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How to start a movement

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Brilliant video here from Derek Sivers, who discusses with real insight what would otherwise have just been an amusing video of a guy dancing.

This makes me think a couple of disparate thoughts:

1. Nurture your early community members: They are the ones who will bring in new people to your community.

2. That explains why the early social media leaders are mainly now eclipsed by followers: later followers don't follow the leaders, they follow the early followers. That says something strange about human nature, but I'm not quite sure what!

Hat tip to Johnnie Moore.

Balancing blogging

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Joel Spolsky writes one of the best blogs for programmers that I, as a non-programmer, have ever read. Joel on Software is soon to be ten years old and has provided me with some real insight into how software companies work. One of my favourite essays of Joel's is Hitting the High Notes, which he wrote in 2005. I still refer back to it even now because it contains truths that apply not just to programming but to many other areas as well.

In his Inc.com column, Joel takes a look at what makes a good business blogger. He says:

These days, it seems like just about every start-up founder has a blog, and 99 percent of these bloggers are doing it wrong. The problem? They make the blog about themselves, filling it with posts announcing new hires, touting new products, and sharing pictures from the company picnic. That's lovely, darling -- I'm sure your mom cares. Too bad nobody else does. Most company blogs have almost no readers, no traffic, and no impact on sales. Over time, the updates become few and far between (especially if responsibility for the blog is shared among several staff members), and the whole thing ceases to become an important source of leads or traffic.

I've never counted to know if 'most' company blogs are like this, but certainly too many are. It's something I come across over and again: The business whose social media presence is all about them.

Reading these blogs or Twitter streams or Facebook walls or LinkedIn Groups is like being trapped in a noisy restaurant with the worst date of your life who just cannot stop talking about how great he or she is, how well travelled they are, how fascinating their life. By dessert you're eyeing your spoon, trying to figure out just how blunt it is and just how hard self-disembowelment would be.

Joel goes on to paraphrase Kathy Sierra:

To really work, Sierra observed, an entrepreneur's blog has to be about something bigger than his or her company and his or her product. This sounds simple, but it isn't. It takes real discipline to not talk about yourself and your company. Blogging as a medium seems so personal, and often it is. But when you're using a blog to promote a business, that blog can't be about you, Sierra said. It has to be about your readers, who will, it's hoped, become your customers. It has to be about making them awesome.

Kathy is, of course, spot on. Blogging, along with other forms of social media, is not about blowing your own trumpet or bragging about you or your company's achievements, its about giving people something interesting, entertaining, useful or valuable. It's about having a conversation and listening as much as talking.

But where Joel surprises is in his announcement that he's quitting blogging, writing columns and public speaking:

So, having become an Internet celebrity in the narrow, niche world of programming, I've decided that it's time to retire from blogging. March 17, the 10th anniversary of Joel on Software, will mark my last major post. This also will be my last column for Inc. For the most part, I will also quit podcasting and public speaking. Twitter? "Awful, evil, must die, CB radio, sorry with only 140 chars I can't tell you why."

The truth is, as much as I've enjoyed it, blogging has become increasingly impossible to do the way I want to as Fog Creek has become a larger company. We now have 32 employees and at least six substantial product lines. We have so many customers that I can't always write freely without inadvertently insulting one of them. And my daily duties now take so much time that it has become a major effort to post something thoughtful even once or twice a month.

The best evidence also suggests that there are many other effective ways to market Fog Creek's products -- and that our historical overreliance on blogging as a marketing channel has meant that we've ignored them.

I think that's an understandable move, but for my money it's also an overreaction. Blogging alone is not a marketing plan. Social media doesn't stand isolated from other marketing techniques, but should instead be part of a wider strategy.

My advice to Joel would be:

  • Don't abandon your blogging and public speaking, just scale it back.
  • Look at your new markets, the ones you want to move into, and figure out what those people want to hear about.
  • Start a new blog aimed at your new market. Better yet, get someone else in your company who is already interested in these new markets to start it.
  • Do whatever other marketing you were planning on doing as well. Remember, this is an 'and' world, not an 'or' world.
One doesn't have to sacrifice a blog for traditional marketing - the two can coexist quite happily.

Report: Edelman's Trust Barometer 2010

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Edelman's yearly Trust Barometer survey results are out, with trust in business, governments and NGOs up, whilst trust in the media continues its three year decline. However:

Although trust in business is up, the rise is tenuous. Globally, nearly 70 percent of informed publics expect business and financial companies will revert to "business as usual" after the recession.

Interestingly, trust in "credentialed experts" is up, compared to a drop in trust in "[people] like me", perhaps because in a recession people become aware that their friends don't have better information than they do. I don't think this necessarily points to a decline in word-of-mouth and would expect this metric to bounce back once we're out of recession. But then, your word-of-mouth is only as good as people's experience of your actual product or service and businesses do need to understand that you if you put lipstick on a pig, people will still see that it's a pig.

Edelman also found that:

A vastly different set of factors - let by trust and transparency - now influences corporate reputation and demands that companies take a multi-dimensional approach to their engagement with stakeholders.

Another good reason to use social media to engage with customers, clients and other stakeholders!

I'm slightly surprised it's taken us this long to see this happen. People are much more aware now that businesses can act deceptively towards them. There are many examples of deception (whether deliberate or through incompetence) and subsequent climb-down that persist in the public consciousness because the story has been so efficiently transmitted via the internet. It's hard not to view business in general with a certain level of mistrust these days.

Businesses that are deliberately transparent, on the other hand, counter this background mistrust by laying their cards on the table and emphasising that they are made up of human beings with whom we can interact, rather than corporate droids who only know how to say their equivalent of Computer Says NO! It is, after all, much harder to mistrust a real person for no reason than a faceless megacorp.

Here, Robert Phillips, UK Ceo for Edelman, talks about how trust pans out in the UK:

As usual, Edelman's report provides us with much food for thought.

Customer outreach doesn't trump genuine change

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Sucking up to disgruntled (and well-connected) customers that you've found on Twitter is by now a fairly well established social media CRM strategy. Trouble is, your well-connected disgruntled customer doesn't necessarily want to be mollified. She might want to see real, tangible change, not just for her benefit but for all your other customers. Says Tara Hunt:

I don't take bribes (#12) even when they don't look like one. I want change. I don't want to see change for me, I want to see change for everyone. I want banks to stop experimenting with how far they can push us before we cry 'uncle' on their policies and start thinking about how they can help us achieve our dreams with customer-empowering policies. I want business to invest in technology that streamlines and helps the customer experience, not technology that spies on us.

Social media marketing and word of mouth isn't just about finding new ways to gloss over cracks and quieten down the loudest critical voices, it's an opportunity to learn about what really doesn't work in your business and then figure out how to fix it. Permanently. Anything less is a whitewash.

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