Be curious, not furious

Dealing with detractors is par for the course when you participate in public forums, whether online or offline. Jason Falls offers advice on how to handle different types of people including “offended publics, disgruntled stakeholders, competition, trolls and turds,” with the additional insight that

The difference in a troll and a turd is that a turd identifies him or herself with a name and/or email address. They’re accountable, but still being a pain in the ass, mostly likely just because they like being a pain in the ass.


I’ve dealt with a lot of turds over the past nine years. Time and time again I see individuals attempt to build themselves up by tearing other brands and people down. These detractors seek attention and validation. They exhibit low self-esteem and will take whatever feedback they can get, positive or negative. Comments like “you’re so smart” are what they expect. Comments like “you’re wrong” are often interpreted as a lack of intellect of the commentor.

When you set raw emotion aside and think through a situation, sometimes surprising outcomes emerge when dots start getting connected. I’ve seen:

  • A blogger who publishes disdainful criticism of a company’s social media campaign, who then contacted the firm in private to be hired as a consultant and fix the “problems.”
  • An individual who applied for jobs multiple times and was never hired, writing positive content about a company prior to asking for a job and then negative/critical content about the company after it declined to hire.
  • A person who believed him/herself owed money in a business deal, despite having no documentation. S/he was not simply handed payment of an arbitrary sum and has since taken to acting as a subtle detractor of the company.

We’d all like everyone to be positive all the time, but the halcyon days of riding the social media cluetrain are long over. I don’t know if money is the root of all evil, but it quite often lies at the root of why detractors behave the way they do.

Next time you see a heated online exchange — whether you’re directly involved or not —  be curious, not furious. What you discover may surprise you.



Is email social media?

In the spirit of Throwback Thursday, I’m going to start excerpting posts from the past seven years. “Is email social media?” was originally posted on April 27, 2011.


234 social media marketing examples


Facebook is social. Twitter is social. Discussion and message boards are social. But more people would say that email is not.

Gartner makes two important distinctions as to why email isn’t social media:

  • E-mail is a distribution mechanism and social media is a collective mechanism
  • Mass communication is different from mass collaboration

Email isn’t social media. In fact it’s a communications tool that users shouldn’t employ for media consumption at all. However by some accounts email marketing is a $10 billion industry – not that size makes right.

During the Internet’s Democratization Era, my former Forrester colleague Charlene Li guided companies to a simple and powerful distinction when thinking about tools: email is to-do, RSS is to know. Users approach their inboxes with an obligation mindset, which is fine. They just need to keep in mind that oftentimes the problems they create are their own.

Making email work requires that internally, companies train their users on how to make use of an expanded communications toolkit. Externally, email integrates with social media, orchestrated for reach and frequency.



Why you should care about the rise of broadband

This is one of my favorite business charts.


Home broadband vs. dial-up, 2000-2013. Source: Pew Internet & American Life Project


As home internet has gotten faster, we have seen new business opportunities emerge. For example:

In 2000-2001, Quokka Sports tried to build a business of streaming sports like sailing online. In 2013, users could watch the America’s Cup and one of the greatest comebacks in sports history live, online, for free.

Traditional network programming has been living uneasily for the past decade as networked homes have spawned multi-channel viewing, while attempts at disruption have emerged from Apple and Google (hardware) and Netflix and YouTube (content).

The networked home is gaining traction; security systems have long been wired into phone lines, but with broadband we are seeing intelligent devices like thermostats, cameras, and door locks as well.

In 2006, right at the tipping point of dial-up vs. broadband, I heard a network television executive remark at an industry conference:

“With more broadband, people will get done with what they need to do online faster, then get back to watching TV. There are only a limited number of things a person can search for.”

In hindsight it’s clear that this person’s remarks were self-serving, maybe even intended as self-preservation. Laugh now, then consider this remark about gigabit-speed Google Fiber:

“What they’re doing is not any different than an overbuilder,” [Time Warner Cable chairman and CEO] Britt said on a conference call with analysts to discuss first quarter results Thursday. “And we’ve had overbuilders for the last several decades in the business.” 

Thinking that faster speeds are the equivalent of faster horses is myopic and an attempt to preserve the status quo.

Now, think about what we are seeing in the mobile world as devices get more powerful and networks get faster. The innovations we’ve seen in that space have only just begun. Brands would be wise to optimize for the present, but be prepared for the business models of the future arriving via faster connection speeds.



Articles about startup life that I’ve found interesting.

Hewlett Packard garage


In July 2008, I took a job at a startup — a very different type of company than the large publicly traded corporations I had worked for while building my career. While we were a bit different than the classic “two guys coding in a garage” archetype, many of the articles I’ve seen written about navigating startup life apply just the same.

Corporate life is different when you’re building a startup. If you’re considering joining one, here’s a list of reads to help you understand how to think through elements like how much money you could make, founders vs. employees, corporate politics, et al.

Can brands be human?

Seeking Shambhala


“I’m only huuu-man / Of flesh and blood I’m made / Huuu-man / Born to make…mistakes…”

— “Human,” The Human League, 1986

One of the biggest supposed benefits of social media has been its potential to “humanize brands.” You should know the story by now — the world of brand marketing is filled with one-way communication, where institutions fill airwaves and fiber optics with unwanted commercial messages. Social media enables brands to improve on the wasted spend of traditional messaging by allowing direct consumer engagement for business purposes.

For example, we celebrated the way JetBlue handled their Valentine’s Day crisis with adept use of social media. On the other hand, we use the same channels to complain about brands and their lack of understanding. All in all, we expect brands – and the people operating their social media accounts – to engage in personal, colloquial conversations. To act human.

However, our society has a long history of denouncing institutions: goverments, religions, corporations. Social media has empowered individuals with voices and given that consumers love to hate advertising, is it any surprise that brands, no matter how hard they try to “humanize” themselves via social media, are never allowed to succeed?

Last Wednesday, I saw many people post stories on Facebook of where they were on September 11, 2001, using the hashtag #neverforget. That day some brands – and the people operating the accounts – took to social media to acknowledge the tragic events that happened that day. I didn’t see any criticism of people’s stories or Instagram photos — but I did see plenty of criticism of the posts from brands. Most of criticism called out implicit commercialization of the tragic events of twelve years ago.

Most of these brands weren’t trying to be a jerk like Kenneth Cole, who deliberately tries to profit from the suffering of others. These brands – and people – were just trying to be more human…and many people hated them for it. Whether necessary or not, AT&T Chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson posted a public apology for his brand’s tweet — a very humanized response.

It’s difficult to know the exact intent behind each of the brand posts — commercial or not. But what’s clear is that consumers hold brands to a different standard in social media communications. For years, brands have been advised to use social media to be more “human” — but it seems to me that consumers will never let that happen, no matter how hard brands try.


I originally published this post on Medium.



When iTunes keeps asking for your Apple ID password

It’s impossible to login to an Apple account via iTunes if you have cookies blocked in Safari.

So when I want to use my Apple account on iTunes for any reason, I need to open Safari, go to Preferences / Privacy / Block Cookies – Never, then close and reopen iTunes.

Then it works. I guess tying these two apps together has some rationale to some architect, but it’s not very logical for a regular user. I would guess that any iTunes users on Windows never run into this issue.

SXSW 2014: Capital vs. Talent

Since returning to Dachis Group earlier this year, I’ve been focusing on internal operations and consulting with a select group of clients, leaving little time for publishing thought leadership. However, one event I’ve always enjoyed participating in has been SXSW, where I’ve spoken for the past five years.

SXSW 2013 Book Signing

The 2014 SXSW PanelPicker is live and the session I’ll prepare and present is “Capital vs. Talent.” I’ve been watching the rise of social media and its impact on business for about seven years and issues of power and control are far from resolved. In fact, while social technologies may be new in the workplace, organizational dynamics are the same as they ever were.

Here’s a full description of what I’ll discuss:

The Next Battleground of Capital vs. Talent: Social Business

Since the Industrial Revolution, every business has been forced to manage a fundamental internal conflict between individuals who control the means of production and individuals who operate those means to a profit. Roger Martin outlined how this struggle originated in the 18th century and persists today in the 2003 Harvard Business Review article “Capital Versus Talent: The Battle That’s Reshaping Business.”

As we progress deeper into the 21st century, businesses are still struggling with the ever-shifting balance of power, albeit with a new dimension: the rise of social media. 72% of US online adults are social networking site users, creating indelible change in personal technology use and interpersonal relationships which inevitably impact professional operations. In the early days of corporate social media adoption, individuals like Robert Scoble gained global recognition by using emerging channels to share insider viewpoints with the world — Martin’s Talent had discovered new tools to gain advantage over Capital. Management reacted by putting policies in place, trying to quell the rise of a workforce filled with “personal brands.” These policies have now come under scrutiny, leaving employers wondering what defenses remain to mitigate the risks of an employee base that is active in social media.

The best solution for Capital in this case is counterintuitive — brands are best off by wholly embracing social business. By intimately understanding the dynamics of social engagement and leveling the conversation landscape among customers and employees, management can harness the collective efforts of seemingly self-guided individuals for corporate gain. The potential benefit: McKinsey estimates that productivity increases of 20 to 25 percent are achievable, along with $1.3 trillion in value that could be unlocked within four key industries alone. Managers would be wise to recognize the value creation opportunity inherent in social business and potentially stabilize the long-lasting tension between Capital and Talent.

If you’d be interested in hearing more about this, the session has been included in SXSW Interactive’s 2014 programing in a “core conversation” format. See you there!




Social Business: It’s what’s on the inside that counts

Customers are connecting. Are you?

Social business is mainstreaming. Most companies have figured out that social media can help build consumer relationships, especially when integrated with marketing campaigns. However, social media marketing still falls short when brands fall back to a stance of being a monolithic logo communicating in corporate-speak. Recent kerfluffles involving Chipotle and Bank of America demonstrate just how much consumers dislike being reminded that there’s actually a wizard behind the curtain.

Fewer companies have embarked on the aspect of social business that creates sustained business value, requiring a greater degree of difficulty to achieve: internal social business. The guideposts to creating value are hiding in plain sight but many brands lack the self-confidence to allow their employees to act as public brand ambassadors. According to Forrester Research, “only 41% of respondents in a recent corporate survey believe their CEO is setting a vision for brand building across all consumer touch points.”

After all, when the media loves telling the stories of how rogue employees at Domino’s, Taco Bell, and Subway have embarrassed themselves and the brand, the natural corporate reaction is to lock down, not open up. These public gaffes get magnified in part because the brands have little in the way of an advocate base to defend the brand, thus the signal broadcasts loud and clear.

Companies would be wise to inspire employee advocates as a counterweight, before crisis hits. Buy the air conditioner BEFORE the heat wave or the generator BEFORE the snowstorm, not after, when prices are marked up and inventory is impossible to find.

Forrester recommends that brands enlist an army of brand advocates:

Forrester: Enlist An Army Of Brand Advocates

As with any initiative, success with employee advocacy requires attention to people, process, and technology. The first two aspects are touched on above; the third covers an emerging market with tools that can create powerful leverage for brands when placed into the hands of the right users. That is, users who are trained with the right mindset and operate within the boundaries of a brand-appropriate set of policies and guidelines.

Easier said than done, right? Social business may be mainstreaming, but it’s still early in the phase. Businesses need to look past the external hits and misses of social media marketing and focus internally to unlock long-term sustainable value.

MIT Sloan Management Review and Social Business By Design

We are well into the mainstreaming of social business. In this interview with Robert Berkman of MIT Sloan Management Review, my Social Business By Design co-author Dion Hinchcliffe discusses how “companies are at a stage of disillusionment with social business, but building social media literacy, integrating initiatives, and connecting social tools to how work gets done will help ensure success.”

More: MIT Sloan Management Review: How Companies Can Move Past a Trough of Disillusionment in Social Business

Understanding China’s digital and social media landscape

China is the world’s most populated country, with over 1.3 billion inhabitants. It also maintains the world’s second largest economy, on track to become the largest by 2016. This growth has contributed to the rise of consumer classes within the country and in turn captured the attention of global brands.

As brands ramp up marketing efforts in China, they are increasingly prioritizing digital channels. The country has 560+ million internet users – more than any other country – and the average user spends more hours per week online than with TV, print, and radio combined. Despite this high amount of time spent online, adoption of major digital and social platforms in China has been limited. Many Google properties including YouTube, Blogspot, and Google+ are blocked to regular web browsing, along with Facebook, Twitter, and others. Instead, Chinese users spend their time on country-specific sites like Kaixin, Douban, and Jiepang.

From what I’ve observed, there are many similarities to global marketing tactics than one might assume, given China’s restricted access. However when you get past differences in channel and focus on consumers and content, the lessons are similar. People have become the medium. Listen first. Your real job is storytelling.

But of course there are differences as well. China’s social media sites are similar to US sites and analogies can help keep things straight, but they have different capabilities and user bases. “Weibo” (微博) is Chinese for microblog, but should you use Sina, Tencent/QQ, or another? Pinterest-like sites Mogujie and Meilishuo don’t have monetization challenges, however many brands (particularly outside of the fashion industry) are struggling to find a place for these sites within their digital strategy.

And don’t forget scale: during the 2012 Olympic Games opening ceremony, Twitter recorded almost 10 million related mentions. Sina Weibo? 119 million. The biggest day in the history of US e-commerce was Cyber Monday 2012, with an estimated record US$1.5 billion in sales across online retailers in a single day. Last year, Taobao doubled that on Singles Day (11/11), seeing US$3.06 billion in sales.

On the surface, the landscape appears similar to the rest of the world, but the details are where the differences start to matter.