“He Loved a Sunny Day, A Lobster Dinner, and Never Joined a Committee”

That’s the epitaph my spiritual mentor, the late Rev. George Vought of The Brooks School, wanted carved on his gravestone. I can attest to the first two, and wish I could say the same about committee work. When I first moved to Cotuit full-time I was a 30 year-old sitting duck with a strong back and a weak mind, and within a year was sitting on the board of the local library, was secretary to the yacht club’s parents association, and spending a night every other week on the local historic preservation district planning board.

Running the annual July book fair for the library was the killer and within two years I was off of all boards, panels, and committees and haven’t sat on one since.

The same goes for professional awards, contests, and industry associations. My college advisor, the late John Hersey, told me writing contests were especially pernicious and said anyone who wrote fiction with a prize in mind was doomed to never receive one. Apparently Thomas Pynchon felt the same way, when the rarely photographed author’s publisher hired Professor Irwin Corey to accept the National Book Award for Gravity’s Rainbow in 1972.


Industry associations are the real killer these days. I won’t name names, but there has been an increasing number of bureaus, boards and associations — most with membership fees — crossing my radar, none of which are worth attending for free (in my snobbish opinion) let alone pay for. Hey, if it’s an international standards committee and the company needs to engage in arm wrestling to establish some tech spec as the de factor or de jure standard, great, sign us up. But if it’s the Society of Corporate Underachieving Marketers (SCUM), devoted to “a knowledge exchange between like-minded individuals in a secure community environment” I rather contract a case of jock itch (and why do I despise the term “like minded?” Perhaps its because of a former Teutonic boss, the perfect James Bond villain — up there with Blofeld — who used the phrase in every other speech and pronounced it “wike-minded”) or join the Loyal Order of Water Buffaloes.

So, save the invite. I am not going to my boss to ask for $5,000 to join a dinner club to discuss stuff I know about with other people who may not know the same stuff. I keep my recipes to myself or blog about them here.

Social media marketing in Facebook

My Facebook activity — and I suspect yours — has stepped up over the past four months, seemingly due to a tipping point of sorts being reached in the late spring as more Forty- and Fifty-Somethings in the interactive/tech space flooded the former college network looking for insights and value.

As I told the audience at last week’s WPP Strategy meeting, you can’t accurately fathom the essence of Facebook unless you are a 19-year old freshman and are using the system at its naturally intended level: a replacement of the paper facebook that was de rigeur in the freshman welcome packs when I arrived at college in the fall of 1976.

My college roommate — a professor of archeology at the University of Kansas — actually uses Facebook the way a contemporary student would, posting pictures of our 25th Reunion (which I blew off), staying in touch, sharing videos of Burning Man, and adopting and rejecting new applications at a furious clip. But the rest of my network …. with the exception of some natural networkers like Forbes publisher Rich Karlgaard, and interactive marketing pundit Joseph Jaffe, the typical Facebook friend in my network seems to be using the system as a semi-rolodex replacement, or a scalp-collector the way early Linked-In fanatics collected gross contact counts as a validation of their self-importance (until Linked-In wisely capped the reported contact count at 500+)

The usual cliches about Facebook being a time sink are true, and even though I compulsively check the thing, and even listened to a Jaffe podcast through it this morning (Across the Sound), I haven’t felt the utility of it click the way other addictive online apps (Google Reader, Google News, my own blog) have hit me.

I have spent a lot of time analyzing the economic value of marketing within Facebook, requesting rate cards and looking at the efforts of competitors and top brands such as Southwest Airlines in creating sponsored groups. While I have subscribed to, and monitor relevant grassroots groups that have cropped up around our brand terms, I haven’t seen a large amount of activity nor urgency in diving in with a seven-figure investment.

One thing is perfectly clear to me as I use it — display advertising has a very very hard time vying for my attention inside of a tool that is all about news and utility tailored to me and my interests. That same display advertising, in the context of a flat media page — say a news story on Marketwatch.com — is slightly more compelling or attention getting given the linear, one way experience of an HTML web page impression. If I can’t engage with the content then the ads pop out a bit more. Put that same ad in the middle of my profile page, and it suddenly is competing for attention with everything from my iTunes utility to my Facebook inbox.

I won’t delve into MySpace as a) that rivalry is overstated in my opinion, and b) I don’t use MySpace enough to feel informed about it.

I know I embarrass my daughter to no end by being on Facebook — I was her “friend” for about a month before she “unfriendeded” me — and I don’t blame her. I’m an invader, not a native, and nothing is uncooler than inviting a parent to a party. I guess if I want to understand how to market in Facebook I need to hire her or her ilk to insure it is done properly, otherwise the brand could come off looking like an old lady in a mini-skirt.

Now, to see if there are any Facebook gadgets so I can integrate WordPress ….

Democratic design: Yipes Stripes

Design Matters » Blog Archive » Yipes Stripes

David Hill is VP of Design at Lenovo and the company’s first blogger. It’s been a great experience launching the Design Matters blog and getting David’s voice out into the world. Early on David requested a poll so we provided him with one. He quickly learned the best way to earn engagement from his readers was to ask them a question. Do you like wide-screen or 4:3 aspect ration LCDs? Do you use the page-forward/page-back buttons? Earlier this week he posted about an issue that came to our attention in early 2006 when customers complained about the stripes being removed from the front of the two ThinkPad mouse buttons. So David asked (John Bell at Ogilvy’s Digital Influence Mapping project might classify this as an example of customer co-creation) and the crowd replied.

I’ve been long interested in a more formal customer collaboration — something beyond a suggestion box approach — something tangible where the customer could get some true skin in the game. I have looked at Slim Devices as a great case example of how it could be done. The question is what is the right coillaboration infrastructure for getting it done? A straightforward wiki perhaps? Something more iterative, like a threaded bulletin/forum? While David shows the possibilities, I don’t think a WordPress blog with the Democracy plug-in is the solution. There must be something more robust, something used in software development perhaps, or the open source community, which would be easy and sophisticated enough for a layman or a serious human factors engineer to work within.

“Now we are reconsidering this change, perhaps we went too far in simplifying the interior. Although the utility can be argued, the familiarity is also important for a brand so strongly connected to it’s design as ThinkPad.I’d love to get your feedback on this topic. We’ve included a new poll to make this easier.

David Hill”

Cahill on the 2% “Answer People” in Social Media

Vario Creative Blog » 2% “Answer People” in Social Media

Mark Cahill is an old hand at interactive community building and gardening, having tamed and developed the saltwater flyfishing mob at Reel-Time.com for the past decade and having built more than his fair share of social networking platforms. At his Vario Creative Blog he discusses an important academic study of USENET and the findings that 2% of the users answer the majority of all questions, acting, in effect, as mentors for the other 98%. This is a very good study, one that aligns with the anecdotal evidence that other content-driven phenomena, such as Wikipedia, are driven by a tiny, devoted core.

“Indeed there are people in most successful communities who answer a majority of the questions, and they tend to answer them authoritatively. The quality of the community is often directly related to the quality of the answer people, especially in small niche communities.

“I have always attempted to recognize these answer people for what they truly tend to be, mentors. They generally have expertise, and gain little from interaction with the newbies in the crowd. They’ll take the time to answer the same question on the 50th time around, just as they did on the 1st.

“How are they served by the network or community as a whole? Prestige and vanity enter in for some, but for others the knowledge that they indeed fulfill that mentor role is enough. I can think of several archetypal “answer people” who actually use screen names and have over as long as a decade kept their true identities generally secret.”

When to engage?

What is the threshold for a person in charge of blog monitoring to step into a comment string and try to contact an aggrieved customer?

The notion of influence and “rank” has been used in the past to differentiate between bloggers, but for some online marketers, any negative comment from an upset customer can represent a permanent scar in the search index, something which, if left unanswered can linger, or, if ignored, flare into something more significant than the initial detection might predict based on the user’s Technorati rank or known influence.
Yet, what are the rules of thumb for engaging or ignoring?  If one takes the approach that all expressions of unhappiness – be it from a blogger on their blog, or from a commenter on another blog, or a commenter on an official corporate blog — are bad, then one can quickly project an extremely busy, extremely challenged operation trying to respond to all inquiries or complaints. Extend that to a multi-language operation and the challenge compounds quickly.

Triage, that emergency room cliche, carries a huge amount of risk. Some incidents, left untended, will flare into something dramatic. And, there is the Heisenberg principle of measurement — that detection and measurement of online community sentiment leads to a change in the nature of that sentiment, and indeed, encourages it to bloom as users quickly understand that a blogged comment can expedite resolution faster than the anonymity of a service phone call.

Just some random challenges I’m wrestling with these days.

Om launches FoundRead

Introducing FoundRead – Found+READ

Good buddy and former Forbes.com colleague Om Malik has launched — auspiciously on Friday the 13th — a new blog under the GigaOm umbrella for entrepreneurs.

“While growing our little publishing company has been a thrill-a-minute, it has also been an educational process, one that Harvard Business School can’t teach you. I have been scribbling some of my lessons, hoping to someday turn it into a book. How analog for a digital guy – quipped a friend who also was responsible for the title of my first book, Broadbandits. Why don’t you start a blog about it, after all you are good at blogging – he said.”

Corporate Blogging in China – part 1

Where to begin on this topic? The title is intimidating enough, but here goes. I’ve been living the topic this week, so this post will be a multi-part brain dump.
In terms of large numbers, China leads the world in a lot of counts. The landmass is big. The population is big. Growth rates are big. Historical tradition is big. And the number of blogs is reported to be big and getting bigger, but I’ll defer to Sino-net experts on adoption rates and trends.
The big issue is whether any Chinese corporations blog. I’ll duck that issue for now, because I honestly can’t say, but will assume the answer is yes. The question is whether they blog globally, which is going to force me down the rabbit hole of digression to tackle the bigger issue of blog translation, something I’ve been discussing with John Bell at Ogilvy’s Digital Influence Project, and who recently returned from China himself.

I’ll dismiss, right off the top, the notion of machine-translation. Yes, a google on “WordPress Translation” will yield a number of sidebar plug-ins which will accomplish the act, but I will assume they are no better than Babelfish in terms of fluency and accuracy. I’ve tried using machine-translation to read what others are saying about me, in say Italian, and the result is barely understandable.

So, human translation is required and that is easily worked — find someone with the skills and have them monitor the originating blog for updates, perform the translation and post it.

Okay. Where do they post it? In the originating blog, right adjacent or following the originating blog post? In an entirely separate, cloned translation of the originating blog? Now you’re managing two blogs. One owned the originating blogger/bloggers and a second managed by the translator. Do you put a language selector on both so users can self-select the language they want?

Questions. Questions and more questions. What about the comments? Do they get translated? Would I want someone translating my commentary on my behalf, without my permission?

This is the stuff I’m coming out of Beijing wrestling with. My first resolution is to provide global web services from one centrally managed, self-hosted WordPress platform. Where will it be served? Good question — probably in two data centers to provide some mirrored redundancy and content distribution. Where will it be managed? Doesn’t matter. The sysadmin can be anywhere. Is there a Chinese version of WordPress so my China bloggers can easily work the administration dashboard?

This is going to be an interesting challenge over the next few weeks. I need to get one out the door like yesterday so time to write the brief and identify the talent.

Flight is being called, so I need to steel myself for a coma flight to San Fran, then Boston. Weekend in Cotuit decompressing, then off to Raleigh next week.

Stay tuned for more, I’ll try to put something more coherent together on the flight and post from home.

Community 2.0 Conference Las Vegas 3.13

Shawn Gold, CMO of MySpace, is on stage talking about the MySpace phenomenon. I go on at 1:45 to talk about “lessons from the trenches” from a corporate point of view.

I can’t put my finger on it, but the term “community” hasn’t sat well for me since a Jerry Michalski retreat in 1995 when one woman said the word made her think of community gardens, hemp clothing, and socialism. Indeed, “social” came along in Web 2.0 and things like MySpace and LinkedIn are cited as embodiments of the concept. I don’t know why it doesn’t sit well. John Bell cites David Weinberger’s redefinition last week in San Francisco: something to the effect that communities are places where people care more than is normal about something. [I need to find the backchannel transcript for the accurate quote, it’s lost somewhere in Google Reader].

Found it thanks to Lee LeFever by way of Chris Heuer’s post at the Future of Communities : Weinberger said: “I want it to mean a group of people who care about one another more than they have to.”

Back to Shawn Gold — basically a history of MySpace — I don’t have an accurate read on the audience as I missed yesterday and have yet to hear any questions, but the participant roster shows a heavy dose of corporate attendees from the likes of Microsoft, Levi Strauss, PetSmart, State Street, etc. etc. and few community vendors — so Shawn is giving a good backgrounder on what is erroneously assumed to be a teenager phenomenon.

“MySpace made it a great time to be lonely on the internet,” Gold.

“Digital cameras changed the face of self-expression on the Internet.” Gold

Chris Heuer — he of the Social Media Club — just introduced himself and asked me to define “community 2.0” into his podcast capture device. I babbled I fear.

This place is packed. I just turned around and nearly every seat is taken. 500 people? I stink at crowd estimates.

Max Kalehoff just nailed it — communities represent the most loyal customers around a brand yet those customers are generally served by service organizations judged on how fast they can spin people “through the revolving door.”

Community ROI track

I am such a metrics geek, therefore I am listening to metrics and roi.
Matthew Lees from the Patricia Seybold Group is presenting on ROI and metrics — topics dear to my heart. Smart presentation where he lays out some good, sensible KPIs to follow. He cites Cingular, which is a case example I am fond of.

Thanks to Lee LeFever for pointing me at the backchannel transcript noted above.

Bill Johnston, from Forum One Communications, is presenting on Autodesk’s approach to community/forum metrics. Interesting hybrid of quantitative and qualitative analysis with moderators tagging and scoring threads and resolution. He is a Hitbox guy. Interesting how he used Hitbox to count stuff like signups, referrals, posts, comments, tagging, networks and tag clouds — all great manifestations of engagement (citing a community site called Area which featured users creative efforts). Zero to 100,000 members (not users) in nine months.

“As we were able to communicate value we were able to convince stakeholders to write us bigger and bigger checks.”

Anders Nancke-Krogh from Nokia is presenting. He heads the online gaming community N-Gage.

Great Q&A on the topic. I am dying to ask a question about blog metrics, most of the discussion has been about forum measurement and business metrics. Looks like I won’t get a shot — want to know what these guys think are the KPIs for blogs.

Size of community and activity of community are key to Anders. I call these “gross tonnage” metrics. Innovation coming from the community — that’s a provocative KPI to say the least.

Customer “Self” Service

An area close to my priorities — Patricia Seybold and Scott Wilder from Intuit talking about the creation of self-service communities.

Intuit has their act together in a major way. I was just on a panel with George Jaquette, and Wilder confirms Intuit is doing customer community the right way with a big commitment.

Have to cut things short to get on the phone with Asia. Good conference.

I wish the world had a del.icio.us account

I live in del.icio.us. I tag with the tool like a compulsive maniac, I want to use it to share stuff, anyway I can, with everyone I know.

But not everyone is there yet.
If you want to share links — I am “dchurbuck” — please join my “network.”
If you want me to share them with you, please get an account.

Here’s the official FAQ:

del.icio.us is a collection of favorites – yours and everyone else’s. You can use del.icio.us to:

  • Keep links to your favorite articles, blogs, music, reviews, recipes, and more, and access them from any computer on the web.
  • Share favorites with friends, family, coworkers, and the del.icio.us community.
  • Discover new things. Everything on del.icio.us is someone’s favorite — they’ve already done the work of finding it. So del.icio.us is full of bookmarks about technology, entertainment, useful information, and more. Explore and enjoy.

del.icio.us is a social bookmarking website — the primary use of del.icio.us is to store your bookmarks online, which allows you to access the same bookmarks from any computer and add bookmarks from anywhere, too. On del.icio.us, you can use tags to organize and remember your bookmarks, which is a much more flexible system than folders.

You can also use del.icio.us to see the interesting links that your friends and other people bookmark, and share links with them in return. You can even browse and search del.icio.us to discover the cool and useful bookmarks that everyone else has saved — which is made easy with tags.

All you need is a browser and an internet connection. Sound good? Here’s how to get started. If you’d like to find out more, keep reading.”