Social Media Evangelists – The Special Forces of New Media

Posted on December 18, 2008. Filed under: Business, Marketing, Social Media | Tags: , , , , , , |

Cover for the 2007 reprint of The Green Berets

2008 has seen the rise of the term “Social Media” appearing in a variety of places that it hasn’t appeared before, most notably in the list of skills claimed by individuals, whether as in house evangelists or external consultants. So what does it take to be a Social Media Evangelist?

Special Forces Training

This might seem an extreme analogy, what do gun-toting, clandestine troops, featured in movies & TV shows have to do with New Media?

Well firstly put aside the images from TV & the silver screen. Special Forces are not sneeky assassins they are called special for a reason, that reason is the breadth of their skills. To be selected they must pass a testing assessment course, much of which has little or nothing to do with “soldiering” directly and more to do with being able to cope with ambiguity. This is where the analogy starts. Often having positioned themselves within an organization or branded themselves as an external consultant, a Social Media evangelist will be told, “We need to do something Web 2.0” – how is that for ambiguous?

The Skills

Linguist

One of the first things that a Special Forces operator has to be is a linguist. They learn at least one and sometimes several languages relative to their area of operation. Social Media Evangelists have to be linguists as well. They need to be able to communicate in both the language of the organization and Social Media and build a comfort level that bridges the gap between the ability of the “locals” to speak the new language and do it in such a way that is perceived as threatening.

Negotiator

This is an incredible important skill, for both SF Operators and SM Evangelists. Whilst the “locals” might have series of demands, needs & desires, the specialist needs to be able to filter this wish list and establish what is possible, what is advisable and what needs to be removed from the list and most importantly be able to negotiate this new list and define why this is the way it should be done. There are bound to be internal conflicts as different parties want to be involved in the changes, working out these conflicts is where the negotiator excels.

Educator

Hollywood & TV often portray SF operators charging in to save the day, whilst there can be no doubt that these situations have existed, most often SF operators work behind the scenes, providing amongst other things education. This again is a primary role of the SM Evangelist. It is not enough to have knowledge of the SM landscape, to know the tools or how to use them. This knowledge must be shared and shared in a way that makes sense to the recipients. Using knowledge only to inflate their own sense of worth diminishes both SM in general and the SM evangelist in particular. The ability to teach new users not only of the benefits of using SM but also the tactical use of the tools, their appropriate use builds not only a broader user base it enhances the user experience of everyone involved in SM. Properly educated organizational users will be better able to engage with their customers and prospective customers – that means us.

Weapons Expert

Ok, so you knew it had to be here somewhere, no mention of SF operators could be complete without a mention of their weapons expertise. No I am not suggesting that SM Evangelists suddenly go out and arm themselves, at least not with guns & knives. However, they do need to be experts in the weapons of their trade, SM Tools. This is difficult, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Plaxo, FriendFeed and all of the other services, platforms and tools that are available is it truly possible for one person to become experienced in all of them? I would say probably not for every situation, however, knowing the capabilities of these tools, and more importantly the limitations is essential. A SM Evangelist is quickly distinguished from a SM Enthusiast by their recommendations. If they propose that all platforms suit all organizations and all strategies, they are not a specialist. Knowing when & how to deploy particular tools, who within the organization is best placed to utilize the tool and for what purpose is the skill of the SM Evangelist. This is where they can bring real value to an organization.

Anthropologist

The ability to meet the “locals” who have perhaps little or no knowledge of your “country”, or worse still they have only a media presented version and have already determined what you are capable of is the challenge facing both the SF operator and the SM Evangelist. How they overcome this will vary on the situation but a strong sense of cultural sensitivity is essential. Knowing why you are there what the “locals” are looking for and assisting them in meeting their goals will only come from a truly anthropological perspective. The ability to stand outside the internal politics, social pressures, and the vested interests of certain parties to see what is really needed, what will really work and then being able to translate that in to an actionable plan that takes into account all of the knowledge gained through observation and interaction.

The list of skills is not meant to be exhaustive. The skills displayed and used by SM Evangelists will vary from case to case and different skills will be called for in every situation. These are the basics. It should also be remembered that SF Operators do not work in isolation, they work in teams, with specialists spreading the knowledge across the team. Perhaps this is the most successful model for SM as well. An organization seeking to develop real advantage through SM will build strong teams that encompass all of these skills. Equally individual consultants might be advised to recognize where their own skills are not complete and partner with others who have the skill set they are missing, combined they become a phenomenal force.

The whole point of developing and deploying SF teams is as a “Force Multiplier”, this is and should be true of employing, whether internal or external, SM Evangelists. They should act as a force multiplier for an organizations SM strategy.

Are you an Evangelist?

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Plaxo Reaches Out

Posted on October 24, 2008. Filed under: Observations, Social Media | Tags: , , , |

 

  

Plaxo taking the Pulse
 

 

I recently got the chance to talk with John McCrea, VP Marketing at Plaxo. This came about as the result of a series of Twitter exchanges. John was obviously watching the Twitter stream and saw my exchanges with another Twitter user regarding Plaxo. He then reached out to join in the discussion, a good example of using a tool like Twitter to develop relationships with users.

John was kind enough to indulge me in discussing some of the ideas I had about how Plaxo & Plaxo Pulse might be improved.

Prior to calling John I had discussed with some fellow Twitter / Plaxo users what their thoughts were, including Robert Scoble at an Austin Tweet up.

The conversation was obviously on the minds of others as the next day CIO published an article, the theme of which was Plaxo is neither Facebook nor LinkedIn so what use is it. The conversation that had occurred between the other users and I was almost the same, except the conclusion was different. Plaxo isn’t Facebook, nor is it LinkedIn, which is perfect because neither are Plaxo’s users so easily defined. They aren’t all on Facebook, they aren’t all on LinkedIn, nor are the people they want to share with.

I use all three. My family is on Facebook, my friends are on Facebook, some of my customers and business partners are on Facebook. My other business associates and some of my friends are on LinkedIn. Plaxo gives me a space where I can keep all their contact information and update them I can select which category I want someone to be in.

Where Plaxo goes beyond the features of LinkedIn is its integration with Outlook. This is something that you have to download as a toolbar for outlook, but in doing so it pulls the data from your Plaxo account into your Outlook contact book, it can also do the same for calendar and tasks.

Putting a face to the name

The first thing that you notice after doing this is that all your contacts now have pictures. Plaxo pushes the profile picture to your contact page. When you email a person from your contact book who is also a Plaxo user, their image shows up in the email – nice to humanize email. For contacts who are not fellow Plaxo users an “invite to Plaxo” button shows up – right now that launches a browser and takes you to the invite page in Plaxo. I’d prefer it to just send an email for me.

Plaxo could take this integration with other platforms to the next level and show you where else your contacts are – do you both use Facebook and didn’t know it, do you both use LinkedIn but aren’t connected, what other tools are they using and could you be using those as well? Then present that in a way that makes it easy for to review, on the contacts page, and perhaps in a “cloud” presentation on my homepage. Integrate that data into the contact book in Outlook.

Plaxo: Where might it go?

One advantage that Plaxo has over Facebook and LinkedIn is its ownership by Comcast. This gives them the ability to leverage media, particularly TV in a way that the others cannot. Plaxo Pulse rolled out Fan Pages recently, Facebook has those too, but the difference is that because of the Comcast connection the Pulse Fan page is a link to the real show, it’s not just a fan group. Becoming a Fan of a particular show gives you the ability to not only to declare your interest in the show but to watch full episodes online.

The extrapolation of this is to move the service to the set top box and allow shows to receive “thumbs up”, users get to see what is hot and program the DVR accordingly. I love the idea of being able to know what my family & friends are watching on TV, getting the instant version of the Monday morning watercooler chat. I see this having huge implications for companies like Neilsen ratings.

Where Plaxo is planning to take this really enters the realms of Web 3.0 – the integrated Web. John gave a great example. A user wants to share photos online with family members. Their parents are divided in their use of the computer. Mom happens to use one at work and home, and so can see the pictures posted online. Dad however, doesn’t use the computer at all. No problem, Plaxo pushes the images to the set top box and notifies him the next time he turns on the TV. He then gets to see the pictures on the TV without ever going near a computer or smartphone. That’s a great use of the “Social” in Social Networking.

 

 

 

 

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Don’t Cage Twitter

Posted on October 21, 2008. Filed under: Business, Marketing, Observations, Social Media | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

Talking Web 2.0                                

There are endless posts that cover the taxonomy of Web 1.0 and Web 2.0.  Most of these are technical or at least technology based.  They describe the use of API’s, codesets, javascript, browser apps, cloud computing, user generated content and on and on.  About halfway through that last sentence your average marketer had already either fallen asleep, zoned out or was thinking about their next branding statement.  In other words it really doesn’t mean anything to them.

Of course all the “right” people are using the expression Web 2.0, so it becomes a case of the Emperor’s New Clothes.  The CEO wants to make sure everyone knows he is aware of the latest trends and so he turns to his marketing team and tells them to implement a Web 2.0 strategy to make sure they stay ahead of their competitors.

At Innotech in Austin last week, Scott Ballantyne (VP & General Manager, Personal Systems Group, Hewlett Packard) very succinctly summed up what that statement means in real terms.  “Telling someone to go do something Web 2.0 is like telling someone to go and pick the winning lottery numbers”.  I have to agree with him.

I stood with a group of marketers and business development folks at Innotech and watched while they tuned out during a conversation about using Twitter.  Two of them openly admitted that although they had heard of it they had no idea what it was or how to use it.  Innotech is a technology based conference and the marketing piece was the “e-marketing” summit!

It Isn’t About Technology

Today I read a release from a company that is looking for partner companies to “test its new beta platform for facilitating consumer engagement on Twitter. The technology allows brands to build and manage Twitter updates across multiple accounts and integrate Twitter activity into overall marketing campaigns“.

If ever a statement was made that showed a lack of understanding of the paradigm shift that is Web 2.0 then this is it.  This statement reveals that to traditional marketers Twitter and tools like it are simply another messaging channel that can be exploited by brands to raise awareness, send brand messaging, and pitch products to the Twittering masses.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand the pressure that some marketers are under, with reduced budgets, to gain a foothold and take advantage of this “Web 2.0”.  But the method of closing the gap between what they are doing now and what they could achieve isn’t to throw a big tool at it, open multiple Twitter accounts and Tweet your product or brand up.

Web 2.0 isnt about technology at all.  It isn’t about Twitter or blogs or FriendFeed or whatever the next thing that comes down the pipeline. Web 2.0 has simply broadened the scope of customer behavior and allowed marketers to not only put a glass to the wall, but get an invite into the room and listen to the conversation.

Customers have always commented on products & services to friends and family members.  Now the circle of people that they comment to has broadened. In the past focus groups were the method that marketers used to get in on that conversation, feedback forms on websites, email address, phone lines they have all served the same purpose.  Web 2.0 hasn’t changed that.  Marketing is still about developing a relationship with the customer, brand awareness is still a challenge, Web 2.0 doesn’t make it easier, it isn’t the silver bullet. Twitter is not the social media tool you are looking for.

Creating multiple identities and “pretending” to have conversations through a tool that ensures communication meets an overarching strategic messaging paradigm (or if you prefer to insert your own corporate phrase please do so), will not build a relationship either with key influencers or general users, both of whom are a lot more aware than that. 

Some Are Doing It Well

I am not saying that Twitter isnt the place for corporate America to be, in fact just the opposite.  There are organizations that are using it very well.  Zappos is a great example, Dell, GM and JetBlue are others.  Its the manner in which these companies use the tool that differentiates them.  Some users are a little freaked out to find that one of these companies is following them.  Usually its a response to a particular post made by the user that triggers it.  The companies set up monitors to ensure that anytime someone mentions their brand they are aware of it.  There are a lot of different tools that can be used for this, from Google Alerts to the Twitter search.  The point is they aren’t using Twitter or other Social Media tools to push a particular service or product they are using it to engage.  Michael Dell has a presence on Facebook, about once every two weeks he makes a post about a new Dell product or service, people respond. Dell admits it has around 30 staff members involved in their Social Media engagement this is the cost of doing it properly. HP reached out to 31 bloggers earlier this year and built a campaign called 31 days of Dragon (google it, you will still find plenty of references to it).

When I say built a campaign what they did was give one $5000 laptop to each of the 31 bloggers and told them to give it away.  That was it, no guidance, no rules, just run a competition give the computer away.  HP saw an 85% increase in shipped units following that competition and it cost them only the laptops.  No fancy tools used, no “fake” blog or Twitter accounts.  That is marketing in Web 2.0.

Thanks to JackLeblond for the Twitter in a Cage graphic

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