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The problem with assumptions is that they always come with blind spots.

The friendlier and human a company is, the more potential for success it will have. This goes back to the theory that the company with the least amount of assholes wins. I think it goes without saying that unfriendly, emotionally disconnected, self-interested employees (and managers) always act as hurdles to internal collaboration, process improvement and the adoption of new ideas. They build walls. They create silos. They are agents of “no.”

Friendly companies are created by friendly employees and friendly management. Great customer experiences (whether they come in the form of great customer service or simply pleasant shopping adventures) begin with a culture of “we give a shit.” These customer-centric companies understand the need for fluid internal collaboration and the continuous improvement of process that affect, somewhere down the line, consumers’ perception of the brand.

But is that enough?

Consider the following two lists, and ask yourself which company you would rather buy your products from:

Company A:

  • It’s a great place to work.
  • I read an article about how cross-functional teams brainstorm to develop new products.
  • They offer trainees $5,000 to quit their first week. No one ever takes the money.
  • They have awesome customer service.
  • Returns are never a problem. They treat you so nicely.
  • I love shopping there.
  • Their CMO seems like a really cool guy on Twitter.

Company B:

  • I’ve heard it’s kind of a revolving door there.
  • Made in China, I think.
  • They have horrible customer service.
  • Have fun getting them to send you a replacement.
  • The lines at their stores are a pain.
  • I have no idea who their CMO is. He sure isn’t on Twitter.

Obviously, Company A probably has a market advantage, right?

Maybe. What if Company B makes much cooler products?

What if Company B’s products are equal in every way to Company A’s but at a much lower price?

That changes the equation a bit, doesn’t it? Now, Company B might become far more competitive (and successful) in spite of all of the negatives listed above.

Now let me throw in a twist: What if, against all logic, Company B’s process actually requires an antisocial environment in order to produce cooler products? What if it requires a quasi-tyrannical leadership and hermetically-sealed silos in order to be successful? What if becoming a “social business” actually ended up hurting it?

Under Steve and Walt, Apple and Disney weren’t exactly examples of what a “social business” should be, and yet they became, in spite of many of the things that the social business model preaches, enormous successes. They changed technology. They changed entertainment. They changed culture. They changed the world for the better.

How can this be?

Would Apple and Disney have been better off with a stable of bloggers and community managers on their payroll? Twitter accounts? Facebook pages? Youtube channels? Foursquare promotions? Would they have been better off if Steve and Walt had been avid proponents of “social business” ideals, flat organizations and cowdsource-driven product design? Really?

I want you to think about that for a minute, before you go back to reading blog post after blog post about the coming “social business” revolution and all the good it will bring to the world. It just isn’t that simple. Becoming a social business doesn’t necessarily help a businesses create more value for anyone or become better at what it does.

Becoming a more social company is not the same as becoming a better company.

I am not at all suggesting that companies are better off ignoring the social space. I wouldn’t dream of ever advising a company to stay off Twitter and Facebook. It would be irresponsible of me to drive a wedge between an organization and the amazing potential that social media has in store for them. BUT, it would be equally irresponsible of me to suggest that trying to become a “social business” is always going to be  in their best interest.

If you are a CEO, ask yourself why you really want your business to become “more social.” Is it because you really love your customers? Is it because you are looking for better, faster, cheaper ways to gather consumer insights? Is it because becoming “more social” allows you to increase your reach into social channels? Is it because industry experts told you it’s the thing to do this year? Why are you really focusing on this?

Here’s a better idea for you: Focus on building a better company, not just a more social one. Identify key areas of potential improvement and make those your focus. If social media can help you in this endeavor, then by all means find out how and do it:

Use social technologies to improve your customer service and reduce purchasing barriers.

Use social networks to help more people discover your great products or recommend wonderful employees.

Use social platforms to give your customers a reason to be loyal and act as good will ambassadors for you everywhere they go.

Improve internal collaboration and organizational efficiency.

Infuse your product management groups with insights and ideas from followers and fans.

Use social monitoring tools to identify new opportunities and spot potential threats.

The sky is the limit when it comes to how social media can help you become a better company.

But “being more social” doesn’t, in and of itself, amount to a whole lot. What does that even mean in a business context? Paying someone to hang out on Twitter all day and push out links to marketing content? Write formulaic blog posts to hopefully attract visitors to your website? Hire an agency to manage a Facebook page for you so you appear to be “more social?” Hire a ghost blogger to pretend that your CEO is committed to the social web? What’s the point of any of that? Why waste so much time and energy on pointless bullshit that isn’t benefiting anyone?

Now consider these two questions:

1. Will adopting a “social business” model really help patent-driven, data security conscious companies like Michelin, 3M and Pfizer become more competitive, more successful, and better at what they do?

2. Would adopting a “social business” model have helped Apple and Disney accomplish what they did? Or might it have gotten in the way by creating too much of a distraction or altering internal focus? Might an effort to become more “social” instead of generating brilliant products have worked against Apple and Disney?

Before you answer, consider this: The value of social media adoption and social process integration comes in degrees. Because every company is unique, every company will become more or less “social” based on its needs, capabilities and the dynamics of their internal cultures. Each of them will decide to what extent, and in the service of the improvement of what function, “social” will become part of its process. And guess what: There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

So again…

Question: Should Michelin, 3M and Pfizer, Disney and Apple become more “social?”

Answer: Only to the extent to which they and their customers will benefit from it. That could be a little, a lot, or not at all.

There’s a why question hidden in that Q&A, and a how question as well. You need to help companies answer both if you really want to help them.

Recap.

1. The “social business” ideal doesn’t apply to every business. That’s the problem with ideals: Ideally, they’re great. In reality, the world is messy. Things don’t always work the way we wish they would. “The road to hell,” as they say, “is paved with good intentions.” The road to epic screw-ups is as well. Proceed with clear purpose, and caution will mostly take care of itself.

2. Beware the salesmen of utopia. Selling ideals is one thing. Adapting them to your company’s needs is another entirely. Good consultants should be able to successfully put their advice into practice, not just suggest unrealistic goals and then watch you fumble at an impossible play.

3. If you focus less on “being social” and more on becoming a better company, you will be much better off by the end of the coming fiscal year. If social platforms can help you become that better company, great! Get working on it. If not, don’t sweat it. Focus on what matters, not on the flavor of the moment, no matter how many consultants and tech bloggers come to you carrying buckets of freshly brewed Koolaid.

Now stop reading blogs and go kick ass. Cheers.

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register

Hi kids! So we’re just a couple of days from Greenville’s very first “Working With WordPress” spring workshop, and I thought now would be a pretty good time to go over a few reasons why you might want to consider attending our event (if you aren’t signed up already).

And assuming you are going to be in the 864 area code on Thursday 9 April, that is.

First, let me break down the event for you real quick:

Hour 1: Doug (@nullvariable on Twitter) will run you through the technical “how do I do XYZ” with WordPress. If you are a beginner and have absolutely no experience setting up a blog, Doug will teach you how to start a WordPress blog from scratch, how to use it, how to tweak it, etc. (It’s pretty simple when you have someone guiding you through each step, so it won’t take long.) Once that is done, Doug will show you how to use widgets and other tools to customize your WordPress blog and make it remarkable. That part of the workshop caters to beginners, intermediate and advanced users.

Hour 2: I will teach you how to create relevant content, build an audience, and turn your blog into whatever you want it to be – a business development tool, your very own online publication, an community hub, a multimedia journal, etc. (We’ll chat about what you want to accomplish with your blog and I will tailor my session to fit your specific needs.)

We will have lots of time for Q&A and one-on-one attention, so bring your laptops and as many questions as you want. 🙂

Okay. That was the what. Now let’s talk about the why. To that end, let me give you a few examples of who might benefit from attending our workshop:

Marketing Managers, Community Managers and Business Owners:

If your company, church, school or organization doesn’t have a blog yet, your website probably isn’t getting the traffic you would like. And chances are that you aren’t generating a whole lot of net new customers either. Adding a blog to your existing site creates a dynamic online presence that will enhance – maybe even revive  – your website. For starters, it will help you link up with industry peers AND connect with your customers in a way you haven’t before. We will cover more at WPgreenville, but that isn’t a bad start.

If you already have a blog but it isn’t getting the traffic or activity you hoped for, or it just doesn’t look or work the way you want it to, we will show you how to fix that as well.

People just looking to get the most out of their blog:

Maybe you’re completely new to blogging. Maybe you’ve dabbled but got stumped because you aren’t technically savvy when it comes to computers. Maybe you’ve mastered most of the technical pieces of the blogging puzzle but have no idea how to create content, find an audience or even get noticed by the people you are trying to reach. Whatever your stumbling blocks may be, we will identify and address them right there and then. You will walk away from the workshop with your questions answered and your problems solved.

Bloggers looking to tie their blog to all of their new social media destinations:

Okay, so now you have a blog, a Facebook page, a Myspace page, LinkedIn, Twitter, Plurk, Tumblr, Seesmic, Youtube, Skype, oovoo, 12 Seconds, Buzznet, PingFM, etc. How in the world do you tie all of these things together with your WordPress blog? We’ll show ya.

Professionals currently between jobs – or planning to find themselves there someday:

If you missed J.T. O’Donnell’s presentation in Greenville last week, here’s a nugget of insight for you: 1 out of 12 Americans is unemployed right now. That means that you are one little drop in an ocean of potential employees. Resumes are piling up in stacks, and statistically, chances are that yours won’t get noticed. (It’s just a numbers’ game.) How do you turn the odds of being discovered in your favor? Simple: Make yourself easier to find on the internets.

Fact: 4 out of 5 recruiters use Google to research applicants before inviting them to their first interview. Consider applicant A who has no internet presence to speak of vs. applicant B who has a well designed blog with interesting, smart, actionable content that is relevant to his/her line of work. Which of the two do you think will be more appealing to an employer?

Having a well crafted blog filled with solid content can and will make you more attractive to future employers. We will show you exactly how to build your personal brand online, make yourselves search engine-friendly, and make sure you never stay out of work for very long.

Professionals wanting to further their new media skills:

Most professional courses cost a whole lot of money and don’t always give you skills you can take to work the next day… or take to your next job and actually do something with. How cool would it be for you to be the only person at your office who knows how to build a WordPress blog from scratch, make it do whatever you want, and then grow an audience where none existed before? Do you think that might be a worthwhile little notch on your belt? This workshop will accomplish just that.

That’s basically the jist. For full details about the event (when, where, etc.) go to www.wpgreenville.com.

The event only costs about $50 so you will definitely get your money’s worth. (Besides, it isn’t exactly being taught by chumps.) 😉

Oh, and as an extra little incentive, one lucky attendee will win a FREE  StudioPress theme (a $59.99 value)! Plus, all attendees will will receive a discount code for 25% off of any StudioPress theme on top of that. That’s a pretty sweet deal.

Be sure to register today and to pass this on to anyone in the 864 you think might find this valuable.

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For all the press – good and bad – about blogs and bloggers (Is there really value to blogs? Is it just all a bunch of noise? Do people really care what you and I think? Is there really value in starting and supporting “conversations?”), it is worth mentioning that blogs have played their part in enriching (dare I say enhancing) our private, social and professional lives. How? Blogsessive’s Alex Cristache gets us started with these five simple yet noteworthy contributions:

1. Blogs gave us back reading:

In a world of television shows, Hollywood movies, adverts, gaming and cheap entertainment, blogging gave back “reading” to people.

Sure, some of us never gave up on reading. Some of us still devour literature, but I’m sure you’ll agree that less and less people still do that. Most reading we do these days is magazines and newspapers, and even those are affected by the low interest in the actual concept of reading.

Even so, blogging stepped in at the right moment, offering a wide range of topics, opinions and voices. Nowadays, we follow hundreds of blogs daily, read enormous amounts of text blocks and continue to train our reading skills.

2. Blogs gave us back writing:

Most of us gave up creative writing back when we finished school, no matter how far we went. With blogging, we (re)discovered skills and interests long forgotten. First, a bit shy, but more concise, meaningful and powerful with each post published.

Sure, we can’t compare to Tolstoy, Voltaire or even modern authors like Stephen King, but we do it.

3. Blogs gave us back thinking:

We’re so caught up in our little “nine to five” worlds that sometimes we even forget to “think”. We’re so caught up in labor that we forget how it is to work. Each morning, the subways are filled with apathy, with people showing little interest in everything else but their own little lives.

Blogging changed that. Blogging gave us back “thinking”. We read and write opinion posts. We’re concerned about our economy, our political system, our finances and ways to improve our status, the global warming, war in the Middle-East and much more. Blogging took as from robots to thinkers.

4. Blogs gave us back evolution:

n a world of huge unemployment rates we’re bound to find success stories in the blogosphere. People that have evolved from zero to hero through their new found passion for blogging. Take Darren Rowse’s evolution for example. When he started blogging, back in 2002, he was a simple part-time minister and casual laborer. His continuous blogging efforts made Darren one of the most notorious bloggers ever, with people only aspiring to his status.

5. Blogs gave us back empathy:

Some would say it sounds cheesy, but that’s what blogging did. We’ve opened up our knowledge for people allover the world to experiment and learn. We listen. We hear about problems and offer solutions. We promote charitable actions. We offer prizes. We understand and help.

And that, my friends, makes us better people.

Read the entire post here.

I have to agree with Alex for the most part. I had just about given up reading by the time the world of blogs came knocking on my door. Reading for fun, that is, or rather reading for myself. Spend enough time reading studies, reports, marketing copy, emails and memos all day, and the last thing you want to do when you get home is crack a book or a newspaper. The occasional magazine (mostly Fast Company, Inc., ID and Dwell) passed through my streams of consciousness, but I certainly had gotten very far from my pre-workforce book-devouring days. Blogging gave me back the convenience and reasons to read volumes on a quasi-daily basis. Added bonus: The blogs I follow and continue to discover have made me much more knowledgeable about Marketing, business, politics, and current events than I ever would have been without them.

Same with writing: Spend 8-10 hours a day writing emails, reports, memos, copy, business plans and proposals, and you aren’t likely to invest what little free time you have writing for yourself. (Big problem for a guy like me who obviously needs an outlet when it comes to the written word.) Sure, writing short stories and working on a half dozen book ideas is nice, but being able to write what essentially consists of a daily column on topics that I am passionate about is pretty amazing. Blogging gave me the opportunity to create the brandbuilder blog, and the rest, as they say, is history. Now I couldn’t imagine my life without this outlet/platform. What would I do with all these words? They would just accumulate in my head… and then what? Scary. Added bonus: Believe it or not, writing about something daily (mostly on the fly) has made me a better writer AND (don’t laugh) helped me shorten my average word count. (If you think this is bad, you should have met me six years ago. Zola and Hugo have nothing on me.)

The thinking thing: The more you read, the more you think about things you normally wouldn’t think about. It isn’t to say I wasn’t already thinking about how broken or misunderstood Marketing is in so many companies, but reading so many different points of view every day sure made me think about the problem a lot more, and more importantly, helped me think a lot more about ways to correct that problem.

The evolution and empathy thing… Eh. Not my experience, but it doesn’t mean those last two points aren’t valid. I’ll let you guys decide how relevant they are to your world.

If anything, I would add a few more:

6. Blogs gave us the ability to create and build communities regardless of geography:

Think about how many people you interact with through blogs. How many peers, thought leaders, and collaborators have you met through blogs (or continued to engage with thanks to blogs)? Most of the members of Marketing profs, Corante and Marketing 2.0 don’t work in the same office building. They’re scattered all around the globe, yet here they are, starting and participating in conversations, sharing experiences, dispensing with advice and insight through this very convenient medium. I probably would have never met Spike Jones, Evan Tishuk, Bear Gautsch, Francois Gossieaux or John Moore had it not been for blogs. I would have never been involved with WOMMA or Corante or Marketing 2.0. Blogs help us connect on a level that no other tool or medium before the advent of blogging came close to.

7. Blogs gave us back the channels:

Before blogs, the only channels open to anyone with an opinion and a desire to help professionals in our industry grow and help improve things were through traditional media platforms: Publishing, TV, radio and industry events. Now, anyone who has something valuable to contribute can do so and be heard. It’s a beautiful thing. Even if you only appeal to a handful of people, that’s pretty wonderful. (Don’t knock the niche. It isn’t always about volume.) 😉

8. Blogs gave us better, faster, more complete journalism:

Sure, you have to take citizen journalism with a grain of salt, but when you incorporate unfiltered eyewitness accounts and videos with the fact-checking litmus test of professional journalism, you have something pretty powerful: 1. As news media become more and more meshed with the corporate entities that own and manage them, street-level journalism helps keep them professional. News items are less likely to be ignored or brushed off. Context is more difficult to tweak. Bloggers help keep news organizations aggressive and honest. 2. If an earthquake rocks Tokyo, I know it within minutes. CNN may not report it for at least an hour. (This actually happened a few months ago: Instant news on Twitter and Buzznet. 49 minutes on the clock before CNN posted the news on its website.)

Update: From Amanda Chapel via Twitter – ““Citizen Journalism is the bastard child of subjectivity in a post post modern world of misinformation.”

Update: Follow the conversation here. (Excellent opinion piece by Jay Rosen)

Update: 9. (Suggested by Patrick) Blogs gave us back accountability:

Whether personal or corporate, accountability wasn’t necessarily front and center of everyone’s M.O. before conversations found a home online. If you had a lousy experience with a car rental company or a restaurant, you were likely to tell a few people in your immediate circle, but that was about it. Impact: Virtually zero. Now that a single blogger (or networks of bloggers) can reach tens of thousands of people, negative/bland/disappointing brand experiences can’t be brushed aside as easily by throwing more messaging at the traditional media channels. With one influential blogger’s bad experience being able to ruin your whole day, smart companies have to a) up their customer satisfaction game a bit, and b) monitor their brand equity in blogtown a little more proactively. Accountability is back.

So what do you think? What other contributions could you add to the list?

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Don’t call it a comeback
I been here for years
Rockin my peers and puttin suckas in fear…

“Mama Said Knock You Out” – LL Cool J

As I’ve already lamented, moving the brandbuilder from blogspot to wordpress several months ago effectively destroyed its search engine relevance: Years of hyperlinks, trackbacks and traffic were left behind at the old url, and the brandbuilder’s new web address essentially rolled the odometer back to zero. The impact on my readership wasn’t too bad – you guys quickly found your way to the new URL and RSS, and daily visits went back to normal after a few short weeks – but solid daily traffic alone can’t rebuild my technorati and other search engine relevance overnight. It’s going to take time to get back to the various Marketing blog rankings put forth by Technorati, Viral Garden, Power 150, etc. I am just going to have to be patient and let technology do its thing. Grrrr.

That being said, Buzz Canuck‘s Sean Moffitt may just have tossed the (new) BrandBuilder blog its first bone by including me in his Ryder Cup of Word-of-Mouth, Buzz, and Viral dream team:

With the advent of golf’s best entertainment showcase about to take place, I thought I would provide the WOM version of the famed Ryder Cup tournament.

Why not pit the top 36 bloggers from the USA that speak on the subject of word of mouth, viral, buzz, influence and the engaging brand against the top 36 international bloggers that muse on the same subject?

Unlike some of the social media- and tech dedicated marketing and media bloggers, these broad-minded bloggers and company heads (below) have distinguished themselves by helping visitors understand how ideas spread, online and offline, through a range of different strategies and tactics and each recognizes the importance of having brands getting noticed, talked about and advocated in a 2.0 world. In my opinion, they are much closer to explaining the purpose and benefits of a range of new media, web 2.0, co-creation, social networks and other web, cultural and social phenomenon.

For my social media appetite, they are also among the best at understanding the art and science of buzz, not getting too hung up on the Silicon Valley gossip, the backslapping self-promotion (with the race exception), the technology minutiae, the journalistic ethic or political meaning behind peer-generated ideas, content and advocacy.

To my knowledge, no one has yet built the all star list of word of mouth savvy blogs – too often our best are muddled with overarching marketing categories (The Power 150) or not fully descriptive, catch-all social media lists. So here is my list, I’ve visited and read them all – my apologies to some of the non-english speaking International squad (there are limits to my comprehension even with pictures) and to some inevitable oversights.

To see my name next to such industry thought leaders like Jackie Huba and Ben McConnell, Andy Sernovitz, Sam Decker, Joseph Jaffe, John Moore, Mack Collier, Tom Asacker, Corante and Marketing 2.0’s very own Francois Gossieaux, and fellow Greenville resident and favorite sparring partner Spike Jones – to name but a few – is pretty humbling. I am very honored.

Check the whole list here. It’s pretty solid.

Segue:Imagine what would happen if you put us all in one room? Seriously. One firm. One think tank. One agency. All of us there. We could be like The Justice League of the Marketing world. Scary.

I definitely raise my glass to Sean Moffitt’s 100% non-scientific method for generating the list. Well played, sir. Well played. Thanks for marking the start of my return to “the lists.” (The check’s in the mail, buddy.)

Have a great, internet fame filled day, everyone! 😉

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*Sigh.* As of today, the brandbuilder’s Power 150 (Ad Age) ranking has dropped to 203rd.

To make matters worse, that ranking still links to the brandbuilder blog’s old URL (at blogspot). This brandbuilder blog (wordpress) is nowhere near the Power 150’s radar.

Same blog, new url: All the difference in the world.

I guess the brandbuilder’s Power 150, technorati and Viral Garden rankings shouldn’t matter to me. It isn’t that the content has become less relevant: Moving to wordpress essentially restarted the visitor and link clock to zero, that’s all. With time, things will get back to where they were. So yeah, I know I should just press on and not care…

It’s just that I’m not that friggin’ zen.

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