Your business needs social media.

First things first, please.

No.

Your business needs:

… a clearly understood problem it is solving.

… a product or service that addresses that problem in a manner that delights customers to the point of surprise.

… an amazing team that believes in it.

… a visionary(s) and leader(s).

… a personality, a brand and a conscious.

… a viable business model.

… a collaborative environment that fosters trial and error.

… a designed culture that makes all the above happen.

 

Focus on these things first and Facebook gets a whole lot easier.

You are a mentor

It is true. I know it may be hard to believe. “Mentorship” is one of those words that can be big and scary. One that can often bring up the self-questioning thoughts that often echo in our psyches:

“I really haven’t accomplished enough to be able to mentor someone else.”

“The skills/position/experience/(fill in the blank) really isn’t mentoring worthy.”

“I wouldn’t know where to begin with a mentoring process.”

It’s not true. Everyone has something that is completely unique, that they are experts in that no one else can claim. That is the story of their own experience. When you share your story a relationship is formed, and you put on the table examples, learnings and inspiration that only you can. It doesn’t matter if what you share is directly relatable in terms of topic or question to those listening. When you share your story connections will be made and new, usable perspectives will be uncovered that can help inform and guide the questions or struggles the audience may be experiencing.

I have experienced this personally. I had the opportunity recently to speak to the Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership class at George Washington University. I, like most, spun for a while on what I could share or teach that would seem worthy for the class to spend their time on. In the end, I decided to simply tell my story. My background, my journey, my decisions and what I learned from them. Where I succeeded, and where I fell. The dialog, appreciation and feedback I received from the class was amazing and humbling. I had helped, and it was so easy.

We need more people to step up and mentor. It’s the most effective and meaningful way to learn. There is a secret though–It must be your story, and not a report on chronological events. Timelines and resumes do not equate to experiences, and the nuances of experience are where connections and learning occur. So share your stories. And ask for others to to share theirs. Learning is a two-way flow. You will be amazed by how easy it is, and how impactful it can be.

Add “mentor” to your list of accomplishments. It’s a worthy goal.

 

One word stories

If you’re friends with me on Facebook, you know that I often post one word status updates. I started doing this last year out of complete boredom. As luck would have it, something very interesting happened. I got more conversations and replies to my one word posts than many of my more descriptive updates. I began to force myself to think in only short, abbreviated updates. And so, for a period of about six months, I would only post a single word.

I’ve written previously about what you can learn by stripping things down to the bare minimum. So, as my business partner @deziner often asks, what are the learnings from this particular instance?

Whether it’s a status update or a tweet, you are essentially telling a micro-story. When you edit it all the way down to one word, it invites everyone to imagine and create the rest of the story. They must fill in the blanks. So, when I posted “Wings,” John Sprecher scribed “Buffalo or Paul McCartney and…?”

At it’s heart, this is what social media is all about—shared storytelling. A user shares an experience that friends and followers then participate in based on their own experience.

From a brand perspective, this is one of the most overlooked, misunderstood, and underutilized aspects of social media. Shared storytelling has been going on since humans gathered around a fire. Stories are retold (The Odyssey), re-imagined (Romeo & Juliet becomes West Side Story) and repurposed (Petroglyphs as done by Paul Klee).

I often wonder why so many in marketing still cling to the hope that they alone should control the story. The only reason I can see is if your brand story never held any truth in the first place.

Human Behavior: Green and Gold, Through and Through

I can never remember not being creative. I can also never remember not being a Green Bay Packer fan. In fact, these two traits are somehow intrinsically linked. Some of my earliest formative memories from age three or four, are the joy and freedom of drawing scenes from Packer games. Piles of stick figure bodies with a stick figure ball carrier jumping over the top. These crayon drawings would adorn the Westinghouse refrigerator in our home at 2304 Lawn St., Racine, Wisconsin during the 1960s.

In those days—before North Face and Mountain Hardware clothing—my mother and father would layer up with bulky long underwear before making the pilgrimage to attend a Packer game at Lambeau Field in December. They’d go to the games in Green Bay with friends of our family, the Maritatto’s, who just happened to live two blocks from another Italian household by the name of Lombardi. During a weekend visit to their home, I tagged along with my older brother on a walk to the Lombardi house. He rang the back doorbell and asked for an autograph. We were ushered into the house, and Marie Lombardi led my brother to the den where Vince was reading. I stayed in the back hall entry way, peering down the darkened basement at a Packer rug at the foot of the stairs. Over forty years later, this encounter of me merely watching Marie Lombardi cook Vince some scrambled eggs for dinner somehow has taken on mythic proportions.

We had these before Wii

Long before there was Madden NFL 11, I had a collection of mini plastic football helmets that you’d buy from a gum ball machine. We had sand colored tight pile wool carpeting in our tiny living room, and I drew a football field with white chalk on the carpet in order to stage a football game with the aforementioned helmets. My makeshift field pretty much looked like the frozen tundra. Oddly, I don’t remember my mother complaining much about having a gridiron sketched on the living room floor. What I do remember is there was a Detroit Lion helmet with a pencil sharpener in it. Man, that little helmet could bust tackles.

For two seemingly never-ending decades, Dan Devine was followed by Bart Starr was followed by Forrest Gregg was followed by Lindy Infante. I held out hope and never wavered. I passed the years by hating the Bears, because the Vikings had not quite reached that level of hatred. Yet.

Then there was the moment. If you are a true Packer fan, you remember where you were when Brett Favre hit Kitrick Taylor for a touchdown to beat the Bengals in Week 3 of the 1992 season. Because it was then and there we had a flash forward that took us all the way to a victory in Super Bowl XXXI. If you’re like me, you just knew it in that instant.

I am a Packer fan. I watched year after year of stinging playoff defeats in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, and finally in 2007. I watched our flawed hero think he had actually become bigger than the team we loved. Horrified, I watched Hector willfully climb into the Trojan horse. In an epic story that demands an ending worthy of the great Greek dramas, Aaron Rodgers must defeat the Men of Steel, whose best player Troy Polamalu is suffering from a bad achilles. Pinch me, although I may never want to wake up.

I am a Packer fan, even though I own only one piece of licensed clothing which I won’t even wear today. Instead, I will watch Super Bowl XLV in a black Nike knit hat, a navy fleece Red Cross pullover, with a brown scarf my mother knitted wrapped around my neck. I wear this because it is what I wore when we destroyed the Giants 45-17 which began the current winning streak. If I do not wear this, somehow the gyroscope in the universe that connects my every move to the outcome of the Packer’s fortunes will become unbalanced and we stand the threat of defeat. I cannot allow this to happen.

A few weeks ago, @deziner asked me what the obsession with football is about. I answered the speed of the game, the violence, the fact that there’s so much hand-to-hand combat, quite unlike any other sport. But if I was asked what my obsession with the Packers is, I don’t know that I’d be able to answer. Certainly, geography and lineage play a role. (I mean, we can be brand loyal to detergents our parents purchased). Although despite my fanaticism, my two boys have zero interest in football, let alone the Packers. They’ll probably be drawing comics during the game, so they have the creativity gene, but not the Packer gene.

I am a Packer fan. In fact, I love the Packers. It’s a weird behavioral thing that certainly needs some user research. I find it to be completely irrational. I yell and scream at the TV. I read about the team incessantly. I will text 6 other Packer fans just like me throughout today’s game. I am blindly brand loyal, even though I have never once—ever—seen an ad for the team that states its features and benefits.

I am a Packer fan. It’s been a lifelong experience that continues to build on experiences.

Huh.

Packers 31 Steelers 17.

Just sayin’.

The Obligatory "What I’m Thankful For" Post

I hate these things. I really do. Call me a cynic but most of the time I read posts like this and they just seem like shallow echos of true sentiments. But the fact of the matter is that this year, I have much to be thankful for. And in true digital fashion, my first inclination is to share. So here it goes…

I can sum up what I am thankful for by saying this:

I am thankful for being here.

Here… living and working in a field I am passionate about. A field I learn more about everyday and hopefully contribute to the greater understanding of, if even in a small way.

Here… with a business that is new, and growing, and different than anything many have seen. A business that allows me to work with amazing clients to help solve challenging problems in a creative way. I have the freedom to be smart on my own terms with a creative partner and equal (yes that is you Mr. @markfairbanks). It is a rare find.

Here… Mama to the 2 most amazing littlemen I will ever know. I have found them, and they have found me this year. I marvel at every move they make and they teach me more than I could ever hope to pass on to them.

Here… on the other side of a series of excruciating decisions. Still standing, strong and able to hear and heed when the universe whispers. Even better, I am here with new friends found, old friends re-found and family I couldn’t live without.

and finally…

Here… in it’s purest, most literal form. Some know, most do not, of the physical battles I wage. But I am thankful for every moment of just being here. It is not an experience I take lightly, nor something I take for granted. And I’m thankful that I live during a time that I can share it with you.

So there. :)

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Let’s continue to rock, shall we?

The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated

Nope. That’s not a reference to the fact that I haven’t written a post in two weeks. Although I do feel kinda invisible.

I refer to that famous quote because I believe it should be appropriated by traditional ad agencies, who after an 18-month long string of death due to social media obituaries, flew out of the grave on Tuesday when Wieden + Kennedy broke The Old Spice Man social media campaign. Check out the eye-popping stats from Mashable here.

Not sure if this is Wieden or Kennedy. Or perhaps Lee Clow shaved his beard.

Yes, there are still many questions that need to be answered, some of which we bandied about during Translator lab hours yesterday:

Is this a stunt, or a long-term sustainable means of engagement?
The last tweet from @OldSpice began “Well friends, like all great things this too must end.” Huh. That’s campaign speak to me. To me, by definition, social doesn’t end. It’s what @faris describes as constantly connected. Yeah, that’s good. I’d pose this question to @streetzapizza and @AJBombers : If you took a three-month hiatus from Twitter, would you still be as connected to your customers? (And if you did, what would it do to your sales?) The challenge for Old Spice and W+K becomes now that you found a brilliant way to make connections, what’s your plan to sustain them?

Do I laugh at this in front of my laptop, but still walk past the product on the retail shelf? The work is brilliant. Hysterical. Definitely spreadable media. (And please, for the bazillionth time, stop using the term viral video). I honestly have no idea how Isaiah Mustafa did not crack up while performing—they were doing these at a rate of one every 7 minutes.

But.

Agencies get hired to sell things, and fired when they don’t. Okay, they get fired for a lot of crazy other reasons too, but that’s a different post. Dudes—or gals who purchase personal products for your dude—are you buying Old Spice in the near future? I loved the videos, but I will not be a purchaser. That makes me a passive endorser. Is that what brand managers are after? In checking HootSuite, I see that my former Minneapolis colleague @alangdell (who is much younger and hipper than me) just tweeted:

This Old Spice campaign is just amazingly entertaining. I still don’t want to buy it, but I’m glad someone is financing this.

W+K is doing a helluva job changing the perception of Old Spice. But to a lot of us, the product is still—well—Old Spice. Certainly time and sales figures will tell. I’m sure there will be plenty of data on that to come.

Despite those questions, this work validated one thing for me. Don’t count traditional agencies out. They will eventually adapt to the new platforms and channels. There are way too many smart people to assume they’ll never get it.

It will still take time. It may come with pouting, holding of breath, and a fair amount of bitching and moaning, (I’ve covered the subject) but eventually the sheer intellectual and creative capital of those trained in doing something one way will eventually adapt to doing it a new way. To be conversationalists. To be co-creators. To create experiences in addition to campaigns. To walk a high-wire in real-time and collaborate with other disciplines and produce amazing results.

This is a really good thing. And it makes the discussion of who will rule the modern communication roost—traditional, digital or a T.B.D. evolution of both—even more interesting.

Let the debate continue.

We interrupt this ad to bring you an ad

A funny thing happened to me on the way to watch the new Nike “Write the Future” TV spot @addy_dren had just tweeted. An obnoxious Honey Bunches of Oats banner ad took over the page.

Yes, that’s right.

On my way to willingly engage with one ad, another one intrusively stopped me from watching it.

He must have seen this coming.

To quote Colonel Walter E. Kurtz: “The horror, the horror.”

I immediately tweeted my disgust, of course. My friend and former copywriting partner Rob Franks picked up on the irony replying “we’ve reached an epically sad era of meta-proportions when an ad is interrupted by an ad.” Indeed we have.

Maybe I’m making a big deal out of nothing. Then again, maybe I’m not.

For me, it was the perfect intersection of the sublime with the vulgar. If you haven’t seen the full-length version of the Nike ad, it’s fantastic. A brilliant concept flawlessly executed. (C’mon, a bearded Rooney living in a trailer park? Awesomeness.) I’ve embedded it so that there’s no chance you have to sidestep another ad to watch it.

I think a great TV spot is by definition social. Spots like this get written about, talked about, shared. While watching the Lost finale at a gathering at our house, out of the blue my nephew brought up the Write the Future spot—although he referred to it as the latest World Cup spot, not a Nike spot. [And to put it all of this in context, I was reading a post about the ad, when interrupted by said cereal ad unit. It’s curious that I now actually engage with great TV spots more often on the internet—the best spots are regularly tweeted—than I actually do in the broadcast medium they were created for.]

Now for the raspberries.

Advertisers and agencies, hear this: takeover ads suck. I mean, do you have to, really? They’re obnoxious. I’m sure Honey Bunches of Oats thought they got digital because in the two second glimpse I saw of the ad unit before I nuked it, it appeared to have embedded video and all the bells and whistles of a rich media unit.

But you stopped me from getting at what I wanted. See, digital is about what I want. Don’t kid yourself thinking you’re so 2010, when you’re really so 1983.

And if you think I’m just picking on some poor cereal brand, something like this will draw a user in without constructing the equivalent of a damn tollbooth.

Faris Yakob has this dead-on assessment of how advertisers and agencies have initially approached digital:

The emergence of a new media system is typified by a period of transposition, where the behavioural grammar of the previous system remains dominant. The first television shows were radio shows with people talking directly into camera. The first films were stageplays that had been filmed. And the first marketing forays online took what we knew about media and branding from broadcast media and applied it to a whole new space.

This doesn’t just apply to how we approach developing a great digital presence that embraces utility, sharing and co-creation, . It goes further into rethinking what is acceptable behavior when it comes to digital advertisements. A lot of the talk centers around brand behavior in social, but as long as there are take-over ads of this ilk, our work is not done. A good friend of mine who is a brilliant strategist, painfully recounted an old-school agency partner’s disdain for digital summed up thusly: “It’s just not intrusive enough.”

Good lord. Please cue the Marlon Brando sound byte again.

The bottom line is, if you absolutely have to be intrusive, please do it off-line. Because a lot of us are busy making on-line the place for engagement and great experiences.

What’s your take on it?

Running, digital, and running a digital agency

Sara Santiago wrote a great little post (a love letter, she calls it) last week about dailymile. For those not familiar with dailymile, it’s essentially an unbranded descendant of the groundbreaking Nike+ site created by R/GA a few years back. dailymile has taken the concept a bit further, allowing not only runners, but anyone actively training (cycling, swimming, strength-training) the ability to track their efforts and share it with other members of the community.

“Methinks that the moment my legs began to move,
my thoughts began to flow.”  ~Henry David Thoreau

It’s amazing how well digital has connected the dots for runners, but that’s always a matter of identifying key user insights. Based on my own personal experience, there are a couple of givens about runners. First of all, the majority of us are fanatics. Why else would anyone go out and run all those brutally monotonous miles? Runners are also obsessive (no surprise) about keeping track of personal progress. The mileage. The pace. How did today feel? All those endless miles, all those hills, all those repeats become a body of work. They become a story of individual growth, an epic on a personal level. They are the equivalent of the most timeless of stories: the quest.

Fig. 1: An off-line running widget, circa 1996

The beauty of digital is that it not only allows for users to tell their own story, but it provides tools to make their pursuits easier. Read this great post by Gerry McGovern which deftly states the need to focus on tasks versus goals in experience design. dailymile understands users have a goal—an upcoming race, weight loss, fitness—it’s why they joined in the first place. They make it easy for you to perform some of the tasks needed to accomplish those goals. Back in the day when I was training and running in marathons, I spent a fair amount of time in the car mapping routes and mileage. See, I had this off-line widget called an odometer. Today, digital tools make this task ridiculously quick and easy. dailymile has a nifty utilitarian tool that allows you to map and save routes. What used to take upwards of 30 minutes driving around (and burning gasoline) in your car, can now be accomplished in a couple of minutes in front of your laptop. I now have a dozen saved routes, and add variations regularly.

But tools are only one part of the story. The daily experience of running is very often solitary—I compare it to a secular monasticism. Just do it after all is essentially a zen mantra. There is a rhythm to the endless miles that produces an inner meditative calm, and a certain cleansing that accompanies the sweat. (Okay, I realize maybe only runners will appreciate this.) But anyone who is a runner will recognize that sites like Nike+ and dailymile have provided a digital monastery for us. It is here where the temporal tribe congregates to provide support and encouragement, as well as to faithfully document their daily efforts. Many days the only motivation to get you out the door is the desire to perform the final act of documenting the distance covered. To say, “Yes, I ran.” Now add to that the benefit of a fellow runner’s pat on the back, and it’s no wonder membership is growing.

Rear view of a young woman running up a curvy dirt road in the rain.

Training for a 10k? Meditative stress release? Mea culpa for a lunchtime burrito?

Faith is something that is essential to a runner. Some days are effortless. Some days feel like drudgery. And other days are down right excruciating. In fact, one can experience all of these feelings in a single 5 mile run. That, in part, is the draw. The overcoming of adversity. The sticking with it when your rational brain tells you to quit. The parallel between this and running a business is noteworthy. Some days are exhilarating. Other days the work piles up and you wonder how it will all get done. And some days, you question the sanity of ever wanting to start your own business in the first place.

Ask yourself: “Can I give more?” The answer is usually: “Yes.”
~Paul Tergat, Kenyan professional marathoner

There’s a lot of great philosophy around the pursuit of running. The philosophers go by the name of Prefontaine, Sheehan, Bowerman and Salazar. Whether it’s a desire to regain a previous level of fitness, the renewed obsession of posting a few miles on dailymile, or the perspective the road provides for dealing with the trials of business ownership, I find myself running a lot more these days. I’m older, slower, and I stop to stretch more often. But nonetheless, I’m out on the road once again to see if I can give a little bit more.