Monday, July 21, 2008

Why I've been ignoring my blog

I recently launched an internal blog at the agency where I work, and it's been interesting growing this new community. While I consult with clients often on how to grow their own communities, it's been a little while since I've seeded my own.

The funny thing is that, while I've been doing this for the past 14 years, the basics are still the same:

1. Seeding and moderation
Someone has to go first and that often means you. It means posting (to start discussions) and commenting (to keep discussions going that others have started) while not overpowering the general ebb and flow of the community. It also means keeping an eye out for trouble.

2. Patience
Those of you who have built communities from the ground up know all about this. It's not an overnight matter. While many of the clients I have worked with are anxious to grow big and grow fast, that's not always the case, even for the success stories. I was on Facebook with one other "friend" for at least six months before most of my other friends and coworkers signed up. I've had similar experiences with LinkedIn and Plaxo.

3. Participation
Conventional wisdom (and the research) on this topic has for many years shown that typically only 10 percent of an audience is "active." The rest are lurkers. Of course lurkers count too (some of us would prefer to watch the game rather than play and there's nothing wrong with that). But please don't let this number get you down--remember that other forms of media, such as direct mail, often have much lower participation rates. So if you're hovering around 10 percent, congratulate yourself for a job well done and remember the folks who are participating by watching. (For research done on this subject Google "Jenny Preece.")

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The death of the "big idea"

In the battle of old and new media, I think the geeks are edging ahead...

Monday, July 7, 2008

Choice is the new brand

Remember when a "branded" experience was exclusive to one brand--or possibly two for a "co-branded" experience?

Well, what happens when the experience is about the consumer and not the brand? How do we deliver that experience? A few companies have ventured into that space, offering a shopping experience that sets aside the ego of the brand to better serve the consumer.

I'm not talking about Amazon or Target, who are in the business of selling multiple brands, but rather sites such as and the Gap family of brands (full disclosure, I worked on the team in 2005-2006).

All of the Ford brands (from Mazda to Volvo) play nice in the Ford Vehicle Showroom, which puts the consumer's needs at the forefront by allowing them to shop by vehicle type, MPG, and other features, across brand (you can also shop by brand if you so choose).

Then there's the Gap site which shares one shopping cart across four brands (Banana Republic, Gap, Old Navy and Piper Lime). That means consumers can take advantage of savings on shipping and, while I don't have the statistics, I would bet encourages cross brand shopping. I would hope the next step for Gap would be to integrate products so I could search for "baby" and see products from Old Navy and Gap Baby.

These seem like small, common sense steps in a user-centric web, but I would suggest they are gigantic leaps. I'd also suggest that we need to continue to rethink brand and remember to put consumers ahead of products in the shopping experience.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The white board as social media

Social media is all about the feedback loop. When people can feed back into a system they create noise, and noise is what creates the potential for change.

In this way, white boards could be considered a type of social media. They are a place for people to think out loud and to provide feedback. They are a place for shared creation and collaborative problem solving.

So what kind of culture does a company foster when white boards are few and far between? Or hidden?

I recently had this experience and I can say that personally, it feels stifling. I want white boards down the hall and covering an entire wall of my office. I want people to be able to pick up a pen and feel free to express themselves.

This is where social media and the way it has taught us to think and act starts to influence the real world.