Monthly Archives: March 2010

HBR – The Social Media Bubble: Opinion

Umair Haque, Director of Havas Media Lab, recently posted a thought piece in the Harvard Business Review .

In general, Haque hypothesizes that Social Media doesn’t really connect people but instead, creates the semblance of relationships. Haque states, Social Media is ” largely home to weak, artificial connections, what I call thin relationships.”  He goes on to say “Today, ‘social’ media is trading in low-quality connections — linkages that are unlikely to yield meaningful, lasting relationships.”  Here are my own observations relating to some of Haque’s supporting points.

Truth: If we take social media at face value, the number of friends in the world has gone up a hundredfold. But have we seen an accompanying rise in trust? I’d argue no.

Agreed. In fact the word ‘friend’ is used very loosely in the social media vernacular. To me, a friend is someone that I know and trust. Most of us have about 5 real friends in our lives whom we trust implicitly. The rest are aquaintances, people that we are tied to loosely via circumstance like work, associations, clubs or…Facebook and Twitter. What we have seen a rise in is conversation amongst relative strangers under the pretense of ‘friending’. Caveat Eggshell.

Disempowerment:  If social tools were creating real economic gains, we’d expect to see a substitution effect. They’d replace — disintermediate — yesterday’s gatekeepers. Yet, increasingly, they are empowering gatekeepers.

It’s been notable that service providers such as PR agencies, advertising agencies and media consultancies have been vying for ownership of social media within the advertiser domain re. client side of business. They advocate the social media imperative, are evangelical in their style of persuasion and purport to offer social media “ROI”. They fall short by ignoring the element of accountability – something ingrained in traditional media. There is however, substitution in the form of reallocating traditional media dollars to digital. In this regard though, the financial equation is incomplete: digital is cheaper but the material business benefits are elusive. Quantified returns, in management accounting terms, are a work in progress.

Value: The ultimate proof’s in the pudding. If the “relationships” created on today’s Internet were valuable, perhaps people (or advertisers) might pay for the opportunity to enjoy them. Yet, few, if any, do — anywhere, ever. .. I can swap bits with pseudo-strangers at any number of sites. “Friends” like that are a commodity — not a valuable, unique good.

This is a tough one. Social Media is increasingly seen as a near free channel or pipe to deliver content, customer service and promotional offers. It’s also cheap in the sense that it has the capacity to diminish the value of fact-based, expert content while simultaneously encouraging the rise of ill-founded, non fact-based crowdsourced opinion. In this context, success is all too often gauged in purely quantitative terms (# of fans or followers) rather than say, degree of loyalty/willingness to recommend. In a similar vein, it is problematic to prove that people are who they say they are in the world of social networks, as many use avatars to represent themselves. If something is a known unknown then how does one ascribe value? 

There also exists an element of social media that is redundant, maybe superfluous, in terms its effect (non-effect?) on consumers. For many brands, the franchise is well entrenched (Tide, McDonald’s, BMW, Wal-Mart and of course, Apple) and the principles of The Discipline of Market Leaders are in place. These same brands already have meaningful relationships and established trust with consumers pre-Internet. Social Media is not about to change this any time soon, though to some, it may appear that way.

– Ted Morris, 4ScreensCRM

(Cross-posted at Cloud Ave and reprinted by IBM Business Insight Blog)

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My New Levi Jeans: Outside “The Social Bubble”

I just bought a new pair of Levi’s. Blue jeans. Levi’s 501 with the red tab. I bought them because my 10 year old pair are done. I also have a black pair. I have always bought Levi jeans since I was in high school. While we all struggled to carve our our own identities, fitting in was important. Funny thing is, we all wore the same but different (?)  ‘uniform’ – Levi jeans, Bass Weejuns and Lacoste tennis shirt.

To be clear, I don’t think about Levi’s as an ‘iconic brand’. There’s little that is iconic about a 100+ years American brand now made in Bangladesh and Mexico. Instead, I want to relate this post to a couple of things that had nothing to do with why I bought by latest pair of Levi jeans. 

Social Media had nothing to do with my purchase. It did not influence, there was no online conversation, no online recommendation, not even a visit to a Levi website, microsite, Facebook page or banner ad. No online activity whatsoever. I didn’t even wonder if the Levi’s brand would be my ‘friend’. Social Media didn’t exist when I bought my first pair of Levi’s; it’s utterly irrelevant to this day. 

I am not part of a Levi community, online, offline, inline or out of line. While I may be one of millions who wear Levi’s jeans, I don’t have discussions about the brand, don’t care whether or not others wear the brand and don’t care what others think, feel or experience about the Levi brand. I wasn’t connected to a ‘friend’ that I ‘trusted’ or had an online ‘relationship’ with.

I didn’t go into a Levi retail outlet or even a jeans store. Just went to a chain department store to the menswear department. 

I have never bought another brand of jeans, never will. If someone gave me a pair from another brand, I would give them away. 

This was purely a value exchange. I paid my money, got new Levi’s. I bought them because I like them more than any other brand of jeans. I just do.

To paraphrase a recent quote from “The Social Bubble” in the Harvard Busness Review, “Levi’s makes awesome stuff”.

I am a Levi’s 501 jeans with-the-red-tab customer for life.

– Ted Morris, 4ScreensCRM

The State of the State of All Things Social

When I was a young man growing up, my parents encouraged me to spend some time at the National Art Gallery in Ottawa, Canada. I was told “If you understand art as a metaphor for life, your will understand what lies beyond the obvious”. Since then I have visited many galleries both public and private. I have always admired the work of Jean-Paul Riopelle.   

Jean-Paul Riopelle Sans titre (Composition #2) 1951

You might ask, “What does this have to do with anything?”  Well, we are in an age of massive transformation in society where there is tremendous disruption in terms of relationships, communication, commerce, culture, technology and movement. The key is to look for the interplay between light and colour, the nuance of hues and textures. 

At times, when the world out there looks something like a Riopelle, stand back a bit farther from the canvas and it will all make sense. 

– Ted Morris, 4ScreensCRM

The New Corporate Trust Agent

My previous post “Marketing Research Mindset: Stop Debating Social” was about the opportunity that Social Networks presents to the corporate marketing research function. Here are some further thoughts on moving forward.

Marketing Research professionals who look past the ‘research’ shortcomings of social media monitoring, see the wealth of organic, continuous streaming of customer conversation on the web. This view is echoed by the ARF – Advertising Research Foundation in their most recent publication The Listening Playbook.  This new breed of research professionals is reinforcing its position as the Voice of the Customer within their organization (or their client’s domain). They are also the small minority that organizations are turning to for help in solving complex business challenges brought about by the Social Web.

Marketing Research should be the ‘go to’ place to sense the marketplace and be the primary source for social network guidance.  Consider the following: 

You Can Handle The Truth

The Voice of the Customer (VOC): Consumer research is, in part,  about understanding wants and needs, whether explicit or implicit. The best methods afford the enterprise a window to see many possible futures rather than the world as viewed through a rear-view mirror. VOC input also enables strategic planning in the broadest context and tactical business process improvement at the transactional levels of the organization.

Analytical Rigor: Those who do it right and avoid analytical rigor mortis bring an objective view to the decision-making process. Marketing Research sits at the table as a key input that is fact-based and provides insight into the risk and potential rewards of business decisions. Like the accounting function, Marketing Research employs its own version of GAAP that can both replicated and audited for accuracy. Unlike accounting, Marketing Research has the added benefit of providing a qualitative perspective that can be applied to innovation.

Business is filled with risk: As in golf, business is ‘a game of mistakes’, risks and rewards.  As some like to ask, “With all of that marketing research, why do so many new products fail?” One might also wonder then why do so many advertising and public relations campaigns miss the mark, M&A deals go awry, startups fail, product quality glitches occur, costs are overun, brands lose market share and so on.  As one venture capitalist recenty told me, success is often about timing and luck. We both agreed however, that data, research and insight help to manage the “known unknowns”.

Enter the Golden Age: The best thing about Marketing Research, as I see it, is that it knits together Customer Relationship Management and Social Media as a primary step of customer engagement. It is catalyst in unifying the enterprise and the customer through insight. CRM needs research to design the customer experience; Social Media, in proving its business utility, needs market research to make sense of the millions of consumer-generated comments that are posted every day about brands. Social Media and CRM are where Marketing Research insight is put into action. Similar links exist at the functional level with product development, media, advertising, sales, public relations,  marketing and manufacturing.

In the new consumer world of social and mobile, has there ever been a better time for Marketing Research to be the new Corporate Trust Agent? 

– Ted Morris, 4ScreensCRM