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HBO’s “The Newsroom.” Image courtesy of Melissa Moseley/HBO.

Last night, I finally watched the first few episodes of Aaron Sorkin’s “The Newsroom,” and something struck me about the first episode: All of the on-shift newsroom staffers are sitting around, working at their computers, and a story comes on the AP wire, which turns out to be the explosion at BP’s Deepwater Horizon well in the gulf of Mexico. The date is April 20, 2010. The rest, as they say, is history. What’s interesting though is that the camera gives us several closeup shots of the screen, and it basically looks a lot like an email inbox: each new story pops up on a vertically arranged list, probably arranged in chronological order. To make things easier or journalists, each story is tagged with a different color, yellow, orange and red indicating increasing levels of urgency and relevance. (Probably something along the lines of AP ENPS.) Now, don’t get me wrong: It’s a good system. It’s simple, it’s clear and it works. But being in the business of making things work better, something struck me about the limitations of that design: All it is is a whistle, a bell. Integrated into some basic productivity applications, sure, but my immediate reaction was to ask “what… that’s it? Where’s the rest of the info?”

The rest, of course, being something like this:

(Keep reading this story on the Tickr blog.)

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Oh, and while you’re here…

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

Today’s post is over on the Tickr blog. You should go check it out.

*          *          *

Oh, and while you’re here…

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

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).

Cheers,

O.

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.

*          *          *

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

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.

Example:

– 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.

Cheers,

Olivier

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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

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.

Amazing.

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

Ruh-roh.

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. 😉

Cheers,

O.

*          *          *

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

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.)

Cheers,

Olivier

*          *          *

 

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

 

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.

Symbiosis:

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

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

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.

Also:

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.

Cheers,

O.

*          *          *

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

Image from “GOP 100 – Deconstructing Dumbo” (Thomas Fuchs & Felix Stockwell)

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. Even the political cartoons borrowed to illustrate some of the points in this post are there as illustrations only. They don’t necessarily reflect my opinions.

(And don’t worry, we’ll do one of these for the Democratic national Convention as well.)

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’s no problem with the logo.

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. Let me just get it out of the way right now: although the GOP doesn’t technically have a logo (it has a symbol – the elephant), its symbol is fine. There’s no need to change it. There’s also no problem with the color palette, with the trade dress, or with any of the superficial elements (the aesthetics) of the brand.

Nb: By the way, if you like that image up there at the top, you can thank Tomas Fuchs and Felix Stockwell by buying their book: GOP 100: Deconstructing Dumbo.)

However…

2. The GOP’s identity is no longer clear.

What is the GOP? What does it stand for? Whenever I ask a Republican, the answer I get is this: conservative values. At face value, that’s great. It’s concise, it’s consistent, and it’s simple. But once you start to scratch the surface, two problems very quickly pop up. Let’s look at what they are:

A spectrum of gradients: First, conservative values come in degrees. Someone may be mildly conservative (or as some of the people I chatted with put it “conservative by default”). This would make them what most would call moderate Republicans (or even independents with Republican tendencies). On the other hand, their neighbor might be so conservative as to believe that anything that even resembles compromise with Democrats is somehow akin to treason.

Big difference there. Completely different points on the spectrum. These two types of folks are going to agree on a few things, like perhaps less taxes and less government spending, but they are also going to disagree on a lot of issues, starting with practical discussions about how much to cut and where, and eventually growing into fundamental disagreements about gay rights, religious freedom, and perhaps even defense spending. So in and of itself, the breadth of the spectrum of conservatism makes the term too vague to serve as an adequate definition of the GOP’s identity – and that’s assuming that the differences between mild and severe conservatives are linear. They aren’t. Which brings us to the next point…

The spectrum of meaning: Second, conservatism means different things to different people. For instance:

To some Republicans, conservative values may reach back 3,000 years and find their essence, at the core, in Biblical (Old Testament) law. For them, the divine word always supersedes the word of man, the Founding Fathers were Christians whose intent was to create a Christian nation based on Christian values, and the federal government has worked against that intent over the last two centuries to create instead a secular state that is, at the very least, passively hostile to their particular Christian views.

To others, conservative values may have absolutely nothing to do with religion, and may instead simply focus on fiscal responsibility – governmental: a belief that a smaller (or at least more financially judicious) federal government’s primary mandate is to carefully weigh serving and protecting the people against keeping its expenses as low as possible; and personal: a belief that success is up to individuals, and that they, not the government, are to be the architect of their own success (through courage, discipline and hard work). In other words, whatever the opposite of tax and spend is.

These two versions of conservatism are hugely different. Proponents of the first version of that definition may find themselves focusing more on issues like banning abortion, most forms of contraception and gay marriage, while pushing for more religious education in schools, denying the legitimacy of the scientific theory of evolution, and imposing religiously based standards of decency on art, literature and certain types of speech. Proponents of the second version of the definition may be be completely at odds with the first group’s agenda and simply demand smaller government, less spending, and lower taxes.

Digging a little deeper, for others still, conservative values may refer to a return to the gold standard, either military non-intervention or military expansion (even there, conservative values may be in contradiction to each other), the privatization – if not the outright elimination – of certain government-managed programs like medicare and social security, or an expansion of the definition of state sovereignty. For others still, the term may simply refer to common-sense values like work hard, live within your means, be responsible in all areas of your life, be honest and ethical, be kind to your neighbors, etc.

Internally, it seems that fiscal conservatives increasingly find themselves scratching their heads at the religiosity of evangelical conservatives, and the subsequent side-tracking from what they perceive as being the fundamental mission of their political party. The most recent illustration of this problem is the split within the GOP about Missouri representative Todd Akin’s recent statements about abortion rights and the biology of rape. Many conservatives immediately sought to distance themselves from the man, his politics and his statements (the Romney campaign, for instance), but others quickly rallied to support him and what he stands for. More on that here.

The GOP’s identity problem, at the core, is that it can’t decide what kind of conservatism it wants to adopt, moving forward. Realistically, it needs both. But the threat here comes from the zealous nature of the evangelical portion of the party: to them, fiscal conservatism is secondary to their religious beliefs. And so in the absence of a clear path, religious conservatism has begun to take over the GOP platform at the expense of fiscal conservatism. That would be neither here nor there, but a shifting, out-of-balance identity is liable to derail a number of things that the GOP has always had going for it:

– A solid base.

– A clear identity.

– A clear message.

– A unified front.

What is happening now:

– Fiscal conservatives may start getting turned off by the increasing religiosity of the GOP and will begin to label themselves independents. I know quite a few folks who have come to this crossroads in the last couple of years (some have even rather publicly stated that though they were still Republican at the core, they could no longer, in good conscience, vote for religious conservatives). Welcome to core erosion.

– Undecided and swing voters may find themselves increasingly turned off by the GOP’s new religious rhetoric and the faith-based legislation it seems to be focusing on.

Externally, the vagueness of the term conservative values and the breadth and types of division that vagueness creates is confusing to the public at large, particularly undecided voters and moderates, which, in terms of business terminology, you might think of as potential customers. For them, the question regarding the GOP’s identity is simple: is the GOP the party of fiscal conservatism, or is the GOP the party of religious conservatism? In other words, is the focus of the GOP truly to jump-start the economy, boost job growth and fuel prosperity, or is it the establishment of a Christian, evangelical state?

This confusion is at the heart of the GOP’s current identity problem, both internally and externally. Until it can be clearly answered, the party’s very identity (and growth) will be in question.

3. Message confusion.

In a presidential election year, a party tends to articulate its platform by projecting it onto its presidential campaign. Product marketing equivalent: every advertising campaign aims to raise awareness for a product or brand, articulate value to the market, and hopefully trigger a purchase reflex somewhere down the line.

In other words, a campaign is the vehicle through which need, desire, and preference are created, and clarity, identity and value are communicated. Whether you are selling a smart phone, a car, a burger, a candidate or an ideology, it’s all basically the same thing.

Consistency of the message here is crucial. People want to be able to form an opinion about what you’re selling that fits neatly into their world. This isn’t to say that the brand, product, message or value can’t evolve (it can and should), but it shouldn’t create confusion. Unfortunately, there has been quite a bit of confusion in the GOP’s messaging lately, and this is a problem.

Example A: Obamacare vs. Romneycare.

Up until now, the GOP has taken a very hard stance against the Affordable Care Act (dubbed “Obamacare”), and the party leadership as a whole had sworn to repeal it at the first opportunity. Former governor Mitt Romney, now the front-runner in the national election, has been consistently on message about repealing “Obamacare” if he is elected President.

Problem 1: Mr. Romney is well known for having created the precursor of “Obamacare” in Massachusetts when he was Governor there. The similarities between “Obamacare” and “Romneycare” are such that many Republicans were reluctant to support Romney during the primaries this past spring, and even went so far as to paint him as being too liberal. It is important to note that Mr. Romney (and a significant portion of the GOP) stands for less government involvement in the people’s affairs, and more free-market solutions.

There is no fundamental difference between a (state) government managing healthcare and a (federal) government managing healthcare. We are still looking at a government bureaucracy managing healthcare and a good portion of the funding for it coming from our taxes. The argument that the federal government is patently evil whereas state governments are more trustworthy will be argued ad nauseam by some, but the fact remains that government-run healthcare, whether at the state level or the federal level is still considered by many to be socialism. Socialism, as we know, is at odds with basic Republican ideology.

Because of “Romneycare,” the GOP and the Romney campaign find themselves in the awkward position of having to stand against “Obamacare” while having to also defend “Romneycare.” The strategy until now has been twofold: a) Attack “Obamacare” but say as little as possible about “Romneycare,” and b) create a distinction between federal intrusion (“bad”) and state-level solutions (“good”). Note the specificity of the language in that sentence. Unfortunately, even if the wording of the argument is clever, the core of the argument is fundamentally flawed, and that messes with the overall message’s clarity and legitimacy.

Problem 2: Governor Romney himself can’t give up one of his greatest successes as a political figure so far. “Romneycare” is one of his greatest achievements, and he knows it. In fact, in an interview given to Fox News just before the GOP’s National convention, Romney spoke proudly of his healthcare record, drawing some surprise from his interviewer:

During an interview that aired on Sunday, Fox News host Chris Wallace asked Romney why women should vote for him after a fellow Republican, Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO), suggested that women could not get pregnant from “legitimate rape.”

“Look, I am the guy that was able to get health care for all of the women — and men — in my state,” the former Massachusetts governor explained. “There was talking about it at the federal level. We did something.”

“So, you’re saying look at Romneycare?” Wallace wondered.

“Absolutely,” Romney replied. “I’m very proud of what we did, and the fact that we helped women and men and children in my state.”

(Source: The Raw Story – link)

Again, the fundamental problem is that there is virtually no difference between Romneycare and Obamacare. (This piece from Politifact.com takes a closer look at the similarities between the two programs.) So how can the GOP’s entire platform be against one government-managed program but at the same time have a portion of its leadership (namely its front-runner) tout the benefits of another very much like it?

No matter where you happen to stand politically – Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, independent or undecided – the issue here is one of message confusion: can anyone really be for “Romneycare” but against “Obamacare?” Can anyone be fundamentally against government-run healthcare but somehow in favor of it when it occurs at the state level rather than at the federal level? Is government-run healthcare okay when a Republican supports it but wrong when a Democrat does? These are legitimate questions which take away from the clarity and simplicity of what the GOP’s message should be.

Example B: Abortion.

Following the widely unpopular statement made by Rep. Todd Akin in regards to “legitimate rape” and the risk of pregnancy, the Romney campaign immediately sought to distance itself from Akin and his beliefs by issuing this statement:

“Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan disagree with Mr. Akin’s statement, and a Romney-Ryan administration would not oppose abortion in instances of rape,’’ a Romney campaign spokeswoman, Amanda Henneberg, wrote.

(Source: The New York Times – link)

But several days later, the GOP announced once again that it would continue to push for a Constitutional ban on abortion.

Furthermore, Romney’s choice for a running-mate (Paul Ryan) sends mixed messages as Ryan has made no secret of not only supporting anti-abortion legislation but also going as far as to work directly with Rep Todd Akin (him again) on legislation that aims to narrow the definition of rape (presumably to further limit women’s access to abortions should abortion ever be restricted to instances of rape and incest).

And yet, in his interview with Fox News (see link above), Mr. Romney speaks of the abortion issue in these terms:

““Look, I am the guy that was able to get health care for all of the women — and men — in my state. […] With regards to the issue of abortion, that is something where men and women have alternative views on that or different views.”

So… are we talking about a constitutional ban on abortion here (GOP platform), a partial ban on abortions (Romney platform), or a signal to swing voters that in spite of all of the current rhetoric, a Romney administration would adopt a laissez-faire attitude towards abortion, much like the Bush administration before it?

It’s easy to see how the general electorate might be confused. It keeps getting mixed signals from the GOP.

To be fair, moderate message confusion like this might be a little distracting, but there’s room for nuance there. Just enough to make people a little uncertain about voting, but not a deal breaker by any stretch of the imagination where abortion isn’t a hot-button issue. Severe message confusion, however, looks like this:

The GOP stands for less federal government intrusion into our lives and supports more personal freedoms.

vs.

The GOP stands for a federal ban on abortion and will not support certain types of medical care relating to female reproduction (results in more government intrusion into our lives, and therefore fewer personal freedoms).

Or even…

Government-managed healthcare enacted by a Republican (“Romneycare”) = okay.

vs.

Government-managed healthcare enacted by a Democrat (“Obamacare”) = not okay.

Contradictions both in the messaging itelf and in the relationship between some of the messaging and some of the actions taken by ranking members of the GOP are causing enough dissonance in the general electorate (the market) that the GOP’s message is neither clear nor credible to a significant portion of its audience. This is a problem. Imagine the message confusion of a militant 100% organic food brand defending its choice to start selling GMO products under a different label, or a self-professed eco-friendly brand that donates millions of dollars every year to super-PACs that support the elimination of the EPA. Same kind of dissonance.

4. Who’s in charge? The leadership vacuum.

With most brands, a clear hierarchy shapes the vision, sets the direction, drives forward momentum, and controls (at least to a point) the messaging. At the top is the CEO. Below the CEO are the CMO, the PR and communications teams, legal, customer service, etc. Messaging might not always be 100% consistent across all touch-points, but it is usually mostly consistent. Why? Because the direction is agreed upon by the leadership, and an appropriate hierarchy then approves brand communications practices, creates the brand’s architecture, crafts the messaging, and controls the approval process.

Look at how structured messaging is for brands like Apple, Starbucks, Microsoft, Ford and Nike. Clear, simple, consistent.

Now let’s turn our attention to the GOP. We have already touched on the GOP’s identity crisis and some of the inconsistencies in its messaging. Would you like to know why this is happening? Every organization is the same: whenever an issue of systematic confusion arises in the identity of its brand or its messaging, you can almost always trace it back to a leadership problem. The question that helps you begin to resolve the problem is this: who’s in charge?

Who is the GOP’s CEO? Who is the GOP’s CMO? Who controls and manages the GOP’s message today? Who controls the vision? Who sets the direction? Who has ownership of the GOP brand? Can you look at the following image and point to the person in charge? Can you map out the hierarchy?

In the absence of clear leadership and hierarchy in an organization, what you end up with is confusion and uncertainty. The alphas compete for the spot, and each one of them comes with his or her own little tribe of followers. Welcome to infighting and confusion 101. It isn’t that the GOP lacks leadership. The problem is that it has too much of it. Too many chefs in the kitchen, in other words. It needs one. Just one. Not five or twenty or 300. Until the GOP solves its leadership issues, it will not have a clear brand or a unified message. It’s hard to evoke trust and enthusiasm with that degree of uncertainty hanging over your head.

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

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.

Leadership and ownership are common topics for me whenever I wrestle with organizational dysfunction. Without some clarity about both, organizations of any kind (even flat, loosely federated organization) cannot properly function.

Group dynamics 101:

– There is always a hierarchy. Find it.

– Power vacuums will be filled.

– There can be only one project manager, one CEO, one leader. Either you’re it, or someone else will ease into that role.

If you don’t shape the identity of your brand, someone else will. If you don’t control the message, someone else will.

If this point seems like a repetition of item #4 on this list, you aren’t wrong. In many ways, it is. More specifically, it is the direct effect of a leadership/ownership problem: no clear leadership = a free-for-all of messaging. What does a free-for-all look like? It looks like a soup of conflicting religious beliefs, conflicting economic theory, paradoxical legislative intent, and even in some cases hate speech (characterized by the bizarre resilience of the birther movement, for instance).

Internally, everyone vying for the leadership spot will bring his or her own rhetoric, beliefs, language, and vision to the table. The result is a mess of view points, of conflicting egos and infighting that will a) polarize rather than unify the organization, b) turn a lot of conservatives off from the internal politics of the organization, and c) ultimately disenfranchise a portion of the organization when, once polarized, their “side” doesn’t get what it wants. (Where do you think that the Tea Party movement came from?)

Externally, the result of not owning your own message opens you up to the same kind of hijacking by the competition that Microsoft suffered at the hands of Apple: existing biases against conservative views are amplified and turned into caricature. Through repetition and carefully selected examples (quotes, memes, soundbites and video clips) conservatives slowly become hateful under-educated, xenophobic, nativist, anti-gay, anti-women, science-hating buffoons who can’t seem to understand that the world they live in has changed since the late 1800’s.

Impact: if you’re a radical or ardent Democrat, you probably already thought that, so nothing’s changed. You just feel that “what you’ve been saying for years” has been validated by the news you watch and read. If you are a moderate Democrat – even one who, under normal circumstances, might not feel the need to vote – you saw that fringe as a possible threat, but as a result of this messaging, now see the entire GOP as being taken over by it. The result: fear. The outcome: higher chance that you’ll actually vote this time around. If you’re an undecided fiscal conservative or swing voter, the process is the same: given the choice between an ineffective Democratic party and a xenophobic, anti-science, anti-women, anti-civil rights party, you will either a) not vote this time around, b) vote reluctantly but it might be the last time if something doesn’t change soon, or c) actually vote Democrat.

Remember the point made in item #1: If the identity of the GOP isn’t clear, you’re going to have trouble selling it to anyone who isn’t part of the core tribe. If you don’t control your own message, you have no chance of articulating who you are to undecided and swing voters.

6. Too thick a brand bubble = Koolaid overload.

When an organization focuses exclusively on listening to its own sources at the expense of listening to other opinions, it enters into its very own feedback loop of cognitive bias. I cannot tell you how many people I run into in the GOP who absolutely refuse to read the Huffington Post or watch MSNBC because they are patently liberal media organizations. (And by all accounts, they seem to be.) To an extent, that’s fair. The same could be said of Democrats who refuse to watch Fox News and read Fox Nation. We’ll come back to that.

What’s strange to me, however, is that the fat middle of the news media world has been shunned by many conservatives as well: CNN, the BBC, the Associated Press, NBC News, ABC News, CBS News, the New York Times, etc. All of it has been rebranded “the liberal news media” by many influential voices in the conservative movement (I refer you to item #4 above: Who’s in charge?).

Blocking out critical and dissenting voices may be a comfortable way to spend your day, but it keeps you in the dark about what the rest of the world (or in this case the rest of the country) is thinking, saying and doing. It may also shield you from the opinions of dissenting voices, many of them valuable, within your own organization.

Imagine of you were a product manager for a major brand, and the company’s leadership made it clear that any kind of data or consumer insights you garnered outside of your own channels, particularly when these data and insights didn’t paint as rosy a picture as you’d like, were to be thought of as corrupt and biased against you: weakening sales? Not true. The source is working for the competition. Frustrated customers? Not true. The source is biased against us. And on and on and on. Over time, the distance separating the inside of your organization from the reality of the outside world would grow. One piece of positive, pro-brand news at a time, and one piece of rejected criticism at a time, the bubble would thicken until any news, data and insights not produced by the brand’s own approved sources became immediately suspect.

One of the most dangerous things a brand can do is to shun significant sources of data and market insights that it anticipates won’t be positive in favor of data that tells a more positive story. What brands need to to is analyze the full spectrum of data and market insights and determine objectively, pragmatically, what areas they are doing well in and what areas need more attention. Once an organization becomes so focused on itself that it shuns outside points of view, it becomes insular and so detached from the world around it as to lose its value, relevance and competitiveness. I have personally seen moderate Republicans being attacked by more religiously conservative Republicans for “letting the liberal media get inside their heads.” Their advice: don’t watch CNN or network news.

Sorry, but that isn’t a healthy world view. It isn’t healthy, period.

My advice: watch CNN, MSNBC and Fox News. Read everything you can get your hands on. Get a full sense for the breadth of the opinion spectrum and let the chips fall where they may. Study the narratives that your competitors build around your brand. Study the shifts in opinion in the market about not only your brand, your products and your industry but others as well. Look for patterns, for changes, for insights, for ideas. Keep your ears and eyes, and most importantly your mind open. Don’t retreat inside a bubble. Break that bubble apart, shatter it, and look for answers and insights everywhere you can.

7. Focusing too much on the core tribe and not enough on potential customers.

Imagine if you were a brand of soda or men’s underwear, and these were some of the numbers you were seeing this month:

Market penetration nationally, 18+: 47% (Source:  Washington Post/ABC News)

Competitor’s penetration nationally, 18+: 46%

BUT…

Market penetration among African Americans, 18+: 0% (Source: NBC News/Wall Street Journal)

Competitor’s market penetration  with African Americans: 94%

Wow. 0%.

Assuming an error in the polling, let’s make it 3-4%, which is what it was in previous polls. Even that is a staggeringly low number.

What if you dug deeper and found out that 89% of your customers turn out to be white? What would that mean in terms of who your tribe is, who your tribe isn’t, and how you might be able to change that? What would it tell you about not only your positioning and messaging, but your culture as an organization and your identity as a brand? Personally, those numbers would give me great pause. They are rather shocking. (And here, I refer you to item #6: The Brand Bubble.) You don’t want to start becoming this:

Let’s look at another data set:

Women  national market penetration, 18+ nationally: 47% (Source: Washington Post/ABC News)

Competitor’s national market penetration, for the same demo: 46%.

BUT…

Women market penetration, 18-50 in swing states: 30% (a drop of 14% since last year) (Source: USA Today/Gallup)

Competitor’s market penetration for same demo in same markets: almost 60% (compared to <50% last year).

What might have caused the change? In the case of the GOP, the answer comes from Sara Taylor Fagen, a Republican strategist and former political adviser to President George W. Bush:

“The focus on contraception has not been a good one for us … and Republicans have unfairly taken on water on this issue.”

Unfairly? Perhaps. But fairness isn’t something you can count on. Decisions and market trends are shaped more by bias than fairness. And saying “no fair” will only turn you into a victim. Beware the comforting lure of tribal mentality. Combined with a shunning of outside viewpoints (see item #6 above) it can skew your perception of the world and change your outlook on the role that you have yet to play in it. You may become more focused on “being right” and proving your position’s argument than on listening and adapting to what your market is telling you. That subtle shift in intent might contribute to your missing legitimate concerns voiced by disenfranchised insiders and undecided outsiders.

In this instance, the GOP’s identity, messaging and value proposition might have recently grown too focused on the needs and biases of the predominantly male, and 50+ customers which constitute the nucleus of its tribe at the expense of other members of that same tribe (namely women). Right or wrong, fair or not, that is what the public is telling the GOP. So now what? Stand your ground, or listen?

Now don’t get me wrong: focusing on your core customers first is great, and there, Seth Godin is right – focus on your tribe first – but too much focus on your tribe can come at the expense of alienating everyone else, especially if it is physically impossible for them to become white or male – or over 50 (at least right this very minute). If you’re a brand, that will cost you significant chunks of potential customers. If you’re a political party (or candidate), those are swing, undecided and moderate voters that you are excluding from your ecosystem. If growth is what you’re after (or at least market dominance), it’s a problem.

Taking a step back: if you want to be a niche brand, focus on your core tribe and don’t worry about having broad appeal. But if your brand wants to have broad appeal and dominate its market (score 51% of the vote), you have to be careful not to systematically alienate chunks of that market.

Again, not a critique. Just an observation – and a kind word of caution.

Okay. I’ll stop here. If this post generates enough comments, we’ll do one of these for the Democratic party as well, just before its convention.

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 GOP were a client. What did I get right? What did I get wrong? What did I miss? How could the GOP do better? Those are the types of comments I look forward to.

And if you want to follow the buzz around Republican National Convention the way digital monitoring agencies do, I built you a Tickr page just for the occasion.

And um… don’t go building your own digital mission control center just yet. We’ll be taking a closer look at how some brands and agencies are doing that very soon. (Disclosure: Tickr is a client.)

Cheers,

Olivier

*          *          *

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

Here’s the question that most companies still don’t ask themselves at the start of a project: what problem am I trying to solve?

Start with that, and you’re 80% of the way there. Blow it off, and you can be sure that you and your organization will waste a shit-ton of time and resources on something that won’t yield any concrete results.

For instance: discussions at planning & management meetings increasingly point towards three “projects” that seem increasingly inevitable – Your CMO wants to revamp the logo. Your CEO wants to get into social media. Your SVP Digital wants to redo the website.

Now what? Well, now begins the process of getting the projects approved. What questions will be asked? Well…

Why are we doing this?

How much will it cost?

Who will be in charge?

Who will do the work?

And that’s about it. That’s as far as it goes.

Why are we doing this? Because it’s been a while. Because it’s time. Because we need change. Because our competitors are doing it. Because it will improve our image.

How much will it cost? Somewhere between $x and $y.

Who will be in charge? Fill in the blanks.

Who will do the work? Fill in the blanks.

Except here’s the problem: companies have limited resources. When you think of resources in terms of money, talent, technology and man hours (and you should), you quickly come to realize that focusing a significant percentage of those resources on Project A rather than Projects B, C, and D means that you’ve just introduced an opportunity cost into your planning. In other words, choosing to monopolize these resources on Project A could limit your ability to really kick ass with Projects B, C and D.

If Project A is necessary or really smart, that’s probably a good thing. You’ve prioritized possible outcomes and you’ve decided that Project A has a high potential for ROI or impact on x, or whatever it is you’re after.

But of Project A isn’t necessary, what you’ve done is you’ve just taken essential resources away from essential projects… to feed a wasteful endeavor that won’t yield a whole lot of benefits to your company.

You know what question helps determine whether or not a project is worthwhile? This one: what problem am I trying to solve?

A practical overview: new logo.

We need a new logo. 

Yeah? Why? What problem are we trying to solve?

If you can show that your old logo is hindering your sales, you might be on to something. Do your customers complain about it? Do your competitors’ customers make fun of it? Okay. Time to consider an upgrade. In your considerations, ask yourself this: will the new logo solve a real problem for consumers? Will it solve a real problem for us?

If the answer is yes, and you can identify these problems clearly, move forward.

What problems will the new logo aim to solve?

If the answer is no, or you can’t quantify the “problem,” consider what else you might be able to focus on this quarter or this year that will solve a real problem. (Like customer service, R&D, packaging, messaging, shopping experience, etc.)

A practical overview: new website.

We need a new website. 

Yeah? Why? What problem are we trying to solve?

If the answer falls along the lines of “It looks like it was designed in 1995, the UX is horrible, it uses flash, it’s horrendous on mobile devices, our customers complain about it all the time,” then you’re good to go. Dig deeper and move forward. What is it that your customers complain about? What can we improve in terms of user experience? What do we wish the site could do that it can’t in its present form (and why)? What kinds of functionality would we like to build into it (and why)?

What problems will a new website aim to solve?

If the answer falls along the lines of “It’s been two years since we redesigned it, and I want to rebuild it in Drupal,” then that meeting is adjourned. (No offense to Drupal. I just needed to throw something in there real quick.)

A practical overview: new social media strategy/program.

We need a social media strategy. 

Yeah? Why? What problem are we trying to solve?

If the answer falls along the lines of “we physically can’t continue to do business without it anymore,” then you’re on to something. Dig deeper. Your next conversation should include items like these:

47% of our customers prefer to engage CSRs through Twitter and Facebook than by calling a toll-free number now. We can also serve 5x more customers per hour via these channels than we can via traditional call centers, so we’ll even save money that way.

We’re losing traction in category and keyword searches because we have no fresh content for the Googlenets and the Bingwebs to index. If we had a blog and some social media properties, we could potentially double our web traffic and digital exposure.

We can’t really get into mobile commerce without it. It’s already costing us $23,000,000 per quarter, and we’re even losing customers and market share as a result. if we keep operating like this, we’ll be out of business in 5-7 years.

We’re spending $12,000,000 on outsourced digital marketing research every year that we could do ourselves if we just assigned two people to monitor the web using social media monitoring platforms.

Our PR department can’t anticipate, monitor, respond or manage PR crises without it. The cost to the company each year in lost revenue is $x, and our brand image is suffering more and more each year as a result.

40% of our net new customers leave us after 12 months. We think we can use social media to engage them, find out why they’re think of  leaving, and give them a reason to stay. Potential impact on the business: an additional $xM per year.

Social media can help drive word-of-mouth recommendations. We want to use social media as an in-network lead generation engine. The impact we expect: a) more leads. b) more qualified leads. c) a higher conversion rate (prospect to customer).

It will help us recruit better talent. Period.

It will amplify our advertising’s reach and make it stickier. Look at the numbers that Coca Cola, Pepsi, Ford and Old Spice have been getting against companies that only use traditional (paid) media.

If done properly, engagement = loyalty. Right now, only 23% of our customers consider themselves loyal. We want to bring that up to 60% over the next four years. Some of it will be offline, but we need an online piece as well.

69% less expenditures on each new product launch.

Etc.

All of these suggestions solve one or more of the following problems:

1. Not enough leads? Doing this will attract net new potential customers.

2. Not enough new customers? Doing this will convert net new prospects into net new customers.

3. Short term customer attrition? Doing this will develop net new customers into returning customers.

4. Long term customer attrition? Doing this will develop returning customers into loyal customers.

5. Budget cuts getting in the way? Doing this will cut costs while delivering equal or better outcomes.

6. Frozen budgets getting in the way? Doing this will keep costs level while delivering better outcomes.

7. Wasting money on outdated services you feel locked into? Doing this will help you free your operation from unnecessary burdens.

8. The chasm between you and your customers has been widening? Doing this will shrink it.

9. Feeling less relevant than you were 10 years ago? Doing this will help you find your way again.

10. Shrinking profitability is an increasing concern? See 1-9 (above), particularly 5 and 6.

11. Not reaching enough potential customers? Doing this fixes that. See 1 (above).

But if the answer to “what problem are we trying to solve with a social media program” is never asked (or worse, answered incorrectly,) then you will basically end up with an endless churning out of cheaply produced, keyword-optimized “content” that will vaguely boost web traffic and online mentions without ever yielding particularly helpful results. Say hello to crap metrics like “likes, Return on Influence, and all of the rest of the bullshit that still plagues the digital world and social business these days.

Because… we need to be on Facebook so we can engage with people and have conversations.

Because… we have to have a social media strategy.

Because… “content is king.”

Because… our competitors are doing it.

Because… our agency told us we should be in social media.

Because… something about owned, paid and earned media.

Because… we need followers and likes.

Because… we don’t know, but we’ll eventually figure it out.

Okay. Good luck with that.

The reason why snake oil, incompetence and irrelevant metrics are still so prevalent in the social business space is because they fill the gap created by the absence of proper questions and answers at the start. Starting with: what problem am I trying to solve?

Which is to say: what is the purpose of doing this in the first place?

New product feature? What problem am I trying to solve?

New packaging? What problem am I trying to solve?

New logo? What problem am I trying to solve?

New branding strategy? What problem am I trying to solve?

New campaign? What problem am I trying to solve?

New Facebook page? What problem am I trying to solve?

New blog? What problem am I trying to solve?

New hire? What problem am I trying to solve?

Don’t just go through the motions of doing something or going somewhere just because the rest of the herd is shuffling that way. I know it might make you the annoying guy in the room to be the one who asks the question (so… do so judiciously), but the question MUST be asked by someone. And more importantly, it must be answered. Otherwise, you’ll be wasting resources and a chunk of your potential for real success.

Cheers,

Olivier

*          *          *

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

Yesterday, I promised you a post that would help hiring managers identify key skills and abilities needed in a prospective hire looking to fill a social media manager role. Note that we are talking about management, not just content creation or community relations. Before I get into it, a few considerations:

1.  This list isn’t complete. It is meant to help guide you and point you in some key directions, but you’re going to have to add a few requirements of your own and ignore the ones that don’t apply to your specific needs.

2. Every company has different capabilities and objectives. Every company will also look at social media’s role in a  completely unique way. Some will see it merely as a digital marketing function while others will see it as a fully integrated component of an organization-wide communications ecosystem. Because every company is unique, every social media management position’s requirements will also be unique. Keep that in mind.

3. Are you hiring someone who will help you build a social media program from scratch, or are you hiring someone who will manage an existing social media program? Because the requirements for each won’t be the same.

4. Are you a small, medium, local company, or are you a global consumer brand? Because again, the degree of complexity (internal to the org and external to the org) will require completely different types of resumes.

5. Are you looking to fill a strategic role or a tactical role? Strategic = more vision and planning oriented. Tactical = more day-to-day, operationally oriented.

6. Are you a niche or specialty brand in an obscure industry, or an international superbrand? Because again, the req is going to look different based on that.

7. Is your social media program purely internal or are you working with one or five or twenty agencies as well?

8. Is your social media program focused on lead generation and fan acquisition, or is it also focused on customer development, customer retention, and/or organic WOM? Again, huge differences in skill-sets and abilities to consider there.

9. How many departments will this role be working intimately with? Mostly digital marketing, or also HR, Customer Service, Product Management, Technical Support, PR and R&D?

10. Is your brand a challenger? A rebel? Conservative? Academic? Irreverent? Political? Apolitical? These things matter. Hire someone who understands who you are and will fit within your culture and brand ecosystem.

Right off the bat, you kind of have your work cut out for you. Building out a req for your social media management role is going to require a little more work than just throwing together some bullet points and filling the blanks on a standard x years of blogging experience bullets. This is not an exercise in generic job req design. There is nothing generic about this hiring process.

Here are a few bullets for you:

Basic skills & qualities:

  • Applicant has had a continuous professional presence in the Social Media space (via blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Ning or other platforms) for at least two years.
  • Applicant has managed a business blog and/or business community for a minimum of one year.
  • Applicant has built or managed a community for longer than one year. (This could be as a product manager or customer service rep, for instance.)
  • Applicant demonstrates a thorough knowledge of the Social Media space, including usage and demographic statistics for the most popular/relevant platforms as well as a few niche platforms of his/her choice.
  • Applicant demonstrates a thorough understanding of the nuances between Social Media platforms and the communities they serve.
  • Impeccable communications skills.
  • Applicant understands the breadth of tools and methods at his/her disposal to set goals and measure success in the Social Media space. (Applicant’s toolkit is not limited to Google analytics.)
  • Applicant has been active on Twitter for more than two years.
  • Applicant knows who Scott Monty, Frank Eliason, Jeremiah Owyang, Porter Gale and Christopher Barger are, and can explain why these names are important to the social media profession.
  • Applicant can explain succinctly why buying followers and fans is both unethical and counterproductive.
  • Applicant demonstrates a high level of proficiency working with popular Social Media platforms and apps such as FaceBook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Flickr, Ning, Seesmic, YouTube, FriendFeed, WordPress, Pinterest and Tumblr. (As applicable.)
  • Applicant is capable of mapping out a basic Social Media monitoring plan on a cocktail napkin.
  • Given 5 screens to play with, applicant can build you a social media monitoring control center in just a few days.
  • Applicant can cite examples of companies with successful social media programs and companies with ineffective social media programs. He/she can also argue comfortably why each was either successful or unsuccessful.
  • Applicant has spent at least one year working in a customer-facing role, preferably customer-service related.
  • Applicant is more excited about engagement, building an internal practice and finding out about your business’ pain points than he/she is about firebombing you with the awesomeness of their personal brand.

Advanced skills & qualities:

  • Applicant has developed and managed marketing programs before. Not just campaigns but programs. Find out about them. What worked? What didn’t work? Lessons learned?
  • Applicant has at least two years of experience managing projects and working across organizational silos. What worked? What didn’t? Etc.
  • Applicant has managed a brand or product line for more than one year.
  • Applicant has demonstrated a strong ability to forge lasting relationships across a variety of media platforms over the course of his/her career.
  • Applicant understand the difference between vertical and lateral action when it comes to customer/community engagement – and has working knowledge of how to leverage both.
  • Applicant has managed national market research projects.
  • Applicant is comfortable enough with business measurement methods to know the difference between financial impact (ROI) and non-financial impact. He/she also knows why the difference between the two is relevant.
  • Applicant demonstrates the ability to build and manage a Social Media practice that works seamlessly with PR, product marketing, event management and customer support teams within the organization.
  • Applicant has managed a team for more than one year. He/she was responsible for the training and development of that team.
  • Applicant has spent at least one year in a project management role outside of an ad agency, PR or other Marketing firm.
  • Applicant has been responsible for managing a budget/P&L.
  • Applicant already has the framework of a Social Media plan for your company before he/she even walks through the front door, and thankfully, it doesn’t involve setting up a fan page on FaceBook.

Enterprise & Global CPG skills:

  • All of the above, but with 5 – 10+ years of experience instead of 1 – 3.
  • For everything else, scale up.

What you shouldn’t waste a whole lot of time worrying about:

  • The applicant’s age.
  • The applicant’s Klout or Kred scores.
  • The applicant’s number of followers on Twitter or fans/likes on Facebook.*
  • The applicant’s SxSW or blogworld stories.
  • How many Top 10, 15, 20 or 100 lists the applicant is on.

* Less than 1,000 Twitter followers is suspect. Unless they are a media celebrity, more than 75,000 Twitter followers is suspect as well.

All right. You still have some work to do, but that ought to get you started.

Other sources:

Social Media ROI – Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in your OrganizationParticularly Chapter 6 (pages 73-82).

The Social Media Strategist: Build a Successful Program from the Inside Out – by Christopher Barger

Smart Business, Social Business: A Playbook for Social Media in Your Organization – by Michael Brito

I hope that was helpful.

Cheers,

Olivier

*          *          *

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

So evidently, the ideal age for a social media manager is under 25.

Wait… no… the ideal age for a social media manager is over 25.

Are you kidding me? Age? We’re talking about age? Like… the ideal age to be a CEO is 45-65? Or the ideal age to be an HR manager is 43-52? Would anyone with the slightest bit of credibility ever write a piece like that? No. Not without concrete research to back it up, at any rate. So why is it acceptable when it comes to social media? Why? Because it’s still en vogue to write complete nonsense about social media management?

There is no ideal age to manage a social media program, just like there is no ideal age to manage a PR or marketing or HR campaign, program or department. Unless you’re a professional athlete, age is pretty much irrelevant when it comes to your ability to do a job. Any job. Some people are already good at 20. Others still suck at 40. There is no magic formula. What you are looking for is competence, professionalism and a sharp, agile mind. That is what you should focus on. Not age.

Let’s take a look at this piece published by Inc. just a few days ago: 11 Reasons a 23-year-old Shouldn’t Run Your Social Media, by Hollis Thomases.

So first… who is this Hollis Thomases person, and more importantly, why does Inc. feel that she is qualified to write an article on this topic? Well, there’s this:

Hollis Thomases is the President & CEO of Web Ad.vantage, which provides outcome-based digital marketing and advertising services to up-and-coming brands. She is also the author of Twitter Marketing: An Hour a Day, a contributing expert to Social Media Marketing Magazine, and has been a Media Planning columnist for ClickZ since 2005. She has taken her subject matter expertise to television, radio, and trade conferences. Here is her Twitter account: @hollisthomases (6,820 followers).

Note the url, by the way, which is different from the title Inc. eventually went with: http://www.inc.com/hollis-thomases/social-media-dont-put-intern-in-charge.html – don’t put intern in charge. Ah, well. We’re already off to a killer start: what’s a 23-year-old good for? Being an intern. Great.

Now don’t get me wrong: anyone who puts an intern in charge of their social media program is clearly being negligent. But we aren’t talking about interns here. We are talking about 23-year-olds and “young hires.”

Not to put too fine a point on it, but that hoodied 23-year-old you just crossed in the hallway might not be the intern anymore. In this day and age, he or she might be the CEO, and a solid one at that. There are “kids” right now building  companies at 23 that will reshape the face of business, technology and communications in the next ten years. There are guys leading combat teams at 23, and I can tell you from experience that they are supremely competent and plenty mature. There are young women right now, today, already on their way to revolutionizing dozens of fields, from particle physics and presidential campaign strategy to industrial design and popular fashion. A few of them even won Olympic medals in London over the last few weeks. So how about this: instead of discounting young twenty-somethings as quasi-worthless, not particularly dependable assclowns, why not get to know them instead?

But no. It’s much easier to fall back on crap stereotypes to write a poorly researched article, and then somehow get Inc.’s editorial staff to give it the go-ahead. And thus begins an 11-point exercise in shameless clichés and assumptions. Let’s have a look-see:

  1. They’re not mature enough.
  2. They may be focused on their own social media activity.
  3. They may not have the same experience – or etiquette.
  4. You can’t control their friends.
  5. No class can replace on-the-job-training.
  6. They may not understand your business.
  7. Communications skills are critical.
  8. Humor is tricky business.
  9. Social media savvy is not the same as technical savvy.
  10. Social media management can become crisis management.
  11. You need to keep the keys.

Where do I begin? Do I even need to explain how absurd this is? It seems that professional, capable twenty-somethings have suddenly become as immature as ninth-graders on a school field trip.

1. They’re not mature enough. Right. Based on what data? And compared to whom?

I have a friend. Let’s call him Tim. Tim is 48. Tim has been going through a mid-life crisis for the last four years. You want to talk to me about the maturity level of a 23-year-old? You don’t get to unless you’ve spent a Friday evening around Tim. Tim is a CEO, by the way.

But that isn’t even the point. The real point here is this: if someone isn’t mature enough to manage your social media program, regardless of their age, don’t be an asshole and put them in charge of your social media program. Instead, hire someone who is qualified and well-suited for the job. Is that too simple? Too obvious maybe?  Or should we keep going on the stupid stereotypes?

Okay. Let’s keep going then.

2. They may be focused on their own social media activity. Yeah, and they also may not. Because age has not a damn thing to do with that.

Not hiring unprofessional assholes usually takes care of that problem.

3. They may not have the... oh, whatever. If they don’t have the experience or etiquette, why did you hire them to manage anything, let alone your social media program? Regardless of their age, if they don’t have the skills or experience or etiquette, don’t put them in charge. But if they have the experience, skills and etiquette, and they happen to be 23, don’t be stupid: hire the shit out of them before someone else does.

I know. This stuff is really hard to grasp.

4. You can’t control their friends. Really? Is that because 23-year-olds are just party-going loudmouths who will post obnoxious updates on Facebook? So naturally, yeah… a 23-year-old is going to be a liability to your brand, right? Nice!

Except, no. Show me the data that supports your theory. What… no data? Hmmm. That’s too bad. My next question would have dealt with how you intend to “control” angry customers and trolls.

Ms. Thomases, your personal prejudices against this age group suck.

5. No class can replace on-the-job-training. I have no idea what that even means or what it has to do with age.

6. They may not understand your business.

This article is starting to give me a headache.

What if that 23-year-old has been a fan of your business since they were a kid? Say you’re Nike or Disney or Nintendo, you really think a 23-year-old managed to live their whole lives without knowing what you do and how? Why do you think they’re applying for a job at your company in the first place?

Here’s another one: a 40-year-old new hire and a 23-year-old new hire are going to go through the same onboarding process. Why would the 23-year-old be somehow less qualified than the 40-year-old to manage the company’s social media program solely based on “not understanding the business?” Is there something physiological about 23-year olds that makes them incapable of learning your business model?

If you are hiring someone to manage your social media program, they’ll need to understand your business, regardless of their age. Train them. Get them ready to manage that function. This is not an age issue, it’s a preparation issue.

This argument is invalid.

7. Communications skills are critical. I can’t even wrap my mind around this. Let me just quote the writer and see if you can make any sense of it:

“Communication is critical to solid social-media execution. Before you let a young hire take over your company blog posts, take stock of his or her writing skills. Also: Many young people have not yet learned the “art” of communicating. Make sure they know how to read between the lines, rather than taking things too literally.”

That’s it. That’s the whole explanation.

Between you and me, I have no idea what half of that means. “Many young people have not yet learned the ‘art’ of communicating?”

“Make sure they know how to read between the lines, rather than taking things literally?”

Let that be the point: communication is indeed critical to solid social-media execution. Which is why social media professionals who write expert commentary for Inc. should learn how to express themselves clearly. “Make sure they know how to read” between what lines, exactly? Is there something about 23-year-olds that makes them read everything literally? And can we at least get some kind of idea as to what the “art” of communicating is? I wonder if it involves learning proper comma usage. Here’s an example: “Make sure they know how to read between the lines rather than taking things too literally” instead of “make sure they know how to read between the lines, rather than taking things too literally.”

I know a bunch of young 20-somethings with terrific communications skills and a shit-ton of people my age with horrendous communications skills (and many of them are in PR and marketing). So can we please stick to competence and skill instead of crapping on young twenty-somethings for the sake of it?

8. Humor is tricky business. Let me guess… because young twenty-somethings are incapable of understanding the boundaries and cultural nuances of certain types of humor… As opposed to 35-year-olds or 50-year-olds?

You’re right. Humor is tricky business. Unfortunately, it has nothing to do with age. Not one thing.

Something just occurred to me: if you took that piece and replaced “young hire” with “women” or “old people,” it would be taken offline immediately. Prejudice is prejudice, and the opinions listed in these eleven points reek of it.

9. Social media savvy is not the same as technical savvy. Excuse my French, but… (cover your ears) what the fuck does that have to do with age?

This argument is invalid.

10. Social media management can become crisis management. Yes. It can and it does. What does that have to do with age? Do you want me to list every PR crisis in the last ten years that was completely botched by people over the age of 25? Here’s a taste: BP, Nestle, Enron, Toyota, Southwest Airlines, Chic-Fil-a, United Airlines, Eurostar, FEMA… We could be here all day.

This argument is frightfully invalid.

11. You need to keep the keys. Yes. That’s a basic social media program management 101 lesson that is applicable regardless of your social media manager’s age.

This argument isn’t just invalid, it isn’t even an argument.

Here’s an idea: instead of writing (and publishing) pointless pieces of hateful, misinformed garbage that fail to a) offer relevant reasons why young professionals under the age of 25 are somehow not qualified (or under-qualified) to manage a social communications program, and b) provide evidence to back up the writer’s opinion, why not write a piece that outlines the qualities and skills you should look for in someone who will help you build and manage a social media program? You know, things like competence, skill, talent, personality, adaptability, resourcefulness, even cultural fit with the company, for instance?

But no. Let’s focus on age instead. Let’s talk about age as a qualification to run a social media program… Good grief. How did we even get here? Really. WTF.

I can’t leave you like this though, so here’s basically all you need to know about the ideal candidate for your social media management job. Are you ready? Here it is:

Hire someone wonderful and competent. Who gives a shit how old they are?

Okay? And if you want some pointers on what to look for, I’ll be back tomorrow with a few.

Cheers,

Olivier

*          *          *

As an aside, you can find some pointers on how to hire (and train) a social media manager in Chapter 6. (Pages 73-82.)

Social Media ROI – Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in yourOrganization 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

Arles. Detail.

See what I did there? That’s called linkbait.

It doesn’t matter what I write down here in the body of the post. It could be three paragraphs of complete nonsense. It could be recycled BS from some lame e-book I am trying to push. It could be page after page of stock photos with lame captions nobody bothered to fact-check or spell-check. All that matters is you saw that interesting looking title and you clicked on the link, and now here you are.

Don’t worry, I haven’t suddenly decided to join the snake-oil machine. I just wanted to bring your attention to something that has been bothering me for a very long time and is still going strong. Certain types of bloggers use this trick almost every day to pull traffic onto their sites. Not to educate you or hand over insights that will help you solve real problems, but to pull you in and trick you into giving them a bit of your attention. Why?

1. Too boost their blog’s search engine and technorati/Ad-Age/etc rankings, which in turn a) brings in more visitors and b) boosts their ego.

2. Because more visitors = more ad revenue. ($$$)

3. Because more visitors = more click-throughs on affiliate links. ($$$)

4. Because more visitors = higher “influence” scores, which can be turned into higher speaking and consulting fees, regardless of whether or not they actually have anything relevant to say.

It’s just a numbers’ game. There doesn’t have to be an ounce of real insight in the post. SEO-optimization? Yes. Well-placed links and ads? Yes. A well-placed share button so “readers” can push the piece back out to their networks without necessarily having read it? Yes. But relevance or expert commentary? Nope. That’s optional. Just bring them in.

“Content is king?” Bullshit. Traffic is king. “Content,” or rather the promise of content is just the pull, the pitch, the promise. The real carrot is the revenue from that traffic. When you feel about it that way, quantity quickly begins to trump quality. Blogs become automated cash machines. And because conversion rates tend to be mostly inelastic, that pushes the need for more inbound volume. So you start drafting titles you know will make people want to click, and what they read will have taken less than five minutes to write.

These guys don’t want to be boutique brands anymore. They want to be WalMart. What they give up in quality, they will make up in transient, commodity visitors. In spite of all that talk about humanizing the web and being authentic and having conversations, that’s the relationship model behind linkbait blogs.

So for the next two weeks, every time you see a title like this one, give some thought to why it was chosen, how the “content” of that blog post has anything to do with the Games or business lessons, whether or not it really taught you anything. Some will. Most won’t. It’s up to you to decide what’s what. The litmus test is simple: read the title and the post, then ask yourself what the writer’s intent really was when he (or she) wrote that piece and chose that title. Then go back in their archives and see how often they use that trick. It will give you some idea of whether or not the manipulation was a one-time thing or an M.O.

Intent matters, by the way. Intent is everything. Intent is the very foundation of trust between people. The question is always this: “does this writer really care about helping me out with something, or is he just using me to fluff up his numbers, with no consideration whatsoever to the value it brings to his audience?”

5 Essential Social Media Lessons from the Olympic Games

10 Digital Strategy Insights from NBC’s Olympic Coverage

15 Business Management Lessons from the London Olympics

The Olympic Games Top 20 most retweeted tweets.

25 Inspiring Facebook Updates from the Olympic Games

30 Ways of Bringing Olympic Excellence To Your Digital Practice

35 Brands Using Social Media at the Olympics

2012 Olympics: 40 Gold Medal Social Media Strategies You Can Implement Today!

… and on and on and on.

How about Top 10 Ways to erode Trust and Relevance on the Interwebs? That’s one that might actually be worth reading.

Today’s lesson, if there is one: respect your readers.

There is nothing wrong with making money off affiliate links and traffic, but don’t trick your readers. Don’t promise them relevance or expert analysis and then slap them with lazy, useless bullshit you wrote between brushing your teeth and checking your Klout score.

Remember that blogs are commodities and opinions are even lower in the totem pole. Self-serving schemes might work pretty well for a while, but they all lead to the same orbit decay. Sooner or later, you will have to work harder and harder to trick people back into coming to your blog. Instead of a healthy community of readers, you will have to cast your net wider and wider into the busy waters of digital attention. And what you will discover out there is that bloggers and writers who take the time to produce helpful, relevant content will almost effortlessly pull all that traffic you used to take for granted. Good luck rebuilding your reputation after that. The most painful part: You will have no one but yourself to blame.

The guys who bring the most value to the table win. Be on that team, if not out of self-respect and professional courtesy, at least out of self-preservation.

Cheers,

Olivier

PS: Sorry for the necessary subterfuge. I hope I made up for it by giving you something of value.

*          *          *

And now, for a little light reading…

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

Today, instead of doing all the talking, I will let people with a whole lot more experience than me give you some tips about how to become a better leader.

Great stuff that transcends the typical quotation mill.

Anne Mulcahy – Former CEO of Xerox:

In a crisis, you have the opportunity to move quickly and change a lot – and you have to take advantage of that.

Change doesn’t happen if you don’t work at it. You’ve got to get out there, give people the straight scoop, and get buy-in. It’s not just good-looking presentations; it’s letting people ask the tough questions. It’s almost got to be done one person at a time.

There’s not a lot of room anymore for senior people to be managers. They have to be leaders. I want people to create organizations that get aligned, get passionate, get really inspired about delivering.

Stories exist at every level of the company. Whether it was saving a buck here, or doing something different for customers, everyone has a story. That creates powerful momentum – people sense that they’re able to do good things. It’s much more powerful than the precision or elegance of the strategy.

I communicate good news the same way I do the bad news. I thank people and make sure they feel a sense of recognition for their contribution. But the trick is always to to use the opportunity to talk about what’s next, to pose the next challenges. Where do we want to go? How do we want to build on it?

Margaret Heffernan – Author, The Naked Truth:

Nothing kills morale like a staff’s feeling helpless. This often plays itself out when there are rumors of a new strategic shift or a major personnel move, or worse, when the papers are littered with bad news about your company. A big part of boosting morale is about constructing a haven of logic that offers individuals shelter from any storm. At its most basic, leaders have to communicate their awareness of business conditions and place their plans in that context. Each time [a CEO outlines] a future that comes true, he demonstrates his own competence and reinforces trust.

The happiest people aren’t the ones with the most money but those with a sense of purpose – a sense that they are contributing to something bigger than themselves. At least some of this has to derive from work. The purpose of a business, then, must be explicit and go beyond boosting the share price or fulfilling some bland mission statement. People want to believe that they are part of something meaningful. The sense of purpose doesn’t have to be grandiose or revolutionary, merely credible and anchored in values.

Purpose is achieved through goals, and the acid test for any leader is defining the appropriate ones. Too small, and celebrations soon ring hollow. Small goals breed cynicism. But too-big goals produce helplessness. Although it can be temporarily thrilling to rally around a big corporate slogan like “kill the competition,” the reality is that employees can’t do it alone and they can’t do it quickly.

Alignment between corporate goals and personal development has never been more critical. The more unpredictable the outside world, the more urgent the personal quest for self-determination. What employees look for in leadership is a sense that their personal journey and the company journey are part of the same story.When these goals aren’t aligned, employees tend to whine with others, eager to share their sense of anger and injustice, polluting morale. The only way to combat this and get back on track is proper feedback. Give employees the tools to influence their own fate.

Get a life. Keeping morale high is like being on a diet: It requires constant effort and is never over. New ideas, stimuli and motivation come from all around you. It’s the larger life, after all, that gives purpose to the climb.

Alan Deutschman – Senior Writer, Fast Company – writing about how IBM builds new businesses:

Look for opportunities that can become profitable [billion-dollar] businesses in five to seven years. You’ll probably find them by talking to customers rather than to brilliant researchers in the labs, who are are looking further ahead.

J. Bruce Harreld – IBM:

You want to celebrate failure because you learn something. You need some level of security to say ‘I screwed it up,’ and be comfortable that you won’t be fired.

Marcus Buckingham – Author, Break All The Rules:

Turn anxiety into confidence. For a leader, the challenge is that in every society ever studied, the future is unstable, unknown, and therefore potentially dangerous. By far the most effective way to turn fear into confidence is to be clear – to define the future in such vivid terms that we can see where we are headed. Clarity is the antidote to anxiety, and therefore clarity is the preoccupation of the effective leader. If you do nothing else as a leader, be clear.

Effective leaders don’t have to be passionate, charming or brilliant. What they must be is clear – clarity is the essence of great leadership. Show us clearly who we should seek to serve, show us where our core strength lies, show us which score we should focus on and which actions we must take, and we will reward you by working our hearts out to make our better future come true.

See? Told you these folks know what they’re talking about.

Thanks to Fast Company‘s March 2005 issue for providing much of today’s content. (My collection goes way back.)

It’s a brand new week. Make it count. Cheers.

***          ***          ***

Social Media ROI – Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in your Organization is the reference manual for business managers involved with  social media program development, strategy, management, measurement and reporting. If your boss doesn’t yet have a copy, time to fix that. If your team doesn’t have copies, get them their own. Tip: you’ll want to have a highlighter ready. Earmarking of pages is strongly recommended.

Now available in English, German, Korean, Japanese and Spanish.

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

So yesterday, one of my well-meaning online friends sent me a private message on Facebook that included this bit of warning/worry:

You have a first rate mind .. I’m a little concerned, however about the the posts you make as they might limit your project/career options. You’re in the buckle of the bible belt and political sensibilities are hard to gauge.

This friend was referring to some of the political content and opinions I share on by personal Facebook account.

You may or may not have noticed that this blog remains for the most part apolitical. I keep it focused on business topics, and more specifically those which relate to brand management, marketing, communications, social media and overall leadership. I prefer not to discuss my political beliefs here for two principal reasons:

1. This is not a political blog. It’s a business and marketing blog. If I wanted a political platform, I would launch a blog with a political focus.

2. Politics aren’t particularly relevant to the topics discussed here anyway.

If you have ever worked with me, you know that my politics have absolutely no impact whatsoever on my professional life. If we work on a project together, I don’t care if you’re a liberal or a conservative, if your believe climate change is real or think it’s a hoax, if you think that President Obama is a decent man or a secret Muslim antichrist. I am probably too busy helping your business get out of the ditch to notice or care who you plan to vote for next November, and I certainly won’t be the one to ask. Your politics and religion are entirely your business. If you bring them up, fine. I won’t.

Having said that, I am not an apolitical creature.  I have opinions and beliefs, like everyone else, and right now, I feel free to express them on Facebook and engage in political discussions with my friends, and sometimes complete strangers.

The way it works for me is simple:

While I am my own boss, I have no reason not to express my views on Facebook. If anything I post today somehow offends someone’s political or religious sensibilities, there will be no impact on anyone’s business but my own. There will be no backlash, no boycott, no drama on HuffPo or The Blaze, and no awkward conversation with my boss, Legal and HR on Friday afternoon.

Conversely, if I ever decide to leave free-agency behind and take a position somewhere, I won’t feel as free to post or share certain things on Facebook anymore. Employment changes things. It reframes the kinds of discussions you can have online. Right or wrong isn’t relevant. That’s just how the ball rolls: you don’t want to become a liability for your employer. Ever. If self-preservation isn’t enough of a motivator, then professional responsibility sure as hell should be.

But something bothers me about that piece of advice up there. It implies that I should hide who I am or what I believe in order to be employable in the first place. As if being of one political persuasion would somehow make me more attractive to employers and clients than being of the other kind.

That really, really, really bothers me, and it doesn’t bother me because it’s bullshit; it bothers me because it’s true: declaring yourself a democrat in certain parts of the US can cost you a promotion, a raise or your job. Recruiters might decide to put your resume in the dump pile on political conviction alone. A lot of liberals I know in SC are afraid to “be found out” by their peers and bosses because their jobs could be at risk, so they pretend to be conservatives and just go with the flow. I know it sounds absurd, but then again, some people think that President Obama is a secret Kenyan agent working for the Muslim Brotherhood, so our frame of reference here might be a little shaky. This isn’t about logic. It’s about the reality of blind prejudice.

So yes, friend whom I will not name, the concern you expressed on Facebook is valid. Sad and depressing, but valid. And I appreciate your sharing it with me. But I’ve given this a little thought, and…

1. If you have to hide who you are in order to keep your job, you need to change jobs.

2, If you have to hide who you are in order to keep your clients, you need to get some new clients.

3. If your company is a cesspool of discrimination and everyone is too afraid to do anything about it, things will never change. Either accept it and strap-in, or go look for a better company to work for.

Now let me share how I deal with the fear of being black-listed for my political views, starting with what some “businesses” might find objectionable about my political views. Just this one time, let me share with you my deepest, darkest political secrets:

I like President Obama. He isn’t perfect, but I like him. I like Bill and Hillary Clinton too. That isn’t a crime, nor should it be. I don’t believe that women should be treated as second-class citizen (in and out of the corporate world), make less money than their male counterparts, or be called “sluts” when they admit to using birth control. I want gay couples to enjoy the same constitutionally guaranteed rights and freedoms that straight couples enjoy. I don’t believe that someone is “more American” if they are of Christian and Anglo-Saxon but somehow “less American” if they are Muslim, dark-skinned, atheist or vote Democrat. I actually like that the government defends our borders, protects our forests, our water and our air, and makes sure that our kids’ toys aren’t covered in lead paint or made out of carcinogenic materials. The government does wonderful things that the private sector either cannot or will not do alone, and contrary to Tea-Party anti-government mythology, it does most of them quite well.

People who hate the government so much that they want to do away with it are basically dumbfucks. They probably need to go live in Somalia for six months and see how they like the freedom of anarchy. Then we’ll talk about how evil and “too big” the US government is. Also, I’m a Christian, if that matters. I only tell you this because even though I fall into that particular Abrahamic faith category, I don’t believe that it gives me license to be a faith tyrant. For instance, insisting that creationism be taught in public school might seem like a great idea if you care more about forcing your faith on everyone than actually respecting the US Constitution. But the real problem with it is that it doesn’t exactly prepare our youth to be globally competitive. What it teaches them is to distrust science, knowledge and facts (things that would help them cure cancer, build bridges, design tomorrow’s cars, etc.). Meanwhile, the kids who will be hired for the jobs your kids won’t be qualified for are learning real science, real history, real anthropology and philosophy and literature. Speaking of science and facts, climate change is real. (Just like gravity, aspirin, glacier erosion and Obama’s birth certificate.) Get over it. It isn’t a question of opinions. Believing that there are space aliens out there is an opinion. Accepting the reality of basic science is called being a rational, responsible adult.

By the way, as someone who grew up with universal healthcare and still runs into it regularly, I can tell you from extensive personal experience that it isn’t death panels or the end of freedom; it’s just poor kids not dying of cancer in the gutter. It’s expectant mothers receiving proper prenatal care. It’s your mom not being turned down for treatment because of a bogus pre-existing condition. It’s people living longer, healthier lives and requiring less expensive care over time. Yes, Russia and North Korea probably do it wrong. But France, Canada and other countries do it mostly right. Look into it before parroting absurd nonsense you heard on AM radio.

Social Security isn’t a frivolous expense either; it’s a promise we made to retired people that guarantees that they will not have to choose between heating their houses in the winter and being able to buy food. Yes, it’s expensive to help your fellow Americans. Of course it is. But if you think that a better alternative is to let them starve and die, then you need to ask yourself what kind of person you really are. If money is really a big concern for you, then stop supporting nation-building in the Middle-East and start supporting nation-building right here at home. That isn’t socialism, by the way. It’s just called investing in your own country. Kind of like having a strong military, and fast trains, and good roads and drinkable water. It might even be called building a really cool model that will make you the envy of the world and make other countries want to invest in you again.

Welfare and food stamps are not dirty words, by the way. Go hang out with poor Americans for a few months and see if they’re really just the lazy parasites you keep hearing about. They aren’t. They want jobs. Desperately. You know, it’s really easy to dehumanize people. All you have to do is put labels on them and use stereotypes. It’s what the Nazis did with the Jews, and what the KKK did with African-Americans. It’s also what old white men in corner offices do to women, and what homophobic preachers do to same-sex couples. One thing I’ve learned in my years is that real patriots don’t turn their backs on their fellow citizen. They don’t preach hate or division. They do everything they can to help them. Always let that be your litmus test. Cynicism isn’t a virtue. Compassion is. Try it.

Since we’re on the subject, let me close with this: the political hate machine in the US has become appalling. We can talk about how people like Rush Limbaugh Glenn Beck and Michele Bachmann are irresponsible, batshit sideshows of pre-packaged angst and faux paranoia, but they have vast audiences of people who think they are brilliant and spot-on and should be President. When I hear people repeat their rhetoric as if it were gospel, (and I do, a lot,) my spider senses flash passages of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale at me, and it worries me. It really does.

If all of that makes me a liberal, fine. Label me what you want. None of my beliefs stem from a particular political or religious philosophy or agenda, mind you. I have traveled around the world, served in the military, lived on two continents, and worked with people all over the globe. I make up my own mind on what is true and what is false, what is ethical and what isn’t, on what hurts people and what improves their lives. In the US, I happen to fall on the liberal side of the aisle. In France, I easily fall on the conservative side of the aisle. But I’m not the one doing the moving. It’s just that we’re talking about very different lines. So what am I in the end? A liberal? A conservative? Depends who you ask. For some people, I will never be conservative enough. For others, I will never be liberal enough. And for some, I will never be American enough, French enough, white enough or Christian enough. But remove political labels and stereotypes, and you’ll find that I am simply someone who won’t stand for racism, sexism, willful ignorance of the facts, xenophobia, fraudulent behavior, exploitation, irresponsible business practices, hypocrisy and fear-mongering.

If that world view somehow offends a particular business, then let me tell you quite candidly that I have no problem if that business decides not to hire me. In fact, if evidence of my political leanings weeds out businesses that would rather not work with “someone like me,” that’s great. I just  did myself a huge favor. It isn’t that I don’t want to work with conservatives or republicans. In fact, I love working with and for conservatives and republicans as much as I love working with and for liberals and democrats. It’s just that I don’t particularly enjoy working with and for small-minded haters.

“But Olivier, aren’t you afraid that admitting all this will hurt your business?”

Not on your life. Here’s why:

1. I am not sitting here all day trying to broaden my options. What I am trying to do is narrow them down as much as possible. The reality of my business model is that I can only work with maybe 100-200 more companies before I retire or move on to a completely different phase in my career. I want every one of those partnerships to count. I don’t have time for the kind of bullshit that invariably comes with working for companies managed by irrational, hateful pricks. That means that I have to sort through tens of thousands of businesses to get to the right ones. Businesses deselecting themselves over something this stupid helps me out. And if I were to decide to go back into the corporate workforce, I am looking at 2-5 employers before the time comes for me to leave again and go do something else. Believe me when I tell you that I have no intention of wasting my time even interviewing with mildly racist or sexist bullies, let alone wasting a few years working in a poisonous corporate environment that idolizes people like Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck.

2. This particular crowd only makes up about 20% of the US population. I’ll do okay with the other 80.

3. The kind of business I want to work with doesn’t give a shit whether I am Christian or Muslim, gay or straight, liberal or conservative. It’s focused on people. More specifically, on improving people’s lives. I don’t care if that comes in the form of designing awesome cars or making killer 3D flat screen TVs or tasty coffee or better artificial organs or portable water filters. It just has to have that people focus, both internally and externally, and it cannot have it if it sort of hates African-Americans, gays, women, Muslims, the French, poor people and whatever other “minority” happens to get on Rush Limbaugh’s radar. I run into enough of that just going to my mailbox as it is. I don’t want it to poison my work life with it too.

So yes, letting my Facebook friends know what I stand for politically lets those opinions radiate outward. And yes, that probably limits my employment options in the deep South and some parts of the mid-west. But maybe that’s kind of the point. I work nationally and internationally. I don’t need to work for companies in the Bible Belt if they don’t want me. And for every company that won’t hire me because I don’t fall over myself to love on Mitt Romney’s charming indecision on every issue, or because I don’t get behind the next BBQ overdose-induced boycott of France, there are 10 who will hire me for what I can do for them. And they tend to be in cool places like San Francisco, Montreal, Antwerp, Amsterdam, Sydney and Dubai. Know what I mean? It’s a big world and it’s full of businesses looking for expertise that not a lot of guys actually have.

So thanks kindly for your concern. 😉 We now return to our regularly scheduled programming.

Cheers,

Olivier

*          *          *

Social Media ROI – Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in your Organizationisn’t a social media book. It’s a business management book, and it focuses on social media program strategy, management, 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, what are you waiting for? (Now available in several languages including German, Korean, Japanese and Spanish.)

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

So my buddy Tyler passed this on to me over the weekend, and it stirred a little brain sauce I felt I should share with you. In the piece, Kivi Leroux shares some of the complaints she’s been receiving from some of her NFP friends about patterns of incompetence that they run into at work. Here are some examples:

[…] what I do find a little surprising is how often I will meet a program or policy director, or even an executive director, for the first time, and upon learning what I do for a living, they will say, “Ugh. Our communications director is a complete idiot.”

[…] When I probe a bit further, here are the more specific complaints I hear.

“She knows zero about what we do. She is always asking really stupid questions.”

“She edits the articles I submit for the newsletter, and she dumbs it down so much or cuts it back so far that what we are left with is factually incorrect, and therefore embarrassing.”

“She wants to know about my day, because she says she needs to tweet it. WTF?”

“It’s her job to update the website and write the newsletter. So why is she constantly bugging me to write stuff for her?”

Okay, look…yes, people can be annoying, and yes, sometimes it takes them a while to figure out how to operate in an organization they just joined, especially if some of the staff has taken a dislike to them out of principle. But in ever one of the instances mentioned in the piece, there is also obviously a leadership problem within the organization. Here’s a quick overview:

Poor hiring practices. (Why did they hire this clown?)

An absence of employee development. (How does he still not know how to do his job?)

Lousy internal communications. (Why does she never seem to know what anyone is doing?)

Zero team work or esprit de corps. (Why do those Marketing people have to be so annoying?)

An absence of clearly defined goals. (Okay, I’ve allocated our budget. Now what?)

Not a whole lot of discernible guidance or supervision. (See everything above.)

Did I miss anything?

By the way, here are some of the comments I picked up from sharing the article on Facebook so far:

6/10 times the problem is poor training, leadership, or general communication. Another 2-3/10 can be poor job fits, in which case you should have open discussions with that employee about finding a different niche in your organization, or another job. That misplaced employee might recruit and train their replacement while looking for a new job. Then there is always the 1-2 rotten egg. […]  One of the strongest determinants of employee engagement is leadership. Are you, as a leader, communicating, rather than coercing, coaching rather than criticising, taking the time to set expectations, rather than assuming they should know? – Cherie Turner

Part of the problem is that when someone does their job very well it looks easy. What’s more a lack of understanding of what any job entails means that people can think something is very simple to do in short order. — On the other hand, I’ve also seen people in various job functions who refuse to keep up with the changes in their field. Or, worse, think they are and are just trying to overlay something new on the old ways of doing things. — That said, communication only works if both sides want it to work. Contempt for the other person’s work has a way of shutting down a person’s hearing and understanding of what is being requested of them. – Brenda Young

Yeah, I was thinking before I read the post … Ummm if you’re captain of that boat and your crew are all incompetent ( or if you think they are) what does that make you? – Joseph Allen Gier

So let’s talk about leadership for a second, because incompetent employees, crap internal communications and an absence of clearly defined organizational goals don’t happen when an organization is being properly led.

A note to managers, officers, business owners and corporate executives:

If all of your employees are competent, great. Keep on focusing on ways to translate that into growing market-share, designing the best products in your industry, making your customers rave about you, or whatever other criteria your business uses to define success.

But if some of your employees no longer are competent, then you have two choices: a) Train them properly, or b) replace them with someone who is. That’s it. Those are your only two choices. There is no c) option: look the other way and hope things work out.

As a business owner or manager, part of your job is to make sure that incompetent employees (and managers) don’t become a drain on your resources and overall morale.  It is your responsibility to make sure that everyone on your staff is the best possible person for the job that you can afford. You’re in charge. So if you have people like this on your payroll, what you need to do is basically this: fix your shit.

How to fix your shit in 5 simple steps:

1. Be competent.

I know this seems really basic, but if everyone observed this rule, our economy wouldn’t be in the crapper, unemployment rates wouldn’t be what they are.  So let’s talk about it.

Competence begins and ends with you. If you’re going to be in charge of something, you need to really know your shit.  And if you don’t, you at least have to be 100% committed to getting there as quickly and thoroughly as possible. That requires a “perpetually in beta” mindset. (Great leaders tend to operate in this mode. It is one of the most conspicuous distinctions between business leaders and mere managers, by the way.) There is no getting around this. The alternative is to be an incompetent boss. How do you think that’ll work out?

Every winning organization in history has had at its head a supremely competent leader. Disney, Jobs, Ford, Chanel, Patton, Cousteau, Ferrari, Candler, Alexander, etc.  You don’t get to safely send astronauts to the moon and back by just being okay at math. You don’t get to turn a company you started in your garage to become a Fortune 500 in under 20 years by being kind of clueless about your market or industry. It just doesn’t happen.

Julius Caesar knew his shit. When he took on the conquest of Gaul (and later fought his rival Pompey for control of Rome), good old Jules wasn’t looking to sort of tell his legions to walk north, hang back and look forward to a fat payday. We’re not talking about a guy who sat around and delegated strategy to agencies, intelligence to research firms, and the fighting to cheap foreign labor. There wasn’t a damn thing he didn’t know about soldiering, about campaign logistics, about siege warfare, about politics and geography and morale. The guy lived for one purpose: to be the most capable and accomplished general on the planet. His legacy of success was so great that today, his name is synonymous with “leader.” Czar and Kaiser are variations of his last name. There’s a reason for that. (He eventually overreached and paid for that, but that’s Caesar the emperor, not Caesar the general.)

Every time I run into a manager, director, vice-president, CMO or even CEO who hasn’t bothered to remain informed about and fluent in the developments that have driven his or her field forward in the last 20, 10, 5, even 2 years, all I see is someone who has given up on being competent. I don’t care if the reason for that decision is laziness, being too busy, being distracted, or whatever the excuse happens to be. The end-result is the same: that person no longer has the appropriate set of competencies required to be effective at their jobs. Period. I’m sorry, but if you’re the least knowledgeable person in the room, you aren’t fit to lead. And if you’ve allowed your competencies to fall ten years behind the times, you need to go fix that shit because otherwise, all you are now is a liability to your organization.

Here’s something I have a difficult time understanding: for some bizarre reason, we don’t accept incompetence from brain surgeons, restaurant chefs, military officers, FEMA administrators, football coaches, and first responders, but we give business managers and corporate executives a pass. Why? Because it’s no big deal if a CEO or a CMO doesn’t know his shit? Well… actually, it matters. It matters to the 10,000 people who just got laid off because their boss just invested $150,000,000 in worthless acquisitions and ineffectual media spends. It matters to every employee of Circuit City and Blockbuster, neither of which should have gone belly-up for something as dumb as not being able to adapt to obvious market changes. It matters to all the folks at Microsoft advertising who lost their jobs this year, folks at RIM, who ten years ago thought they owned enterprise mobility, and everyone at Yahoo who is probably wondering if 3 CEOs in 12 months is a sign that they should update their CVs. It also matters to the folks at GM, the Olympic Games, the NFL and hundreds of other organizations who depend on their bosses to eventually (sometime this decade) figure out how to properly leverage Social Media and finally step into the 21st century. (It isn’t complicated, guys. Really. This is what I am talking about.)

As a leader, the success of your organization, whether it is a multinational corporation, a small team of developers or a small clothing retailer, is your responsibility. It’s a lot of pressure, I know. That’s leadership for you. It isn’t all titles, prestige and fat paychecks. Responsibility is worry that you won’t be as good as you hoped you would be. Responsibility is shame when you let your employees down. Responsibility is making sure that your organization comes before your ego, your swag and your golf swing. It means that you have to devote yourself to being the best possible leader that you can be. It demands it. That begins with being competent. Not only competent but ridiculously competent. So competent that if someone were to put you in a room with the world’s top 100 people with the exact same job as yours, you could kick all of their asses with how awesome you are at your job. You should want to be so competent that they all want to be you. If you aren’t that guy, then fix your shit and become that guy. Don’t start tomorrow or next week. Start right now. I shouldn’t even have to tell you this.

2. Surround yourself with competent people. 

We’ve already touched on this, but here are the basics:

Hire the best people possible. If you can’t convince the best people to come work for you, figure out why and then fix your shit.

If you can’t afford to hire top talent, then recruit young talent before it gets expensive. This isn’t difficult. It just takes work. You know… It really is as simple as building a network that you can leverage to identify and approach young talent for you. Be involved enough in your industry (or other industries that might breed the types of folks you want working for you) and key universities that you are constantly aware of either rising stars or kids still studying to become someone you might want to mold into an executive someday. The three rules here are these: Be there. Do your research. Invest early.

Once you’ve recruited your diamonds in the rough, train them. Develop them. Mold them. If they leave after a few years, it’s okay. People leave. So what? I guarantee that if your company becomes known as the place where top talent goes early in their careers before moving on to Apple, Nike, Disney or Ogilvy, that won’t exactly hurt your brand or your HR department. If you really want to keep those junior champions from leaving, just figure out what it is they’re walking away from, and fix. your. shit.

By the way, that training, developing and molding thing, it only happens if done by competent people. If the managers and execs doing the developing are incompetent dumbasses, all you’ll manage to accomplish is turn perfectly promissing young professionals into messes of confusion and frustration. Competence breed competence. Discipline breeds discipline. Incompetent dumbasses breed incompetent dumbasses. (It’s just science.) Shape your organization accordingly.

3. For the love of puppies, start hiring outside of your industry.

Stop hiring the same 500 fucking people. Seriously. Stop it. I know their CV looks awesome, but look… ten years ago, they were director of whatever for competitor A. Seven years ago, they were VP of Business Development for competitor B. Five years ago, they were SVP of communications for competitor C. They’re just going round and round the same circle of crap, and all you are is the next stop. If they ever had great ideas, they’re gone. They’ve been sucked out of them by your competitors already. Now, these hires are only working for you because their last boss wouldn’t give them a raise. Worse yet, they’re only working in your industry because they’re too chicken-shit to go try something else. They’ve stopped being interested in learning anything new. They’re just looking to move up in the world and use you to give their career a 6.3% annual boost. I know these people. I can smell them down the hall the moment I walk into your offices. Stop hiring your competitor’s hand-me-downs. You’re hiring yourself into a cycle of failure and you need to snap out of it.

You know what works? When a designer who spent ten years working on sailboats goes to work for a race bike manufacturer. Or when a product manager from the pet toy industry goes to work for a faucet manufacturer. That designer from Pixar you met at the Pivot Conference or FusionMEx, she’s the missing ingredient in your medical imaging group’s patient UX team. It’s at the intersection of those worlds that cool stuff happens. Where it doesn’t happen, ever, is in a conference room filled with ten guys who have worked at the same jobs for the same kinds of companies for the last 35 years. Think.

So please, cut out the industry inbreeding, and start fixing your shit once and for all by making it a habit to inject your company with fresh DNA.

4. Communicate better.

Your employees’ job isn’t to “do their job.” It’s to do their job so that the company can become… (enter answer here). You have to figure out what that blank is, and you also have to figure out how to communicate that to your employees (and customers, for that matter). Just so we’re clear, I am not talking about mission statements.

Note: nobody cares about your mission statement. The only asshole who ever did was the consultant you overpaid to help you come up with it in the first place, and he sure as shit doesn’t care about it now.

No, what I mean is your purpose. Your raison d’etre. Your actual mission, without the statement. Even if it’s just for this month or this quarter or this year, figure out what it is.

What your purpose it is not: “To establish a global leadership position in the ball-bearing polishing industry.”

What it could be: Become #1 in customer satisfaction for our industry, starting at 10:04 this morning. Consistently be 18 months ahead of our competitors in terms of product innovation. Become the most highly recommended resort destination on the French Riviera. Earn a third Michelin star this year. Make the coolest looking purses in the world. Make the most comfortable toilet seats known to man. Etc. Get it? Start there. So what’s your company about? What do you want it to be? Clarify that simple vision. Strip it down to the core. Then communicate it to everybody you know, starting with your employees.

Once your organization knows what you want (and they also know the role they are to play in getting there,) good things will start to happen. People in your org will become mission-aligned. Silo walls will start to erode bit by bit. People will start to feel like they are working towards a common goal. If someone isn’t up to speed on something, the team will naturally help them get caught up. Good shit will happen.

But if all you do is give your employees individual or departmental goals month after month after month, or worse, expect them to carry on with little more than their job description and an endless stream of vaguely connected projects, all you’ll end up with is an organization that spends all day spinning its hundreds of stupid little self-serving wheels with nothing to show for it. Your best talent will get frustrated and leave, and before long, all you’ll be left with are people who only stick around for the paycheck and the benefits. Oh what wonders will you accomplish with a building-full of those highly-motivated overachievers!

If that last paragraph sounds like a horrible plan, fix your shit and learn to communicate better.

5. Say no to excuses.

Kill excuses. All of them. Ruthlessly exterminate those little fuckers. Why? because if you don’t, failure will spread like a bad case of herpes across your entire organization and infect everyone. Before you know it, rationalizing failure every time you fall short of reaching your goals will become your corporate culture’s very own little brand of crotch rot.

Just for entertainment purposes, here are a few of the excuses I’ve actually heard in meetings these past few years:

“We already tried that. It doesn’t work.” (No, you didn’t. And it does.)

“We’ve already committed to another solution.” (Yeah. It isn’t working. Change it.)

“It’s what we’re already doing.” (No, it most certainly isn’t.)

“That isn’t my job.” (Yes it is.)

“It isn’t in my budget.” (Yes it is.)

“It’s the economy.” (No, it isn’t.)

“Our competitors can afford to spend a lot more money on that than we do.” (So what?)

“That isn’t one of our core competencies.” (Why not?)

“We’ve just hired someone to do that.” (So why isn’t it being done?)

“Actually, we thought it was a huge success.” (Really? Are you serious?)

“We’re not in the video streaming business.” (No? Are you in the “staying in business” business?)

“I don’t know. Our digital agency handles that for us.” (Are you sure they know that?)

“Our IT manager doesn’t want us to do that.” (Oh? Is he your boss?)

“Legal won’t let us.” (Legal won’t let you? What are you, six years old?)

“We can’t compete against Chinese imports on price.” (So compete on something else.)

“There’s just no demand right now.” (Really? See below.)

No demand? Okay. Tell that to luxury car manufacturers. Lexus saw a 99.7% growth in June 2012 over June 2011. Acura saw a 76.5% increase in sales for the same months. Infinity: 66.1%. BMW sold almost 22,000 cars in June 2012 alone, just shy of the number of cars sold by Mercedes-Benz in May. Tell that to Kate Spade, whose direct-to-consumer sales were up 74% last year. Tell that to Fortune’s Top performing companies for 2011.

Here are some growth stats for you, just in case you haven’t kicked your organization’s dependence on excuses in the nads yet:

Oh, but the odds are stacked against you? Unfair competition and all that? Tell me all about how the world is unfair. Please. I’m all ears. Meanwhile, companies with a fraction of your resources are well on their way to kicking your ass and eventually displacing today’s Fortune 500 companies. It might take them five years, maybe even 10 or 20, but they’re not letting that get in their way. They’re figuring it out and pressing on. What are you doing?

Start to think of excuses as tiny little ball bearings that make it easier for you to fail a little more every day. That’s what they are.Excuses give you permission to fail. You didn’t get it done this month? Let’s walk over here to the wheel of excuses and spin it. Let’s see what the reason was this time… (Does it matter?) You can’t seem to retain your top talent? Spin that wheel. Your tablet can’t compete against Apple’s? Spin it. Your TV show was reviewed poorly? Spin it. Your Facebook ads aren’t converting? Spin that shiny wheel. You aren’t happy with where your company, your marketing, your product penetration or your career is going? That really sucks. So what are you going to do about it? Truth is, you have two choices: a) spin the wheel of lame excuses again, or b) figure out what didn’t work and fix your shit.

In closing… fix your shit. No, I’m kidding. (But not really.)

There’s no cosmic force at work here. Whether your company becomes an incompetent dumbass factory (or not) is up to you. Whether your company is drowning in idiotic silos (or not) is up to you. Whether your company falls out of the Fortune 500 club (or not) is up to you. None of this is rocket science.

All you really need to do is make a decision not to settle for mediocre bullshit, and then follow that impulse all the way through: be competent, surround yourself with competent people, look for ideas outside your professional bubble, communicate better and stop accepting excuses. There’s more, but if you follow these five basic little rules, you’ll be a lot better off this time next year and then we can talk about the next five.

So this week, please, instead of perpetuating the same droning routine of meetings, emails, presentations and more meetings that haven’t really gotten you anywhere these last few years, take a step back from the quick-sand of everyday busy-work, and take concrete action to start fixing your shit.

Cheers,

Olivier

*          *          *

Social Media ROI – Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in your Organizationisn’t a social media book. It’s a business management book, and it focuses on social media program strategy, management, 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, what are you waiting for? (Now available in several languages including German, Korean, Japanese and Spanish.)

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

We probably all agree: ideally, Olympic athletes should head to The Games clad in uniforms and gear designed and made in their respective countries. The miracle of globalization aside, The Games are still an international contest not only of athleticism, skill and sportsmanship but also of national pride. Over the course of the last century or so, the event has become the single-most conspicuous showcase of national and cultural achievement in the world. If the competition itself is about sport, the event in its totality is about much, much more. So yes, in an ideal world, every bit of swag carried by a team should come from its country. Hats, shoes, warm-ups, backpacks, they should all suggest to onlookers “this is us too. This is what we can do. Our country is cool like that.”

So naturally, it stings when a team arrives at The Games clad in uniforms made by foreign labor in a far-off country. It kind of sends the wrong message, doesn’t it? It kind of says “we could have made that stuff here, but we’ve decided to export our national pride right along with our jobs. Don’t tell anyone but we were too lazy to try to make it all here, and it cost too much anyway. And in case you hadn’t noticed, we kind of like cheap shit. I mean look at us! This beer helmet only cost me $9.99 for crying outloud!”

Not exactly what you would call a well crafted exercise in national branding.

It isn’t surprising then that last week, American lawmakers, after being notified that the US Olympic team’s uniforms had been manufactured in China instead of the good old US of A, decided to bitch and moan and show how disgusted they were about the whole thing:

Republicans and Democrats railed Thursday about the U.S. Olympic Committee’s decision to dress the U.S. team in Chinese manufactured berets, blazers and pants while the American textile industry struggles economically with many U.S. workers desperate for jobs.

“I am so upset. I think the Olympic committee should be ashamed of themselves. I think they should be embarrassed. I think they should take all the uniforms, put them in a big pile and burn them and start all over again,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told reporters at a Capitol Hill news conference on taxes.

“If they have to wear nothing but a singlet that says USA on it, painted by hand, then that’s what they should wear,” he said, referring to an athletic jersey.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters at her weekly news conference that she’s proud of the nation’s Olympic athletes, but “they should be wearing uniforms that are made in America.”

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said simply of the USOC, “You’d think they’d know better.”

Can you blame them? No. Of course not. They’re right. My first reflex was exactly the same as theirs.

But then, I read this:

In a statement, the U.S. Olympic Committee defended the choice of designer Ralph Lauren for the clothing at the London Games, which begin later this month.

Unlike most Olympic teams around the world, the U.S. Olympic Team is privately funded and we’re grateful for the support of our sponsors,” USOC spokesman Patrick Sandusky said in a statement. “We’re proud of our partnership with Ralph Lauren, an iconic American company, and excited to watch America’s finest athletes compete at the upcoming Games in London.”

Ralph Lauren also is dressing the Olympic and Paralympic teams for the closing ceremony and providing casual clothes to be worn around the Olympic Village. Nike has made many of the competition uniforms for the U.S. and outfits for the medal stand.

On Twitter, Sandusky called the outrage over the made-in-China uniforms nonsense. The designer, Sandusky wrote, “financially supports our team. An American company that supports American athletes.”

And right there and then, I realized something that, in my initial disgusted outrage, I had missed completely that the U.S. Olympic Team is privately funded. Ah. Well, that changes everything.

Here’s an idea: if you want American-made uniforms (which is totally understandable, we all want that) then write your congressman and demand that the Olympic program receive adequate funding from the federal government. Then, as owners of the US Olympic program, we the people can legitimately have a say as to where the uniforms are made (hopefully right here in the US).

Otherwise though, it’s probably best to just thank the sponsors who are footing the bill for you and STFU.

Here’s the soundbite I would actually like to hear from those outraged lawmakers at some point: “We could have opted to hand over funding to the private sector and risk have the uniforms manufactured overseas, and there were certainly compelling financial reasons to choose that option, but we felt that the uniforms absolutely should be American-made. To that end, we voted to do the responsible thing, which is to provide adequate financial support to the US Olympic program and ensure that those manufacturing jobs remain right here in the US.”

But no. Instead, we get fist-shaking and finger-pointing.

In the same vein, I can’t wait for lawmakers to voice their outrage when they finally discover in a few years that US astronauts have to resort to hitching rides on really ugly and dangerous looking European and Chinese rockets instead of fancy American spacecraft. (What? We defunded NASA’s manned space program? When?!)

It’s almost as if US lawmakers are just now finding out that the US textile industry has all but been decimated under their watch in the last few decades. (Um, yes, that fancy golf-themed tie you’re wearing was made in Bangladesh, that crap suit you couldn’t be bothered to have taken in by a proper tailor was made in Vietnam, and those rubber-soled 2-for-1 shoes you think are so fly were made in China.) So a) thanks for protecting and supporting US jobs, asshole, and b) please, why don’t you shake your angry little fist on TV and lecture us all on how we need to buy American? Because coming from you, that’s just dandy.

But I digress.

Friendly tip to lawmakers: if you deliberately defund a program, that program has to go become someone else’s bitch. And here’s the funny thing about giving up ownership of something: it isn’t yours anymore. You gave it away. It’s kind of like dumping your girlfriend and then bitching about how the diamond ring that her new boyfriend gave her isn’t what you would have bought. Yeah. You’ve just become that guy.

If you want to have your say, then fund the program. Own it. Nurture it. Grow it. Be responsible for it. Otherwise, have a Coke, a smile and shut the proverbial fuck up. Or better yet, call up the sponsors who are generously footing the bill for your lazy, stingy ass and thank them for picking up the tab for you.

Instead of complaining about the made-in-China uniforms they paid for because you wouldn’t, you should be on your knees kissing their asses and sending them chocolates for Christmas. Because without them, you wouldn’t even have an Olympic program to complain about. And if you had done your jobs for the last 30 years, the Ralph Laurens and Nikes of the world would have had realistic incentives to invest in more manufacturing capacity in the US instead of moving those jobs overseas. Chew on that next time your pro-deregualtion, pro-private-sector-solution ass walks into a clothing store and decides to continue supporting the creation of foreign jobs at the expense of US ones with every dollar you spend there. Keep preaching economic patriotism and US job creation too, while you’re at it. What? Our Olympic uniforms are made in China?! Oh the humanity!!!

So here we go:

Dear Ralph Lauren, Nike and the rest of the brands sponsoring and funding the US Olympic program, thank you for what you do. Without you, the US probably wouldn’t be going to the Olympics at all. What could be better than American companies that support American athletes and put clothes on their backs? Thank you. You do more for these kids and the image of the United States than all of Congress put together. So don’t listen to their sourpuss bullshit and keep it up.

Grrr.

</rant>

Cheers. 😉

(Image courtesy of Kevin McNulty)

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Social Media ROI – Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in your Organizationisn’t a social media book. It’s a business management book, and it focuses on social media program strategy, management, 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, what are you waiting for? (Now available in several languages including German, Korean, Japanese and Spanish.)

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

Today, instead of talking about social media, brand management, internet bubbles, who does what well and who does what poorly, let’s just talk a little bit about leadership. Corporate leadership, that is. Why? Because every single problem and dysfunction holding back an organization stems from poor leadership. Every. Single. One. Without exception. Hiring executives with obsolete skills to build new business models, not understanding how to properly leverage social media, getting dragged into a botched IPO, promoting risk-averse managers to leadership positions, expecting that the $10M a year you dropped on Facebook advertising will sell $100M worth of cars… That sort of thing.

Instead of doing all the talking, I will let people with a whole lot more experience than me give you some tips about how to become a better leader. Great stuff that transcends the typical leadership quotation mill.

Anne Mulcahy – Former CEO of Xerox

In a crisis, you have the opportunity to move quickly and change a lot – and you have to take advantage of that.

Change doesn’t happen if you don’t work at it. You’ve got to get out there, give people the straight scoop, and get buy-in. It’s not just good-looking presentations; it’s letting people ask the tough questions. It’s almost got to be done one person at a time.

There’s not a lot of room anymore for senior people to be managers. They have to be leaders. I want people to create organizations that get aligned, get passionate, get really inspired about delivering.

Stories exist at every level of the company. Whether it was saving a buck here, or doing something different for customers, everyone has a story. That creates powerful momentum – people sense that they’re able to do good things. It’s much more powerful than the precision or elegance of the strategy.

I communicate good news the same way I do the bad news. I thank people and make sure they feel a sense of recognition for their contribution. But the trick is always to to use the opportunity to talk about what’s next, to pose the next challenges. Where do we want to go? How do we want to build on it?

Margaret Heffernan – Author, The Naked Truth

Nothing kills morale like a staff’s feeling helpless. This often plays itself out when there are rumors of a new strategic shift or a major personnel move, or worse, when the papers are littered with bad news about your company. A big part of boosting morale is about constructing a haven of logic that offers individuals shelter from any storm. At its most basic, leaders have to communicate their awareness of business conditions and place their plans in that context. Each time [a CEO outlines] a future that comes true, he demonstrates his own competence and reinforces trust.

The happiest people aren’t the ones with the most money but those with a sense of purpose – a sense that they are contributing to something bigger than themselves. At least some of this has to derive from work. The purpose of a business, then, must be explicit and go beyond boosting the share price or fulfilling some bland mission statement. People want to believe that they are part of something meaningful. The sense of purpose doesn’t have to be grandiose or revolutionary, merely credible and anchored in values.

Purpose is achieved through goals, and the acid test for any leader is defining the appropriate ones. Too small, and celebrations soon ring hollow. Small goals breed cynicism. But too-big goals produce helplessness. Although it can be temporarily thrilling to rally around a big corporate slogan like “kill the competition,” the reality is that employees can’t do it alone and they can’t do it quickly.

Alignment between corporate goals and personal development has never been more critical. The more unpredictable the outside world, the more urgent the personal quest for self-determination. What employees look for in leadership is a sense that their personal journey and the company journey are part of the same story. When these goals aren’t aligned, employees tend to whine with others, eager to share their sense of anger and injustice, polluting morale. The only way to combat this and get back on track is proper feedback. Give employees the tools to influence their own fate.

Get a life. Keeping morale high is like being on a diet: It requires constant effort and is never over. New ideas, stimuli and motivation come from all around you. It’s the larger life, after all, that gives purpose to the climb.

Alan Deutschman – Senior Writer, Fast Company – writing about how IBM builds new businesses

Look for opportunities that can become profitable [billion-dollar] businesses in five to seven years. You’ll probably find them by talking to customers rather than to brilliant researchers in the labs, who are are looking further ahead.

J. Bruce Harreld – IBM

You want to celebrate failure because you learn something. You need some level of security to say ‘I screwed it up,’ and be comfortable that you won’t be fired.

Marcus Buckingham – Author, Break All The Rules

Turn anxiety into confidence. For a leader, the challenge is that in every society ever studied, the future is unstable, unknown, and therefore potentially dangerous. By far the most effective way to turn fear into confidence is to be clear – to define the future in such vivid terms that we can see where we are headed. Clarity is the antidote to anxiety, and therefore clarity is the preoccupation of the effective leader. If you do nothing else as a leader, be clear.

Effective leaders don’t have to be passionate, charming or brilliant. What they must be is clear – clarity is the essence of great leadership. Show us clearly who we should seek to serve, show us where our core strength lies, show us which score we should focus on and which actions we must take, and we will reward you by working our hearts out to make our better future come true.

See? Told you these folks know what they’re talking about.

Thanks to Fast Company‘s March 2005 issue for providing much of today’s content. (My collection is… extensive.)

Cheers.

*          *          *

Social Media ROI – Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in your Organization isn’t a social media book. It’s a business management book, and it focuses on social media program strategy, management, 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, what are you waiting for?

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