouded social media into a fog of cute quips and banal topics so often lately.

Let me clarify that I find using deception in social media to be almost always wrong. The only anonymity that I have endorsed has involved discussions of children who have been abused and a woman who blogged years ago as a rape victim.

The use of such deceptions and contrivances by the military is of course wrong–at least from wear I sit. I share the outrage. But I really cannot add to what my colleagues have stated in that area.

What I would like to add to the conversation is my sadness, that this is no longer a topic upon which the blogosphere would pounce. It once was. A blogger would write an opinion piece in 600-800 words and there would be a stream of 20-50 comments. Then someone else, with a different perspective would move the conversation over to her or his blog.

Facebook and Twitter back in those ancient times of say 2007, would serve as amplifiers. You’d go there and point to links. Perhaps you’d add a short comment. The deeper talks stayed on blogs or maybe podcasts.

Somehow, in the last three years, it seems to me that the central conversation has moved to the shallower, faster venues of Twitter. There’s good reason. The social nets require less time and less talent, so more people can join the conversation.

This, in general, is not so bad. It seems to have a great many business advantage. it should allow people to talk with many other people on hot topics where diverse points of view can be shared.

But it isn’t looking like that is what has happened.

More and more, each of us, seem to be chattering away with people who share our points of view; with people who like what we like, see what we see and say what we say but in slightly different words.

Back in 2007, the blogosphere was sometimes viewed by institutions as a potentially angry mob. Now we are a crowd.  The crowd is not always sought for its wisdom, so much because it is an inexpensive way to shape public opinion.

I like what my three colleagues are trying to do. They are attempting to elevate the conversation. They are attempting to bring your attention to a topic you probably don’t often search for because it is important. It impacts the ethics of the Western world. It impact who we in the west are as a culture.

I hope you join this conversation. If you disagree, I hope you will take the time to post a thoughtful piece about why I am wrong.

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t know when my new book will be available. But the longer I wait the more overwhelming will be the percentage of people reading the book on a handheld device, rather than in paper form. A majority of business books are now purchased in ebook format.

Like most people my age and a great many authors, I had some reluctance to leve paper.As a child I found libraries to be hallowed places. I could go to the shelf, pull something out and travel all over the world and beyond. As an author, I love seeing my name on a jacket and I love people queueing up to get my autograph.

But I need to write in style and format that my readers will be seeing so a few months back I purchased a Kindle. I felt like I cheating on a tradition when I started reading on the book. I immediately missed page numbers and I deeply resented that Amazon format on it’s device did not make the author’s name evident. The design was nearly non existent and the editing clearly inferior to in finished books.

That being said, I never looked back to a paper book again. I no longer browse in a neighborhood Borders and the local independent bookstore stocks nothing that interests me that I have not read. The Kindle form is small and light and durable. I like to read in bed, and fall asleep often with the lightweight device on my chest. I can travel anywhere without schlepping the weight and paper. Kindle remembers where I left off, so I don’t have to search for my place. Any sentiments I held for the paper book soon went the way of the newspaper that once joined a cup of coffee at the start of my day.

Then I purchased an iPad. I did not get it as a reader. I got it in part, because the platform is extremely important to my anchor client Appconomy. I also got it because I am considered a tech community insider and not having one felt wrong. Besides, watching all my colleagues swish about the touchscreen made it feel like they were cooler and having more fun than I was on a MacBook.

I downloaded the Kindle for iPad after a few days and started switching off between it and my Kindle form. There are many differences. The iPad is a bigger sharper screen. There are three very different setting that you can use under different lighting conditions. It is beautiful and has some design incorporated into it.

I started to switch off between the two. The first marvel is that when I picked up my iPad the app knew where I left off on my Kindle. I slapped my forehead realizing that my books were stored on the Internet. But the look between the two was very different.

A few friends warned me that it is unhealthy to read on an iPad because it has a backlit screen. I have had no problem with eye fatigue and asked my optometrist who knew of no reports of a vision problem caused by iPad.

Also, most people with iPads purchase a$39 cover, that let’s you stand your computer on two angles–one for typing and the other for reading. On an airplane, where I used to contort myself with large, heavy paper books, the iPad on the stand is a thing of elegance.

In fact, for me that is where it works best. Because of the touch screen, an iPad is best for book reading when you can read hands free, then just tap the screen to turn a page. It works worst in bed, where hands on the device keep flipping pages or closing the program when I have no desire to do so.

On the other hand, the Kindle is smaller and much, much lighter it is easier to read and hold than the iPad because it was designed to do so.

In Many ways this is an Apple to Oranges comparison [pun intended]. The Kindle is designed to do one thing and the iPad to do a great many. I think in the end the iPads will continue to get lighter in weight and people will gravitate to having just one device.

In fact, I’d be happier with a Kindle if it had less functionality. I don’t need the keypad it provides and would prefer more reading space on the same sized form.

The iPad is clearly going another route. It is likely not to get less expensive and it is undoubtedly picking up more and more functionality as we speak.

As far as what I’ve learned as an author. I will make my paragraphs and chapters shorter. I find I read more often during the day, but for shorter periods of time. In books, I never really minded long chapters, but somehow I now prefer to read block-length chunks on an e-book.

I have been hammering a lot about user identity, and privacy and personalization on the Internet lately. This is partly because I am passionate about the subjects and I’m reading a book that has raised my alarm level by several clicks. But, in the interest of transparency, I have a vested interest. I am working very closely with Austin-based Appconomy, a company that has absolutely convinced me that can do something about letting you socially network with your friends and colleagues in private. Today, they released the new Grouped{in} Ver 1.2 at the Apple Store. It is a considerable improvement over the previous version if you ask me, but it still has some distance to travel. I hope you will download a version onto your mobile device and play with it for a while. Set up a group of friends and colleagues and see how it works. Then give me your feedback—pro or con. You can tweet comments to me at shelisrael, leave a comment here or send me email. Either works for me, although I prefer the transparency of public conversations in this case. Grouped{in} is one of a small—but growing—handful of emerging social networking software products designed for you to talk with people you know and with whom you share a common interest as opposed massive social networks like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.   Here’s my perspective on each, seen from my perspective as a Grouped{in} champion.   Beluga is perhaps the best-known, in part, because it was purchased by Facebook and is integrated with Facebook—but not with Twitter. It’s a nice piece of technology. And like, Grouped{in} promises users privacy. But, it seems to me, you need to stop and think about the owner’s track record on respecting your privacy and in tracking your conversations. Facebook would concern me if I were collaborating in a workgroup, or discussing a family health issue. Also, for those of you who remember Friendfeed, the future for Beluga may not be as bright as one might hope.

GroupMe is our other major competitor. It also has some very nice functionality. I like how they’ve integrated maps, which is important in a mobile app. But unlike Grouped{in}, you cannot integrate your conversations onto either Facebook or Twitter when you want to go public with your conversation.   Grouped{in} is still a little rough in places if you ask me. We need to make it clearer to new users, what is going on. We need to make it wealth of functionality clearer to users.   But we do have a lot more than our competitors do, if you ask me. Here are some of our competitive advantages:

  • When you talk inside our application, you are absolutely, unbreakably private. We are not looking. We will not look. But when you have a need to include others in your conversation, we let you talk with them on Twitter, Facebook on text or even good old-fashioned email. The point is that you should be able to form a group based on friendship or common interest, not on the platform provider’s marketing goals.
  • Too often important social network conversations get lost in cyberspace. Grouped{in} has a deal with Evernote that allows you to archive your conversations there.
  • We are the only group networking software that integrates with Twitter. For those of you conducting business conversations, you may find that important.

Uh-oh. I’m starting to sound like a product guy—and I’m not. I’d rather you take a look at it and tell me what you think. It is really important to me. I want users to collaborate with our ace development team, so that we can produce a superior product.

I’m continuing to read “The Filter Bubble–what the Internet is Hiding from You” by Eli Pariser, former executive director of MoveOn.Org. I really wish that you would look at the book. There is more going on than I realized and the issues impact all of us.

Essentially, the book points out that virtually every large website is paying attention to what we do online. Google measures our clicks and what we look at. Facebook pays attention to who we talk to. Netflix of course monitors what we watch.

Meanwhile, there are two data collection companies–obscure entities with names designed to be readily forgotten. They are running around collecting data on every single person on the Internet. On the average they have 2500 pieces of information on each one of us. Worse, they are in the business of selling the data they collect to anyone, which is pretty close to every large organization that you visit on the web.

Most of us already know that this has to do with what ads are put in front of us, which is not all that bad, because we should be seeing more about things that interest us and receiving special offers and discounts on items we may actually want.

But in the process that Google, Facebook and other companies call “personalization,” web sites are serving you information today, based on what you looked at yesterday. So you see more and more content that reinforces what you already saw. So if you are 24 and were exploring topics or politics or sports you will be setting in motion the content that you will see for the rest of your life online.

You will eventually not realize that there is other information, with other points of view. This is starting to shape, not just ads, but what information we see related to elections, foreign affairs, the environment, etc. If you were an investor, during the recent BP fiasco, you very well would have continued to see more data on stock performance that you would have on the oil spill.

In short, we are being fed what we ate yesterday. Those who consumed different information that conflicts with you, eats from an entirely different plate on a complete different menu. Over time, it makes members of society increasingly polarized, a phenomenon which many of us already feel we are seeing.

But hat really concerns me is evidenced in those ads we see in the left column on Google, in Facebook and elsewhere. Those “people you may know” and those deals that might interest you, usually don’t.

In short, the sites are still doing a bad job of personalizing most of us in a way that is helpful to us. The advertisers may be happy, because response has grown from two to four percent. But you and I are being personalized–and stereotyped based on data that seems to be wrong an overwhelming majority of the time.

I consider myself a social media evangelist. Since 2004, I’ve sung the praises of social media and personalization. Eli Pariser writes about unintended consequences, and personally–they are very disturbing to me.

I tweeted yesterday that Facebook had started offering facial recognition software and most people who responded thought this was a handy feature. Today, I learned that privacy concerns have already been raised over the service.

If you read this blog, you probably already know that I am seriously, deeply and increasingly concerned about online privacy, particularly at Facebook, which seems to take a callous view of user concerns.

But I’m not so sure that this photo recognition technology is a bad thing. Years ago, I consulted a company that at the time, was named Riya. It was a pioneer in facial recognition software such as Facebook is using today. Essentially, it meant that if I could teach Riya that this was my wife’s face, in a picture and I tagged it–then all my photos of her would be recognized and tagged, saving me a great deal of time and making it easier for me to find her in my collection.

If I posted my photo online–back then it would be to Flickr, then any other photos of her would be automatically recognized and tagged.

This is very convenient, but it does raise some concerns about photo tagging. It might make you think twice about tagging shots of your children. It would indeed be easy for an online predator to link your child’s face to where you live or perhaps even the school.

So, there are tradeoffs that you should consider.

In fact, almost every online privacy issue is a tradeoff. If you want search that is relevant to you focus, or add that have something to do with products that interest you, then the user data being collected serves you to some degree.

But there are unintended consequences to this massive aggregation of who we are, where we click and what keeps us on a site.

In this case, Facebook can provide a simple solution in the form of an opt out, feature that prevents the photos you upload from being tagged. It seems to me an easy fix that any company concerned with the user’s right to privacy would have thought out before offering the service.

 

People who know or follow me know that my first love is writing. My books, articles and this blog have been extremely good for me in terms both self-gratification and in building personal reputation and recognition.

But as all but a very small handful of writers will tell you. The profession requires a vow of poverty compared with other ways writers can make a living. Often we support our writing addictions with other activities. In my case those are speaking and consulting.

I have consulted for most of my professional life. Since 2006, when Naked Conversations was published, I’ve limited my consulting gigs to projects such as webinars, workshops, proprietary social media-based research and helping companies use social media to achieve business goals.

Almost without exception,  these projects have lasted three months or less and were centered around specific, deliverables. This has allowed me to do some interesting–even challenging work–without getting deeply involved in the company’s long-term outcome.

It has allowed me to wake up most mornings thinking about my writing rather than my client’s aspirations so long as I delivered quality goods, within budget and deadline.

It was a short date that I had in mind when I met

But something happened back in March. I met Brian Magierski, co-founder of Appconomy, a mobile applications company. He contracted me for a three-month project. The project got cancelled a few weeks later, but during that time, Brian and I got to talking, and those conversations made us realize that in many ways he, and I and Appconomy were philosophically fellow travelers. We shared hopes and gears for where online technology was heading.

There were four key points:

  1. Privacy. Both Brian and I discovered we had rising concerns about the data being collected on each of us.  Probably, you share this concern, but so what? We’re all concerned about air pollution as well, but as individuals we are limited to what we can do to affect change. Online user privacy, like air pollution, keeps getting more complex and solutions seem increasingly daunting even as both problems worsen. But Brian showed me how Appconomy’s flagship product will address it in a meaningful way. I’ll be talking more about that later.
  2. Massive Media. Social media was supposed to be close up and personal when compared with traditional mass media. Most of us started using social networks to talk with a few friends and colleagues, or to meet people with whom we shared common interests. But the our passion for what was small and intimate caused an unprecedented growth. The unintended consequences of that growth is that we lost the intimacy we originally joined social networks to enjoy. Now, when we speak to a friend, ten people can jump in, three of them spammer trying to inject something to sell into your chat with a friend. Social media has become many times larger than mass media. It has become Massive Media.  Sometimes, this is just fine. Building large audiences is good for many businesses, no matter where it takes place. But it is not always good for you and me when we want to talk with our friends online. It seems to Brian and me, that something has been lost.  It has become very difficult to talk to people we know or with strangers with whom we share interests. We have lost intimacy.  There is a real and growing need to be social in private. And that privacy should also need that our technology host should not e watching us, counting our clicks, recording what we say and what we look at.
  3. Mobile is fundamental. Brian was ahead of me on this. But in my conversations with Brian and with his team, I have come to understand that smart phones and tablets like the iPad are fundamentally changing how people use technology in the same way as when the desktop moved to laptops and even when the centralized mainframes were usurped by desktop computers. Brian persuaded me to buy an iPad, and now one month later, my entire computing experience has evolved into something new and different. This is a global phenomenon.
  4. It’s more global than we think. Hell, this site is called Global Neighbourhoods, because I believe one of the most important aspects of the social media revolution of the last decade is that geography has become a lot less relevant. The world is filled with people who share your interests. It is also filled with smart people, who speak many languages but will create new and valuable applications that will drive mobile technologies to uses that none of us has even thought about. Apple Computer has already demonstrated this with its app store. But we believe the Apple Store is not an end but a beginning. We envision one online store selling tens of thousands of applications from people all over the world for people all over the world.

Appconomy is addressing each of these issues. It has an ambitious and aggressive vision and plan. It has a great team and fun culture. It may not be the only company with these qualities or addressing these issues, but respect for privacy is being baked in to the Appconomy culture. If other companies take this approach, we welcome them even if they compete with us. It is time for companies who claim they give users what they want, to respect the privacy of those users.

Brian is who I got to meet at the start of this story. But he has an extremely talented longterm friend and business partner in  Steve Papermaster, who understands international issues and brings to the table a first-rate world view and company strategy.

My role will be to develop a social communications strategy and to help them implement it. I have some decent credential in the area. I will be spending about half my time working with Appconomy, the remainder will stay working on projects for other companies and continuing with other writing projects such as my OPENForum column and my soon-to-be-dusted off book project.

But yes, when I wake up each morning, I think about Appconomy and how I can help them turn their vision into reality. And I am very excited about it.

 

 

Back in April, my friend Scott Monty recommended that I try  Empire Avenue, a new kind of game that treated social media people as if we were investable companies. It created a virtual currency and let is trade in the stocks of our friends. I tried it. I liked it and I posted here recommending others join in the fun.

Now, five weeks later I find the site a tedious yawner.

I saw great potential at first. Trading in social capital, might allow people to elevate or demote the social capital of their peers. Stock prices–and whether they are rising or falling–might be an early indicator of who and what was rising in that elusive thing called influence and the wisdom of the crowd might outperform the jiggering of algorithms by social analytics companies.

I also thought the game would develop. A marketplace of social capital would include, short sellers indicating betrayals between friends and colleagues; authentic and corrupt buy-side analysts, trading on inside information, when you knew in advance that your friend was about to be promoted or sacked. I saw the opportunity for hostile takeovers and online virtual proxy meetings.

In short I saw a game imitating life and that game would show information and teach us something about social media community behavior.

What was I drinking?

None of that developed. In fact, it turns out, the game is just a game, and not a very good one at that. There are no clear winners and no clear ways to compete. No behavior or information is being revealed. It is difficult to maintain a spontaneous conversation on the product. Stock scores tend to hover within a given range and if you check, Empire Avenue stock prices seem  pretty close to people’s Klout Scores.

So, if I was the one who turned you on to Empire Avenue, I apologize. This is why I usually avoid making predictions on early trends. Sometimes a fad is just a fad. Sometimes I am monumentally wrong. I once called  the iPad an “ugly puppy.” Now, I believe it is the future of personal computing.

I would still like to see a massively multi-user game that played with human behavior and social capital. I do not think it will be Empire Avenue.

 

 

 

I’m reading The Filter Bubble, What the Internet is Hiding from You by Eli Pariser. It is a great and chilling book about the data that virtually every commercial site online is gathering about you. It talks about how answers to search are skewed based on your online actions and it talks about how your most personal purchases are shared so that you can get special offers for similar items.

I recommend that anyone concerned about how this “personalization” as the author calls it, is entrenching personal opinions on politics, economics, movies–just about any topic you may research. Google is saving you from the annoyance of seeing views that you might not agree with.

To me this is a matter for great concern. Yes, I understand, that it makes sense to personalize to the extent that online marketers can put more appealing ads and promotions in front of each of us. But this book is making me realize the unintended consequences are far greater and frightening that I had suspected.

I tweeted a recommendation for the book a short time ago and–as often happens–I got a few cynical responses about how no one cares about our privacy anymore and that I should get over it.

Maybe I speak to all the wrong people, but everyone I know seems to be concerned about this loss of privacy. Fewer folk seem aware that our search results have been skewered toward what data collectors think we want to see. But ,my guess is that most of us want google and Bing and the rest to give us impartial results and let the ad in the sidebar or at the top of the page be damned.

The issue is that we do not know what to do about it.

Almost everyone I know uses Facebook and yet nearly everybody tells me they object to the company’s cavalier handling of out personal data. They just  just don’t feel they have any options.

It’s the same as it was years ago with cars. We knew they were dangerous and polluting, but we have to drive. So we shrugged and did what we had to do to live in a modern world. But the concern led to market opportunities and over time cars got safer and polluted less.

Right now, we have few options but to use Google and Facebook and other sites that seem to know our preferences in just about everything. . But as more and more people become aware of the problems, market opportunities arise and when they come out a few people will try them. If they like their experiences, they’ll draw in more and in that way, at least part of our personal privacy may be restored.

No it isn’t going to happen overnight. But changes may be coming soon. And in my view, we will all be better off when they start.

 

 

 

 

Wherever I turn, it seems one of my many friends who work as independent social media consultants  are either looking for fulltime jobs or have recently taken one. I’m not talking about superstars like Chris Brogan. Nor do I include the out-of-nowhere self-proclaimed social media “experts” who usually turn out to be  ” know-nothings.”

The people I’m talking about are the many mid-level professionals who have done quite well in the last couple of years, by helping a great many companies of diverse size and focus to find their way into social media.

When I ask consultants why they’ve chosen this time to leave consulting and seek employment, they usually start by saying, “it’s time.”

They’re absolutely right. It’s time because the times have fast-evolved.

A few short years ago, social media consultants were still evangelists, explaining that the new conversational tools were not a fad; that it is better to listen to angry customers than set barriers to communications, that once you knew what you wanted to do with social media, you could measure almost every aspect of the process and result.

More recently, the business conversation shifted from the fundamental question of “Why should we…” to “how can we,” and the consultants went from being lonely voices in the dark corners, to pragmatic educators of how new tools could be provide significant, scalable and sustainable improvements.

A decade of social media disruption is now coming to an end. To a very large number of mainstream enterprises, large and small, social media is just one more item to integrate into the workflow process. While a few years ago, there were just ideas, today there are processes. While a few years ago social media teams in large enterprises were relegated to skunkworks operations, now social media is being used by marketing, recruiting, communications, business development, sales, support and so much more.

While a few years ago, there was no such thing as a community manager, there are now thousands of them.

In short, social media’s disruption is pretty much over and now the longer, slower, duller process of integrating social media into enterprise fabric, where diverse workers use tools to get their jobs done the same way they use computers, search and email.

consultants are for new waves of change. In the years I have been in the workplace, I’ve seen consultants for IT, for ethernet connection, faxes, email, security and firewall issues. I even recall being trained on how to use the new IBM typewriters with the ball, instead of a striker. Likewise there were experts on each of these subjects, who not only consulted, but they wrote books and spoke and conferences where people who were either puzzled or passionate about the new technologies gathered to listen, learn and occasionally be inspired.

That’s the state of social media today. It is normalizing inside of business. It is becoming an integrated system in place. There are guidelines for ethics. The lawyers have stopped screeching about risk. Operations officers are comfortable measuring results.

If you are really good at social media, there are tons of jobs for companies who want to normalize social media practices. That is an in-house position. The specialist with hard-to-find expertise on the subject is a dime a dozen as more and more people get accustomed to social media.

This is a normal evolution. It is time for many consultants to join companies and spend a few years continuing the normalization process which bring us out of the decade of corruption and into this new Conversational Age.

It’s time.

 

 

When Scott Monty sent me an invite to play Empire Avenue, the social media world’s hot-product-du-jour, I groaned. Why do I need another distraction to distract me from all my other social media distractions, I asked him.

He answered with tweeting brevity. “It’s fun,” he said. “It does what Klout is supposed to do, but we rate our own friends.

Both statements interested me. We can never overrate the value of fun. And I have long been interested in the numerical rankings that several social analytic services have started using to rate people and the social media influence.

So I took a quick look at Empire Avenue. That was two days ago, and now I am immersed and addicted. I feel like scrawling across the screen, “Stop me before I invest again,” but I am too busy playing to stop long enough to scrawl.

Empire Avenue, is modeled after Wall Street. It creates a virtual money, which t oddly calles “eaves.” You start by offering shares in yourself and buying the shares of other players. It is already well-populated and you will see many of the familiar names. The usual early adopters got there first and therefore their stocks are leading the market.

Right now it’s easy, fun and everyone seems to be making money, um…eaves. But that may change, as often happens in the market. I also think the EmpireAvenue folk will make it a little harder for everyone to get rich quick. They start you with 10,000 eaves, but their obvious monetization strategy is to sell you eaves in return for the more generally used dollars.But what is going on, is that people are ranking their peers in a marketplace environment. I’m not sure that your stock price can be equated to influence, as Klout claims it’s scores measure.

But I do think that it shows the street creds of people in social media, and your stock score says what people think of you while your Klout score shows the result of computer-based data analysis. This is the wisdom of a crowd vs the stats of a spreadsheet, and I for one, will go with people every time. I think Empire Avenue is social analytics at its best.

Look someone up on Klout and you see a screen filled with boxes and numbers. Look at Empire Ave and you see the faces of people you may know or have heard of. Which do you prefer? I’m no great expert on predicting the future of start ups, but I find this game to be very viral and quite promising. Of course, in time, people may figure ut how to game the game. Then the results will be tainted and the fun may go a tad sour, but we shall see.

You don’t have to get as analytical as I have been doing over at Empire Avenue. Just play it for a while and [heh] remember the first 10,000 Eaves are free.

I’ve been fortunate. As active as I am in social media, I had not been hacked until recently. The first assault that was detected appeared on this blog. Malicious code was embedded in my TweetMeme Plug In. When people using Internet Explorer visited my blog, they were subjected to a barrage of offensive popup spam messages.

A techie friend, Dagan Henderson, jumped onto the case. It took some time to purge this blog, but it seems okay now. Dagan warned me repeatedly and with some passion to change my passwords immediately, to which I agreed three days ago.

But, as so often happens, I got busy, no slammed. Clients needed help, my book project is slipping deadlines. I had friends in from out of town and the dog peed on my Kindle. Pee happens.

Yesterday, I got a message on Facebook and when I opened it, it triggered something that was sent to many of the 1,000 people I follow. Yikes, I thought. I changed my password and apologized. I was about to change my password on Twitter, when a client needed some immediate help and thus I spaced.

This morning, I slept late and at first I was amused that morning tweeters were talking to me in French. I thought it was Bastille Day. But apparently, for a short time this morning, my settings were on French as my preferred language. During that same time, however, a phisher went in and DM’d the 1800 people I follow, with a spam essage.

In case you don’t know about phishing, it’s when you get an offer–say a free iPad–that requires you to log in. you get nothing–except the log in goes to a bad guy who can now pretend to be you and abuse the trust that other people put in you. The phisher then uses my friends credibility to try to dupe their friends and so on. So it is really nasty and can go on for a long time.

After resetting my Twitter password I went to my online banking site. There I was stunned after trying to log in to see a message saying “access denied,” followed by a large blog of strange looking encryption code. I called, B of A who was pretty sharp on the issue. They started by assuring me my balances were correct. They could not confirm that I had been hacked, but said what I was seeing could have been caused by repeated attempts to access the account using different username/password combinations.

In any case, my money is safe and my access was restored after changing passwords.

If you are like me, you have ignored all the warnings to periodically change your password and to not use the same password everywhere. It’s easy to remember one password. I probably do not even remember all the places where I am using the one that I’ve had for several years.

I just learned a tough lesson. I hope that by sharing it, I may have helped a few of you from not having to learn it the way that I just did.

 

Is every company now a media company?

[Tom Foremski photo by JD Lasica]

Tom Foremski will be covered in my new book, Pioneers of Social Media in the chapter called braided journalism. He has twice blazed a path for others to follow.

The first time was in 2004, when he was the first journalist to step out of a prestige traditional news organization to start his own news-covering blog, Silicon Valley Watcher. As he observes in this interview, while others follow his path, they have not done what he has done in the nontraditional way he has done it with his blog-based column.
Last year, Tom pioneered a new path again–not by making a new career change, but by sharing a profound observation–that social media now requires every company to become a media company. Nothing changes everything, but that thought, it seems to me will change a great deal.
Tom was born in Salzburg, Austria the son of Polish parents. He suffered from whooping cough as a child, which folklore says, is cured by crossing a body of water. His parents a small manufacturing operator and a school teacher moved him and his two younger brothers to the UK, where Tom’s sickness disappear. He was raised in the UK.
He arrived in San Francisco in 1984, becoming one of the first European journalists to cover Silicon Valley. He quickly established an international news agency, West Coast News, which provided leading publications around the world, such as The Financial Times, with breaking news, features, and analysis. He also published The Street – A View from the Haight, a neighborhood newspaper focused on San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district.

In 1999 he joined the Financial Times’ San Francisco bureau full time to help expand the newspaper’s coverage of US technology markets and Silicon Valley. He left the Financial Times in 2004 and continues to write columns on Silicon Valley for the Financial Times, and on his own Silicon Valley Watcher.

 

In your recent past, you shifted from being a media company employee to becoming a media company. What made you decide to make the move?

In 2004 blogging was starting to emerge from the geek space and be noticed by the mainstream press. I was working at the Financial Times and it just seemed like a good idea to jump right in. I didn’t really understand blogging but I knew in my gut that it was game-changing and the best way to understand it was to start doing it.

I had not done any blogging or even read blogs much but my good friends Om Malik at GigaOm and David Galbraith were heavily into blogging and encouraged me to follow.

Also, I had some experience being a publisher, I had published a local newspaper in the Haight/Ashbury district called “The Street: A View From The Haight” in the late 1980s; and I had run a news company, West Coast Media for about 15 years, so I knew that I didn’t need to have a safe, regular job.

 

How does blogging for yourself change how and what your write?

When I left the Financial Times I continued writing on the same topics and in the same way: interviewing senior execs at companies such as Intel, Cisco plus startups. That didn’t change much at all from my FT work. However, I also found that I could write in a different style, what I called my 3 am style, which could be off-beat and more gonzo journalism in a toned down Hunter S. Thompson [l] style. That made it all very enjoyable and it was acceptable, because the medium was new and no one knew what “blogging” should be like.

 

Why do you think there hasn’t been a great stampede of reporters and editors into the blog  journalist role you have pioneered?

I don’t see a big stampede. In fact, I see very few blogs out there. Look at GigaOm, ReadWriteWeb, All Things D, Business Insider, VentureBeat… What makes them blogs?

They are online news sites with the same structure of editors, sub-editors, photographers, etc. that the old media has.  Yes, they use a blogging platform to publish but that’s because blogging platforms are inexpensive, rock-solid publishing platforms. (When I was at the Financial Times we were transitioning to a new media publishing platform that cost millions to build and required a full time support staff of dozens.

When I left, I installed Movable Type on a server in the cloud. I had an extremly powerful content management system, running on a Linux stack for $50 a month.) But just because you use a blogging platform doesn’t make you a blogger. What makes those “new media” publications different from the “old media?” I don’t see any difference at all in their content or their organization.

 

For the past several months, your anthem has become “every company is a media company.” Just what does that mean?

‘Every company is a media company’ is something I began to notice soon after I left the Financial Times. I only started to write about it in the last year or so because now people can understand this idea a lot better.

I remember a meeting in early 2005 with Dan Scheinman[r], head of M&A and corporate communications at Cisco. He shared with me some of the traffic stats Cisco was getting for their in-house newsroom, news@cisco, which employs former media professionals — reporters and editors. Cisco was getting more traffic than the largest IT publications.

That’s when it hit me that every company is a media company, every company has to publish to its customers, to its staff, to its communities.

Even if you make diapers you still need the skills of a media company. And in today’s fragmented media world you need those skills even more than before because there is an important phenomena in media: if you establish a pole position it is very difficult for others to dislodge you.

For example, Zappos blogging in online shoe buying, have you heard of anyone else in that space? The same happens in other media sectors. People complain about the quality of Techcrunch coverage but it’s in a pole position in startup coverage and so you have to live with it whether you like it or not. For companies, if they can’t establish a pole position in their media space their competitors will grab it. If you are not seen online you are invisible. But what does it take to be a media company? That’s where I’m hoping to help companies and help finance my day job publishing Silicon Valley Watcher.

 

Can you give me an example of a company that has demonstrated it can take advantage of being a media company?

Zappos is a good example. Also Intel, which I’ve worked with and now produces a lot of media, such as Intel Free Press, with photos, podcasts, video, hiring former media professionals to do the work. Also IBM has been very savvy thanks to Jon Iwata [l] and his visionary leadership.

 

So companies can use social media to tell their own stories by themselves. Is there not a danger that they’ll just embed a PR writer on the corporate blog to pump out marketing crap in social media clothing?

 

Yes, there is a danger of doing that, which is why it is important to have some media professionals on hand to try to keep a high quality. But that’s not easy because companies will always have tendency to “gild the lily” and worse.

The beauty of the Internet is that you get a quick repsonse to how well you are doing. Yes, you can write marketing claptrap and delight your internal audience but the external audience will avoid it. What result do you want? Unfortunately, companies approach media projects via a committee and that doesn’t produce the best results, it tends to produce mediocre results.

 

Can you suggest a few ways that a company can take advantage this new role as a media company?

Companies need to find the natural storytellers within their organizations. Sometimes those people are fairly junior people but they know how to tell the stories of the company and they have a natural enthusiasm and passion for their subject. A

lso, companies need to understand the ephemeral nature of media, “yesterday’s fish wrap” is still very true, or in today’s world, it’s the “prior hour’s fishwrap.” The noise level in the online media world is loud and getting louder. How do you punch through that? You have to be consistent and you have to be in it for the long haul.

Becoming a media company is not for the faint hearted but it’s something that every company has to master or be left out of the picture. It’s one of the most important strategy issues facing every business.

 

How does “every company” change the way they interact with traditional media companies?

They don’t. And they can help traditional media. For example, today’s newsrooms are poorly staffed, the journalists are working three times as hard, if you can provide them with background info, pictures, video, etc in a readily usable form then that helps them do their job and you, as a company, help them get the story out.  The traditional media companies don’t have to use your media materials but if it is there then they probably will because it makes them more productive.

 

What is the role of communications managers and consultants in all this?

Once companies realize that they also have to be media companies there are lots of skills and services they will need. If they are large like Intel or Cisco they can develop many of those skills in-house. But for many smaller companies they will need to buy-in those skills as they need them, and so there will be a huge need for skilled media professionals and services.

 

Is this whole concept another nail in the coffin of news media companies?

No, not at all. It’s all about “horses for courses.” Companies won’t displace news organizations they will be complimentary. The way people consume media is different. When I go to Cisco or IBM I am conscious that what I read will be biased in some way towards the company, that’s fine, I can adjust for that. News media companies are an independent platform and I adjust my expectations. One doesn’t negate the other.

The nail in the coffin for news media is that they cannot port their legacy business model to the new digital business model. For example, Business Insider, the popular news site founded by Henry Blodget, the former Wall Street analyst recently revealed its 2010 finances. It made a profit of $2K on $5m in revenues. It has 8 million readers yet each one is worth just 62 cents a year. That’s the stark reality of the online media business model. You can’t get there from here. That’s why we see the old media in so much trouble and that’s why the carnage has a lot further to go. And with fewer media organizations out there, companies need to start relying on their own efforts to help tell their own stories.

 

I’ve been thinking a lot lately of how social media has changed and where it is going. I’ve written a lot about trends in recent posts and with my new book, I am thinking lots about it all started.

Among the places we have clearly and dramatically changed without anyone much noticing is our language. Social media has become the language of business. I’m fearful it may end up becoming the language of marketing an we will go full circle back to the days of the corporate “we,” and contrived images of employees of global corporations talking in perfect harmony as the march forth in lockstep.

Social media in business began with a good deal of informality. We were irreverent. Bloggers kidded each other. Sometimes it escalated into rip-roaring shouting matches. We used four-letter words and from time-to-time we used an adjective that rhymes with “ducking.”

There was an excitement and certain lack of polish. We got a lot of things wrong a lot of the time, but our conversations tweaked the story toward the truth.

I remember Dave Winer, one of the Pioneers who blazed a few paths the rest of us now follow. He often wrote how he enjoyed seeing typos in blogs because it revealed authenticity. It showed there was a real person there. My blogs often single draft efforts and I may lead the league in typos overall. But there are far few posts containing typos.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. But my concern is that the current trends toward polish, cross-editing, post-timing is eroding the spontaneity, candor and authenticity that has made blogs so special.

You see more of that on Twitter and Facebook, but you see less of it. Yesterday, I noticed an individual whose tweets I follow, start referring to himself as “we.” Then I noticed how many avatars had migrated to nice businesslike photos in recent times.

I suppose this had to happen.

In the beginning, we were just a band of unwashed guerrillas, striking with words, pictures and videos from out of the woods.  We might hurl an epitaph or two at the gates of empires, then we’d steal an occassional chicken and disappear into our day jobs.

Now we are inside those gates. We have been embraced and are being assimilated. We are becoming part of the process. We have become polite and we speak in a manner acceptable to family audiences.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. There is all sorts of evidence that we have humanized the enterprise and nudged government and even institutional religion toward listening and responding to constituents.

But I wonder if all our polite talk and confrontation aversion isn’t making the conversation a bit bland and not all that different from what it was before the revolution.

I’ve talked a lot in recent posts about the increasing array of tools to monitor, measure and analyze social media. I’ve dabbled in many of them and like a few few.

Most are designed to serve business needs, perhaps more than personal.

I find that in this infinite tool shed, I remain fondest of one of the oldest and simplest measurements, the retweet. There are several ways to measure and you’ve seen them. You can retweet this blog. You can retweet my tweets. I can go to Bit.ly, my current URL truncator and I can see who and how many and when my links were shared by others.

I follow retweets more closely than I do any other measurement because I like what it tells me. It tells me when content I something I posted resonates. You can retweet social content for any reason including absolute disagreement. But still, even when you disagree, a retweet extends the conversation and I for one, absolutely value the power of conversation.

Social media has changed a great deal in the last couple of years. People and brands use it in many diverse ways, some of which are brilliant and others of which are quite lame.

I tend to follow people who I notice retweet a lot. I think it shows they understand the value of the “we” over the “me” in social media. They understand it is far wiser to tell than sell.

Retweets continue a conversation and despite the many changes to social media in the last couple of years, conversations that can take off and spread and be shared quickly all over the world continues to be the best use of social media.

In the coming months and years, there will be many more ways to measure all things social. I doubt any of them will dislodge the humble, useful retweet.

I’m speaking tomorrow morning at the Social Media Breakfast for the San Francisco East Bay. It will be the third time in as many weeks that I’ve been asked to discuss social media trends.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence. Yes, it’s partly because we are at the beginning of the first year of the second decade of the Conversational Age. But more than that, there is a collective sense that one major phase of social media is ending and a new one is starting.

I share that viewpoint. We are at a flexpoint in social media. We have just experience a decade of relentless adoption of social media. There are almost no institutions that have not been forced to adapt to this fundamental change. If this were a geologic age it would be characterized by a period of volcanic eruption. As a business era, it has been a period of meteoric disruption.

But now, volcanoes are starting to quiet down. New land masses have formed. Some of the old ones have disappeared and those remaining have been transformed. There are new oceans and greenery. Some previously unknown creatures have emerged and seem to be thriving.

The era of upheaval, trauma and drama is ending. While there are still some significant tremors, they are less violent.

If there is one over riding trend, that I see it is that we have entered into an Age of Social Media Normalization. Business, government, religion, news, entertainment, education is now entering a quieter phase.

Their is much less excitement in this new era–and far greater value.

The value comes in every day work and personal life, being easier, more productive than ever before. Social media has eroded geographic barriers. It has started to erase be formidable barriers of language and if it has failed to flatten the world, it has certainly lowered the height and severity of the hills.

I try never to repeat myself in my writing and speaking–but it is sometimes inevitable. I have been thinking through several ideas for years now. I try to remember a trend is not a fad. It may start slowly and take years to become clear to all beholders. But a trend is fundamental and matters more than whether or not Facebook or Twitter prevails.

When I talk tomorrow, my key point will be that we have entered into this Age of Normalization. Under that there are many important subtrends that give evidence to the main idea.

They include–but are not limited to:

  • Braided Journalism. Last week the NY Times asked tweeters and Facebook people for helping generating news and photos of the Egyptian protest. This is just the most recent example of the convergence of citizen and traditional journalism. Likewise businesses have started to turn toward journalists rather than publicists to provide content that is credible to audiences they need to reach
  • Blurring Boundaries. Related to the above online conversations, including enterprise communities are allowing unprecedented collaboration and transparency between companies and their customers. This is leading to products being developed and refined faster and reduced marketing needs. In fact, social media has punched wholes in most organization boxes. For the most part, everyone benefits, but the blurring of boundaries is bound to cause some confusion.
  • Niche Networks–As the most successful social media sites continue to eclipse that which we used to call mass media, there will be hundreds, perhaps thousands of smaller, more intimate Niche Networks. These will each be centered around a single small topic such as Pleasantville Safe Streets or “Megacorpus Partner Certification.” These networks will be structured to appeal to a few people who care about topics that will not interest more general audiences. If you think about it, I bet you can immediately name six that you would join tomorrow.
  • All conversations everywhere. Emerging companies like Echo.Com and Livefyre are letting people see all content on a single topic in one screen, no matter where it was originally posted. Further curation services like Pearltrees are blurring machine and human resources to show you where you can find content most valuable for you. Eventually, this will mean that the user will be as agnostic about whether you posted on Facebook, Twitter or a blog as we are today about whether the package was shipped by FedEx or UPS.
  • Universal Translation. I’ve previously called this a Holy Grail of social media and it continues to be so. The idea is simple: I talk or type in my language t my computer. You see or hear it in yours. You respond in yours and I hear or see it in mine. Lately, there’s a lot happening here. New offerings like WordLens, SpeechTrans, the DOD’s TRANSTAC are moving us closer to Grail at accelerated speed. Imagine what this could do for Egyptians on the street trying to reach people all over the world.
  • Ubiquity. Lots of people are calling mobile, cloud and other emerging technologoes trends. To me, they are features of the oldest trend on this list; the idea that wherever you are, whatever you are doing you will be able to connect to your own data and communicate everywhere. It shouldn’t matter whether your device is on a desk or in a pocket. It simply matters that the cliche “always on” becomes a fact.

I’ve been seeing a bunch of start up companies lately, and while I write more about trends and customers than promising early phase companies, I think each of these promising Web 2.0 start ups are worth a look because they show where social media is likely heading.

I attended the Echo.com launch at SFMOMA and walked in worried. When little companies pick big venues to announce new products, I think of bubbles bursting and steak-less sizzle.  But, in this case, the room was filled and the presentations informative and at times understated. Founder, CEO Khris Loux told the companies story and aspiration in a straightforward way.

E2 is an open platform whose strategy is to partner with other Web 2.0 companies and big media. They provide extremely robust, complex technology that allows partners like Sports Illustrated, Newsweek and Reuters to create topical pages in which social media conversations are comfortable incorporated as are ads and user-generated content.

I had a feeling that this was a preview of coming attractions for what media will look like moving forward. It is a form of what I call braided journalism. More than that is proof that the conventional wisdom that traditional media is dead is wildly exagerated. It is in transition.

Last week I visited the folks at LiveFyre, where Jordan Kretchmer who stepped out of a nice job at Current TV to start the company about 18 months ago, walked me through where the company is and where it is going.

Like E2, LiveFyre is remixing where, when and how you see social networking commentary. Right now, LiveFyre is a plug in for WordPress bloggers. Livefyre picks up comments about your blog post in Twitter and Facebook and posts it into your comment stream. It allows you to follow puddles of topical conversation in one nice pond. Jordan shared with me that the company has more ambitious plans with new announcements to roll out in early spring.

But the idea is important. I don’t care if you use FedEx or UPS or whatever to send me that package. I care about the package. Likewise, I don’t really care if you joined a conversation on Twitter, Facebook or my blogstream. I just want to easily piece the whole conversation together.

The third startup, Pearltrees deals with an entirely different aspect of the social web as it builds out. I learned about it over coffee with Oliver Starr an old and interesting friend who has a talent for writing and lading in new and provocative companies.

Right now, most of us find our stuff online either by searching data [Google] or asking people [Yelp]. Pearltree takes a fresh approach, using the curation model, which I think is going to be a rising trend.

A curator, anyone who appreciates museums will tell you, selects and shows you the stuff that she or he thinks will most interest you. They take the time to find and exhibit diamonds in a world cluttered by coal.

At times, the internet can feel like one humongous coal yard. Pearltree lets you visual assemble people you know or people you trust and assemble them by any topic that interests you. I think the interface is a bit clumsy and the product needs to become much easier to understand and use–but they are still in beta.

I think curation is going to be important moving forward. Pearltrees has some distance to travel but it has a good head start over anyone else that I know about.

To push my precious mineral metaphor a step further, each of these three companies is a gem. Each can use some polishing, but what they offer shows great promise of a web that will allow us to find and use what we want easier and faster than is currently the case.

I am the son and brother of small business people. I ran my own PR shop for 17 years. I have been passionate about small business since long before there was a media to get social through.

Today, I started contributing to American Express OPEN Forum, the largest online community for small and medium business people. This thrills me on at least two fronts:

  • After all these years as a writer, it is still a kick to see my byline in a professional and influential place. OPEN Forum is a quality venue. I join Chris Brogan, Guy Kawasaki the Mashable team and other home run hitters. I’m grateful to be on the team.
  • I really hope I can bring ideas and information to people like me, people who struggle and dream as small business operators. I’m primarily a story teller, and much of the content I provide will be the stories of people who use social media to succeed in small business.

I am hoping to contribute to OPEN Forum at least once per week. To do that, I am counting on your help. I have lots of small business success stories, but I need more. I am searching for stories about small business people in social media. I am also looking for tips useful to small businesses using social media.

I am looking for people-focused stories that will give small business folks information and ideas that they can use in their work.

I want to hear about how some companies have localized social media efforts to get customers. I want to hear how some folk have globalized their small businesses by using social media and the internet.

I need your help and your ideas. Contact me by email: shelisrael1@gmail.com

I was on a Social Media Club panel in San Francisco when I ad libbed a forecast that “2011 will be the year in which the word ‘social’ is inserted in front of all other words.” It became my most retweeted comment of the night.

While some still complain that the term “social media” is inaccurate, it seems to me that it has become fruitful and multiplied. Off the top of my head I can name:

  • Social analytics
  • Social CRM
  • Social business
  • Social learning
  • Social intelligence
  • Social graphs
  • Social shopping
  • Social network
  • Social commerce
  • Social customer care

“Social is the new black,” quipped Jennifer Bohmbach [l] on Twitter when I pointed out what was going on. Is she right? Is “social” a word that is becoming always appropriate and always in style?

Or is it just another case of spiraling buzzwords, a tendency in marketing to make whatever old garbage your shoveling seem current and at the center of what’s happening.

As Kai MacMahon told me on Twitter, inserting the word social in front of whatever it is you do or sellgenerates publicity.

But the end result may be more confusing than helpful. Janie Graziani [r] said “I often feel I’m in the middle of ‘social mania.’”

So do we all, or so it seems. I had something to do with the popularization of the term “social media.”  It is an imperfect term at best. But a key point was that the web was allowing people to have conversations with peers as they did in real life. It was different than broadcast media, which is one-directional and involves talking at people rather than with them.

I’ve always thought that the social part of the term would fall away and it would just be called media, because the social would become so obvious.

Now, we have a social here, social there, social, social everywhere. On the list of ten terms above, some actually mean something. Some are relevant to ideas that are new and different and some seem inane to me.

SocialCRM is hard to define but it means something that is new and different from traditional CRM. The same can be said for social analytics.

But some terms, like, “social commerce,” seem to me to be little more than fresh lipstick on an ancient chicken. It refers to retailers harvesting Facebook fans by offering discounts and coupons. This is not social to me. It is traditional marketing and merchandising in a new venue.

There’s nothing wrong with it, but it just isn’t about conversations. To me social commerce is when you and get to know each other in social venues and we start recommending restaurants, cars and places to travel to each other. We buy from people like us rather than marketers like them.

Perhaps it is because I’m a writer, but I think most people feel like this: Words matter. They matter a great deal. We make war and love because of words. The word “social” is starting to get over used. The original meaning is starting to erode. There is very little you and I can do about that, nor should there be.

But I kind of think it is a shame.

I was on a  a great panel last night on Social Media Predictions for 2011 sponsored by the Social Media Club of San Francisco and moderated by Chris Heur. For my part, I reiterated five predictions, which I recently posted here.

I was pleased that my prediction that in 2011, social media will move closer to universal translation, which I have long seen as one of social media’s Holy Grails.

The concept is simple: At some point in the future I will type or speak something in my language and you will hear or see it in yours. You will respond in yours and I will hear it in mine. We could have an online community whose participants could speak a dozen languages and we would all be able to instantly understand each other as we conversed naturally in our own languages.

The concept of a mobile device that can instantly translate all languages of all people comes right out of the pages and episodes of science fiction in the late 1940s up to present day. They were used in Star Wars and Star Trek. My favorite is the babel fish [above] was introduced in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. To understand what someone was saying in a language you could not understand, you simply dropped a live slithery little yellow fish into your ear and they would translate for you by interpreting brainwaves.

I most certainly do not predict this will culminate in 2011 or anything close to it.  But what I’m seeing that excites me is lots of players accomplishing lots of little–and occasionally significant–steps in the right direction. A few examples:

  • WordLens is a iPhone app that lets you hold up your phone to a sign written in Spanish and read it in English [or the reverse]. It uses augmented reality and is planning to expand it’s languages and I assume, the words in each language so that you’ll eventually be able to read entire documents through Wordlenses rather than just small signs. There are other mobile translation apps as well.
  • SpeechTrans is as promising–or more so-than the better-promoted WordLens. It uses speech-to-text and natural speech recognition technology as well as Google translate to allow you to speak in one language and get a quick voice and text trasnaltion. Other mobile translation apps are coming along.  Trippo Voice Magic is also worthy of note. It’s a mobile voice app that translates dictionary style between 20 languages.
  • Google Translate keeps getting better. While my Chinese friends and I used to joke at how poor translation quality was a couple of years ago, the quality just keeps getting better. One can only guess why the process of Translate requires you to cut and paste text to get a translation, when it so clearly should be a button in your word processing or PowerPoint app. The biggest barrier I see is that you really want translation software to be mobile, and Translate may not work well when taken off the desktop.
  • The US military created TRANSTAC, a mobile device that uses recognition to translate arabic and English phrases. They used it successfully in the recent Iraq conflict.
  • Dragon Systems, the global leader in computer-based speech recognition has released version 11 of it’s highly refined software. It is high end stuff, and as far as I know, there is no mobile version. But it is a relatively short leap across the chasm from speech recognition to translation.

I’m also pretty sure there are many additional promising technologies that will bring us closer to the Holy Grail of universal translation in 2011. I don’t know just when we are going to get there, but it will be so very cool when the people of the world can use social technologies to shatter the barriers of language that sometimes badly frustrate and separate people.

It was back in 2005, or perhaps 2004, when Chris Shipley walked onto the dais of a DEMOConference and introduced the term “social media” in her keynote address. She defined the term, “as spaces on the internet where people came to exchange content.”

It was a big picture idea, but most of the people and press in the room had come to see cool start ups and I was among the very few writers covering the conference who dwelled up the subject. After Demo, I kept flogging use of the term.

At the time, there was confusion between blogs, wikis, podcasts and something called vlogs and other stuff called “Web 2.0.”  I thought it was important that we differentiate a subset of Web 2.0 to what I called “conversational media.”

Obviously, the term caught hold and took off. It has been used and used and used to the point where many of the bright people who have lived in and expanded the term have started to subdivide “social” into new niches.

In recent months, thinkers and consultants [sometimes they overlap] have started to use terms such as “social analytics,” “social business,” “social humanity,” “social intelligence,” as well as other variations.

The definition of each of these terms seems imprecise to me. I sometimes ask people on Twitter what they mean and get widely diverse answers. So if one of the problems with the original term social media remains imprecise, then its many descendent amplify the imprecision rather than resolve differences.

I have been think about this since I read Chris Heuer’s excellent guest post this morning on Brian Solis‘ blog. Chris and I will be speaking tomorrownight in San Francisco on social media trends and I’m sure this will be among the points we cover.

Chris is troubled by this trend. He writes:

“More troubling … is that social media has become regarded as its own line [item] on the master to do list, just another box to be checked as my corporate friends have told me. Where I had hoped social media would be the great unifier and the place where holistic business strategy would take hold, it has instead become largely relegated to its own silo.”

This is a new thought for me. Social media came along to shatter the informational silos that had built up in the modern enterprise. Social media is about sharing, not hoarding, information.

So, Chris is making me wonder if what I saw as an issue of semantics and perhaps a little niche marketing was indeed a larger, darker issue. I am not sure whether I agree or disagree.

I have long argued that social media needs to have its own box on the enterprise org chart. If it SM becomes the purview of marketing, IT, support or whatever, then it becomes a tool of that department, when in fact social media is more like the telephone or PC. One group may manage the resource but all groups should share in the benefits.

But there are major differences between org chart boxes and enterprise silos. Defining a place for that which we currently call social media, should not confine social media to that place in the organization. The purpose of an organizational social media team, it seems to me, is to share, educate, evangelize and empower employees, vendors, customers and business partners. The strategic objective is to have easy, efficient conversations over the internet.

As I write this, I don’t see what Chris sees. I agree that there are growing hordes of born-yesterday “experts” in social media, but there are always camp followers when gold is discovered. There always will be.

But the fact that Chris is seeing that disturbs me. He’s one of social media’s pioneers and indisputably an expert.

It is time to step back and give the matter some thought.

I’m excited to be on a panel Tuesday night in San Francisco, led by Social Media Club founder Chris Heur and also featuring Forrester Analyst Auggie Ray, AOL Mobile Director Sol Lipman and tech writer Harry McCracken.

We’ve been asked to take a look back at last year’s trends and a look forward at emerging trends in 2011.

I’m sure looking back will find us talking about Apple, Facebook, mobile and social networks and we probably won’t disagree much on any of these.

But the looking forward part can be interesting. Each panel members comes at this issue from different perspectives and I’m sure that each panel member–like me–gives a lot of thought to emerging trends.

I see five major trends, each of which have significant subtrends which I’ll touch on:

1. Social media will end it’s trend of disrupting all institutions. It will enter into an era of normalization. People will talk, write, meet and argue less over the topic and simply treat social media as a very valuable communications toolset.

This normalization will lead to significant growth and improvement in best of breet social analytics tools. Likewise large organizations will stop treating social media as a skunkworks project and it will be allowed to take it’s rightful place on the org chart. Citizen-generated content will continue to refine its quality and adopt ad hoc standards of professionalism.

2. The business value of small and focused will start to eclipse large and general.Twitter and Facebook will continue to grow but at significantly less astounding rates and the passionate conversation about them will taper. Instead, focus will fall upon “Social NicheNets where smaller numbers of people assemble to discuss a single topic with greater depth. In the enterprise, the value of online communities will become more extensively understood and companies will serve as hosts to customers and partners who will discuss everything from documentation to future product features.

3. We will inch forward toward the Holy Grail of universal translation. Someday, I will be able to talk or write on my computer in my language and people all over the world will see or hear it in theirs. Then they can respond in their own language and I will receive it in mine. In 2011, we will see other amazing innovations such as WordLens, which will expand capability itself. Google Translate will continue to improve and perhaps allow users to translate inside their documents, rather than have to cut and paste.

4. Current hot topics will be folded into the larger category of  ubiquitous computing. Cloud computing and mobile computing are currently hot topics, but it seems to me they are among several slivers of a bigger picture, one that allows us to be connected to our own data, wherever we are and whatever we are doing. Ubiquitous computing goes from the boardroom to the bathroom. In 2011, we will stop mentally separating our handheld devices from our lap tops, desk tops, digital TVs or whatever. They are all touchstones to the internet where almost all data is destined to reside.

5. The world will continue to get hillier. It remains so very far from flat. And the very long tail of adoption is not getting bobbed in the near future. Of course India and China will continue their great leaps forward in social media. But look also for growth in parts of Africa, the middle East and South Asia where economies are healthy, broadband access is getting cheaper and easier and education continues to improve.

6. Something will surprise us. I’m willing to bet that not one of us panelists would have predicted the iPad or the success of Android last January. We would not have forecast the executive changes at Apple, Google and HP.

Moral of this story is don’t get fixated on anyone’s crystal ball forecasts. The really neat thing about the future is that it almost always surprises us.

I hope to see you at this Social Media Club event. It promises to be a pretty good event.

In 2006, Robert Scoble and I published Naked Conversations, a book about why businesses should blog. It began with the statement, “We live in a time when most people don’t trust big companies.”  We went on to argue, that our largest complaint with big organizations is that while they shovel messages at us all the time, they just don’t listen to customers, prospects or critics.

Shortly after publication, a now-famous event took place remembered as “Dell Hell.” Essentially, a celebrity blogger complained about the awful treatment he was receiving from Dell Computer company Then other people posted similar complaints. Starting as isolated complaints, a grassroots movement took hold; and as people coagulated in focus against Dell, the movement amplified. Forbes magazine the bloggers as an “unwashed mob, lighting torches and attacking in the night.

I was a part of that unwashed mob. I had been a Dell customer for 15 years. I had made a fair amount of money by investing in Dell stock. But when keys started falling of the keypad of my six-month-old Inspiron laptop, Dell support advised me to buy a new computer. I became mad as Hell. For me, the blog noise was not part of a mob designed to get Dell, so much as a peer support group for those who had suffered poor company support.

Then something amazing happened. Dell demonstrated that it had started listening. It started a blog and endured a flood of hostile and abusive commentary. At some point, Lionel Menchaca, the principal blogger uttered words that you just don’t often hear from enterprises spoespeople.

He said Dell was sorry.

A collective sigh seemed to resonate across what was then called the blogosphere. People became surprisingly polite toward Dell and have remained so for the most part. The company was among the first to start engaging, in two-way conversations with customers and from the perspective of social media proponents became a poster child for how to do it right.

But that was then and this is now. Dell Hell has become an old story. In social media years, 2006 is comparative roughly to the second Ice Age

in Earth years. The question this SM Global Report attempts to answer is: what has Dell done lately?

The answer is a whole lot. The company has turned social media listening into a strategic imperative. At the heart of this strategy is an impressive investment into a war room-like facility called the Dell Listening Command Center. From there, it monitors and average of 22,000 conversations related to Dell every day, then distributes the most relevant of them to the few people who should know among the Dell team of about 100,000 employees.

The Listening Center went live a few days before Christmas 2010, when company founder Michael Dell ceremoniously flipped the switch and a room full of computer screens suddenly went live.

No one person can take credit for this long-planned, complex project. But Manish Mehta, Dell’s vice president for social media and community deserves much of it. The former Three Mile Island engineer has been at Dell for the last 16 years. He’s responsible for establishing Dell’s strategies, global programs, best practices, policies and measurement of social media across the company.

He chairs Dell’s Social Media and Community Leadership Council involving each of Dell’s businesses and departments across the company. I have known Manish for a while and find him consistently candid and responsive, characteristics that I do not always experience when talking to enterprise executives.

I asked Manish to fill me in on the command center.

1. Most companies still use social media primarily to broadcast messages. A few actually look at engagement. Now Dell is shifting emphasis to listening. Can you explain to me the business advantage to listening?

Five years ago when we really began to focus our efforts on social media we discovered that one of the biggest opportunities in this space was to listen.

Listen first.

You will learn where your customers are and what they are saying and interested in.  In that respect, listening, learning and then engaging is at the core of what we have been up to for the past 5 years in social media.

I think what you are now seeing is not so much a shift to listening.  Rather what you see Dell doing is operationalizing listening and scaling it across the fabric of the company so that Dell team members across various functions and business units are hearing and seeing what our customers say every day.

Being close to the customer enables us to hear our fans; we gain a first-hand understanding about what they love about Dell’s technology, products and services–and, we can hear instantaneously, across the Web what our customers wish we would do more of, as well as learn about where we need to improve.  This kind of listening is global, robust and covers all our businesses (Consumer, Small and Medium Business, Large Enterprise and Public Sector and Services) and various functions within the businesses and across them.

2. When and how did the idea for a Dell Listening Command Center start? How did it evolve?

The Social Media Listening Command Center began its evolution about a year ago.  We started embedding social media use across the entire company. We gave Dell team members the tools to listen, learn and engage, directly, and from there it evolved.

Three key points became clear:

First, even as you democratize social media use across an organization, there is still a need to continue to have a global, aggregate or corporate perspective.

Second, customer conversations might well be relevant to more than just one business unit.  Perhaps a Bluetooth driver needs updating, for example.  That could cross various product lines and business units.  In these cases, we wanted to be sure we would be able to have that broader perspective and ability to coordinate, rather than have five different groups trying to solve for the same issue.

Third, the Social Media Listening Command Center also serves as a focal point to ensure we are following up on matters that we learn about from listening. For example, some conversations on the web may not need to be followed up today, but they should still be tracked to ensure we get to that information as soon as we can.

3. Can you give me some sense of the investment in time, financial and human resources involved in creating the listening center–not counting your obvious savings in hardware and cloud computing costs?

It is pretty difficult to size “listening” when you think that we trained more than 5,000 Dell team members in the last half of 2010 to use social media and listening tools as part of their job.

The Social Media Listening Command Center, while physically in Austin today, is staffed 24×7 globally covering 11 languages.  Our global team members around the world use the same tools as the Social Media Listening and Command center in Austin, except they have the tools on their desktops.  I suspect, in the future, various parts of the world will have their own Social Media Listening Command Center.

4. Radian6 has received lots of credit as your monitoring partner.  But what other social media tools are you using? I’m particularly interested in the analytics you are extracting.

Radian6 is our partner on this front.  We have an ongoing relationship with Radian6 which also involves development programs to keep innovating and fine tuning our listening.

The aggregation of information and the insights from conversations across the Web about Dell are still evolving. Much of this is instrumented and developed in house with various data sources and coupled with the listening data. Current analytics cover such matters as:

  • · topics and subject of conversations
  • · sentiment
  • · share of voice/volume of commentary
  • · geography
  • · trending topics, sentiment, geographies

Within the Social Media Listening Command Center we can display that information in a variety of visual ways, formats and combinations

5. Can you walk me through just how this Center works, from when a Dell issue is “heard,” to how you distribute it to the right person or persons?

First, let’s be clear.  Not all social media conversations are about issues and the Social Media Listening Command Center is about more than just issues.

For example, there can be conversations by Dell fans and long-time loyal customers.  There can be customer conversations that are about suggestions to improve our business.  These are important customers to connect with and further establish Dell’s direct relationships.

We like to share their stories across our businesses, thank them, and understand more about their loyalty to Dell.  We want to hear firsthand how our technology products and services gave them the power to do more or what else they want us to do.  As you likely know, we have also connected with some of these folks, brought them to Austin and held Customer Advisory Days listening to more about what they had to say on the Web.

There are also customers looking for support and help.  @Dellcares on Twitter and the Social Outreach Services (SOS) team are listening for customers who need help across the social Web.  They are embedded within the business and using the listening tools to follow up with customers.  They don’t rely on the Social Media Listening and Command Center, nor are they assigned tasks from the Command Center.  However, they do work closely together and compare notes on topics to ensure we are tracking and following up on the most critical issues.

Ideally, we strive to have the Dell team members equipped and responsible for matters impacting their customers and business first.

The Social Media Listening Command Center is focused on issues that may be percolating over a period of time; ensuring we have the right teams on any matters that need attention; they are ensuring we have the business processes and procedures to continue scaling our listening efforts; they make sure we are following up on action items; and finally they provide the macro perspective and trend analyses around what listening tells every part of our business, every day

6. How much of the process is automated and how much human review is involved?

The searches are all automated.  The tracking and coordination is all about people and business processes that enable us to further scale the use of social media.

7. Other than response, how else are those messages used by Dell?

The aggregation of the information, location, sentiment across 22,000 conversations per day informs various business analytics.  For example, we are garnering insight and real time conversation information about our brand, sentiment, who is talking about us and why, the matters that need help, early warnings on quality issues, suggestions for changes to our products, services and business processes, and places where we need to do better.  We hear it all and share the trends across Dell’s  businesses and executive teams

8. If other companies follow your thought leadership, will you be willing to help them–other than selling servers and services?

Yes of course.  We met, or had phone calls, with more than half a dozen other companies over the last couple months sharing best practices.  Frankly, we always look forward to these opportunities because we also learn from others.  That learning is critical to us as we seek to forge ahead in new ways that will continue the journey of realizing strategic business benefits of listening, learning and engaging using social media.

So many of my early adopter friends have embraced certain kinds of location-based services [LBS] such as FourSquare, Gowalla and BrightKite. I have not joined them. I do not enjoy their frequent location updates to my Twitter stream and I have been saying for a long time, I see safety and privacy issues that should not be overlooked.

Apparently, I am not alone, at least not anymore.

There has been an increasingly frequent  string of blog posts by people who were LBS

enthusiasts who are now opting out. Ray Wang [l], wrote a  thoughtful and damning piece a few days ago. He told of a neighbor who saw an LBS post that said Ray was away from home, then he stole his newspaper on the driveway, then he went on to examine larger issues of privacy and pointed to several other posts. Additionally,   Andrew Hyde posted that he now realized he had “opted in on getting stalked.” Les James announced last night that  that he was leaving Foursquare and Gowalla because he wasn’t getting “a reasonable return” on his time investment.

his is certainly not sufficient evidence to declare the bloom is off the LBS rose. This is a hot category.  According to Ray, four percent of Americans use LBS and those users will spend over $10 billion a year by 2013, unless the trends start reversing or slowing.

And it needs to be noted that  the category is actually bigger than these tell-a-friend services in the center of the spotlight. Yelp, TripIt and Google Navigator are all location-based services. There are controversies with these other services as well, but they are reasonably safe to use or so it seems to me.

But more people are stopping to think about the downside of keeping the world posted as to where you are and where you are not. If you are out for the night, instead a neighbor filching your paper a burglar could be visiting your home through a back door.

As the noise rachets up a click, I wondered if there is any evidence of a trend away from the meteoric rise of the Foursquare-type services. So I did what I often do, I turned to Twitter and I asked.

The answer is, maybe.

I received 17 responses in 12 hours. By previous experience, this is a relatively modest response showing no great passion on the issue at this time. I average about 25 response when I ask twitterville a question. Recently, an inquiry about Wikileaks generated 120 responses in two hours.

But still a growing number of people are voicing concerns that seem to me to be very real. A few folk shared with me some disturbing stories, ones that may not be all that unique.

My friend Jesse Luna [r] got a very unpleasant phone call after he posted on FourSquare where he was located. They would later call him at home as well. He eventually uncovered a band of LBS stalkers who were targeting people and talking trash. nasty words on a phone are bad, but it takes no great leap of imagination to see how the same location information could do far greater damage.

With these thoughts in mind, several women–particularly mothers–have opted out recently.  ”I determined that the safety of my kids was more important that social game play. I felt I was playing with my kids safety and that’s no game,” Samantha Fein told me.

Another aspect a couple of tweet friends told me is that locations responses, particularly on Gowalla, come out very prominently on both Google and Bing searches. “I just didn’t want any potential employer,” to determine that I was spending all my time hanging out in coffee shops and home improvement stores,” a job-seeking professional told me.

After privacy, the second largest reason to opt out was that after a while the services just become boring. “No one cares where I am unless it’s somewhere special. Then I can tweet it,” I was told. “Besides, many of my friends were getting pissed off with all my Foursquare tweets.

In defense, users can opt to send messages to smaller circles of trusted friends and that may be useful to some people some of the time. In reality these location-based services are not going to crumble and blow away any time soon.

But what is becoming clear is that there are some very real privacy issues related to these services. I think with some thought, the service providers can resolve them, but that would reduce their numbers and all companies love the biggest possible numbers they can garner.

Where is all this going? That remains to be seen.

[Scott Monty [r] shows Ford Motors CEO Alan Mulally a blog comment during recent auto show.]

I knew Scott Monty when he was still in Boston. When I first heard he was leaving the home of our beloved Boston Celtics for Ford Motor Co., I kind of felt sorry for the guy.

He was leaving a very cool place to join a company whose glory days seemed to be long ago and far away. His having to go to Ford seemed to indicate a great paucity for senior level social media jobs in the global enterprise.

Shortly before Scott was hired, I had visited Ford on assignment for Fast Company TV and had left very much underwhelmed by the automaker’s grasp of social media.

The shock is that all this happened in 2008, just a tad over two years ago.

Ford Motors is now writing, blogging, tweeting, and recording one of the great industrial turnaround stories of all times. Senior players are leaving Toyota to join Ford. Their cars are getting all sorts of awards for engineering, sustainability, design and sales.

Of course, Scott Monty did not accomplish all that. But what he did acheve is a brilliant braiding of social media into an ever-expanding part of Ford, its culture and it’s relationships with customers.

He talks about all this with a fair amount of modesty, but I’ll let him take up the story from here.

You began as a medical student. From there, you became a marketing consultant before centering your interest in social media. What drove you along that course, and why?

Let me take you back just a little further.

As an undergrad, I was a Classics major studying Greek and Roman civilization, art, culture, architecture, sports, drama and history. While I planned to go to medical school, I first wanted  to study some subjects other than science, since I anticipated having a lifetime of science before me.

I had no idea that I’d wind up handling digital communications for one of the world’s best-recognized brands.

As it turned out, I enjoyed the humanities more than science, but didn’t want to give up on my aspiration, so I began the first year of medical school, to try it out.

I quickly realized that while I had the personality for medicine, my patience for applying myself to the deeply scientific side was lacking.

Rather than give up on what I began, I investigated other options and discovered a dual-degree program, where I could get a master’s degree in medical science concurrently with an MBA.

With the growing importance of managed care, I figured I’d be a double threat–or at least have enough knowledge on both sides to be dangerous.

While I was working on both degrees, I concurrently worked part-time as a writer for the US. Dept. of Veterans Affairs. I was on the team that wrote the report on the transformation of the VA health care system under the proposed Clinton plan, and as a speechwriter. This writing assignment, in addition to the numerous essays I had written as a Classics major and my thesis for the master’s program, continued to influence and hone my skills as a writer – a critical element for a professional communicator.

To make a long story even longer, managed care didn’t turn out to be what I expected, and after working in it for a few years, I left to join a biotech and medical device consulting firm, doing corporate development work.

Our clients had promising early-stage technology and we found larger companies and structured the deals to bring that technology to the market.

When the tragic events of September 11 occurred, the financial markets were particularly uncertain and it meant that firms hoarded their cash, leaving our small shop absent from the revenue we needed to continue. The owner eventually shuttered our division.

Luckily, I found a home at a business-to-business marketing and advertising firm that specialized in health sciences and high tech clients. My background led me to participate in many of the key medical accounts, but I was also exposed to some of the high tech work.

In this new role, I became aware of this new topic at professional conferences – one called “social media.”

I had been personally blogging since 2000, and social media struck personal and professional chords. I began writing The Social Media Marketing Blog in mid-2006 in an effort to get some of my thoughts down and to use it as something of a laboratory and sounding board for our clients.

Since B2B marketing runs 18-to-24 months behind B2C in terms of trends, I was ahead of my time when it came to convincing clients to try the new social tools. I subsequently left and joined a consultancy that specialized in helping large companies understand and adopt social media strategies.

Looking back at my classical education, I can’t help but acknowledge that it played a significant role in how I came to do what I’m doing. As I mentioned, the writing component was a crucial one. For anyone wishing to have a career in communications, I’d recommend honing your writing skills. You need to effectively express yourself. Writing is a muscle that always needs to be exercised.

Ford has become one of the great turnaround stories of recent years. But when you chose to join Ford, most of us did not see that coming.  What did you see that made you elect to uproot yourself and your family and join an enterprise that had very few achievements in social media?

Probably like many people in late 2007 – particularly those on the coasts or in the technology space, Ford was simply not on my radar. I didn’t know enough about the company to jump at the opportunity.

But when I took the time to research it a bit, looking at the management team and their philosophy (One Team. One Plan. One Goal. One Ford) and the product cadence that the company had so heavily invested in (thanks to taking out a $26 billion loan in 2006), not to mention the raw talent and passion of everyone I spoke with I saw a huge potential. I had predicted that by 2010, there would be a convergence of Ford’s product lineup and the development of the social media industry.

Not everyone recognized that. I was asked, “Why aren’t you going to a successful company like Toyota?” While we may smirk at that question now, the fact is that in early 2008, it was a much different industry. I knew that Ford’s fortunes had to turn, and I thought I’d rather be part of a success story than simply maintaining an existing one. And since the senior leadership at Ford had created the position for which I was interviewing, I knew that I’d have their.

There’s no question that leaving Boston after 20 years was difficult. But the experience has been nothing less than exhilarating. It has helped me grow professionally and given me the chance to serve an American and global icon. In retrospect, my only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner.

Ford is a very big enterprise. Just what do you do there? Who do you work with and answer to at Ford?

It is indeed.

We make vehicles in 70 locations on six continents and have over 160,000 employees. A far cry from working for a five-person shop just before I left Boston!

My position sits within Corporate Communications, overseen by Ray Day, our vice president. Ray reports directly to our CEO Alan Mulally, giving a senior seat at the table and and involving us in strategic decisions.

It also means that we’re the central clearinghouse for company information and news, putting us in a unique position to clarify, debate, inform, educate and otherwise communicate with the outside world, whether they’re journalists, customers, investors, dealers or the public.

My responsibilities are many. I manage our digital publishing team, which is responsible for a number of weekly internal e-newsletters. My team maintains Ford’s media site.

Our group also develops the company’s social media strategy. I oversee the team responsible for our social media channels and accounts, our editorial direction on The Ford Story , blogger outreach, influencer engagement, program development, team training, global integration and more.

My position is global, so that last piece is crucial.

My team is pretty thin and is comprised of Ford and agency personnel, but we’ve been able to successfully integrate our efforts beyond Communications. While I get a lot of the credit, there are many people behind the scenes who are the real heroes: Connie Fontaine and Jeff Eggen from our Brand & Content Alliances team are responsible for some of our most fun and high-impact programs – particularly the Fiesta Movement and Focus Rally: America.  With their agency team, they create these big talking programs that Ford is known for. Scott Kelly leads us in Digital Marketing and is like the other half of me. Scott and his team execute paid programs in the digital space, including integrations with Leo Laporte’s TWiT network and the Revision3 family of shows, among others.

Then there’s our constant communication with the Customer Service team, who are constantly scouring the web for mentions of Ford and handling issues that come to their attention.

I also serve as Ford’s most prominent online spokesperson. I handle incoming questions and requests via my Ford email account, my personal email account, Twitter @ replies and direct messages and Facebook wall posts as well as requests for interviews via Skype, phone, email, television, radio and more.

I’ve been fortunate to represent Ford as a public speaker at a events, webinars and trade shows. While I don’t get to do it that often, it’s one of the things I enjoy most, because of my ability to bring the Ford story to life and see the impact I’m making on the audience.

What cultural barriers did you face and how did you overcome them?

 

Interestingly enough, I encountered surprisingly few barriers when I came to Ford. We were fortunate to have Alan Mulally join as our CEO in September 2006, and he brought a fresh and different perspective to the company.

After three-and-a-half decades at Boeing, Alan brought his manufacturing leadership and vision for transparency and shared knowledge to Ford.

These are key tenets to social media, so what we’re trying to do with this new form of communication is very much the same culturally. The leadership team’s vision under Alan has been to align us globally so we’re all working together to achieve the same goal, and that we listen first – another social media tenet.

His mantra is, “First, seek to understand. Then seek to be understood.”

That’s not to say it’s a cakewalk.

One of the most difficult things to convey – and I’m still working on it – is just how complex and involved my job is. In the recent Altimeter Group report on the career path of the social strategist (and just quoted in the London Evening Standard), Jeremiah Owyang noted that the role is “deceptively challenging.”

One of our challenges moving forward will be how we integrate social media into more than just Communications, Marketing and Customer Service. While those three areas are the most visible and have the most impact to our reputation, we won’t be truly successful until we’ve unlocked the potential of an outside-in and inside-out mentality of public discourse, feedback and dialog.

 

What was your first big success? How did that change how Ford perceived you? How did it change how the public perceived Ford?

 

There were many firsts, and each has had a different impact.

For example, the Ranger Station incident marked a new way of handling crisis communications and taught us the necessity of being prepared at any moment and more closely aligned with our own Office of General Counsel.

The Fiesta Movement marked the auto industry’s first foray into an extended program that involved real people and demonstrated Ford’s comfort in showing the public what those real people had to say in an unscripted and uncensored way.

The Explorer reveal on Facebook — and in eight cities–showed us the necessity of integrating earned, owned and paid media for maximum effect. Being the first automaker to reveal a car at the Consumer Electronics Show, as we did with the Focus Electric earlier this month, resulted in huge buzz and chatter about Ford at what is usually a tech-dominated show.

With each of these, the public gave Ford credit for trying something new and being an industry leader. We get credit for being cool, hip and “with it,” but we also have used these opportunities, and others, to demonstrate that we have the products to back up what we’re saying. The fact that we were welcomed for the third year in a row as a keynote at CES and that we were heralded for debuted leading technology like MyFord Touch, MyFord Mobile and the Ford Focus Electric, shows that we’re not just an automotive company anymore; we’re a technology company. And when we can get the technology industry and those on the coast to start thinking about us and to consider us for a new vehicle, we’ve succeeded.

How do you think social media has changed Ford’s culture?

I think social media is helping to amplify the cultural change we’ve already seen at Ford and it’s showing employees that we’re serious about transforming the company. They see the programs and success firsthand through our robust and multichannel employee communications platforms, and they see that it’s more than just a series of clever marketing campaigns. Ford’s leadership team ensures that our One Ford message is consistent and constant, and that we’re staying on plan, which in turn ensures our employees that we’re innovating and succeeding. That in turn inspires confidence and morale.

How do you measure Ford’s social media progress?

We constantly benchmark ourselves against other large companies to ensure thinking about every possible angle. We look for the brands that are the most respected in the social media space and aim to be part of that elite group.

Overall, we look at volume and sentiment of coverage of our news and efforts, which includes traditional as well as digital outlets, to ensure consistency of impact across all channels.

When we’re executing finite programs, we perform pre and post benchmarking efforts so we’ll know the specific impact or our efforts. We listen to our customers and fans to determine what they need or would like and try to provide that. The challenge with social media is that – with the exception of the Fiesta Movement – it’s rarely a standalone effort. Our efforts are integrated at every turn, so we’re looking at the collective impact of every one of our media outlets and separating out the digital/social where we can.

 

Is social media used the same way in different countries as it is in the US? Can you compare and contrast just a bit?

When we look at the three major regional divisions of Ford – the Americas; Europe and Asia; Pacific and Africa – we find that there are disparities, but we’re aligning so that we can all benefit from each other’s experience.

There’s no doubt that each region–and country–may have its own preference of platform or device, but if we can ensure that we have a single global strategy, we’ll be in a good place. Think of it as One Ford for social media.

We’re learning about the advanced mobile space from Asia, of the challenge of dealing with a multicultural and multi-language market in Europe, of the needs of a developing nation in India, and of the aggressive growth of social media in Brazil, for example.

The challenge with all of this right now is that programs are now more visible globally than they’ve ever been before. And certain countries that have seen the impact of our work are naturally very anxious to start their own programs. But without the proper underlying strategy and fundamental understanding of some of the communities’ sensitivities, there’s the risk that we may make mistakes that we could otherwise avoid by taking the time to ensure we’re all aligned.

Can you share a little vision for social media’s role at Ford two, five, or 10 years into the future?

That’s a tall order.

Who even knew we’d have this function 10 years ago? In the short term, ensuring we have a globally consistent approach to our efforts is our priority.

Beyond that, we’ll be working to integrate social media into as much of the company as we can, bringing Human Resources, Product Development and other departments into the process so that social media isn’t simply seen as a marketing and communications tool. The long-term vision is that this will be built into the culture of the entire company and that, much like the telephone and email, it will be part of every employee’s workflow.

 

Additional comments.

The last two-and-a-half years have been a whirlwind for me personally.

I could have never predicted that the industry would have taken the drastic turns that it did, nor the degree to which Ford has managed to stand apart from its competition.

Every day, I count myself extremely fortunate that I have the opportunity to serve with some of the best leadership and colleagues in the world in serving Ford Motor Company and that the company has placed its trust in our team. We’re just at the beginning and there’s an exciting and viable Ford that is continuing to make progress!