Crossing The Conversation Chasm

I was talking to my newest colleague (and likeminded thinker) Alan Kercinik the other day about the missed communications opportunities between when new products are announced and they are actually available for purchase.

I call it the Conversation Chasm.  And yes, I'm sure I'm not the first person to use the phrase.

Just thinking out loud over morning coffee ...

In my own very crude way, I tried to chart it out below.  

The X axis is time:

  1. Pre-sell:  Where very early meetings take place between manufacturer and retailer.  Usually a dark period for manufacturer due to competitive fears.
  2. Launch:  A moment in time.  A press conference.  A stunt.  A trade show. Hope is to make a big splash with buyers, media and consumers. 
  3. Road to sales:  More sell-in to retail, but not much focus on the consumer if we're being honest.  All the big $ is chambered for ...
  4. Sales start: Another big splash moment.  Where media kicks in and everyone tries to out-scream the competition.
  5. Sell-through: Focused on getting products off the shelves.

The Y axis is marcom effectiveness.  I haven't given much thought to what that means for the purposes of this post.  But essentially it's just how well you are doing against your goals. UPDATE: After thinking more about it, the Y axis should be "Conversations."

The purple line represents the way many industries - consumer electronics jumps to mind - approach things.  Big launch splash - timing usually pegged to an industry trade show or a reaction to a competitor.  This activity is usually led by communications.  Followed by a pretty dark period where the marketing folks ready the campaign.  Then sales start - boom!  And finally, sell-through which normally falls to shopper marketing teams.

The green line is a more optimal way of approaching it.  The big difference being the relative plateau (rather than huge valley) between the launch moment and sales start.  I have to think that's the period where social media can shine like no other channel.  And because there's more conversation happening during the road to sales, I'd propose your media dollars will be even more effective once sales do start (since you haven't lost touch with people over the last few months).

The space between the purple and green is missed opportunity ... the Conversation Chasm.

Why is the purple way of doing things so common?  Three things come to mind ...

  1. Communications and marketing still operate in silos.  Communications normally handles product announcements; marketing kicks in for actual sales start.  At times very different messages. Very different agendas.  Not ideal.  How to solve it?  CMO builds a bridge and everyone gets over it.
  2. Retail dependence.  To me the real genius of Apple Stores is not the design and experience control the company has; but rather the timing control.  They don't need to sell in.  They are on their own timeline.  They can avoid the Chasm altogether by virtually eliminating the road to sales phase.  Apple is like Ali compared to everyone else's George Foreman.
  3. Old school thinking. Paradigms are paradigms because thinking otherwise is threatening and scary.  I wrote about the descructivness of this behavior a few days ago.  That's how I feel.

That's as far as I can take it this Saturday morning.  Feel free to chime in.

The Personality Paradox

[cross-posted on the Ogilvy Fresh Influence blog]

I’ve noticed something lately I can only describe as the Personality Paradox (mostly because I’m a big fan of alliteration).

It’s simple:  When it comes to engaging in social media, bigger brands (alliteration! OK, I’ll stop pointing it out.) tend to have smaller personalities.  This shouldn’t come as a huge surprise.

In the case of a big brand there are myriad factors that can cause this Paradox.  First off, having a big personality takes a ton of effort and focus.  Add to that regulatory/compliance issues, organizational challenges, multiple marcom agencies, new management and a million other things, big and small.  Or worse, simply losing sight of the customers who got you there in the first place.

The perfect parallel is a rock band.  The unsigned band playing half-filled clubs is going to cherish every fan – no autograph unsigned, no photo request denied, no interview not granted, no Tweet unanswered.  But as that band gains a following and eventually breaks, the demands on their time and attention increase, forcing them to (1) triage inbound requests and (2) start speaking to their fanbase as a whole, rather than as individuals.  Oh, and as their egos inflate, they often quickly forget their most loyal base.


(photo courtesy of Arne Hendriks)

As with anything of this sort, there are always exceptions.

Vans is a brand that immediately comes to mind.  And lest you think Vans is a little skate punk operation, they are owned by a holding company (bought for nearly $400mm a few years ago) that owns Nautica, North Face and Wrangler to name a few.  So it’s pretty cool that whether it’s their Twitter handle, blog, Facebook page or any other social profile,  Vans stays true to their skater beginnings – everything from the imagery to the language and content they feature feels totally authentic.  And their community manager, “Nikki S,” is in my opinion one of the best in the business.  Responsive, helpful and funny, all with a little bad-ass attitude.

Vans not big enough for you?  How about Ogilvy client, Ford Motor Company?  Just take a look at how they enthusiastically jumped into Google+, or the delightful and highly personalized way they invited bloggers to an event earlier this year.  I’m biased, of course, but don’t you think this is a great example of a huge enterprise acting like that unsigned band trying to make it to the top?

What are some quick takeaways for big brands?

  • Put a face and name to your social efforts.  Logos are good, people are great.
  • Put as much effort into developing your voice as you do your content.  It’s not just what you say, but how you say it.
  • Always keep an eye on experimentation.  Try new things.  We all fail – it’s nothing to be ashamed of, and might engender even more admiration.

What are other big brands (or bands, while we’re at it) that buck the paradox?  What’s their secret sauce?

Anatomy Of A Cocktail Party, In Four Parts*


Guestlist I'd rank guest list as the single most important factor in a successful cocktail party.  Has to be the right mix of people with similar, but not too similar, tastes.  They should be really excited to be there and ready to shake it up a bit.

There are two way to build your guest list ...

The most logical and effective way is usually to network among your friends (or entities like social clubs) to meet a few really interesting folks who will, in turn, invite a few of their interesting friends.  This will ensure a varied, but vetted, mix.

The second way is to buy your guests.  Perhaps you run an ad on Hollywood Blvd inviting people to come.  Or maybe you offer everyone who attends something free (and expensive).  Either way, just make sure you're cool with the fact that many of the guests aren't there to really hang out, and probably won't ever come back.  And also, expect to spend a lot of money in the process.

It's your call.  There's merit in both, depending on your objectives.  If want to throw the BEST party,  option 1 makes sense.  If your sights are set on outdoing the Jones family, option 2 could work.


After the guest list, the host is the next most important factor to a great affair.  You can invite the most interesting (or just the most) people, but if you don't have a host who can get the Images conversation/dancing started, your party is doomed.

As the host, have you thought about your welcoming remarks? Have you poured over your guest list to determine what connections you might make?  Have you thought about how you'll handle an unruly guest, or someone who comes expecting free stuff, and whatever you're offering isn't enough?

*if you haven't figured it out yet, this post has nothing to do with cocktail parties


Interesting Decor is tricky.  You want to make sure the space is visually pleasing, but not overwhelming or distracting from the conversation.  Enough cool things to look at and interact with (and for people to tell their friends about, so they come to the next event).

Not all of us are gifted in this area, but some of us refuse to acknowledge our limitations.  I've been to plenty of otherwise nice parties that fall flat on the decor.  Usually the problem is that the host is hellbent on pushing their style, rather than thinking about their guests.

I tend to include food and beverage in the decor bucket.


So what are you giving people to remember their great experience?  What's that artifact that will sit on their coffee table or office shelf that will remind them of your great event?  Even better, what will get their friends, family and co-workers chatting about the party, and jockeying for an invite to the next one?  You have thought about this, right?

Crowdsourced Childcare via Social Media

Wife's out of town - actually on a plane right now.  Alone with two young boys.  4 yr old has a cough and fever.  What's a dad to do?

Ask Twitter and Facebook.

And amazing things happen.  People - some total strangers - take the time to answer my question about the safety of Tylenol + cold medicine. 

Screen shot 2011-03-23 at 7.50.34 PM

Thanks for that. 

I know a lot of people who still think social media is stupid, a waste of time or frivolous. Which it can be (and often is).  But it can also be really great.

By the way, solution was Tylenol + a spoonful of honey.  Henry is fast asleep.

NFL Labor Dispute - First of the Social Media Era

Cross posted from Ogilvy's Fresh Influence blog.

Disclaimer:  Due to several conflicts (including children, work, wife, The Office, Jersey Shore and sleep) I had to  schedule this post 12 hours in advance of it going live; meaning I might not have the latest information on the talks between the concerned parties.  However, that has no material impact on my main points.  Trust me, I’m a journalist.

With that out of the way …

By the time you read this the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between NFL owners and the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) will most likely (see disclaimer; and even if there is a 24-hour extension of the CBA, as reported Thursday afternoon, this thing will eventually come to blows) have expired, leaving the two sides without a labor agreement and the 2011 football season - or at least part of it -  in serious jeopardy.

As a sports fan, I’m totally turned off.  As many people will tell you, this is billionaires fighting with millionaires over sums of money unfathomable to the vast majority of fans (Charlie Sheen excluded, of course #winning!).

As a marketer, and one who currently focuses on social media, I’m keen to keep a close eye on how the dispute plays out in public, particularly in social media.  This is the first pro-sports labor dispute of the social media era (the last being the National Hockey League during the 2004-5 season, when MySpace was hardly a hotbed of sports discussion and Facebook was just blooming as a place for Zuckerberg to exact revenge on a girl who slighted him - at least that’s how the movie goes).

It’s 2011 (you’re welcome for that nugget) and I can’t help but imagine the stream of opinions flowing effortlessly from the Twitter feeds of NFL players, owners, media and fans as the dispute moves into the grind-it-out-let’s-pretend-we’re-all-working-towards-the-same-goal-when-really-we’re-just-interested-in-protecting-no-actually-growing-our-pile-of-money phase.   In fact my crack research staff tells me that between February 15-28 there were 11,000 Tweets mentioning “NFL and lockout.”  Just since March 1 there have been the same amount.

The NFL is a public relations juggernaut, second only (in my opinion) to the NBA.  And it’s worth noting that basketball faces this very same situation next year; though as many sports writers have noted, the NBA actually needs a battle like this to realign a really broken compensation scheme; whereas football seems to be in pretty good shape.  In any case, I’m sure commissioner Stern is paying very close attention to the public sentiment as owners prep for battle with the NBA players union.  In fact I bet this post makes his morning clip pack (#DavidStern #Stern #DStern #NBA #TallAndRich #TheDecision #GoBulls).

But while NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has proven to be a disciplined voice for the league, he can’t control what has already been, and will continue to be, said on the social web.

But he can influence it.

See what I did there?  Can’t control.  Can influence.

Below are a few tactics I would expect the league to employ, as I would any brand heading into a very public battle.  As a marketer or fan (or fanketer - helloooo Urban Dictionary), what have I missed?

Paid Search
Using Google’s AdWords Keyword Tool I took a look at the competition against the search term “NFL Lockout” and found it surprisingly low.  What if the NFL launched a SEM campaign against terms related to the lockout, driving people to either an FAQ on the domain or even a Facebook page?  Seems simple enough, and moderately effective at delivering a message to people actively seeking out information.

Live Listening
I’d be shocked if the NFL doesn’t already have in place an incredibly robust real-time monitoring solution.  The challenges, I suspect, are twofold:  (1) How are they filtering the signal from the noise and (2) What are they doing with the intelligence gleaned from the monitoring.  Which leads me to my next point …

Response Protocol
All the listening in the world won’t do you much good if you aren’t analyzing, looking for opportunities and disciplined about how you do/don’t engage with supporters and detractors alike.  At Ogilvy we often develop bespoke response protocols based on the issue, the client, the nature of the discussion and other factors.  The NFL must be really clear and consistent in their response protocol about what they say, when they say it, to whom they speak and what tone they take.

Conversation Management
Whether it’s to the 2.6 million fans on their Facebook page or their 1.9 million Twitter followers, the league must carefully map out what they are going to say publicly on the matter, where they’re going to say it and how, if at all, they are going to react when publicly challenged (or lauded).  Effective conversation management, very much tied to the response protocol, is kind of the backbone of everything the league is going to do (on social media) during this time.  They must get this right.

Content Creation
You better believe the players are pumping out content to tell their side of the story.  Check out the video below from the NFLPA’s YouTube channel, which has garnered 152K views.

What’s troubling, from the league’s standpoint, is that a pretty sophisticated YouTube user (me - don’t laugh) can’t seem to find the NFL’s official YouTube page after about 30 seconds of searching.  And guess what - I give up.  So the message here is that not only do they have to consider a content creation strategy, but just as important a distribution and optimization one as well.  By the way, not just video but also photos, written content, etc. - anything that can be indexed by The Google and helps the league put forth their perspective.


This entire episode will be interesting to watch play out.  As a fan I truly hope they resolve it sooner than later so we can get on with a great 2011 season. 

Why Are We Doing Social Well?

A client recently asked me what factors I thought contributed to their success in social media.  The answers came to me immediately - it's a client I work closely with, care deeply about and have thought about a lot this year.

As I jotted down my response on my white board [aside: my common practice which might appear to be an unnecessary step to answering an email, but helps me think things out] I realized  these factors are common to every client I work with who has made progress in social media.

What am I missing?  Wold love to add to the list. 

Support from Leadership

We know innovation bubbles up from the bottom; culture cascades from the top.  Without a supportive leadership team, social initiatives will never find the funding and resources needed to have a demonstrable impact. 

What are you doing to secure that support from your leadership? 

Training is one way.  Not [necessarily] training on how to do social, but rather why [i.e. the business impact].

Benchmarking is another.  Show your leaders [not in a the sky is falling way] what the industry best-practices are and how your organization compares.

And finally, listening is so important.  Use the myriad free tools out there to monitor for your brand or issue. Package those mentions and analysis in an executive summary.  Show them the conversation is taking place, and suggest ways you can join it.

Demonstrated Appetite from the Foot Soldiers

If leaders enable, it's the foot soldiers who do [and often innovate].  Without an army of willing social media participants within an organization, it'll be all talk and no action.  And remember, your employees are your greatest advocates!

What can you do to facilitate this behavior?

Training is a no-brainer.  Show people the right way to do things.

Policy is another.  Make the organization's policy clear and concise.  Give people guardrails - they usually find it comforting.

Finally - and I realize this is tough - give your people some freedom to experiment.  Not everything they do in social should be super tight-in on your product, brand or cause.  The more comfortable people are, the more likely they are to do so, and effectively.

Passionate and Knowledgeable Customers

I don't care if your business is cleaning supplies or a professional association, you have to find those customers who are smart on your business, and passionate about what you do [I guess that's what we call a fan these days].  Without passionate and knowledgeable customers speaking on your behalf, you're just talking to yourself.

A Spirit of Cross-Functional Collaboration

Are the right people willing to take the right steps towards collaborating across functions [or geographies or business units]?  Have you formed your center of excellence?  Have you defined a common measurement model?  Have you even talked to each other?  Start.  Today.

Willingness to Take Counsel

I don't have all the answers.  Neither do you.  No one does.  But I can tell you that in every successful case I've seen in social [scaled cases], the client has collaborated with talented external partners.  That doesn't mean off-shoring your social media to an agency.  What it does mean is taking counsel from external partners who have been there before.

Jesus, What an Influencer!

Jesus Seriously.  Jesus - what an influencer, huh?  The ultimate, no doubt.

2+ billion followers today.  And the guy's been dead for, oh, a couple thousand years.

Kind of makes Oprah, Gaga, Godin and all the Twitterati with a five-figure following look like chump change.

When you think about it, Jesus really didn't have many actual "followers" in his lifetime.  The guy wasn't around that long, and seemingly spent a lot of time roaming the countryside.

But he had the RIGHT followers.  Specifically, 12 of them (well, you could argue that Judas guy was bad news).

Think about it for a minute.  Jesus had 12 really passionate followers who - 2000 years later - have made him the most influential person in the world.  Not 12,000.  Not 12 million.  12.  Honestly ask yourself - would Jesus have made your influencer list back in the day?  Not a chance.

So what's the lesson?  Pretty clear to me:

Influence shouldn't be judged by quantity, but rather by quality of followers.  By passion.  25,000 Twitter followers or 100,000 UMVs means nothing if those followers exert no influence; posses no passion or have zero relevance to your business.  Sure, big numbers help.  But they tell such a small part of the story.

Bless you.

Lessons From The Threadless Crew @ PSFK Salon

FireShot capture #007 - 'Threadless catalog of tees classic t-shirts_ Unique, cool and funny tees_ Browsing graphic tees' - www_threadless_com_catalog_style,tees_group,classicA brief recap of the lessons imparted by the awesome crew from Threadless at yesterday's PSFK Salon in Chicago.  It's all so simple, yet so evasive to many businesses.

I was originally planning on commenting on each lesson, but they are so self-explanatory.

Lesson 1:  We do it with friends.

Lesson 2: Bring the fun. Fun = fearless.  And fearless = exploration.

Lesson 3: Honesty buys you goodwill.

Lesson 4: Act like a human, because you are.

[I tend not to wear T-shirts with images/logos/words, but if I did this would so be it].

Old Spice, Chalkbot and the Hidden Value of the Echo Chamber

Just a few days ago conventional wisdom was something along the lines of, if you haven't heard of Old Spice's Twitter/YouTube thing or Nike/Livestrong Chalkbot, you must be living under a rock

But what's emerging - mostly anecdotally to be fair - are stories of blank stares at the mention of either of these ... even amongst professional marketers.  Both projects have played well within the digital echo chamber, but perhaps haven't permeated the marketing mainstream (let alone the mainstream mainstream).

And that emerging realization has added an interesting wrinkle to the conversation about these two campaigns ... if a viral video plays in a forest and no men 18-34 are around, does it make a noise?

Thinking about it, I still believe there are four points of value in both these efforts, even if they never make it beyond the echo: 

  1. The success of these - success defined in a number of ways, including brand lift, sales, etc. - arms marketing communications agencies with a case study for how to do it right.  The only downside is that some agencies will inevitably misappropriate it, promising I can do for you what W+K did for Old Spice!
  2. Marketers on the client side - those who have "social" or "digital" in their title or are fighting to give digital more share of spend - will have something to point to when confronting skeptical executives.
  3. The Old Spice example in particular shows that traditional ad shops are not as incompetent in social as some of the social media elite would have you believe.  In fact they can be pretty damn clever.  This is a good thing for the entire industry.
  4. Both programs are creative, delightful, well-executed.  They force the entire marketing ecosystem  to step up its game.

There are probably more, so feel free to add via a comment.

From Sports Clichés to Social Media Lessons


Between The World Cup and LeBronapalooza I’ve had sports on the brain for thelast few weeks.

As I followed the media coverage I thought I might be able to take some of the tired clichés and re-fashion them into lessons for social media practitioners.

My original plan was to post 10 items, but I could only muster up nine.  Anyone care to help with the 10th?

  1. Singles and doubles start rallies. Not every social media program has to be a round-tripper.  In fact starting small - listen, test and learn - can lead to bigger and better things down the road.  The groundwork gives you permission to swing for the fences.
  2. The “12th man” is your greatest advantage. Give your fans something to cheer about - something exclusive, entertaining, educational or utilitarian.
  3. Don’t hold your stars down.Let your most popular personalities represent you in social media.  Do you have a rockstar product manager?  A charismatic executive?  Give them the tools, forum and role to be a voice of your organization.


Why Blogs With Balls 3 Was the Best Conference I've Ever Attended

This past Saturday I attended and spoke at a fantastic sports media conference called Blogs With Balls 3.  Massive kudos to Kyle Bunch and the crew at Hugging Harold Reynolds for what was the best conference I've ever attended (and for inviting an 'outsider' like me to speak).  Do not sleep on the next time they put one of these together!

Picture 1

That's right - the best conference I've ever attended.  Here's why, in no particular order of importance ...

No Jargon It didn't dawn on me until after the fact, but the day was refreshingly free of jargon, buzz words, insider speak and egos.  Rather, it was people, talking like people, to other people.  Straight shooting.  Learning.  Teaching.  Thoughtful discourse.  Very real.

Fun  Likely a combination of Saturday + liquor sponsor + Wrigley Field setting, but this was the most fun I've ever had at a conference.  It was loose and casual - from the colorful language, to the attire and between-sessions banter.  I even witnessed my first real life Bro getting iced by a bro (@edsbs got iced, as evidenced below).  Fun is not something I normally associate with a conference - BwB3 changed all that.  I had a really good time.  When was the last time you said that at a conference (not called SxSW)?

Bros icing

Great Venue  The venue was perfectly conducive for interaction. It was at the Captain Morgan's club at Wrigley Field.  There was a main room, which held about 200 people, flanked by an outdoor area.  The fact that it was so contained made conversation easy and natural.  I much prefer the tighter quarters - that containment breeds interaction.  And did I mention it was at Wrigley - I mean, how much better can it get? 

The People What an interesting group of sports nuts.  Smart.  Driven.  Not even close to the same people speaking on the same social media topics.  New perspectives to teach.  Really interested in learning.  I had great conversations with folks like Ty Ahmad-Taylor, Mike Germano and Adam Best, Ben Koo, Wayne Vore, Josh Abrams and Zachary Chapman - just to name a few.  It will be my pleasure to continue getting to know these people, and understanding ways we might work together. 

The Bloggers  As a social media practitioner, there is nothing more important and valuable than spending time talking with bloggers - face to face (imagine that!).  Of the (my estimate) 200 people in attendance, 150 of them must have been actual sports bloggers.  Women and men pounding out massive amounts of great content every day.  Some of them supporting themselves doing so.  Others hoping to do so one day.  All of them hungry to understand what it takes to get to the next level of success.  Their comments and questions told so much about their wants, needs, questions and aspirations.  It put a human face on these people - something that's easy to forget when Twitter and RSS feeds dominate our daily lives. 

Again, bravo to Kyle Bunch and Hugging Harold Reynolds for a great day.  I think you'll see me next year!

P.S.  If for some odd reason you want to watch my panel, here goes.  I'm the bearded, shorts-wearing Cubs fan.

Watch live video from blogswithballs on

You Are Who You Follow?

I like Gillian's answer to my question, simply because I hadn't thought about it from this perspective.

Tweet 1 Tweet 2

Does a brand imply personal/professional endorsement by following someone back on Twitter?

I don't think any more than taking their money at the cash register; or even allowing them in their store. What do you think?

Gillian's example (white supremacist) is an extreme.  Replace it with a polarizing, but much more benign figure.  Does following Bill Maher, Rush Limbaugh, Chad Ochocinco or Alex Bogusky imply something about what you believe and how you do business?  Or do you simply find them interesting pieces in a much larger mosaic?

Storytelling With a Music Business Vet (Dan Beck)

I've known Dan Beck since 2002.  By my calculations Dan has worked and lived in the upper echelons of the music business for four decades.  He recently started one of the most entertaining blogs around, called Music Bizz Fizz - a collection of nearly unbelievable stories about his run-ins with some of music's greatest legends.

Dan-Beck-Elisa-Perry-Joe- Dan is a born storyteller.  Since I've known him he's dazzled me with personal [and mostly, touching] stories about Ozzie(Osbourne), Michael (Jackson), Cyndi (Lauper), Richard (Branson) and others.

I asked him if he'd answer a few questions on storytelling, which seems to be on the tip of every marketer's tongue these days.  Here's what he had to say.

I'm almost certain he'd answer more questions if you leave them as a comment. Go for it ... this guy has been there, done that.

Ian Sohn:  'Storytelling' is a red hot topic these days in marketing circles.  I hear brand managers and agency types talk all the time about how brands need to mine interesting stories from inside the organization, and then bring them to life for external audiences.  Why do you suppose there's such a deliberate emphasis on storytelling these days - is there something happening culturally right now that makes it more important than a few years ago? 

Dan Beck:  We are so connected today and so in touch.  I believe that this re-awakening to storytelling is the realization that storytelling is a way to texture and validate an idea or more warmly position a relationship.  All of our advancements in 24/7 communication are two dimensional and storytelling is a humanistic tool to add depth, history, and perspective. 

IS: Your blog,, is a collection of great stories from your four decades in the music business.  Why did you now choose to start sharing those memories publicly? 

DB: I started my career as a writer and my passion was to be a lyricist/songwriter.  As an editor for a music trade magazine in Nashville , I was writing stories back in the ‘70’s, about the storytellers in country music; people like Tom T. Hall and Charlie Daniels.  Then, as a marketing execuRichard-Sanders-Steven-Tyltive, I was given an enormous gift to work with so many extraordinarily talented recording artists in country, rock, pop, and soul, over the years that were so fascinating to me.  I feel a certain obligation to share those experiences that were given to me, from working with Pearl Jam and Michael Jackson to the many  artists who never made it.  I know 50 other people who have better stories than mine, but their not telling them!  It has always been an extremely difficult business for creative people to survive.  I believe there are lessons in their experiences, in their courage, and in the hallucination of chasing fame and celebrity with ones talents.  The breakthroughs, the mistakes, even the naïve perspective we might have had back then were all a part of trying to figure out how to succeed.  Maybe there is something in that a new mind can advance.  Maybe I have never figured some of these things out, but if I share them, maybe someone else can gain something from these extraordinary experiences.     

IS: What makes a good storyteller?  Is it the story or the teller?  If both, what elements are critical for each? 

DB: I think the story has to be relatable.  People have to be able to apply it in some way to their own life.  I think there has to be a good conclusion… or at least a conclusion that makes you think or ponder it.  The best storytellers love the story they are telling.  I grew up listening to storytellers and what I remember most was their joy in remembering and telling their stories.   

IS: How much does accuracy matter in storytelling?  I noticed some of the comments you receive on your blog posts are people correcting little things (it was a 747 not a prop plane) to more significant ones (I was not on that trip when The Clash ...).  To me it makes very little difference since some of your tales are 30+ years old, and little inaccuracies don't fundamentally change the story (or perhaps because my wife tells me I tend to make up historical 'facts').  But think about a brand telling a story to its stakeholders ... can inaccuracies or creative liberties be tolerated? 

SADE DB: One of the best experiences I have had has been the responses to correct my version of history.  I wrote a story about being backstage at the first Clash concert in the US .  I was with 6-8 people from the record company.  I got half the people wrong who were there.  Within a couple of hours of posting it, I had heard from several people who were there 31 years ago and we pieced together the entire backstage scene.  It was stunning to realize the speed of connection today and also how warm that connection is between people who experienced something very special way back when.  Storytelling doesn’t make the storyteller the authority.  To me, it is just bringing information forward… accurate or inaccurate.  We share stories; which means we can share our evaluation of them.  Stories do not have to be believable to be good.  We have all heard tall tales that were a lot of fun to hear and they seem to all contain some incredible morsel of truth.  Some of the best storytellers are the biggest BSers.  We still enjoy them.  With that said, silver-tongued devils can lead a brand astray.  The story is just the illustration of a point.  You have to have a point that needs to be made or a value in your brand or product that needs to be illustrated.  Usually, if you’re BSing someone, you actually don’t have a point.  What is the agenda of the storyteller?  Whenever I write a story, I ask myself, “What is my agenda?”  I then try to make sure that agenda is going to pass muster with my readers.  If I put forward a personal accomplishment in a story, it better have some basis of believability.  People accept imperfection when it is delivered with honestly.  Imperfection when combined with an agenda is the breeding ground for dishonesty.          

IS: The requisite social media question ... do you think brands or people can tell stories in 140 character installments, or does a good story require a longer form? 

DB: The reality is that most stories need to be short.  I’m not sure I will ever learn that in my lifetime!  However, I’ve realized through writing the blog that there is always a battle between all the facts or issues of a story and getting it across succinctly.  I actually enjoy the editing process, because you really work toward simplifying and shortening the story.  Sometimes the best stories are simply a photo.  How often have you seen a long, enthusiastic thread of comments on Facebook that all started with a photo?  Every story is a child/parent to several other stories.  The best stories I’ve told get interrupted midstream by people who are so enthusiastic about adding their experience.  Which reminds me of a great story…  

Social Media Is Not A Moment In Time

I was thinking today how hit and miss social media can be if you base your approach on reaching people at a specific moment of time. 

It simply doesn't work to say, let's Tweet this on Thursday to coincide with our widget launch


What if President Obama stubs his toe on Thursday ... no one will care about your widget launch.  Less dramatically, what if your most influential brand fans happen to miss your Tweet [which in the fast-paced world of Twitter streams and Facebook updates is likely to happen]? 

If your approach doesn't account for these scenarios, you'll almost certainly miss chances to engage the people most likely to champion your message.

It comes back to the mantra we're all familiar with by this point ... social media is a conversation not a campaign.

Marketers interested in capturing a moment in time should buy the Super Bowl or Oscars.  And to be clear, I do think in some cases this is a smart approach.  But barring that kind of budget, you better think about a calendar of conversations over a period of time.

Though I suppose a few marketers in Cupertino would tell you that all it takes is a few years of speculation and a bunch of Apple loyalists to make a single press conference a massive social media happening.

I just wouldn't count on it for your widget launch.

Paid Media = Scale for Domino's Pizza Turnaround

A lot of talk over the last few days about Domino's Pizza's "Pizza Turnaround" - equal parts blog | website | Twitter aggregator.  The effort is centered around Domino's transparent re-engineering of its signature pizza offering.

I like the spirit of this ... good talk-value; makes me want to keep following along; most importantly, makes me want to give Domino's another shot.

One of the most talked about features of the campaign is a short documentary [produced with help of Crispin Porter + Bogusky].  At the time I write this [Dec 28 @ 5:30pm CST] the video has logged nearly 328,000 views [in just a few days, over the holidays].

I noticed today that Domino's is running paid media units on YouTube's homepage. 

Dominos on YouTube

While I have no knowledge of this brand's spend, I have looked into YouTube packages and can tell you this is no small financial commitment.  What I suspect Domino's has figured out - that many brands have not yet - is that paid media, as a compliment to 'social' media, can give your brand's blog | video | Facebook page | etc. the push it needs to scale to a larger audience. 

Interested to watch this unfold.  The one thing I really hope is that Domino's doesn't cave to the inevitable snarkiness that many marketing and social media 'gurus' will heap upon it.  Stay the course, Domino's!

We Must Do Away With "Social Media"

We've got to kill the term social media as a way of describing what we do.  

Picture 1

You suffer from serious lack of situational awareness if you haven't noticed the eye-rolling at the mere mention of the phrase.

How dare you Ian??

Really?  Watch the videos and visit the websites.  I'm not making this up.  This is happening.  It's funny, right?  Hopefully it makes you a bit uncomfortable [it did for me]. 

I know I'm not the first to raise this concern.  And I sense the drumbeat getting stronger.  

I realize it's been widely socialized, and thus won't go awayovernight.  But I'm encouraged that some other really annoying terms that were once popular are rarely used these days [e.g. "dandy" and "slacks"].

Rather than crowd-sourcing a new catch-all and beating it into the ground, I propose we develop our own lexicons ... our own way of describing the discipline.  And that might involve a more nuanced approach than a convenient phrase like social media.

Hi, I'm Ian Sohn.  I'm a communications specialist, counseling brands on how digital conversations in online communities drive business results.

Not quite there, but better.

Ambient Awareness & Class Reunions

Just a quick thought ...

Ever since Clive Thompson published his New York Times article, I'm So Totally, Digitally Close to You, the term 'ambient awareness' has been tossed around liberally in social media circles.  And for good reason ... it's a nice way of describing the connections enabled by communities like Twitter and Facebook.  As the article describes it ...

It [ambient awareness] is,they say, very much like being physically near someone and picking up on his mood through the little things he does — body language, sighs, stray comments — out of the corner of your eye.

Later in the article ...

Each little update — each individual bit of social information — is insignificant on its own, even supremely mundane. But taken together, over time, the little snippets coalesce into a surprisingly sophisticated portrait of your friends’ and family members’ lives, like thousands of dots making a pointillist painting. This was never before possible, because in the real world, no friend would bother to call you up and detail the sandwiches she was eating. The ambient information becomes like “a type of E.S.P.,”

It's that last bit, about E.S.P., that particularly hits home after spending this past weekend celebrating a milestone high school reunion.  As my eyes floated around a room filled with people I hadn't seen or spoken to in many years, I felt totally in-the-know ...

Teddy?  San Francisco, two kids.  John?  Chiropractor, stays in touch with Gregg.  Dina?  Can't believe her twins started 5th grade.  Micah?  Wonder how he likes living in the suburbs?

No big takeaway here ... just that after using the term 'ambient awareness' so often in the last year, it all finally makes sense; and I now have a good example to use when describing the term.

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