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.
This is the traffic sign at the Chambers Street Subway Station.
Single functioned. Primitive even. Yet a significant game changer for New Yorkers.
Generations of city residents and commuters, up to 3M people a day, have stood dumbly waiting, sweating and broiling in the summer heat for the next subway train. No possible idea when or even which train is coming.
This display, at one level, is a Jetson-quality, sci-fi like glimpse of the future. A great example of big data trickling down to the mass market. This is the digital data runway fitting to the analog needs of our lives.
Of course this is also somewhat laughable and pathetic.
The signs are only in 25% of the stations. They went live in 2011 after 8 years in development. In 2011! — A decade after Google search put information ubiquity and e-commerce at our fingertips. One hundred and eight years after the trains starting running,
As much as I like knowing that an air-conditioned #2 train is approaching on a sweltering day, the sign is actually a techno tease. A drip of useful information in a desert of analog, real-life experiences cut off from the power of useful data and web connections.
As my fellow New Yorker Fred Wilson and I discussed online recently, the entire idea, as wonderful as it is, is woefully inadequate.
Hiding this info inside the pay turnstiles and not at street level is just bad human UX. Not using this data as a mashed up information hub with bus schedules, Hailo and Uber, Citi Bikes and time-to-walk-to-maps, makes it nothing more than a baby step of a solution. We are grateful for the crumbs of relief but impatient for the real thing
This story is a metaphor for the on/offline dichotomy that we are seeing more and more every day—and a well-lit sign pointing to where the market needs to go.
Online, we experience life like some suburban dream–squeaky clean, sanitized, orderly even within the confusion of the social nets. It’s curated, moderated and personalized. But also wildly intoxicating in its power, whether you are sitting in the office or at a park with free WiFi, pounding out a post or organizing your life for the week.
Each of us is the master of our abstracted and matrixed online world.
Offline it’s a disconnected mess.
Things are always broken, people are late. Connectivity is erratic, data incomplete, and the pace is arbitrary at best. There is an uneasy intersection of the transforming power of data, the web and the human touch.
This is not an app gap; it’s a data aggregation gap.
It’s a new way to think about data, the web and usability at the street level of our everyday lives. About human need where data begins to serve us as we move through life, not just as an abstraction of chores that surround our informational needs.
Businesses like Zipcar, Uber, Hailo and Citi Bikes are uniquely disruptive and personally empowering. Transportation at their core, but a bit more. True life changers for urban life.
They are painful to build, as the currency of value is dependent on the people who use the systems to behave responsibly. Logistics as a design element is no easy task. Tech is easy to get right. Human behavior is simply not programmable. .
I’ve been renting, hailing and riding a bit lately. I’m astounded by the power of these solutions and reminded in each case of these common building blocks.
-Mash ups of public and private data
Data from the subways and buses. Data from independent orgs like limo and cab companies. Data from APIs like Foursquare. These are the ingredients for the next generation system that will make the web belong to us on our own terms, on the streets where we live.
It may take another generation to get subway signs that truly deliver. Entrepreneurs, not the cities, may be the solution, curating value into discrete contextual pieces of urban life. The cities with smart leadership and cultural chutzpah will simply let the data out to be used as raw material.
-Human behavior and street level UX
People are messy. We are late. We don’t do what we should. We are the breaking point for every system that touches us and every system that requires us to feed the data pool so it flows smoothly.
It is what breaks for ZipCar using non-owned garages. What may for Hailo organizing third party cars and Citi Bike managing its neighborhood expansions and its inventory of bikes.
Street level design, the intersection of the data visualization, commerce, logistics and customer service wrapped in the culture of the consumer on the go will be the criteria for success. This is more subtle, more interesting, more empowering and considerably more difficult than fixing abandonment rates on a shopping cart.
The new expert architects for these solutions are not coming from web designers; they are using web design to serve these real-time events, grounded not only in space but in time, in the moment itself.
-Cracking the mobile language code
If your Zipcar is late or has a flat tire, their app, while great for ordering, is pretty useless for trouble shooting. You have to walk out of the garage, get a signal and call and wait.
We need a new mobile language. As easy as texting, yet as digitally powerful as a tag. Right now it’s like moving between two systems with a phone size display. No-one has designed this bridge across systems, data types and language. Yet!
Inspiring stuff. Changing not how we just shop or order stuff but how live better, informed, more efficiently.
A few years ago, we were all blogging about how the line between on and offline was blurring. As connectivity became ubiquitous we thought the wall was down.
We were simply wrong. It’s just getting started.
I touched on this in my Trading Places post a few weeks ago. My bet is it’s going to drag the orderliness of the web and reshuffle it into a just-in-time dynamic map of how we navigate our lives.
And just maybe, these early transportation point services will aggregate into platforms where we can share map-like slices of how we experience our days. Reshaping not only how we move around but how we order and organize our world in the moment it is changing.
Tumblr’s $1.1B price tag was a fair one.
It stopped me though, and forced me to rethink and recommit to the truly transformative power of these social nets, and their value, way beyond their present revenues.
It also reconfirmed my strong belief that native advertising as the monetizing engine for these super social nets has little to do with their value. Discussions on the non-intrusive nature of native ads are a bit silly. Ads are intrusive by nature, and ‘intrusive lite’ is merely a masquerade, sweeping intent under the carpet.
Net native communities and networks have changed the very culture of our world at its core. They’ve shattered our ideas of time and space. Changed language and commerce. Impacted behavioral norms not just online, but everywhere.
Back when e-commerce ruled the web, we put cars, art, real estate and most every hard good online, and made pricing transparency the new ethos. We redefined disruption, moving customers to the power seat and companies to the sidelines.
It was a defining change, but pales in comparison to the remapping of the world and human interactions that native platforms like Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook have enabled. What is happening on and between them is nothing less than transformational to how we all live our lives.
The core difference of course is that e-commerce is measured in importance solely by the dollars it creates from the clicks you capture. Social nets have changed human behavior and culture, not simply how we shop for theatre tickets or ski passes.
This is not to say that commerce doesn’t happen, or that we as companies won’t market on these platforms. We do today, rather badly as a rule, but advertising, no matter how you define it or morph it into a socially acceptable, non-interruptive formant, is not natural to social interaction.
The core marketing power of net native communities is that each has its own unit of language and gestures, specific to the context of the platform itself.
Social media pundits have this all wrong with their commandments on how to talk, market and sell to this social new world. They make the world think that how people act and communicate, share and sell on one net is the same as on every other. That how we sell clothes is the same as how we sell wine, and that we can sell them whenever and wherever people congregate.
It’s simply not true.
When behaviors change, language and culture morph. Each of the net native networks have unique behavioral dialects, specific to the networks themselves. We act differently wherever we are. Same person, different language and intent. Once size does not fit all.
Think of it this way.
Twitter. Core unit of language: the Tweet. It’s all about shared gestures, one-to-many broadcast in a looking-glass like paradigm. You speak or share, others listen, watch and consume. It’s the perfect currency for immediacy and leadership, with the most popular as the most influential.
Tumblr. Core unit of language: pictogram as post. Concrete poetry whether in text or graphics. Non-conversational, yet highly communal. One-to-one connections, like tattooed images with emotional impact tumbled across our memories in a collective stream.
Facebook. Core unit of language: the gesture of liking. Pile the world’s population into a huge funnel and give them a monosyllabic language to click at each other. Raw,primitive and simplistic. Posts as the unit of language are coming on strong though, and a conversational platform is surfacing regardless of the built in technical limitations.
The core marketing truth that you need to speak to customers in their own language has adapted to this context into how you talk to people and communities is specific to the networks you engage them on.
And that not every network is suitable as a selling place for every product.
Seems obvious doesn’t it?
But the number of companies that are pushing tweets to their Facebook streams and standing on top of their social strategies as one homogeneous activity across different networks is more common than not. Companies pushing discounts when people want to chat about politics or sports
Our challenge in business is always communications. It’s that simple. We need to discover, engage, transact with, and then support the customer. Context and timing is everything.
The native social nets are the web’s gift to us as business owners and marketers.
They are there, omnipresent, open for business with no admittance charge. Our customers and community members are milling around, transparent and open to hearing what matters to them.
I have an ask for Marissa Mayer at Yahoo.
Don’t focus on making ads palatable for Tumblr. They simply aren’t by nature in this environment.
As a marketer, business owner and consultant to numerous companies, I’m happy to pay for creative ways to discover communities of like interest. Don’t build a model based on how you sell display ads today, but for the longest possible tail of your network. For the rest of us.
Help me do that in Tumblr’s unique way and I’m all in.
The big aha from all the noise about the Tumblr acquisition was a huge sigh of optimism now that here are dollars to not only keep it going, but to make it better.
Imagine a world without Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook. A sad thought actually.
Imagine a world of objective clicks, where business communications was again a science and supposition, and the net was reduced to data and analysis, not people and communities. Where transactions were the definition of loyalty, and feedback a survey by unattached third parties.
The greatest part of these native communities is that they are there, unique, open, communal, yet distinct from each other.
The greatest boon to companies today is that we know where our customers are. We also know the language they speak, their motivations and behaviors in each place they frequent.
It ain’t easy to discover the right customer in the proper context and understand the language to speak with them. Never has been. But the social nets give us two steps towards the door, as we already know where to look.
All we need to do is to learn to play by the rules and speak the language. Not ours–theirs. They are actually waiting for us.
This is what marketers do.
Context is that dynamic space couched between what we sell as companies and what our customers believe they buy. It’s the common ground of brand and community.
At its aspirational best, it’s the intersection of company intent and customer need, both market filter and customer aggregator.
Think of it this way.
Companies sell value, beliefs and a future you as a package, not a product in a catalog. They sell a shared tomorrow of satisfaction and empowerment. This is true for sports clubs, Audi dealerships and dating sites. True for empowering tech, consumer gadgets and social nets. True for Armani and cruise lines alike.
It’s the tangible environment for creating shared value that shows up in customer loyalty and price premiums. And it is true for most everything we buy except pure commodities.
Products have never been simply the digits or atoms from which they are made. We buy in order to do certain things (think tech or sports gear), but objectivity fades on first use. Or even before if the sale was a referral. The brilliance of early Amazon customer reviews captured this perfectly and embedded personal customer selling into objective catalogue shopping.
The rub is that products are invariably an approximation of the promise behind them. This is probably more true today than ever before, as we can build and market earlier and more easily in a global web market.
Those of us in the business of making products know the drill well. The slide from big idea to customer experience is a long road of approximation; a honing that is often reduced to throwing out what doesn’t work in the hopes of discovering what truly does. That’s just reality, exacerbated 1000x when the gestalt of the product in any way depends on the network of users who adopt it.
This changes the marketing game completely, making the best solution to wire intent and customer context into the bits of the product itself.
This is why I’m so stuck that Value needs to be sold. Why a sales and creative marketing mentality connecting early product intent with customer want is just common sense. The best companies, even at an embryonic state, practice the craft of giving the customer something they didn’t really know they wanted until they made it their own. They do this with the rawest of materials and the most simplistic products, but with the most passionate and articulate intent.
This is intent contextualized in the nucleus of a product, the dynamics of selling and shared ownership with your customers.
The crystallization of intent, of course, is nothing unless bought into by the market. The chasm between intent as the honed idea of what you are about, and how to connect with those who just might care, is always the acid test for company survival.
Context, not the science of marketing, is the bridge here.
Most companies know who they are and what value they bring. They may not have articulation down to a phrase, but passion personified not perfection captured is the key to company positioning.
But most sputter and stall at the contextualization of it. This is hard, self-conscious work, deeply informed by experience and prey to luck and market realities.
Companies, for the most part, just don’t get this. They just throw stuff against the market wall. Passive aw-shucks marketing at its very worst. It just doesn’t work.
If you don’t take a stand for what you are about from first market contact, expecting the market to discover that for you is shortsighted foolishness. Build it and they will come is a cute phrase, but devoid of reality and sense as either tactic or strategy.
Connecting with a market, finding the contextual reality that enables you to get found by the right people in an environment where you can engage and sell your value is what this is about.
If you buy into this (and I do!), it stylizes how you build your company, your product and your marketing outreach.
It’s also empowering and enforces the reality that we do indeed make our own luck by working smarter and harder, and with more focused intent than everyone else. Most importantly, it pushes us to dig deep into our own beliefs of why we can matter to our customers, and focus on getting a bit of the market’s attention rather than chasing trends or competition.
Contextualizing intent is my way to thinking about how to create markets and communities that are willing to be sold to. How to make decisions on what and how to build campaigns, brands and even the products themselves.
Winning companies do this. They may not use these terms but their intent is invariably the same. Great marketers are their guides in making this happen.