Archive for September, 2012

Good news: A sizeable piece of the Social Media ROI question seems to have just been answered by tech company called Ohtootay. Here’s what they offer:

According to this story in TechCrunch, “the solution lets companies track their efforts on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and elsewhere. But one of its more unique features in this crowded space is something which allows businesses to track their posts all the way through to website conversions, even when the original post didn’t point directly to their e-commerce site.”

This is big. And it only gets bigger.

It also goes beyond last click attribution, which has been a sticking points for all of us working to a) attribute transactions back to social activity when that activity is followed by a daisy chain of pre-transaction behaviors, and b) clearly map these paths to purchase. For instance, say that an investment in a social media program results in specific social activity that, in turn, enables discovery of a product for potential net new customers. (Lead generation.) That discovery may not trigger a purchase for days, weeks, even months. It was just the initial hand shake, the first of a succession of triggers that eventually culminated in a first transaction for that new customer. To prove ROI as it relates to social activity, you have to be able to connect all of those dots. Easier said than done, right? Most tools work backwards from the transaction to the point of origin just before the click that led them to an e-commerce site. That’s last-click attribution.

Most of the time, Google is going to get the credit for that last click attribution even though it really was just the last step in a daisy chain of purchase triggers and touch points.

Let’s look at Pinterest, for instance: Ohtootay lets companies “track Pinterest pins all the way through to website conversions and associated sales.” So far so good, right? But then there’s this: “This works even when a client shares a pin that doesn’t point to their own e-commerce site. […] What if a customer clicks on your pin that points to a relevant infographic not on your own site, later Googles you, and then decides to buy? Other analytics software will mistakenly tell social media managers that ‘Google’ caused this sale even though the customer’s first contact was through content you curated on your Pinterest boards.”

How does it do it? Well, it’s kind of simple, actually: “Ohtootay generates custom URLs (a company can use their preferred URL shortener as well), and then uses cookies to track the user. When that user arrives on the company’s e-commerce site, custom code embedded there will tell Ohtootay when a conversion actually happens.”

If that sounds familiar, it’s because it is the exact same principle you have heard me describe for years. These guys actually built an app around it, and for that, I thank them.

A word of caution though: Ohtootay doesn’t do everything you need it to in terms of calculating the ROI of your social activity. It doesn’t necessarily track offline purchases, for instance, which is a pretty big piece of the social media ROI question. (It’s hard to connect offline and online purchases 24/7, though it is pretty easy to run tests at regular intervals.) It also doesn’t get into the cost-savings piece of ROI. But for those types of limitations, Ohtootay is a huge step forward for companies looking to a) justify their social media program spending, b) connect specific social activity to specific financial outcomes (especially digital ones), and c) understand what channels and activities are having positive effects on transactions and which ones are not.

In terms of helping companies determine the ROI of their social programs, this may be the most important tool out there yet. The price tag may be a bit of a hurdle for smaller businesses though, so an SMB version with a more appropriate price-point wouldn’t be a bad idea. (Hint. Hint.) I will definitely be giving them a shot to see what’s what. (I haven’t yet.)

Okay, that’s it for today. Go forth and kick ass. Oh, and feel free to check out some of my other blog posts over on the Tickr blog (different kind of social media solution altogether: that one is all about monitoring).



Disclosure: I have no material connection to Ohtootay whatsoever. They aren’t a client or a partner, they haven’t reached out to me, I haven’t received as much as smile from them let alone a single shiny peso. I wrote this post purely to share with you this little find because it’s a bit of a game-changer in the context of the #smROI discussion.

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Social Media ROI – Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in your Organization was written specifically to teach managers and executives how to build and manage social media friendly business programs and incorporate social technologies and networks into everyday business operations. The book is divided into four parts: social media program strategy & development, social media program operationalization, social media program management, and best practices in measurement and reporting. If your boss doesn’t yet have a copy, time to fix that. If everyone on your team doesn’t yet have their own copy, fix that too. It makes for a great desk reference.

(Now available in several languages including German, Korean, Japanese and Spanish.)

CEO-Read  –  Amazon.com  –  www.smroi.net  –  Barnes & Noble  –  Que

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The 5 basic rules of calculating the value of a Facebook ‘fan’

A question that routinely comes up in social media circles is what is the value of a Facebook fan? (The question also applies to the value of a Twitter follower, Youtube subscriber, email recipient, etc.)

Invariably, whenever the question is asked, some mathematical savant – typically a self-professed digital alchemist – produces a proprietary algorithm that has somehow arrived at answer along the lines of $1.07 (Source: WSJ) or $3.60 (source: Vitrue) or even $136.38 (source: Syncapse), and so begins the race to answer this now quasi-hallowed question of the new digital age. The lure: He who can convince companies that he can calculate the value of a Facebook fan might have a shot at selling them on the notion that fan the more fans they acquire, the more value they generate for their business. (You can imagine the appeal of answering the “what is the ROI” question by explaining to a company that 10,000 net new fans per month x $136.38 = a $1,363,800 value. At a mere $75,000 per month, that’s a bargain, right?

All that is fine and good, except for one thing: Assigning an arbitrary (one might say “cookie-cutter”) value to Facebook fans in general, averaged out over the ENTIRE breadth of the business spectrum, is complete and utter BS.

To illustrate why that is, I give you the 5 basic rules of calculating the value of a Facebook fan:

Rule #1: A Facebook fan’s value is not the same as the cost of that fan’s acquisition.

Many of my friends in the agency world still cling, for example, to the notion that estimated media value or EAV (estimated advertising value), somehow transmutes the cost of reaching x potential customers into the value of these potential customers once reached. Following a media equivalency philosophy, it can be deduced that if the cost of reaching 1,000,000 people is generally $x and you only paid $y, the “value” of your campaign is still $x.

A hypothetical social media agency-client discussion regarding EAV: “Using social media, we generated 1,000,000 impressions that we converted into followers last quarter. At $1.03 per impression/acquired fan, the total cost of the campaign was $1,030,000. The average cost of an impression through traditional media being $3.97, the estimated media value of your campaign was $3,970,000.”

Next thing you know, the client believes 2 things: The first, that the value of each Facebook ‘fan’ is either ($3.97 – $1.03) = $2.94 or simply $3.97 (depending on the agency). The second, that the ROI of the campaign is ($3,970,000 – $1,030,000) = $2,940,000.

So you see what has happened here: Through a common little industry sleight of hand, a cost A vs. cost B comparison has magically produced an arbitrary “value” for something that actually has no tangible value yet. In case you were particularly observant, you may also have noticed how easily some of the authors of the posts I linked to in the intro mixed up costand value. Ooops. So much for expert analysis.

A word about why cost and value cannot be substituted for one another when applied to fans, followers and customers: Cost may be intimately connected to value when you are buying the family car, but the same logic does not apply to customers as a) you don’t really buy them outright, b) they don’t depreciate the way a car does, and c) they tend to generate revenue over time, far in excess (you hope) of what it cost to earn their business.

Even with the cost of acquiring a fan now determined, why has the value of that fan not yet been ascertained? Rule #2 will answer that question.

Rule #2: A Facebook fan’s value is relative to his or her purchasing habits (and/or influence on others’ purchasing habits).

Illustrated, the value of a fan can be calculated thus:

 a)      Direct Value: If a Facebook fan spent $76 on your products and services last month, her value was $76 for that month. If a Facebook fan spent €5697 on your products or services last month, his value was €5697 for the month.

The value of a fan/transacting customer is based on the value of their transaction. It is NOT based on the cost of having acquired them.


– Cost of acquiring Rick Spazzyfoot as a Facebook fan: €4.08

– Amount Rick Spazzyfoot has spent on our products and services since becoming a fan five months ago: €879.52

Which of the above two € figures represents the value of that fan to the company?

(If you answered €4.08, you answered wrong. Try again.)

 b)     Indirect value: If a fan seems to be influencing other people in his or her network to become transacting customers (or increase their buy rate or yield), then you can factor that value in as well for those specific time-frames. Because measurement tools are not yet sophisticated enough to a) properly measure influence and b) accurately tie it to specific transactions, I wouldn’t agonize over this point a whole lot. As long as you understand the value of word-of-mouth, positive recommendations and the relative influence that community members exert on each other, you will hold some valuable insights into your business ecosystem. Don’t lose sleep trying to calculate them just yet. Too soon.

The point being this: Until a Facebook ‘fan’ has transacted with you (or influenced a transaction), the monetary value of that fan is precisely zero.

One could even say that if each fan cost you, say, an average of $1.03 to acquire, the value of a fan before he or she has been converted into a transacting customer is actually -$1.03.

That’s right: A significant portion of your Facebook fans might actually put you in the negative. Something to think about when someone asks you to calculate the “value” of your “community,” especially if you purchased rather than earned a significant portion of your fans and followers (it happens more than you realize).

Rule #3: Each Facebook fan’s value is unique.

Every fan brings his or her unique individual value to the table. One fan may spend an average of €89 per month with your company. Another fan might spend an average of $3.79 per month with your company. Another yet may spend an average of ₤1,295 per month with your company. Is it reasonable to ignore this simple fact and instead assign them an arbitrary “value” based on an equation thought up by some guy you read about on the interwebs?

Three points:

1. The lifestyles, needs, tastes, budgets, purchasing habits, cultural differences, online engagement patterns and degree of emotional investment in your brand of each ‘fan’ may be completely different. These, compounded, lead to a wide range of behaviors in your fans. These behaviors dictate their value to you as a company.

2.  Many of your fans may only do business with you only on occasion. Because of this, you have to factor in the possibility that a significant percentage of your fans’ value may fluctuate in terms of activity rather than spend. How many of your fans are not regular customers? How many do business with you each day vs. each month? How many do business with you once a quarter vs. once every three years? Are you figuring your on/off customer-fans into your value equation?

 3. Lastly, we come to the final type of Facebook fan: The one that doesn’t fall into the transacting customer category.  They might remain “fans” without ever converting into customers. Do you know what percentage of your fans right now falls into this non-transacting category? Do you really think that their value is $3.97 or $139.73 or whatever amount an agency, guru or consulting firm arbitrarily assigned to them? No. They clicked a button and left. Their value, until proven otherwise, is zero.

 With this kind of fan/customer diversity within your company ecosystem, you come to realize that arbitrary values like “the value of a Facebook fan is $x” can’t be applied to the real world.

Rule #4: A Facebook fan’s value is likely to be elastic.

Because the value of a Facebook fan is a result of specific purchasing habits (and impact on others’ purchasing habits), a fan’s value is likely to be elastic over time. If you aren’t familiar with the term, it simply means “flexible.” As in: the value of a Facebook fan will change. It will fluctuate. It will not always be the same from measurement period to measurement period.

Let me illustrate: A Facebook fan might spend $76 on your products and services one month and $36 the following month. This means that her “value” was $76 one month and $36 the following month. If next month, she spends $290, $290 will become her “value” for that month.

Because transaction behaviors change, the value of a fan is also likely to change.

You can average this out over time (the fan’s value might average out to $97/month over the course of a year, for example), or just total her value per month, quarter, or year, depending on your reporting requirements. That is entirely up to you.

Example 1: “Based on her transactions, the value of Jane Jones, a fan since 2007, was $2,398.91 in 2010. Thanks to our fan engagement (digital customer development) program, Jane’s value increased to $2,911.02 in 2011.”

Example 2: Chris Pringle’s average monthly value in Q2 of 2011 was $290.76. His average monthly value in Q3 of 2012 was $476.21. He is one of 17,636 fans we managed to shift from a basic package to a premium package via our Facebook campaign.”

Note: In order to figure this stuff out, you are going to have to either get creative with the way your CRM solution interacts with your Facebook analytics suite or wait until Social CRM solutions get a little more robust. Some are getting close.

Examples of exceptions (where fan value may be somewhat inelastic):

 – You are a bank and a fan’s only transaction with you is a fixed monthly payment.

– You are a cable company and a fan’s only transaction with you is a monthly cable bill.

– You are a publisher and a fan’s only transaction with you is an annual magazine subscription.

– Your fans don’t transact with you. They clicked a button and left. If their value was $0 a month ago, it is still $0 this month.

If your business charges for a monthly service that tends to not fluctuate a whole lot, chances are that the value of each of your fans will remain rather constant. This compared to a Starbucks, a Target or an H&M.

Rule #5: A Facebook fan’s value varies from brand to brand and from product to product.

If a fan/customer’s value can fluctuate from month to month and that value can vary wildly from individual to individual within the same brand or product umbrella, imagine how much it can vary from brand to brand, and from product to product.

Compare, for example, the average value of a fan/customer for Coca Colaand the average value of a fan/customer for BMW. (Hypothetically of course, since I don’t have access to either company’s sales or CRM data.) What you may find is that a fan’s annual value for Coca Cola might average,say, $1,620 per year, while a fan’s annual value for BMW might average $42,000. Why? Because the products are entirely different. One costs less than $3 per unit and requires no maintenance. The other can cost tens of thousands of dollars per unit and requires maintenance, repairs, not to mention the occasional upgrade.

Moreover, a single strong recommendation from a fan can yield an enormous return for BMW, while a single recommendation from a fan will yield a comparatively smaller return for Coca Cola.

You can see how the notion that the “value” of a Facebook fan can be calculated absent the context of purchasing habits, brand affiliations, fluctuations in buying power, market forces and shifts in interests and even value perceptions is bunk. Unless of course you find yourself being asked to transform cost into value. (Less work. Easier to sell.) But that is a completely different conversation.

I hope this helped. From now on, if anyone seems confused about the topic of fan/follower/subscriber “value,” point them to this post.



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If you haven’t already, check out Social Media R.O.I.: Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in Your Organization. Lots of vital advice in there for anyone working with social media in a business environment. Makes a great gift to employees, bosses, contractors and clients too. You can even read a free chapter here: smroi.net

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In case you missed it, the “social media guru certification” crowd is at it again. Hat tip to Jim Mitchem for pointing me to this new one earlier today. Here… let’s give them lots of traffic*. (And get caught up on the fun.)

*Update 9/20/2012, 14:30pm EST – It appears that the entire thread referenced in this post (yes, the entire LinkedIn group discussion) has now been deleted by the community manager. Wow!

Pretty quickly after being posted, the LinkedIn comment thread* started to turn sour. Here are several of the comments so far:

Jim Mitchem • What? They didn’t offer me a certification for being a copywriter. I just did it. Won awards and sold a ton of product. No certification necessary. They didn’t offer certifications for me being an entrepreneur who launched one of the first virtual ad agencies in the world in 2001. I just did it. Won clients and shifted perception. They didn’t offer a certification when I helped launch Boxman Studios in the social space (exclusively) in 2009 based solely on a concept only to yield 6 million a year in sales in just 3 years. I just did it. No certification necessary. You ask how I differentiate myself from the fake gurus out there? By avoiding snake oil certifications. And just putting my mind to doing something right. Seriously, if you’re trying to get certified to be a social media rock star – you might want to make an appointment with a psychologist as well.

Jon Evans • I’ve been in the social media strategy field for sometime now and I have NEVER been asked for a certification. It is disappointing to see someone try to make money off of scrambling “Social Media Consultants” because those agents can’t figure out how to run their business and make money. I would also like to point out that the people that are most defensive are the ones that stand to benefit from the sale of this product. I find that interesting… Bad form folks just bad form.

Jessica Wicks • Until there is a professional standards body for licensing social media professionals (unlikely to EVER happen) that recognizes this ‘certification’, it means nothing. Perhaps you could use your certificate to con a couple clients into thinking that there is a governing body over the profession? Other than that, I can’t think of a reason anyone would open their wallet to this offer. You’re better off to sell this course as a learning opportunity only – or better yet offer it for free to promote something of value you’ve created like an analytical tool or aggregator. There are so many sources out there for FREE advice on using social media – perhaps you should take note. By offering to ‘certify’ me, I’m going to completely ignore your links.

Todd Copilevitz • This is the worst kind of entrepreneur, someone who sees where the crowd is moving and tries to cash in from behind. Actually there is some value to this program, it will allow me to quickly dismiss as irrelevant anyone holding this certification.

Linton Robinson • This is a sick joke. This entire type of mentality is a stupid rip-off.

Okay… You get the idea. (You can go check out the thread for yourself here*… assuming that any of the comments are still there. One of my questions was deleted just a few minutes ago, so I have to assume that the folks behind this thing are being selective about what actually stays in the thread and what doesn’t… but no worries, we’ll come back to that in two shakes.) *Update 9/20/2012, 14:30pm EST – It appears that the entire thread referenced in this post has been deleted by the community manager.

A few points:

1. Read the whole thread*. It’s well worth it. The problems I raise and the way that they are “addressed”* or answered by the person who seems to be organizing this thing will fill you in on several of the things I find suspect about certification programs like this. (Namely that without verified accreditation, any kind of so-called “certification” is worthless.)

*Update 9/20/2012, 14:30pm EST – Sorry. It appears that the entire thread referenced in this post has been deleted.

Note that I have no problem whatsoever with training programs. My issue, which is purely an ethical one, deals with people selling certifications that actually are not. (We’ve been here before.) Especially when the sales pitch includes stuff like this:

Do you think i can find a job after this certification?

Our Social Media certification program was designed by Social Media industry professionals. Combined they have done lot of hiring and one of the important element in any resume is actual social media work experience. That’s the reason we created a project based certification program so right after our program you will have something tangible to show on your resume. After all, in the business world it is WHAT you have done that matters. And no where is this more true than in social media. (Source: http://www.instantetraining.com/certification/smct-mc/)

2. There’s something strange going on with the experts list. When asked who the “top experts” who put this training together were, I was pointed to this list of folks: http://www.instantetraining.com/smct-mc/index.html#experts

Here’s where things get fun. Curious to find some pretty respectable names on the list (not the usual suspects), I reached out to several of them. I quickly heard back from two of them. They both indicated several things:

– Though they had been involved with the organization in the past (free webinars for their book launches, for instance) they were not in any way associated with the certification program.

– Moreover, they had no idea that their names, image and reputations were being used to sell this program.

I’ve only talked to 2 so far, so it isn’t to say that all of the “top experts” listed on that site are unaware that they are being used to sell a program that they did not contribute to… but some of them are, and that’s a little peculiar. I gave the organizers the benefit of the doubt and asked them if they wanted to either comment or amend the list. The answer I received was this:

Bob Tripathi • If they have spoken with us it would be this year and we have them as our on-demand session.

I checked again with those two folks, and that certainly was news to them.

Let’s just leave it at that for now. I don’t want to get between them and this organization. They’re aware of what’s going on now and I will let them handle it how they feel is most appropriate. All I’ve inferred so far is that the list – as it stands as I write this blog post – may not be 100% representative of the “top experts” who are actually involved with this certification program. I will leave you to draw your own conclusions. (Better yet, do your own research.)

3. Then I did a little more digging, and it all went sideways from there.

A quick check of the twitter account for the thread poster’s organization (@SocialMediopols, listed at the top of the thread) raised some puzzling questions – and feel free to try this for yourselves:

a) According to http://fakers.statuspeople.com/Fakers/Scores, @SocialMediopols, which currently counts around 9,500 followers, seems to be composed of 85% fake followers, 1% inactive followers and 14% “real” followers. That’s a pretty high percentage of fake followers by any standard. That would mean that… out of 9,500 followers, only about 1,300 aren’t fake. [Note: I mistakenly put the number of followers at 18,000 earlier. That was incorrect. (It was an August figure.)]

I found that surprising. Maybe it was an error, right? Perhaps the app screwed up. So I decided to get a second opinion…

b) I went to TwitterCounter.com and checked out the account’s follower growth for the last 6 months. Here’s what I found:

The most amazing thing I learned from that quick snapshot is that the @SocialMediopolis account grew by exactly 768 net new followers per day from May 31, 2012 to July 4, 2012.

That’s right. Every single day, the account attracted precisely 768 new followers. No variance at all. No 767 one day and 769 the next. Exactly 768 per day, every day, for 36 consecutive days.


Sadly, as if someone had flipped a switch, the follower count started dropping on July 5th, and has been ever since.


4. Upon which my questions about this get mysteriously deleted from the thread. 

I brought this information to the attention of Bob, and asked him several questions. They went essentially along the lines of…

– Will buying fake followers be included in the normal certification training, or will that be covered by the top experts in the on-demand calls?

– Will you also explain how not to lose 100+ followers per day once you stop buying fake followers?

– Since your social media community claims to have 400,000 members, why is it that you only have about 1,300 real twitter followers? Even if all 9,500 were 100% legit, that’s a very low percentage. 40,000 followers would only be 10% of your membership.

Source: Twitter profile for the @SocialMediopolis account – “We’re the largest #private #community of Social Media Marketing (#SMM) #professionals on the planet! Social Media Marketing on #LinkedIn, over 400,000 members!”

I then offered to connect Bob and his organization to actual social media professionals who might be able to give them pointers on how to build a community on Twitter… but that evidently wasn’t received very well. Instead of answering my questions, my comment was quickly deleted from the thread. *Update 9/20/2012, 14:30pm EST – It appears that the entire thread has now been deleted as well.

5. Yes, that’s right: deleting my comment will make the tough questions go away. That’s how social media works.

These are the guys selling social media certifications. Awesome. Sounds super legit to me. Please take my money and send me a certificate of “you’re hired.”

Update 1 (9/19/2012): I have actually been banned from that thread now. I can’t comment there anymore. Classic fail. 😀

Update 2 (9/20/2012): It appears that the entire thread referenced in this post has also been deleted by the community manager. Fail x infinity.

Update 3 (9/20/2012): The community manager (I believe this would be Michael Crosson) attempted to repost his sales pitch/post on his community page. Nice attempt at a clean slate. Unfortunately, folks started commenting on it again. Those comments must have been inconvenient, because that post and all of the ensuing discussion and comments have now been deleted too. Link: http://www.linkedin.com/groups/Social-Media-Certification-Your-Ticket-66325.S.165779329?qid=482532ba-6f31-471c-a3b2-f09184d2ad35&trk=group_items_see_more-0-b-ttl

What a fiasco.

Okay. It’s all fun and games, but I want to leave you with some constructive advice, so here it is:

1. Do not delete comments unless they actually violate your TOS or community standards. Do not delete entire comment threads just because the comments being left are inconvenient. Do not attempt to repost the same content in an effort to wipe the slate clean of comments. Do not delete that thread as well when the same criticisms pop up in the comment thread. ugh… This is really basic stuff.

2. If you’re going to fake your reach and influence, at least learn how to do it properly. Adding 768 net new followers every single day for a month is something a robot would do. You have to mix it up. 327 here, 781 there… Make it random. You can’t be lazy when it comes to faking your shit. You have to work at it. That’s how the real pros do it.

3. If you fake this stuff, you will get caught. First, as you can see from the thread, our bullshit meters have gotten very good. Second, the tools to uncover the BS are free and available to everyone. It took less than 5 minutes for me to turn out those two reports and see what was going on there. All you need is an internet connection and an espresso, okay? Don’t play these games anymore. Once your reputation is shot in this space, it’s shot. There are far better ways of making money in social media.

4. This is what happens when you delete someone’s comments and then block them from further commenting. You force them to take the discussion elsewhere… like on their blog, and Facebook and Twitter. Had I not been deleted or blocked for merely asking inconvenient questions, I would have never written this post. It could have all gone away in a couple of days. But no. Instead, I came here and wrote about it. Lesson: don’t delete comments on a thread just because the present an inconvenient opinion. Social Media 101. (I wonder if Bob will include that in his certification program.)

5. Social media certifications will not get you hired by anyone. What looks good on a resumé is experience, not some piece of paper some blogger mailed you after attending a few of his webinars and writing an essay. Do the work. Build your own case studies. Do pro-bono work if you have to (that’s how many great portfolios begin), but don’t waste your time and your money on someone’s lame money-making scheme. Especially when the tactics they employ to appear to be legit are so weak that they can be shredded by anyone with an internet connection in just a couple of minutes.

6. There are solid training programs out there that don’t try to pass themselves off as certification programs. If those are too pricey, most of what you need to learn is already available for free on the web anyway. But the good stuff, the classroom-level stuff put together by real professionals, it’s there if you look for it. Just one word of caution: check the “experts” out. See what they’ve done. See who they’ve worked for. Are they just a “social media personality?” A blogger? A speaker? A network marketer with an incredible ground-level opportunity he would like to share with you and thousands of facebook friends? Red flags, all.

7. Go forth and socialize. Learn by doing and watching others. Save your money for something cool… like renewing a gym membership or going on vacation.

As always, this is all a matter of opinion… except for the parts that are, you know… fact-checked. 😉



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Social Media ROI – Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in your Organization was written specifically to teach managers and executives how to build and manage social media friendly business programs and incorporate social technologies and networks into everyday business operations. The book is divided into four parts: social media program strategy & development, social media program operationalization, social media program management, and best practices in measurement and reporting. If your boss doesn’t yet have a copy, time to fix that. If everyone on your team doesn’t yet have their own copy, fix that too. It makes for a great desk reference.

(Now available in several languages including German, Korean, Japanese and Spanish.)

CEO-Read  –  Amazon.com  –  www.smroi.net  –  Barnes & Noble  –  Que

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Every day, I run into people who seem emotionally and intellectually stunted. The amount of money in their bank accounts, the kinds of cars they drive, the square footage of their house or condo or sailboat, the job title printed on their business cards, none of that matters. They all have something in common: they seem limited in their ability to empathize with others. Worse, they even have trouble empathizing with themselves, which is far more problematic. Most seem at times unable to enjoy their lives in those moments when they aren’t making news or signing huge clients, or somehow living the “being successful” narrative they’ve pinned a whole lot of their self worth on. There’s a faint echo of bitterness there that you can hear when they talk about others. There is always also a deliberate – if regretful – detachment from the world that makes me a little sad to be around them. Far more obvious though is the undercurrent of fear that casts its shadow on almost everything they say and do.

They take that with them everywhere they go. Their kitchen, their blog, their job, their vacations, their workouts, their relationships… It isn’t the sort of thing they can tuck away. I’ve worked with many of them. I’ve worked for some of them. It’s always a little depressing. You see all the things that they are, all the things that they could be, and you want to focus on all that potential, but the reality is that you’re stuck in a version of the world in which that potential will probably never be released, and that’s a damn shame.

I know what they’re missing. I know what the missing piece is. It’s art. I mean, it’s more complicated than that, sure. But toss an art bomb into their trench, and you’ll see their lives (and the lives of the people around them) completely transformed.

In business, in love, in life, art matters. It really does. Especially our own. And I’m not talking about putting colors on a square of canvas or blowing into a trombone. I’m talking about opening doors and letting shit out that we wish we had the balls to share with our loved ones, with peers, with complete strangers. I am talking about giving form to the abstract currents of our hearts. Fear, love, anger, lust… You can’t let it all sit there, locked up for fear that people will reject you if you give them a glimpse. Hiding your vulnerabilities isn’t strength. It’s just hiding. Courage is letting it all out. It’s being more than the “personal brand” you’ve built to hide behind. Art isn’t pretty things on a wall. It isn’t the product of a hobbyist. It isn’t an abstract outlet for socially awkward intellectuals and “artsy types.” It’s is a vehicle for exploration and discovery, which is to say that it’s a vehicle for courage. Art provides human beings with the medium, discipline and language to open those secret doors and windows, to air out their dreams, their demons, their fears, their desires, all of it, and see how far their minds can go when they aren’t weighed down by fear and pain and bullshit.

Courage isn’t just picking up a rifle and going to war, by the way. It isn’t just standing up to a bully or doing the right thing when no one else will. Courage is also picking up a paint brush or a guitar or a lump of clay. It’s putting words on page after page for 6 straight months. It’s allowing yourself to be overcome with emotion while watching a movie and not giving a shit that the person sitting next to you sees you crying. It’s dancing or singing in front of a crowd. It’s letting the pencil, the scalpel, the chisel, the baseball bat and the steering wheel go where they want to, without fear. It’s trusting your skills, your instincts. It’s letting go of all of your baggage and your life’s hangups and just doing something pure and 100% in the moment. It doesn’t matter if that’s leading a team, crafting ad copy, designing a website, revamping a customer service program, flying a combat mission, assembling a pair of sunglasses, editing a movie or pulling a country out of a financial ditch. Art is the ingredient X behind every discovery, every evolutionary leap, every victory. Without a little art in your science, you’re really just playing at following best practices. You’re just going through the motions, playing it safe, coloring inside the lines.

By the way, there’s more to art than stuff like this:

This is art too:

And this:

And this:

And this:

And this:

And this:

And this:

And this:

And this:

Look at children. They’re natural artists. You know why? Because they don’t give a shit how their drawing and singing and banging on piano keys makes them look. They’re not saddled with social anxiety yet. They aren’t afraid of being rejected. Letting art into your life teaches you to hold on to that fearlessness.

Let me tell you something I’ve learned in the last few decades, both in the military and the private sector: anything that helps you hold on to who you are, anything that helps you be who you are, and anything that helps you walk through your day with a little more courage, self assurance and self-knowledge will make you not only a more complete person but a better leader as well. Period. You want to know what our kids need more of? Art. Every time I hear of an art program being cut somewhere, I cringe because I know where it leads. Every time I hear someone scoff about art, belittle it, treat it as a waste of time, I can’t help but shake my head at the short-shortsightedness of that opinion. We don’t need more math. Trust me. What we need more of is art.

Art is at the heart of every civilization, of every major technological, scientific, political and philosophical breakthrough. There can be no civilization without art because there can be no civilization without culture. Humans physically cannot function without it. From cave paintings to playing a Will-i-am song on Mars, art is at the core of everything that moves us beyond hunting for food, protecting our territory and breeding. Art is the force inside and the current between all of us that unlocks and feeds our humanity. A nation without art will break apart and die as surely as a company or brand without art will never invent anything worth remembering. 

No matter what our choice of profession is – CEO, auto mechanic, surgeon, soldier, EMT, assembly line worker, politician, restaurant manager, samurai, etc. – we’re all artists. All of us. You leave the art bottled up inside you, and your career will never reach its full potential. In life and love outside of work, you’ll always wonder why you feel stalled, why you feel alone, why you can’t connect with people the way you wish you could. You’ll always be a fraction of who you should be, of who you would like to be. But if you can find a way to let it out, to give it form, to embrace it, to let it permeate into every aspect of your life – professional and otherwise, – you will grow into a much happier, more fulfilled person. I don’t think that’s true. I know that’s true. I see it every single day.

One last thing to chew on, because in the end, it all begins and ends with you. Everything else in your life radiates outward from what goes on in your head: Your career, your friendships, your health, your sense of self-worth, your happiness, your achievements, how you gauge success… everything.  That last thing, it’s this: life without art is like sunshine without warmth.

Or as my old friend Kenn Sparks always likes to say, “Most people die with the music still in them.” – Josef Haydn.

He has a point.

Let it out. Break free. Grow into who you were supposed to be. Change the world. Show others the way. (Or keep being moderately happy. Your choice.)



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Social Media ROI – Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in your Organization was written specifically to teach managers and executives how to build and manage social media friendly business programs and incorporate social technologies and networks into everyday business operations. The book is divided into four parts: social media program strategy & development, social media program operationalization, social media program management, and best practices in measurement and reporting. If your boss doesn’t yet have a copy, time to fix that. If everyone on your team doesn’t yet have their own copy, fix that too. It makes for a great desk reference.

(Now available in several languages including German, Korean, Japanese and Spanish.)

CEO-Read  –  Amazon.com  –  www.smroi.net  –  Barnes & Noble  –  Que


Read Full Post »

So I published this over on the Tickr blog, but I thought it would be relevant for you guys as well.

2007 – 2011: Adapting to the new complexities of social business

Five years ago, when businesses – from the enterprise down to smallmom & pop retailers – started using social media to enhance their business processes, things were simpler than they are today. You had your blog. You had your Facebook page. Maybe you had your Youtube channel and your Flickr account. If you were really ahead of the curve, you were already using this new thing called Twitter.

Back then, it was already becoming obvious that social media might be a bit of a time-suck. Not only were you supposed to manage your business and take care of customers, now you had to be a multi-platform publisher as well. You had to write stuff. You had to take pictures of stuff. You had to make videos and edit them and put them on the web. If you were really ahead of the curve, you were spending parts of your evenings looking for forums and discussions, watching, listening, taking notes, maybe even participating.

Already, it became clear that managing a social media presence for your business – or rather, managing the digital aspects of your transformation from a traditional business to an increasingly social business – would soon become a full-time job. You can almost trace the early discussions of social media ROI to that point in social business’ early evolution. It wasn’t really the “should I be on social media” question that did it. It was the “should I pay someone to do this instead of what I know will help my business” question, because it quickly became obvious that social business could never be an after-thought or just a part-time thing.

But this isn’t a post about ROI or social business evolution. This is a post about complexity – specifically, social business complexity. Perhaps more to the point, this is a post about managing that complexity. From the very beginning of this shift to social business, one of the biggest problems business owners and department managers have had to deal with (independently of assigning resources to the task) was simply information overload. Over the course of a very short time frame, businesses went from being disconnected from market intelligence and consumer insights to being flooded with both. Where in the past, organizations could expect consulting and market research firms to act as a collection agent, filter and translator of data, they were now confronted with a volume of information they simply were not capable of managing on their own. Social media monitoring seemed like a great idea. It looked great on paper. In reality, it was a very difficult thing to execute on. Too many sources. Too many hours in the day. Too many platforms to track. And even if it was possible to make sense of it all, then what? What did you do with it? It was hard enough to come up with content and respond to comments and tweets. The entire web had to be monitored and managed as well? Operationally, the task seemed gargantuan. Worse yet, it didn’t scale. (No worries. Scale is a topic we will cover soon.)

While some companies dove into the process of figuring out how to do this all on their own, it wasn’t long before a chunk of the market threw up their hands and decided to outsource the process rather than taking care of it themselves. And for a while there, it was rough for everybody. But then, something cool began to happen.

Necessity, after all, is the mother of invention.

2011-2013: the rise of social monitoring ecosystems

After a few years of experimentation with various social media dashboards and monitoring tools, it became clear that managing a social media program was not an either/or equation when it came to hardware and software. The question began to shift from “what’s the best tool for social media management” to “what else should I be using.” It was clear that certain social media tools, when used side by side, could not only increase the overall effectiveness of an entire program, but also amplify the value of each individual tool. If the word popping into your head right now is symbiosis, you’re on the right track.


1. Biology A close, prolonged association between two or more different organisms of different species that may, but does not necessarily, benefit each member.
2. A relationship of mutual benefit or dependence.

Let’s geek-out a little and get a little more specific, because symbiotic relationships come in three types:

Commensalism: A symbiotic relationship in which one organism derives benefit while causing little or no harm to the other. (Good.)

Parasitism: A symbiotic relationship in which one organism (the parasite) benefits and the other (the host) is generally harmed. (Bad.)

Mutualism: A symbiotic relationship in which both organisms benefits from their relationship with the other. (Best.)

Needless to say, you don’t want parasitism. At worst, combining several social media management tools together falls into a commensalist symbiosis scenario – one where some of these tools (and associated) functions will benefit from the utility of other tools, while the utility of these stand-alone tools will not be affected. At best, combining several social media management tools together will create a mutualist symbiosisscenario – on in which every one of these tools will see their utility and value enhanced by the others.

Walk into any company’s digital  ”mission control” center today, and what you will find is an illustration of one or the other of these two ecosystems – and sometimes a combination of both.

Simplifying Digital Mission Control centers: too little vs. too much

So now that we are talking about digital mission control centers (a topic we will revisit often in the coming months), let’s look at them from the perspective of trying to minimize the complexity of social media management…

read more…

*          *          *

Social Media ROI – Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in your Organization was written specifically to teach managers and executives how to build and manage social media friendly business programs and incorporate social technologies and networks into everyday business operations. The book is divided into four parts: social media program strategy & development, social media program operationalization, social media program management, and best practices in measurement and reporting. If your boss doesn’t yet have a copy, time to fix that. If everyone on your team doesn’t yet have their own copy, fix that too. It makes for a great desk reference.

(Now available in several languages including German, Korean, Japanese and Spanish.)

CEO-Read  –  Amazon.com  –  www.smroi.net  –  Barnes & Noble  –  Que

Read Full Post »

2010 MIMA Summit: Featured Speaker – Olivier Blanchard from MIMA on Vimeo.

I know it’s been a while since I’ve released a video (well… one that doesn’t involve hanging out with an octopus or trying to crash my bike on mountain descents), so here’s one fished out of the vault by @KrisColvin that might come in handy. It hails back to the 2010 MIMA summit, but everything in the video is fairly straightforward and still applies to your social business programs today, so it’s well worth another pass.

If the embedded video at the top of the post doesn’t launch, watch it here.

Also, some news:

You know by now that I am generally pretty guarded about who my clients are, but my latest project calls for a little bit of transparency since I am giving them some visibility on Facebook and Twitter and helping manage some of their accounts. I have recently started working pretty closely with the folks at Tickr. They’re the folks behind the one-screen multi-channel aggregator you’ve probably seen in videos of social/digital control centers – like the one PepsiCo built for Gatorade. It’s kind of hard to run into a mission control center that doesn’t have a screen dedicated to Tickr now. Anyway, they’re launching a free version and a pay-as-you-go version to complement the enterprise version that big brands are already using, so they’ve asked me to help out for a few months. Check it out and tell me (or them) what you think.

Aside from the shameless plug, you may be interested to know that I’ll be blogging there as well as here for a bit, so if you are looking for more basic social media how to stuff than what I usually post here, news about the world of digital monitoring, digital brand management, and the rise of digital mission control centers, look for some of that there. The short list:

The blog

The Facebook page

The Twitter account (@TickrUS)

The website

You can start a free account and test drive Tickr in minutes, so give them a shot. It’s a pretty cool little app that works super well with the Radian6’s, Alterians and Spiral 16’s of the world.

Cheers. Let me know if you want more videos. There are more in the vault.

*          *          *

Social Media ROI – Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in your Organization was written specifically to teach managers and executives how to build and manage social media friendly business programs and incorporate social technologies and networks into everyday business operations. The book is divided into four parts: social media program strategy & development, social media program operationalization, social media program management, and best practices in measurement and reporting. If your boss doesn’t yet have a copy, time to fix that. If everyone on your team doesn’t yet have their own copy, fix that too. It makes for a great desk reference.

(Now available in several languages including German, Korean, Japanese and Spanish.)

CEO-Read  –  Amazon.com  –  www.smroi.net  –  Barnes & Noble  –  Que

Read Full Post »

Last week, in honor of the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, we took a concise look at some of the issues facing the Republican Party’s brand, going into the upcoming presidential election in November. This week, in conjunction with the Democratic National Convention being held in Charlotte, North Carolina, we take a similar look at the Democratic Party.

Before we begin, let’s get a few things out of the way:

How do I write a piece that addresses a political party’s branding problem in the heat of one of the most partisan national elections in my lifetime without coming across as partisan myself? The only way I know how is to do it the same way I would write a brand audit brief for a company with a similar problem:

1. By acknowledging my own biases so that I can look out for them should they decide to pop up in my analysis.

2. By distancing myself from my own biases for the duration of the exercise.

3. By making sure that the purpose of my analysis is to help, and not criticize or throw stones.

If you’re level-headed, carry on. If this is a hot-button issue for you, take a deep breath and try to keep cool. Okay? Ready? Here we go.

1. There is a problem with the logo. Well… kinduv.

Most of the time, when the general media talks about a branding problem, they are talking about one of two things: a PR problem, or a logo problem. And although the Democratic party doesn’t technically have a logo (it has a symbol – the donkey), that symbol isn’t great. Let’s see… a donkey. What are the attributes of a donkey? The intelligence of the elephant (the Republican symbol) doesn’t exactly come to mind. Grace? Nope. It’s a donkey, not a stallion. Strength? Not really. Courage? … Anything?

Unless you happen to own donkeys and understand all the ways that they are cool, the donkey comes across as being kind of a useless, awkward animal. Not quite as useful as a mule. At best, it’s the ideal sidekick for an ogre in certain animated movies produced by Dreamworks.

Why not change it to a lion or a humpback whale? A wolf? An owl, even. Okay, a liger. Anything with some kind of positive attribute, right? Some kind of animal that we can draw inspiration from in terms of strength, nobility, courage… but no. The Democrats are stuck with the donkey, and it all started with a cartoon many, many, many years ago.

Donkey (“Shrek” – Dreamworks)

On the other hand, there’s no problem with the color palette, with the trade dress, or with any of the superficial elements (the aesthetics) of the brand. We’ll come back to that in a minute. First, let’s take a quick look at where the elephant and the donkey came from, courtesy of William Safire’s New Language of Politics, revised edition, Collier Books, New York, 1972, via freerepublic.com:

The symbol of the party (the elephant) was born in the imagination of cartoonist Thomas Nast and first appeared in Harper’s Weekly on November 7, 1874

An 1860 issue of Railsplitter and an 1872 cartoon in Harper’s Weekly connected elephants with Republicans, but it was Nast who provided the party with its symbol.

Oddly, two unconnected events led to the birth of the Republican Elephant. James Gordon Bennett’s New York Herald raised the cry of “Caesarism” in connection with the possibility of a third term try for President Ulysses S. Grant. The issue was taken up by the Democratic politicians in 1874, halfway through Grant’s second term and just before the midterm elections, and helped disaffect Republican voters.

While the illustrated journals were depicting Grant wearing a crown, the Herald involved itself in another circulation-builder in an entirely different, nonpolitical area. This was the Central Park Menagerie Scare of 1874, a delightful hoax perpetrated by the Herald. They ran a story, totally untrue, that the animals in the zoo had broken loose and were roaming the wilds of New York’s Central Park in search of prey.

Cartoonist Thomas Nast took the two examples of the Herald enterprise and put them together in a cartoon for Harper’s Weekly. He showed an ass (symbolizing the Herald) wearing a lion’s skin (the scary prospect of Caesarism) frightening away the animals in the forest (Central Park). The caption quoted a familiar fable: “An ass having put on a lion’s skin roamed about in the forest and amused himself by frightening all the foolish animals he met within his wanderings.”

One of the foolish animals in the cartoon was an elephant, representing the Republican vote – not the party, the Republican vote – which was being frightened away from its normal ties by the phony scare of Caesarism. In a subsequent cartoon on November 21, 1874, after the election in which the Republicans did badly, Nast followed up the idea by showing the elephant in a trap, illustrating the way the Republican vote had been decoyed from its normal allegiance. Other cartoonists picked up the symbol, and the elephant soon ceased to be the vote and became the party itself:the jackass, now referred to as the donkey, made a natural transition from representing the Herald to representing the Democratic party that had frightened the elephant.

Now you know.

Interestingly enough, Democrats happen to have a secondary logo now. One they use quite a bit as it obviously has broader appeal than the jackass symbol:

Here is the 2012 Democratic National Convention’s variation on the theme. Note the obvious similarities:

Why the need for a logo that inspires a little more passion, forward vision and hope from voters than the tired old 1874 jackass? The question kind of answers itself. So… thumbs down on the party’s symbol, but thumbs up on the Obama campaign logo. It’s brilliant.

2. The Democratic Party’s identity is fairly clear.

Unlike the GOP’s somewhat confusing identity (details), democrats have managed to cement their identity pretty well. That can be both good and bad, depending on where you stand politically, but I have to give democrats higher marks than Republicans on this issue.

a) The Democratic party is, at its core, the party of social justice. It fights for women’s rights, gay rights, minority rights, immigration rights… Virtually every group that finds itself oppressed or discriminated against, the democratic tends to represent their interests.

b) Like it or not, the Democratic party is (at least statistically speaking) the party of minorities. Look at the difference in favorability in regards to Presdient Obama vs. mitt Romney (the Republican candidate) among African American voters earlier this year (in April 2012, before the Presidential campaign really began):

That trend has since widened. A recent poll notoriously reported that Mitt Romney had dropped to 0% support from the African-American voters, which is fairly telling of where the racial lines lie between the Republican and Democratic parties. I don’t know if that was a statistical anomaly, but whether the number is 0% or 4% is kind of moot. Democrats do seem to be polling significantly better with minorities than the country’s white majority (where Democrats are tied with Republicans).

The same divide doesn’t exist with Latinos, but there’s this:

By the way, here is the current trending in the USA in terms of ethnicity:

If the Democratic Party stays true to its identity and mission and the Republican party doesn’t evolve to address this shift, that could mean good things for Democratic political candidates in the next few decades.

c) The Democratic party is the party of social safety nets (which many might call “socialism”). It has, for instance, been the leading force behind the creation of Medicare (you can thank Presidents Truman and Johnson – both democrats), which gives some measure of social security to senior citizens.

You can also thank the Democratic party for the broader-reaching Social Security Act of 1935 (and particularly President Roosevelt – you guessed it, a democrat).

And of course, the Affordable Care Act of 2010, which, among other things, made health coverage more affordable for poorer Americans, ended insurance companies’ ability to turn patients away for so-called “pre-existing conditions,” and ended lifetime “caps” on coverage spend, was signed into law by President Obama (a democrat).

Note: Republicans deserve their fair share of credit for being behind crucial steps in the history of social safety nets in the US. Two quick examples: Then-president George W. Bush added an outpatient drug benefit provision to Medicare in 2003 and thengovernor Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts health care insurance reform law of 2006 turned out to be the template for President Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

Labor unions (which gave the US things like the minimum wage, the 8-hr work day and child labor laws) tend to operate mostly inside the Democratic Party’s political ecosystem (if the Republican Party’s war on unions is any indication).

The negative side of that identity is that for many conservatives, the Democratic party is simply the party of Socialism. This is actually incorrect. According to Merriam-Webster, socialism is:

1. any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods.

2. a system of society or group living in which there is no private property and/or a system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state

3. a stage of society in Marxist theory transitional between capitalism and communism and distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done.

Throwing a few social safety nets into the mix to combat poverty and help improve (or preserve) the lives of either poor or otherwise oppressed citizen isn’t socialism any more than having tax-financed fire departments and school buses is socialism. Having said that, neither facts nor accuracy are always at the root of political belief systems. So deserved or not, the socialism stigma has stuck, and Democrats have been either unable or unwilling to completely shake it off. We’ll come back to that in a few minutes.

d) The Democratic party is the party of ecologists. It accepts climate change and seeks ways to protect the environment, cut back on pollution and CO2 emissions, and conserve natural resources. It often gets tagged cynically as the tree-hugger party. There isn’t a lot of negative there, but some environmentalist can come across as being too militant and too anti-business for much of the mainstream. There is a balance to be struck there, but overall the positives and negatives seem evenly matched.

The Democratic party’s identity stands in stark contrast with the Republican Party’s platform, which tends to be dismissive and at times hostile to the notion of environmental protection, aims to cut funding to social programs, shift Medicare and Social Security to a privatized model, opposes gay marriage, and has historically had a difficult time reaching out to minorities. Democrats are clearly the opposite of Republicans, and vice versa.

3. But some message confusion does exist.

Generally speaking, Democrats don’t have a message confusion problem. Because their identity is clear, their message is clear: the message is one of social justice, racial equality, gender equality, economic equality, freedom both of and from religion (the latter being distinctive of the democratic platform). They seek to eliminate all forms of gender, religious and racial discrimination, eradicate racially charged “show me your ID laws,” preserve the rights of women to make their own decisions regarding their own bodies, and enact tax laws that divide the country’s tax responsibility equitably across all income levels. Typically, democrats are inclined to spend less on defense than Republicans and shift that funding to social programs and education.

Having said that, something came up this week that I have to mention, because it is relevant to this topic. As the defining question of the 2012 presidential election emerged from the Republican National Convention, several key Democrats initially failed to answer it properly. The question (a throwback to a Ronald Reagan campaign gold nugget): Are we better off today than we were four years ago?

The answer should be simple: Yes. An emphatic, resounding yes, followed by reasons why. To echo the Obama-Biden 2012 campaign slogan of Yes We Can, the answer should have been Yes We Are. Across the board.

Here are some of the things that Democrats could have (and should have) pointed to (and here, let me assume the perspective of a Democrat so I can give you some sense of what the message should have sounded like):

a) The stock market is doing a lot better:

Look at where the Dow Jones was in 2008. That crash didn’t happen on the democrats’ watch. The policies that caused that crash were not those of a Democratic administration. On the last market day before President Obama took office and Democrats effectively took control of the House of Representatives, the Senate and the White House, the Dow Jones closed at 8281.22. On the day that the 2012 Democratic National Convention opens, the Dow Jones was at 12,999.43 around mid-day.

Quick math: The Dow Jones has risen +4,700 points to what is essentially a pre-crash, pre-recession numbers. The stock market isn’t completely back, but it appears to be getting there fast.

Verdict: Better off.


NASDAQ closed on January 16, 2009: 1529.33

NASDAQ mid-day on September 4, 2012: 3048.19

Verdict: Better off.

S&P 500 on January 16, 2009: 850.09

S&P 500 mid-day on September 4, 2009: 1398, 91

Verdict: Better off.

(Source: 2009, 2012)

b) Jobs, jobs, jobs:

While the US still has a long way to go to improve its unemployment problem, let’s look at where the US was four years ago versus where it is today in terms of unemployment:

Above: macro of job growth for the the last year of the Bush administration vs. the entire Obama administration.

Below: macro of job growth during the Obama administration.

Four years ago, the economy was bleeding almost 800,000 jobs per month. Four years later, the US is looking at over 20 month of consecutive job growth.

Verdict: Better off.

c) Healthcare:

5,000,000 kids with pre-existing conditions can now get medical coverage thanks to the Affordable Care Act. (Some fact-checking on that number: it could be argued up or down a bit, but it seems to check out.)

Verdict: Better off.

d) Terrorism:

Osama Bin Laden is dead. Al Qaeda’s leadership is being systematically hunted down and eliminated. The Iraq war is over and the war in Afghanistan is coming to a close. Special forces, drone strikes and counter-terrorism units have become a lot more effective at dealing with terrorism than they once were.

Mostly though, Osama Bin Laden is dead.

Speaking of the current state of Al Qaeda, here is a report you might be interested in reading.

Verdict: better off.

We could go on and on with positive stories and evidence that we are in fact better off today than we were four years ago. So… why the hesitation? Why the disjointed message? Because we aren’t out of the woods yet, and not everything is better yet. Let’s take a look at that:

a) Unemployment is still high. Although the job creation trend has been positive and healthy for 20+ months now, unemployment is technically higher today than it was four years ago. That’s because we lost jobs so fast in the wake of the financial crisis that organic growth rate in job creation hasn’t yet caught up with the initial scope of the job loss. Note that the job creation curve took a full year to trend out of the negative and finally hit positive numbers in President Obama’s first year.

What’s important to note is that the trend began to improve immediately after President Obama was elected. So in spite of the net numbers, something has been working. It’s undeniable. having said that, it’s easy to look at the net numbers, ignore the trending context, and make the case for higher unemployment today than four years ago. Fair or unfair is irrelevant. Numbers are numbers, and Democrats know what the numbers are. There is still a lot of work to be done.

Democrats however should be quick to bring up the opportunity cost question: the last 4 years haven’t been easy, they haven’t been perfect, but how much worse might things have been, how much worse would they have been, if GM had been allowed to fail, if financial institutions had been allowed to fail? How much worse would things have been? How much worse off would we be today? It’s a relevant question given where we are trending to be four years from now vs. where we could be going back to.

b) Not everything is better yet:

Average price of a gallon of gas on inauguration day 2009: $1.83.

Today: $3.82 (source)

Not better off yet.

Poverty rate on inauguration day: 13.2%

Today: 15% (source)

Not better off yet.

 Number of food stamp recipients on inauguration day: 31.9 million

Today: 46.7 million

Not better off yet.

The tendency for a number of Democrats to waffle on the question is due to the complexity of the question.

The honest answer is “it depends.”

The politically expedient answer is “yes, we are.”

The politically savvy answer is “yes, but there’s still a lot of work to do.”

Democrats need to figure out where they want to be on this question, because it is 100% at the heart of the conversation they need to have with voters. It also helps clearly define the road map for their recovery plan, going into 2016.

4. Who’s in charge?

There is no leadership vacuum for a party with a first term president running for a second term. The hierarchy in the democratic party is currently very clear, and so the message and overall vision tend to be somewhat uniform. Aside from a few radical left wing blogs, the message is mostly consistent across all channels.

Caution ahead: Who are the superstars of the 2016 election? Aside from Hillary Clinton, who will help define the future of the Democratic party? Democrats need to make sure they have strong leaders in the pipeline. If they don’t start developing them now, 2016 will be too late.

5. If you don’t control the message, someone else will.

Democrats suffer from the exact same problem as Republicans: they often allow their opponents to control their message, and therefore their brand.

Remember the Apple vs. Microsoft ads? What happened there was Apple took control of both Microsoft’s image and message. Apple gave Microsoft a face, a suit, a personality, and a voice. In essence, Apple hijacked the Microsoft brand and reinforced existing biases to create a simple, visceral message about the value of one brand versus the other.

Here are some examples:

Affordable Care Act vs. “Obamacare.” (The ACA clearly communicates what it does: it makes healthcare more affordable and accessible. Calling it “Obamacare” makes the program vague and ads a layer of “nanny state” cynicism to what it is and what it does.) Point: Republicans.

Social safety nets vs. “Socialism.” (Republicans have managed to paint every single federal social program as “socialism” even though they technically are not. Surprisingly, Democrats have not fought against this effort to shift perceptions. Big mistake.) Point: Republicans.

Marriage Equality Act vs. the “war on marriage.” (Semantic combat). Point: Draw. No one wins this one.

No more pre-existing condition exclusions vs. “death panels.” (Although technically, the Affordable Care Act eliminates what might be effectively argued are “death panels,” the notion of death panels stuck with many conservatives who also see “Obamacare” as a move towards socialism.) Point: Republicans.

“Pro-choice” vs. “Pro-Life” (This implies that anyone who isn’t “pro-life” is in fact “anti-life.” It’s a subtle distinction, but one that Democrats have not addressed. In recent months, Democrats have also failed to defend the pro-choice position beyond the issue of rape and incest, allowing conservatives to move the discussion from a pro-choice vs. pro-life position to a pro-life by default position, with exceptions for rape and incest.) Point: Republicans.

Other areas where Democrats have failed to control their own identity and message. You could argue that these are common myths and misconceptions about Democrats that still stick:

Myth 1: Democrats are weak on defense.

Do democrats spend less on defense? Sometimes. And they seem to certainly want to. But one could argue that democrats haven’t technically been weak on defense. They just haven’t been as eager to spend as much on Defense as Republicans to achieve positive results (and yes, there is a difference).

Exhibit A: A refocus of US troop usage and new strategies severely weakened Al Qaeda. More on that here.

Exhibit B: Public Enemy #1, Osama Bin Laden is dead.

Myth 2: Democrats are the enemies of business.

Fact: GM, its suppliers and distributors are alive today because of a Democratic president.

Fact: Most investment banks and the millions of businesses they support are alive today because of a Democratic president.

Fact: Trade unions, which tend to be lean towards a Democratic world view, are not anti-business. They are pro workers’ rights. (No business = no workers. Think about it.) A business shouldn’t be against workers’ rights. Happy, engaged workers are highly productive workers. So… the argument that Democrats, because of their association with trade unions, are anti-business is, and has always been a little bizarre. And yet, it sticks.

Fact: Don’t ignore the Obama $15B initiative to increase lending to small businesses.

Fact: The Obama administration created business.USA.gov, which connects small businesses to experts in business management.

Fact: Contrary to certain rumors circulating on conservative blogs, domestic oil production under the Obama administration has increased since the Bush administration (Source: Energy Information Administration). Democrats have promoted renewable energy research and production, but not at the expense of fossil fuel production. So… the “drill baby, drill” crowd needs to fact-check a little. Conversely, Democrats need to talk about this more.

Myth 3: Because Democrats believe in an irresponsible tax & spend style of government, they are bad for the economy.

You would think so, but that’s actually not true (surprisingly). As it turns out Republican presidents also tend to favor tax & spend policies (and in some cases, don’t tax but spend anyway policies). First, let’s look at recent presidents and their impact on the federal Budget:

Note that President Ford, Reagan, Bush and Bush didn’t exactly cut federal spending compared to, say, Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Carter and Clinton. In regards to this chart, the case could also be made that the Obama administration is being unfairly saddled with deficit figures since TARP repayments in 2010 and 2011 were retroactively subtracted from George Bush’s deficit spending numbers.

The financial crisis also created a unique situation that calls for a bit of context in an apples-to-apples comparison.

Below is a chart showing recent Presidents’ impact on the national debt:

How about job growth? If you subscribe to the notion that Presidents and their policies can, in fact, create jobs, then Democratic presidents seem to be historically better at creating jobs than Republican presidents (Source: Dept of Labor Statistics):

Verdict: Democrats may indeed favor a tax & spend style of government, but the assumption that they are bad for the economy, create enormous deficits or increase the debt more than Republicans is not historically accurate. Strangely though, democrats have not effectively managed to erode that misconception.

Myth 4: Democrats are controlled by trade unions and secret socialist cabals who seek to take from the rich to give to the poor and destroy the American way of life.

It’s a preposterous, pseudo-apocalyptic assertion, but the myth persists in conservative pro-conspiracy theory circles. Looking back on the first four years of the Obama administration and the administrations of every Democratic president in the history of the United States, there has been absolutely no credible evidence of that. No Democratic president has ever attempted to weaken the country or destroy the American way of life in any way.  Quite the contrary.

And yet, that particular myth is as prevalent as ever.

Myth 5: Democrats are pro-gay and anti-family values.

Pro gay-rights, yes. Pro freedom of and from religion, yes. In other words, pro civil rights. Anti-family values though? Anti-marriage, even? Absolutely not. think about it: if Democrats seek to expand the definition of marriage so the institution of marriage can grow, are they fighting a war against marriage? Wouldn’t an attempt to limit the definition of marriage and restrict it not qualify more as a war on marriage than an attempt to help it grow? And yet, the myth persists in many conservative circles.

So… all in all, Democrats have not been effective at controlling their message and in some case effectively sell their political brand, and that’s a problem.

Ironically, Democrats seem to be pretty good at creating content that communicates their achievements and crafting clear messaging around them, but in spite of their advantage in social media adoption, haven’t been very good at communicating these achievements outside of their core. Let me illustrate:

a) The White House’s website is brilliantly designed. It’s beautiful. Everything about it is pretty much perfect in terms of proportions, color, photography, ratio of images to copy, usability, content, archives, access to information and data… it’s pure digital genius. And yet… it hasn’t been successful at helping spread its content. It seems to have relied more on a build it and they will come strategy than a let’s focus on sharing this with as many people as we can strategy.

b) Healthcare: Check out whitehouse.gov/healthcarereform. How many times have you seen any of this data and associated infographics? Probably never. How many people have read their myth-busting page? Not many. That’s bad.

Tip: Add a “share” button to EVERY page containing data, charts and graphs. You’ll see a difference in how the message spreads immediately.

c) Energy Independence: Look… just check out this page. Why is this data not making the rounds? This should be all over Facebook walls and Twitter feeds.

d) The economy: Here is a comprehensive list of everything the Obama administration has done for the economy in the last 3+ years: http://www.whitehouse.gov/economy/jobs/we-cant-wait

Here is the page that focuses on the Obama administration’s pro-business focus: http://www.whitehouse.gov/economy/business

Furthermore, the stimulus was a success:

What the recovery actually looks like: Recovery.gov and some resources on the Recovery Act.

To provide further context, let’s flashback to February 23, 2010 (source – Reuters):

The massive stimulus package passed last year to blunt the impact of the worst U.S. recession in 70 years created up to 2.1 million jobs in the last three months of 2009, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office said on Tuesday. The package boosted the economy by up to 3.5 percent and lowered the unemployment rate by up to 2.1 percent during that period, CBO said.

“In CBO’s judgment, that outcome reflects greater-than-projected weakness in the underlying economy rather than lower-than-expected effects” 

I could go on for hours. This should all be a slam-dunk in terms of communications.

Strangely though, this information is just not getting out to voters. This inability to push its message, control its message and sell its message is a systematic weakness with the Democratic party.

6. Democrats don’t play offense very well.

See 4 and 5 above.

This isn’t to say that Democrats are any less militant than Republicans when it comes to their core issues. They just aren’t very good at pushing the message, at driving it forward, at really making sure that everyone knows what they want them to know.

By the way, the Occupy movement is not what I have in mind when I think of an effective offensive game. It’s aggressive all right, but not exactly a success. Democrats could do with a little more testosterone though. The story is there, waiting to be told. And yet… crickets. At least until now.

Much of the disappointment in the Obama administration by Democrats in the last few years has been due to this softness. Primarily when it comes to not having taken advantage of the political high ground Democrats held in the first two years of the Obama administration (wasted opportunity to pass sweeping legislation) and second: not sharing effectively all that actually was done. Brag a little. You have to. People want to know what’s being done. They have no idea. You can’t wait for them to come look for answers. You have to talk about it. You have to report to them regularly.

7. But Democrats have a great ground game.

I am not talking about the community activism type of ground game. I am talking about Democrats’ ability to use their opponents’ mistakes on the field to win key plays. To borrow from sports analogies, Democrats are good when it comes to leveraging rebounds and interceptions.

– Take the war on women, for instance. Look at the political capital gained by Democrats over comments made by republicans like Todd Akin and Rush Limbaugh, and how they so easily connected Paul Ryan to that narrative. As a result, the gender gap is increasing in favor of Democrats. Well played.

– Marriage equality and gay rights as well: it wasn’t initially a democratic initiative. Democrats simply leveraged a miscalculation by religious conservatives, and connected their default stance on marriage equality to a narrative that began with repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Democrats waited for the right moment and used social conservatives’ momentum against them.

– Fact-checking and outrage grenades: The process is simple. You wait for the other side to say something that is either factually incorrect or patently offensive, and you throw it back at them for a week straight . When it comes to this strategy Democrats have no greater friends than Todd Akin, Rush Limbaugh, and Paul Ryan (already dubbed “Lyin’ Ryan” on the twitterwebs for the mounting number of fibs and deliberate inaccuracies in many of his recent statements). Recent dubious comments and assertions from key Republicans (Paul RyanHogan GidleyMitt RomneyRick Santorum, and Michele Bachmann, among others) have allowed Democrats to progressively brand themselves as the fact-checker party versus… an increasingly factually incorrect party, or worse, the party of spin.

– “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” will turn out to be the defining question of this election, just as it was in 1980 when Ronald Reagan ran against Jimmy Carter. Republicans dusted it off for what they hope will be a long awaited sequel. My bet: Democrats will intercept that ball and turn it to their advantage. In spite of the initial fumble, it will finally give them what they have lacked for decades: a deliberate, coherent, effective vehicle with which to tell their story and sell the effectiveness of their policies.

But can your whole strategy be to wait for the competition to say something stupid or untrue? It doesn’t need to be. It shouldn’t be. That should just be the frosting on the cake, not the whole cake.

As I write this piece, the Obama and Romney campaigns are tied in the polls. If Republicans hadn’t handed Democrats a few gimmes with the war on women, marriage inequality, racially-tainted rhetoric and its serious credibility issue, where would the Obama campaign be? Ten points behind? Whether you like Democrats or not, given the story they could be telling, the Obama campaign should be ten points ahead, not tied.

8. Looking at a few key Challenges for the Democratic brand:

Can democrats be both pro-labor and pro-business?

Can Democrats be both pro-environment and pro-industry?

Can Democrats be both pro-choice and pro-life (or rather… “pro-birth”)?

Can democrats be pro-social safety nets and pro-capitalism?

Can democrats increase taxes on the rich and be good for the economy?

The answer is yes. The Clinton and Obama administrations showed that to be true. Its two problems are that a) that duality hasn’t been clearly communicated, and b) the Democratic party has itself been reluctant to let go of its pro-labor, pro-poor, pro-environment image. Just like the Republican, it is afraid to lose its core, and therefore its core message. (Could there be a left wing version of the tea party? Certainly.) But in order to get anywhere in the next decade, Democrats are going to have to earn the trust of the business community (big business and SMBs) without appearing to sell out to the labor-friendly crowd. They have a story to tell there, and results to show; it won’t be easy to talk over the noise from organizations like the US Chamber of Commerce, but it needs to happen. They are going to have to change their image and drive its evolution. There is no way around this. The 20th century biases still crippling Democrats have to be replaced by something else.

Specifically, the Democratic Party has to change perceptions from an either business or labor, either ecology or energy independence, either religious freedom or civil freedoms. The either/or distinction drawn by old thinking needs to go. Instead, the message has to be one of business and labor working for each other to produce better results and prosperity for all. It has to communicate the shift to the vital role that ecologically-friendly energy solutions have to play in any credible discussion we have about energy independence. It has to do a better job of showing that civil rights and religious rights are precisely the same thing rather than opposing views. It has to convince fiscal conservatives that prosperity is a lot easier to engineer when businesses and governments partner on building a stronger economy. It has to help everyone move beyond ludicrous capitalist vs. socialist modes of thinking. Well… maybe not everyone, but centrists and moderate Republicans who might not be very excited about too much conservatism on their side of the aisle.

One last comment: if the Democratic party wants to successfully paint itself as the party of the future (and paint the Republican party as the party of the past), it has to be willing to a) let go of the past and allow itself to grow into an identity that is relevant to the 21st century, that isn’t as militant, and that (and I know this is dangerous) is a little more center than left-of-center, and b) effectively communicate that change and what it means. The Obama administration seems to be on the right track with the first half of that mandate. It just needs to get better at the second.

Don’t just do. Tell us.

Don’t just tell us. Show us.

If you want to follow the buzz around Democratic National Convention the way digital monitoring agencies do, check out the DNC Tickr page I built for you. (Disclosure: Tickr is a client. I just happen to use their product.)

As always, I welcome your comments. Thanks for sticking with this piece until the end. I tried to keep it as short as possible, but you know how that goes. Feel free to add what I might have missed in the comment section below. Oh, and please, let’s try to keep the comment section from becoming a political discussion between Republicans and Democrats. If you disagree with my analysis, great. I want to hear from you. But try to focus on the brand management, business development and marketing communications side of the discussion rather than on political rhetoric. Take a step back from your political beliefs and look at this as if you were apolitical and the Democrats were a client. What did I get right? What did I get wrong? What did I miss? How could the Democratic Party do better? Those are the types of comments I look forward to.



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Social Media ROI – Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in your Organization was written specifically to teach managers and executives how to build and manage social media friendly business programs and incorporate social technologies and networks into everyday business operations. The book is divided into four parts: social media program strategy & development, social media program operationalization, social media program management, and best practices in measurement and reporting. If your boss doesn’t yet have a copy, time to fix that. If everyone on your team doesn’t yet have their own copy, fix that too. It makes for a great desk reference.

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