How Social Media can make your company money

This is a repost of a comment I left on Tamsen McMahon and Amber Naslunds amazing blog BrassTackThinking.  I highly recommend checking out anything these two write.

When thinking about how best to “convert” the business-minded folks over to recognizing the value of making themselves present via social channels, I often think in terms of “how can I make them see that what they’re doing isn’t all of what they could be or should be doing”, and its a frustration to me that a lot of really smart, well-thought-out posts on assorted blogs will really only be read, digested and used by people who “already get it” on some level.

In order to “reach” the rest of them, I often think a post entitled “how social media will make you money” would be hugely popular. I don’t think many of us (myself included) are as strong at “leading a horse to water” as we need to be.

Perhaps its our own stubbornness and unwillingness to maybe be influenced by those more sales-focused minds and opinions that get in our way?

Every interaction between two people leaves both a little changed, but when we talk about bringing people to our side of the fence, we rarely consider how close we need to get to the fence ourselves in order to have that conversation.

Maybe we do ourselves a disservice in this way?

What are we willing to take on and learn from “the other side” in order to bring balance?

On Authority: We don’t have it when we think we do.

Judge using his gavelIn this business, we all talk a lot about authenticity, transparency, engagement.  I’ve seen a ton of blog posts, tweets, and whitepapers that say “corporations are no longer in control”. We focus on the new meaning of influence.  This is all well and good, they’re conversations that need to be had, and they are admirable goals that can in fact map to business ROI.

We still make assumptions, though. There are still some old habits we continue to believe to be true. One of the biggest things I’ve been noticing people falling back on when interacting, especially on behalf of a larger organization is speaking from a position of authority.

Authority is one of those nebulous positions that seems to have more to do with our own self-image than about any particular knowledge.

For me, the most appropriate definition for Authority in this context is the typically inaccurate assumption that a given person or organization’s content has inherent merit based on its source, rather than on its actual value to the community.

We all still fall into this trap sometimes. Our blogs are full of posts about the great things we (and the companies we work for) do, we create sweepstakes (read: bribes) built around using a particular product, we try to tell people what to think and what to do. At this point however, it’s not a safe bet to make any assumptions about the authority your voice carries within community. A few of the reasons what we say often doesn’t have the sway we think it does are:

  • We have not built a trusted relationship within our community. You work for the company that makes the product? That’s great. So what? What have you done that would demonstrate to me that I should take what you say about your product seriously? As my friend Jason Falls says over at SocialMediaExplorer, “The trust you build is largely dependent upon the ability to convince them your intent is pure.” If you are the representative of a company, by definition your intent is to sell me on something, which tweaks the bullshit detectors in many of us.
  • We as consumers trust users more than creators. Say you’re a member of a cooking community. Which person would influence your engagement more: The Communications Director for All-Clad, or Bobby Flay? The truth is, unless you’re in a tiny micro-niche industry, there are other more publicly visible experts on your product than you. This already puts you in second place for ‘entity with authority’.
  • Assuming authority without earning the role of trusted advisor from the ground up makes us come off as obnoxious. Instead, (and here’s where the social media nerd comes out) start by listening, and then become a person-sized learning atom within the community.

All of this is hard for us to process. The loop of “We made it, of course we know best, don’t be silly.” is hard to break. For me, I’ve noticed that underneath stuff like that is fear.  There is a fear and insecurity that “if we don’t talk about ourselves, nobody else will have a reason to either”

I’m here to say that I don’t think this is true anymore, and that not always having to be authoritative takes a lot of the tension and strain out of our day.It frees us to lean forward, engage, learn, connect.

Interestingly, that may also be how we build up true credibility in the conversation, as decided by others around us.

What we’re talking about when we say "Be Human"

Community (TV series)
Image via Wikipedia

One of the things I love so much about online communities is how supportive everyone is of each other.  When Christopher Penn announced that he just took a job at BlueSkyFactory, the outpouring of support flooded my twitter stream. Similar things happened when Teresa Basich (and later Katie Morse) announced they were joining the Radian6 team. Interestingly, these congratulations were aimed not just at Teresa and Katie, but also at Amber Naslund, who hired them.

It’s really important to me to support my community and spread the love around whenever I can (I’m not always perfect at it, especially when I’m stressed, but it’s always a good feeling).  This is part of what we all mean when we say ‘be human’.  What we’re talking about is “Give.”  Give respect, give attention, give time, give congratulations, show gratitude. This is what creates a community as opposed to a random collection of twitter followers or a Facebook page that people join and never ever go to again.

When I was younger, I went to a summer camp called the Usdan Center for the Creative and Performing Arts, which was out on Long Island (an hour-and-a-half commute).  On the bus ride there, I became fast friends with a group of 6 people around my age.  We would each have our own regular seats, have lunch together, and generally were a fun little clique who would support each other.

Earlier this year, one of those six people performed with Billie Joe Armstrong and Green Day to open the Grammies. She’s also been on the Tony’s, and co-starring in the Broadway hit American Idiot. I could not be more proud of my friend Rebecca Naomi Jones, and I was able to spread the love to my network of folks who might not be aware of the show or her.

You can follow her at @rebeccasername.

Who can you give love to today?

Are we going about this whole communications thing backward?

(Inspired by Justin Kownacki’s post “I Tweet, Therefore I Am Empty“)

Theres an increasing backlash against Social Media as shiny object lately, and rightfully so. The concept of communicating online to meet business goals, when wrapped around this aura of Next Big Thing can easily mutate into the “Get me a Facebook account!” nightmare that haunts our dreams.

Every time we recommend a channel plan in place of re-learning basic communication skills and applying them to the betterment of the audience, we do everyone a disservice. It turns out that companies (and people) that are bad communicators are bad communicators, regardless of whether they’re communicating on Twitter, in person, via an ad campaign.

As those who are ‘in the know’ and focused on improving communications as much as we know how, should we be focused less on providing a friction-free way for the people within organizations to map their bad habits on to new channels (surely not a recipe for success)?

Or are we going about it backward? Should we instead be focused more on swaying people’s hearts and minds toward investigation and communication styles that we know to be more effective, even if it is technically ‘outside the scope’ of what we are officially responsible for?

How far up and back does our responsibility to influence the process and the mindset go?

A rant about the music business, and other tone-deaf industries.

Diagram of CD layers. :A. A polycarbonate disc...
Image via Wikipedia

First off, this may be a little different in tone than my usual posts.  It is repurposed from a music industry mailing list I’m on (I spent a decade in the music biz.. for more on that, find out about me).

Some context:  The rant came about in a thread discussing the “revelation” from the NY Times that the DOJ is looking into how Apple treats the record labels when it comes to exclusives, implying that there may be some unfair business practices, especially in regard to their continued veiled threats about pulling their promotional support if labels give exclusives to competitor Amazon’s MP3 store.  While I was never on the receiving end of these kinds of conversations, I can say for a fact that it definitely is in keeping with the tone of conversations that happen between the iTunes store staff and major labels.

Apple has a 90% market share of all digital music sold, and 25% of all music sold is sold through the iTunes store.  This is a staggering number for a single entity, and they have made no bones about using their sway to get their way.  Long ago, the major labels decided that instead of spreading exclusives around to seed a balanced marketplace, they were going to bet everything on iTunes each time, since ‘that’s where people are buying music’.  This forest-for-the-trees strategy led them to where they are today, with a full quarter of their potential earnings from their main source of income being controlled by a group of not that many Apple employees, a company that treats music as a loss leader to sell iPhones.

Anyway, someone on that list posted a response to the article basically calling people to task for the common refrain of “its hard to compete with free”, and wondering why the industry seems to have accepted this as the context for the conversation, ending with this line:

“When is the industry going to GET OFF THE GODDAMN MAT and stop complaining and start telling people what to buy again and how to buy it?”

To be fair, the tone of his post was pretty ranty, and I do not mean to pick on him specifically, but here’s my response.

This is the worst advice. The industry as a whole (especially the majors) has zero space at the table of “What music should i buy” right now. It’s questionable whether they ever did, really (beyond the “hey, we control all the ways you could possibly consume music, so for all you know, what Z100 plays is the only music that exists”)

There are SO MANY ways for people to discover new music right now. INFINITE ways. DJ mixes,, pandora, having a friend give you a hard drive worth of music in college, free showcases, tv commercials, Abercrombie and frakkin Fitch…i could go on (so could all of you)

What happened this last decade (post-napster) is that majors (and many indies, don’t fool yourself) happily traded Credibility and Authority for short-term Staying Afloat. THEY SUED THEIR FREAKIN CUSTOMERS. Imagine any other industry doing that? Imagine Toyota suing Hertz? Imagine Heinz suing you if you took an extra squirt of ketchup at mcdonalds?

The amount of short-sightedness, tone-deafness and general disdain for their customer base was and is IMHO unprecedented. But what else to expect from an industry formed around egocentric reality-challenged cokehead creatives gorging on high $ that consumers were forced to pay due to lack of any other distribution. Of course, now its run by conservative, boring, unininterested-in-the-art-of-music lawyers whose only job is to squeeze as much revenue from the existing models as possible so the SVP of Rock Promotion Northeast region can keep their
freaking job.

This isn’t a collapse of the industry. This is the deflation of a ridiculously overvalued commercial enterprise to a new equilibrium based on music fandom, not plastic disc consumption. This is what the industry SHOULD have been making in revenue all along if they weren’t allowed to charge $25 for a Britney CD.

More people listen to more music in more ways than in any time in history. The response could be “well, how can we make that a great experience, and provide additional value to the experience that only we know how to do, in order to encourage people to spend money on our products”. It could be “The internet has made music the lifeblood of more people throughout the world than ever before. What can we do to keep that flowing, to enrich people’s lives with the back story and the history and our depth of expertise and archives and resources”

Instead it’s When is the industry going to GET OFF THE GODDAMN MAT and stop complaining and start telling people what to buy again and how to buy it?”


As a music fan who has spent tens of thousands of dollars on vinyl, cassettes, CDs, tickets with a 50% service charge, $25 t-shirts, and who also has a considerable collection of music i did not pay for? As someone who LOVES music with my heart and soul and would LOVE to have an industry dedicated to helping me find my new favorite album, to giving me the stories behind the music and the people involved, to sharing in the excitement I have when I first hear a song that will end up rating high in my pantheon of life moments? As someone who worked in the industry for a decade, trying to fight boneheaded decision after boneheaded decision and getting only blank stares and scorn in response?

Fuck off and die already.

I’d be interested in hearing what those of you who don’t have any experience in the music biz have to say.  Does this jibe with your understanding of how it has worked?  What say you, as a customer?