2012 was a challenging year in a lot of ways. Not bad certainly, but not business as usual.
Those of us with small and mid-sized companies did battle with the economy and the marketplace, fighting to find firm footing, with lots of flailing around to catch updrafts for growth.
Funding for seed and A rounds was more uncertain than any of us wants to remember. From a marketing perspective, it was momentumless in many respects. The very oxygen that start-ups and small companies breathe was sucked out of the web by the big social nets as they monopolized the world’s log on screens. Traction was a slog.
The rule of thumb for me, all last year, was “Focus on what you can control”. When you strip away grander schemes, clear all the obfuscation that surrounds critical decision making, nothing else matters. And time wasted is opportunity squandered, good market or bad.
This idea that you need to focus down hard never steers me wrong.
Even in boom years, the initiatives that pay back are those that come from focused execution as a strategy, not from trying to chase the market from behind or conjure up end runs around consumer behaviors or competition.
Many of my advisory clients last year, funding aside, smartly focused and dug deep rather than chasing after a market that had no real rudder. They dug into the core values of what they did for customers and partners. Removed excesses and pushed aside nice-to-haves.
The ones that seem the best prepared for this year didn’t buck the tide but kept peeling away the onion till they hit value and engagement. Then honed and strengthened. Had patience if cash flow allowed, and didn’t jump to pivots without real data.
For myself personally, I focused on the near-term needs, not on the long-term dreams that were too big to grasp and impossible to take steps towards. And took some big flying (and tangible) leaps into the unknown along the way.
Aging is a bitch. For all of us, it has a way of creeping up and demanding acknowledgement. Last year I doubled down, made health a mission and adopted (with a lot of guidance) a belief that nutrition and smart exercise, not diet and random activity are the way to greater and longer-lived vitality. A way to work with the body to insure that it supports us, not that it simply doesn’t get in the way. What and how I ate and exercised became a studied obsession.
The results were terrific. A business, the brainchild of Lianna Sugarman, LuLitonix, grew out of this as a way to take these nutrition ideas to what we hope will be a sizable niche market. Maybe larger. It’s just barely getting started but I’m thrilled at some early signs of acceptance.
It’s no secret that I have a passion for wine as culture, community as a market model and the empowerment of the global local on the social web. I’ve been blogging on these ideas for years. And for as long, have been circling around a way to connect these passions into a new kind of marketplace starting in New York.
Last August, I said ‘go’ to a very early version of this idea, theLocalSip community wine marketplace. A natural mash up of wine shops, New York neighborhoods and an on-foot, connected population. Five months in, it’s been both inspiring and humbling. I’m both trepidatious and excited as v 1.5 rolls out in the coming months. 2012 wrap up wine community post here.
More than you expect comes from focusing on less.
There’s a magic that comes from smart focus on the possible that brightens areas that you just couldn’t fathom prior. Focusing on what you can control to me is not the strategy of last resort, it’s a first resort solution.
The illogical truth almost always holds true. If you focus down hard on what has value, what can be moved or swayed, what can be tangibly touched, stuff happens that is beyond your control. Beyond volition.
Maybe this is the same as making our own luck. Maybe it’s just a reflection on the dynamic nature of life, but by focusing on the tangible, the targetable, the ineffable seems to move along with it. Regardless…it just happens.
On day four of this new year, just doing it with intent and not wasting time on the emotional excesses around events, stripping away what can’t be seen as purposeful, seems to be working fine.
It’s a strategy that I’m going to keep running with this year.
2013…bring it on!
One of the big gotchas of the social web is that what makes it so empowering for individuals is also it’s greatest challenge as a platform for business.
At its core, the web is naturally a platform for people. It highlights each of us in the center of a self-curated world with our popularity equaling our reach and influence.
It is as personally powerful as it is addictive. Remarkably self-centered and surprisingly a great platform for collective groups of individuals, the community.
Lately, the idea is being bandied about as fact that for businesses to be successful on the web, somehow they need to take on a personal persona and exist side by side on an equal plane with you, me, General Electric, our favorite restaurant, our dentist and Walmart.
It just isn’t so. And a dead end marketing strategy.
I’m not a social commerce denier in any way. The opposite actually.
I’ve posted endlessly on how the web has changed not only our lives but also the essence of how we do business. How the customer is squarely the center of the commercial world. And that we are entering the world where marketplaces are the most natural platform for business.
But, companies aren’t people, no matter how humanized. And neither are brands. Business is not a masquerade, a product in an individual’s clothing.
It’s a fascinating dichotomy. The web as an organic platform for people and communications, and businesses’ uncomfortable use of it for commercial purposes.
For people, the web is a frictionless runway. Individual voices, transparent messages, global reach for the clear of intent are not the exception. The web as a platform for connected individuals just works.
For pundits and people doing business as themselves, it’s a dream platform. There is little separation between the brand presented to clients or fans, and the more cleverly you share your quirks, the more somehow this informs the potency of your professionalism.
But as companies or for products we sell that are beyond ourselves, this is simply not the case. It just doesn’t hold true.
Selling stuff and services as a company is where the social continuum appears to splinter. The web doesn’t belong to companies; it belongs to their customers.
This is not to say that commerce doesn’t spring out of community. Nor that conversations across the web don’t indeed sell product. Or that transparency isn’t an essential component of doing business today.
But the idea that companies need to act like as individuals and refabricate themselves to exist on the social web is chasing the wrong rabbit down the wrong hole.
With people, our product is our personality. With companies, our personalities are in the products and services we provide and how we deliver them. The aggregate of that is the brand that our customers bestow on us over time.
Every one of us and every company falls prey to trolling the social web on blogs for comments and connections, on Facebook and social nets for new customers and prospects. We do it cause its there and it’s easy. It’s an incomplete strategy.
Every business and marketing person faces this pull and contradiction daily.
Individually we start each day, checking into our nets to discover products and things to do, connect with friends and plan our lives. We get to our offices; sit in front of our computers and often stare dumbfounded about how to discover and talk to those same customers that look just like ourselves.
This is the social web business dilemma in a nutshell.
Building markets and understanding customer behaviors are neither simple nor trivial tasks. And complicated of course by the newness of the social web itself and its constant state of flux.
For myself, regardless of the market segment or social platform, these guidelines work for me as a marketer:
-Acknowledge that the web is not about your company or product but the customer’s view of them. Cede them control and embrace the messiness of the market if you want to harness it.
-Every product, every community of customers is unique. Crossfitters want to celebrate their personal fortitude while learning how to get more fit. Organic Avenue is as much about what’s in the juice as to how it tastes. SoulCycle, the monster spinning brand,is about instructor heroes, including their SoulPups.
-Don’t try to sell where your customers play. Nobody transacts on Facebook. Trying it again is against the human grain and won’t work.
-Measurement is not the end goal. Understanding customer behavior is. If your takeaway is a number you are not learning enough.
Try these directions on for size and apply them to the specifics of your business and the social platforms you are using.
This is very hard stuff to crack. A combined task of marketing, community management, product development and every external facing connection in your company.
Understanding your customer’s behavior is no less complex and ineffable than your customers themselves and the market they represent. There is certainly no easier way to do this and possibly, in today’s connected world, no other way at all.
Cross posted from theLocalSip blog, a passion project of mine in collaboration with the best wine shops in New York. Community-driven commerce for the wine world built on a global network of neighborhoods is the goal.
I’ve been dreaming for a long time about a marketplace connecting wine lovers with the best wine shops in the country and the most interesting winemakers across the globe.
I’m a passionate lover of how wine enhances our lives and builds friendships. And an unabashed wine shop junkie.
I just love popping into shops all over the city, walking out with a bottle I never heard of and a new connection with a fellow wine aficionado I hadn’t met before.
That great feeling that I get when someone sells me a bottle along with a story of a winemaker making wine in a unique way with some grape I never heard of that will somehow be perfect for my evening.
Vinous serendipity at play.
theLocalSip is live now. In Beta. In its infancy. Actually a neonate with a lifespan so far measured in hours;-)
A platform for a marketplace that will happen between wine lovers and shops. A celebration of a global neighborhood of common interests.
A huge thanks to the participating shops for taking this journey. You rock! We have something special here that will grow and change and work.
An equally big thanks to the some 200 folks who were in the system while I was sleeping and accessed some 3000 pages. And the many email responses with good suggestions and encouragement.
My ask to wine enthusiasts:
Play around with theLocalSip.
Start by doing what I just did.
- Go to Find Tastings
- Select This Week
- Select All Neighborhoods
I see amazing tastings to go to. Two at Frankly Wines. Two, even more, at 67 Wine. A couple at Chambers Street Wines. One at September Wines. One at Natural Wine Company. These are the tastings at a glance for Week One on Day One of theLocalSip. Great wines being poured by passionate and informed people.
I won’t make it to all of the tastings but I will buy wines on line with one click regardless. I’ll build a favorites list and share it to my friends across the city and the country and suggest they buy a few online or wander into the shop if in the neighborhood.
This is Day One of theLocalSip. Shops are applying from every neighborhood in New York. Tastings around the corner from wherever you live.
I’m super excited.
Make this community your own. And have fun with it!
Community and engagement have been the big conversations this week.
My weekend post, Filtering the web for connections through conversations, struck a chord. The comment string (some 70 plus) was an education in itself. Announcing the Disqus numbers that over 500,000 comments are posted per day on their platform was a big aha for many. A strong nod of affirmation that community really matters.
For communities and commenters, we heard loud and clear that we were not alone. Communities may be isolated on the web but commentors are a mainstream crossover category.
Engag.io’s commenting survey came out at Blog World.
Fred Wilson, Jeff Minch (JLM), William Mougayar and I presented the results. A great discussion, but the survey was less revelatory and more a confirmation of what the Disqus numbers told us. People are talking. A lot. And using conversations to find information, broaden their networks and make purchasing decisions.
Most revealing (and fun) was a Disqus-sponsored roundtable. Fred Wilson introduced the session and Ro Gupta from Disqus was the MC for the room of 50 bloggers, entrepreneurs, VCs and web thinkers. An engaged exercise in group thinking, a wish list of likes and wants about community commenting platforms.
This was obviously a partisan crowd at the tip of the commenting market. The discussion was less about looking for market proof and more about the gap between the needs of the community space and the offerings of the commenting platforms.
And gaps there are.
As powerful as these global conversations are for impacting change and as great as commenting systems like Disqus are in hosting them, comment search on one side and discovery on the other are broken. And badly.
There is a massive online population adding millions of pieces of rich conversational data daily with sophisticated platforms to encourage and organize threaded conversations.
But good luck finding, collating, editing and republishing these libraries of great content. Some bright stars like Kevin Marshall’s gawk.it are just starting to tackle this. Keep your eye on Gawk.it. It’s a garage band today, a potential rock star tomorrow.
Engag.io is breaking future ground, putting you in the middle of your conversations across the fragmented social nets. And touching on something special around conversational discovery with thoughtful tidbits from commenters you follow as discovery ring tones.
But discovery around communities generally is broken. Feels like it is being ignored for the most part by the big commenting platforms.
Following people to conversations to discover context is interesting. But it’s not the game changer.
For huge portals, discovering threads within the post’s conversational string is useful but not that exciting for the mass market of niche communities. Cross community connections is the sharp edge of the spear for the broader conversational market.
People are always searching for new connections. Whether you are in sales, marketing or a developer, your network is never big nor deep enough. The answer is not just blog rolls. Most communities have blogs but a very small percentage of blogs are truly communities.
We don’t need blog search, we need community discovery. This was echoed loud and clear this week from everywhere
The tens of millions of commenters on communities across the web want to wake up every morning and discover new conversations and communities. That’s the definition of breaking news today.
If you are interested in education, nutrition, community design or sports…you don’t want just facts or blog rolls, you want to discover the most dynamic conversations going on in communities that intersect with your interests.
We want to follow our interests where the conversations are happening sorted by the most dynamic and by topic. If you want to discover the thought leaders to engage with, follow the most active conversations.
The problem is of course, you just can’t find these conversations.
Communities are hidden under the fabric of the comments themselves. Actually communities are isolated and very laborious to find.
Imagine this, a better world.
Tomorrow morning after you clean your inbox and check in with your normal communities, you are presented with a list of trending topics by the dynamics of the conversations. The top 50 community conversations across a variety of topics you’ve opted in to follow.
Or better, with thousands of bits of information from your comments, you’ve created a map of your interests and connections. An atomic chart that defines what serendipity means to you and, like a recommendation on Amazon, you get suggestions on cool and interesting conversations that you didn’t even know you were looking for.
We are defining our interest footprint with each comment and gesture we make on Disqus and Word Press, Facebook and Twitter. It’s all there. Discovery both implicit and explicit is possible.
The fact that no one is taking this market need seriously is seriously wacko.
My friends at Disqus will be annoyed with me as I’ve been talking about this for years. @danielha knows that this is my version of tough love. I just want this. So does the market.
Community discovery is a big evolutionary step on the social web. The easier it is, the more connections will happen. The more connections that happen, the more it will drive discovery of communities that you are comfortable participating in. This is a circle of conversational goodness for all involved.
This is the link that tips the scale.
This is also the link that moves commenting platforms from smart plumbing to part of the community fabric itself. Today we thrive on the power of threaded conversations and are annoyed when alerts are broken. It’s a road that we want the potholes fixed but will keep on driving on.
Give us community search. Make it obvious that the more we communicate, the better the network gets and the more it connects us to other conversations. When commenting platforms do this, they are no longer plumbing. They become part of the pulse of the community itself.
Somebody needs to just bring this.
It’s not often that market tells us what they need to do to succeed. This is one of those times.
Social commerce was premised on the idea that if you have a community of engaged users on a dynamic enough platform, somehow commerce will happen.
That’s the promise inherent in F Commerce and the culprit behind the ill-conceived notion that somehow every social act is measurable as a pipeline for a sale.
Having a business model that works economically for large engaged communities is one thing. Think Facebook and targeted ads. Old school media with deep social hooks. As these numbers from Ad Age show, it certainly works.
Having an environment where goods and services change hands is another thing altogether.
Facebook, with 800+ million connected people, has remarkably little commerce, if any. Funnels of influence and lead flow, brand building and reputation peddling but seemingly transactionless. I keep asking my networks for examples of commerce on Facebook and keep coming up empty.
The why of this is not obvious.
The social twins, community and commerce, should by nature work together. They certainly do in real life on the street level. Shopping is social by design. Malls as a concept do work.
But the logic of replicating what happens in the real world invariably fails on the social web. We need to think beyond the behavior to commerce itself, and whether a store and a discrete location are still a relevant definition of retail.
Facebook imagined that the pedestrian mall existed at the intersection of personal and fan pages on the social graph. This is the old retail crowd formula that location is everything and if you put up a store where there is qualified foot traffic and brand recognition, sales just happen.
Or so was the thinking.
Community designers know innately that you can’t bolt social loops onto commerce sites and expect them to be reborn as community. Most every legacy business and many start-ups have tried with little success.
It’s clear as well that you can’t bolt commerce onto community and expect a marketplace to materialize. The human dynamic that bonds offline around a sense of place and socialization is misapplied. Thinking about online as a virtual mirror of offline never works.
This doesn’t imply that social and transactions, commerce and community are disconnected. Not at all. Just ill-imagined.
We need to move past this narrow idea of social commerce and think of the web as one economy with funnels of community and commerce around niches of interests and intent.
My friend, Mark Essel and I, have long debated the community commerce dilemma. Communities of interest, no matter how dynamic, reject overt commerce as foreign even though off community commerce between members happens frequently.
With communities of interest, the intent is engagement in a many-to-many model. The open mike, town hall idea with handshakes and deals struck in the parking lot. With marketplaces, commerce is the intent, with a one-to-one model, where socialization and referrals happen outside of the community.
Think about the social design aspect of virtual worlds. It was all about place. We moved from place to place like wanderers through a desert, knocking on niche doors. This was community as a virtual world before a social web inhabited by real people.
Facebook, and AOL before it, define themselves as virtual places. As intact platforms. Gesture and engagement, socialization and commerce, referrals and transactions are all-inclusive.
That’s the wrong turn.
The only platform on the web is the web itself. Not Facebook nor even Disqus as the connector.
There are deep communities of engagement and interest like avc.com. Deep marketplaces like Kickstarter. But the commerce around communities happens elsewhere as does the community around marketplaces.
But both happen. Focused intent to engage around discussions or focused intent to buy are facets of the whole, which spread out like threads between our connected lives. Between an online catalog for the Gap and the approval of our friends on what clothes we buy.
This idea has been crystallizing as I’m reading ‘The Intention Economy’ by Doc Searls. The principal theme of the book, underneath imagining a new future, is that the web is about me. And you. And each of us individually on one platform that we all inhabit.
Products like engag.io attempt to put a moving lens on all of our engagements as we move around the web. They follow us, not us them.
The rash of flash popup sales sites like Shoplocket, are tying transactions to shares, inventing Sharing 2.0 as inclusive of commerce.
This points towards an idea that each of us carries a personalized Point of Sale system as a commercial mirror image to our social or community core.
This bridges not just the community and commerce paradigm but the off and online one as well.
When I think of huge brands like Nike with massive fan bases, both on and offline, I would bet that in the near future their connection to their customers will be just one click away from a sale wherever the fan might be. The store will be wherever the fan is and sharing will carry an embedded transaction.
I’ve believed for some time that community existed in the connecting thread between URLs and web places. In the tissue of the web and society itself.
There is truth to that but the dynamics of the web itself as one ‘place’ is more about community and commerce being wherever we happen to be. Individuals as a gyroscope tilting one way or another and carrying our connected social loops with us.
Technologists think about this as an open sourced web. Community designers think about this unfettered individualism and communities without walls.
Same belief. Different words. Both right on.