Community lives where engagement happens. Specific to place and time.
We know this by just hanging out, bumping into serendipitous conversations or cruising for connections on whichever networks or blogs we frequent.
Earlier this week, my buddy Charlie Crystle and I jumped on a Facebook string about this very topic. On my request, we airlifted the conversation to my current blog, and it simply wilted away. It was false and stilted out of context. We reengaged later on the original string, where the dynamic was real for that topic at that time.
This happens all the time.
We want to force connection to our URLs as the center of our world. We want to push conversations to Disqus where interaction is just more natural.
It just doesn’t work.
We know this intuitively, but our misguided sense of centralized platform order is simply at odds with the messy synergy (and power) of community and the social web itself.
Think across the networks you frequent: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest or Tumblr.
Each is completely different. Groups and communities exist within them all. Different audiences in each, and, more important, different dna for what we personally want from each of them. Different ways that we want to digest information.
When you dump info from Instagram to Facebook with hashtags embedded, you are just creating noise, spam actually, and polluting your stream.
When you dump info from Tumblr to Facebook, the same.
It’s somewhat irrelevant whether the same individuals are in different places. Not only do you want to take your message to your customers, you need to speak to them in the language of where they are.
How I communicate in Tumblr, surfacing the graphic icon of the idea, even if it is a post or a quote, is key. It’s a graphic scrolling vernacular. But a tweet on your Facebook stream—Oy! A Facebook personal photo on your Twitter stream—you get the message.
I sent a DM to a friend whose Twitter stream I really like, to let her know that it was polluted with ‘X posted a photo to her Facebook page” over and over again on her stream as an auto push from Facebook. Her response was that it’s too time intensive to work these nets one at a time.
My response was that I unfollowed her. Really enjoy her thoughts, just don’t want bot-generated flotsam (or is it Jetsam?) on my feed.
This is just community common sense.
A huge Aha for me a few years back was looking at Kickstarter and realizing that there was no community there at all.
Regardless of their adding ‘Follow’, they were a service to the broader world, handed off from individual to individual within different communities, across the web. A link in the shape of a baton, across every possible network. The idea that community needed to be onsite was irrelevant. The goal was to spread the word of things that touched you wherever you had conversations. Contiguous network connections mattered not. This was more akin to pebbles dropped in the pond than a spider web of attachments.
This relates back to my experience with Charlie above, and some thinking about Disqus.
Disqus imagines a world where community exists between communities as well as within them. Intra-community glue in the form of their platform. Where having a central sign-on, the ability to ring tone others to join conversations and to follow commenters across conversations intimates that community exists within the connecting threads itself.
I’m starting to question this as a concept.
Questioning it because there will obviously never be just one platform. And because time and place trump platform protocol every time. As much as I want one language, one ramp, it’s not the natural state of the web.
What Kickstarter showed is that the only thing that matters is what is shared. It will find conversation in every possible corner of the web. Therein lies its power.
When a project touches me, I bring it to a network that would be interested, or I blog on it and share it that way. It’s the core idea, the call to action that transports and crosses the network chasm.
Or maybe the network chasm is simply a mental fabrication. Some silly “Like” within Facebook stays there because it doesn’t matter anywhere else. Some Tumblr photo of the Statue of Liberty at first light easily pushes to Twitter, and inevitably ends up in other spots in different formats as well.
We all get lazy and dump content. We think that community and connections are part of the platforms themselves. We do this because the web is just there and it’s easy.
It’s always a bad idea.
Bad because stuff thrown against the wall is disrespectful to those you are communicating with. And bad, because community is specific—and unique– to where it lives and when you touch it. Random and spattered broadcasting is a function of TV, not of community and conversation.
Some food for thought…
When a friend, a startup CEO, asked me what exactly I do in my consulting work, I knew this post was long overdue.
It’s simple–I bring my perspective on building communities and markets, products and brands to your business as a partner.
Beyond that, of course, nothing is simple, least of all running and building a company.
Consulting as a model honestly has always seemed broken to me. Buying advice ad hoc in bits and pieces doesn’t really help anyone. Advice thrown over the transom in Hallmark-styled headlines may be momentarily inspiring, but fades away quickly. True value happens over time, tied to execution and iteration of the product, the brand, the market itself.
I’m four years into working with companies as an advisor now.
I care less about the definitions of consultant, advisor or mentor. I care about bridging the ‘advisory action gap’. About becoming a partner in fleshing out decisions, applying my background and my thinking to the somewhat messy and always slightly nervous job of making business decisions. About bringing my informal approach to a focused and ongoing relationship with my clients.
To the question—what do I do?
My work breaks into four malleable chunks:
1. Ongoing advisory board member
Companies naturally build a network of experts and supporters as they grow. Market development, market perception, product, channels, team building and fundraising are what I do. Long term is my preference, flexible is my style, and committed is my nature,
2. Office Hours
A lighter touch, ongoing advisory service, with focused, consistent meetings scheduled over time. The stronger the team or exec, the better this works. I don’t manage processes or individuals, I mentor people and teams, help design solutions and share expertise. More details here.
3. Deep dive
With an opportunity on the horizon. A team in place. A whiteboard and a couple of days blocked out.
Diving in (and deep) with an outside point of view is exactly what is sometimes needed to insure you are giving the opportunity your best shot. To shake up common thinking. To challenge too much navel gazing. To rejigger the data and challenge whether you have the right data at all. To insure that you are not seeing the world strictly from need and counting on the results before they happen.
I seriously love doing this!
Sometime, timing is the biggest determinant. Often bringing in a stand in CMO, sales or BD lead to get one crucial piece moving. Hiring a team. Making certain that the holiday selling season is prepped from manufacturing to commerce to customer service to filling the funnel. To integrate an acquisition or figure out if one is needed at all. Invariably, these projects demand that someone is hired to be me on completion.
Being an advisor naturally just works for me, my informal (and intense) style, my skill sets. It’s the perfect playing field to bridge strategic thinking and operational actions with always new sets of issues and opportunities.
As a business model there are challenges of scale with consulting. Challenges of how to price services over time. And the flux of working with a number of startups and mid size companies at once. Business is definitely never all black or white. We do what we are great at and love– and innovate the model to make it work.
For a long while, I built and led teams, taking to market a wide variety of products and services. I truly loved it.
As an advisor, I get to add value to your company as you take the leadership role in building your team, you business and the market.
When the partnership is right, this is as good as work gets.
For more details on my Consulting Services and Office Hours solution.
The web is like junk food to a generation of marketers.
They chew on it because it’s there. It’s like muscle memory doing the same thing over and over because it looks good in the mirror.
It’s often exercise without form or results. And worse—we do it simply because we can.
I seriously love the web. How it has changed our world. How it has reconfigured how we build brands and sell products. How it has turned upside down how we interact how with our customers.
It’s dark side is that while it has made the impossible plausible, and everyone a marketer and a brand, it has created a generation of posturers, along with an echo chamber of deafening noise.
And I’m personally not exempt from the lure of vanity cruising. The behaviorally insane truth that I care if someone likes a picture of Sam, my cat (as wonderful as he certainly is!). Of mistaking activity with work.
Social porn is fun to play with—it’s just not marketing.
BACK TO MARKETING BASICS is a message in all caps I have on my computer screen this week. It is not retro in the least, nor a call to a better, simpler past. Not at all! It is all about core behavioral values and market truths.
The opposite of social grinning is not advertising. Not email. Not SEO. Not any channeled tactic over one or the other.
I believe that marketing starts with belief and intent. Period.
My biggest lament about most marketing I see, is that is all exclamation points. It’s all trolling to discover themselves in the eyes of the customer. It’s like politicians taking polls to discover what to talk about. Kind of insincere and invariably unsuccessful. Heartless and substanceless.
Define marketing basics?
1. Internalizing the core value of who you are and what you sell
If you don’t know who you or your company is, get to work and figure it out.
You may not be right forever but you need to know in your gut that this is what you are about right now.
2. Acknowledging the difference between core value and market fit
This is my favorite one. Market fit is not a reflection (usually) of what you believe in. It is a mashup of belief, the economics of your value, how you deliver it and to whom. Ninety percent of what people call ‘minor pivots’ are not about core value at all. They are about iterating market fit.
Iterating beliefs is strictly for amateurs, not the serious or inspired.
3. Talking to customers in their own language
Marketing is about what you don’t say and how what you do say is heard. Iconization of customer needs is the art; choosing language is the craft. If you are dumping Instagram photos and Tweets to Facebook, Tumblr posts to Twitter without thought, you are doing more harm than good. It’s just exercise in a vacuum.
4. Sell value by understanding customer behavior
If you believe in your value, don’t gently nudge it forward but smartly and passionately sell it. In almost all cases we aren’t selling a better barbecue, we are selling a different approach to eating. Find the language and the passion, giving the customer the way to opt in to the discussion, then sell away. Here’s a post on selling value.
Understanding why a customer would respond defines the language and context of how you sell. If you can’t understand, on the social web, why a customer should care enough to share, why are you bothering? Here’ a post on just that.
5. Respecting the market’s attention span
Attention is the currency of the market. Customers opt in, give you their time, out of respect. This is a gift to the lucky. Take this opportunity seriously. This doesn’t mean you are all serious–or even perfect. Honest intent will trump form every single time.
I disdained survey marketing when it was the vogue. I disdain the easiness of ‘what do you think’ or ‘discuss’ as leading the customer to a conversation. It invariably is a bright light on the Exit sign and a quick slide unsubscribe and unfollow link. Teaching is not leading necessarily and the market is not your classroom.
Don’t waste anyone’s time is as true a goal as you can have.
Thinking before you act is not overrated
I try and consider these five core basics before I act each and every time.
These are building blocks of strategy. They often determine organically how you determine the channels you should target, the language you should use, the offers you should make and the messages you want remembered.
Some stuff just works on email. Some segments just rock on Instagram and hit the floor with a thud on Twitter. Markets and messages are channel specific.
I’m all about understanding craft. I’m very much a believer that each channel for communications has its rules-of-thumb that we need to become masters of, from know when to post and understanding the value and limitations of the analytics you can gather.
But–I would choose a crisp message about a core value infused with passion with absolutely no budget and no tools except drums and smoke signals, over instant and free access to the web and just nothing useful or inspiring to say.
This is the quote of the week.
It’s HBR’s (Harvard Business Review) blog commenting policy, and a case study on how not to build community around blog conversations.
HBR, as an organization, is obviously no dummy, but setting themselves up as relevance police and the anti-conversation Ninjas is retro at best, certainly misguided. For a blog that pontificates on heady web topics, it’s showing its academic, out-of-touch side.
The scary fact that they think it is OK to take your comment, edit it for ‘relevance’ and publish under your name is just wacko.
I’m on the opposite side from HBR in both intent and execution. Actually in every way.
When I think of blog commenting guidelines this is my list:
1. Not all blogs have comments. Not all aspire to be a community
If your goal is simply to push out information and you don’t want to chat with anyone, don’t.
Seth Godin’s legendary daily epistle of marketing advice is a case in point. Useful, always entertaining and astoundingly consistent, he has comments turned off. It suits his needs as an author and public speaker. He is a brand and marketing master and I’m happy to have him in my inbox daily as is.
2. Some blogs can’t handle comments, they should just fess up and airlift community elsewhere
If you start with comments and just can’t cut it, just close it down.
The best example of this is The Pour by Eric Asimov. It went commentless a while back through a blanket NY Times policy change (I think). I was truly unhappy, but still more content that they pulled the plug rather than HBR’d it. (I’m also somewhat mollified to have Eric on Twitter more often to interact with.)
3. Comments are the true content
This is a basic web truism. If you are fortunate enough to have readers who care to comment, recognize that they, not you, are the core of the conversation. People don’t reread posts often. People scan comments all the time or follow commentors around on Disqus threads.
4. The most dynamic communities simply police themselves
The best blogs have only one rule: respect each other.
Nothing more. They don’t prequalify your comments. They don’t define themselves by what is not allowed.
The community itself will encourage the behavior that defines it. Sounds simple, but it really is that simple when it works.
5. Spam is just that, and should be treated as such
Ads dumped in comment strings for-work-at-home-fortunes, or real trolls, are both simply garbage. Just remove them.
The hard part is not how to remove them, but in knowing when not agreeing and being confrontational is just part of the conversation. We want diversity but no one wants to be needlessly and nastily offended. Tough call at times.
Moderation and community management is both a learned skill and a powerful talent. It’s a wonder in the hands of the very few who excel at it.
6. Ignoring the inane is a powerful strategy
People comment to engage. You may not agree with what they say. You may not like how they say it, but you learn more by opening the door to diversity and different ways of thinking than by sanitizing the dynamics.
Some people don’t quite cross the line to be considered spam, they are just unpleasant. Don’t dignify what you don’t like with a response.
My rule of thumb is that a jerk that nobody pays attention to doesn’t really matter. They will take their hostility and go home in most cases.
In blogs, the most liked and commented on rise to the top of the thread. The uninteresting, the truly nice but non opinionated and the ignored sink to the bottom and out of sight.
7. Lack of response is rudeness personified
If you have comments attached to your blog you are inviting people in to chat. It’s that simple.
If you have many comments and a community of people, the dynamics of the string takes care of itself.
If you put up a post and I just like it or +1000 it, all is good, This is an enthusiasts upvote.
If you spend 90 minutes writing the post and I spend 15 minutes thoughtfully responding, I’m important and ought to be acknowledged. People want to be rewarded for contributions of substance. Why not reward them, by simply engaging?
8. Randomness is goodness
This is the most misunderstood one.
Most Q & A sites are boring, and fail even though they are conversational. They lack community and the human touch. They sacrifice the interest footprint of people for the hard edge of context.
Comments are the natural language of the web. The more you set the scene for people to be themselves, the more fun it will be, the more honest the communications and the more interesting the exchange.
When I see that someone is commenting from Aspen, and I ask how windy it is on the top of Highland Bowl, is that useful and relevant? For absolutely certain it is, and it greases the cordiality of the exchange that follows.
Lightening up and letting go is a good strategy
The power of the web as a social platform to connect people to others and companies to people who might care about their products is key to its magic. It’s inspiring, limitless and powerful, even when used badly.
It’s really hard to create content that matters. It’s amazingly rare to actually have community develop under your leadership. But it’s just common web sense to not lead with what you don’t want and simply let people sort themselves out.
It’s just a conversation! Be glad that it’s happening at all.
I walked by this storefront in the Meatpacking District late last week.
My first impression, like others on the street was—what? The big gotcha of course is that this is not a storefront at all, but the popup store itself.
It’s an interactive diorama of Kate Spade merchandise. A visualization of a giant mobile commerce site, store sized and street side. Big brand commerce wrapped up as an adult busy box for mobile shopping.
On the left side of the the window are the ‘Saturday’ line of products for sale on pegs. To the right, an over-sized touch screen complete with some funky mechanical sound effects for each action. You sort by item, check sizes and colors, confirm availability and then order.
This is a mobile shopping cart on growth hormones in a store window. It lets you browse, shop and purchase. To transact, you put in your cell number, and they text you a link to their mobile site to complete the sale.
The big difference, of course, is that this is literally driven by walk-by-foot-traffic, and what you buy is delivered to wherever you are in the city in an hour.
Quite cool. Clever certainly and speaks to innovations that are starting to happen on the streets of New York, as shopping enters a mobile renaissance and location based-retail gets turned on its head.
To be clear, this storefront is actually a promotion, jointly developed by Kate Spade, eBay and PayPal. It’s not a channel per se but event marketing launched a month ago to bring attention to the Saturday line of clothes, sold in-store and online.
I don’t know if the promotion is working. And I’m not certain that it it is going to sell many products through the mobile link, but there is something seriously disrupting going on.
There are a number of retail redefining concepts playing out here:
1. The web is not a place
ecommerce is not enough on its own. For all the brilliant plans to interrupt our lives with advertising, engage the enthusiasts with shareable and transactionable social objects, and the science of driving traffic online, there’s a gap between sites on the web and shoppers on the street.
Web sites just sit there. Stores wait for people to come to them. People want to buy products where they happen to be, when they feel like it. For Kate Spade, maybe that is Gansevoort Street. For New Yorkers, one-hour delivery is certainly better than standing in line to pay and schlepping stuff home.
The system of shop and buy, wait in line, pay and carry out, is vestigial behavior en route to extinction.
2. Transactions are the easy part
We’ve perfected taking payments efficiently from our customers. Transactions aren’t the issue. Connecting transactions to inventory and delivery wherever the customer may be is.
Kate Spade, consciously or not, has smashed a hole in the status quo of retail. By taking a mobile site and externalizing it onto the street, she makes it clear that this transaction, this store itself, could be just about anywhere. A wall in the subway station, even on the back of a cargo bike rolling around the neighborhood.
This is a touch screen kiosk fronting for a mobile store tied into local warehousing and delivery through the web.
Kate Spade is selling hand bags and fashion accessories. Next it could be wine or beer maybe, or who knows, a massage package arriving at the park for you with a blended green on the side and a customized I Love NY beach towel.
3. Urban markets are unique unto themselves
Kate Spade in Manhattan and in a mall in Ohio are different animals completely. Behaviorally and culturally distinct.
The most dense population centers demand their own shopping solutions. This popup might make little sense in suburban Illinois but it sure would work in Paris or Singapore. These are a massive market in their own right.
Human density is in itself an inspiration for innovation.
Cities are the perfect sandbox for discovering market proof for mobile solutions. They are quick becoming an open source petri dish for not just mobile, but a mashup of urban life, ubiquitous connectivity, transportation and shopping. Something is brewing on the streets big time.
4. Channels are nothing more than a moving consumer doorway into the supply chain
Depending on where you are and what you buy, channel is mutable to the situation.
Think about the Apple Store early innovation where the people on the floor could provide the product and handle the transaction. Primitive today but groundbreaking then.
Imagine if in store, a mobile app let’s you buy for delivery as you walk around without talking to anyone. Or try it on, get sold, then buy on the subway at a kiosk or online on the way home for delivery when you arrive. This idea of people on a personal map, carrying purchasing and organizational capabilities around with them wherever they are, connected directly into supply and delivery is unquestionably the future, unfolding right in front of us.
This is inevitable. In fact, it’s overdue as the behavior, the technology and market is already there.
5. Brand is the most powerful filter there is
This mashed up popup shop works because of the filtering power of the brand.
Not the Saturday line being introduced, but Kate Spade. Her clothes, her bags, her reputation is what let’s us plonk down dollars without trying the clothes on, seeing how the bag hangs from your shoulder. Video or no video, it’s trust and brand identification. With us giving her the ability to text us transactional links in the personal context of our cell phones.
There’s two other brand driven trends intersecting here:
–>Online brands (like Etsy) using popups to connect more directly with people where they are, not just online. Nothing builds a strong online brand and community like face to face contact in the real world.
–>Hyper local brands known in-neighborhood, moving into new locations with a low cost, highly branded and just easy model and test delivery system. Spot (even moving) distribution like these virtual popups.
These are the building blocks of the future
Mix up mobile ubiquity, transactional efficiency, predictable street traffic, brand recognition and delivery when and where you want it! That is the joint power of mobile, and, in New York’s case, the added power of the bicycle delivery person getting there just in time.
This is a serious shake up of the traditional kiosk signage idea, connected to the mobile web on one side, people on the street delivering to you on the other.
If you live in NYC, check out these popups. The locations are here!
If you live in another dense urban area, do share variations on this theme with us. I’m certain that this is not the first of its kind but it’s the first for New York and I can assure you, many more are coming.