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Are you building bridges or moats?

[audio:https://www.rescuemarketing.com/podcast/BridgesAndMoats.mp3]
Leeds Castle
Creative Commons License photo credit: raindog

Look closely at your business and think of each thing you do that interacts with other vendors, competitors, customers, prospects and your community.

For each interaction, consider whether it builds a bridge or a moat:

  • A bridge allows someone on one side of a chasm or river to get to the other side. Bridges are welcoming (toll gates notwithstanding) and encourage interaction and cooperation.
  • A moat keeps others out.

A moat says “I’m scared of what’s out there, it might get me.”  Moats are often built by companies that fear the future, if not the present.

Moat builders often think in terms that are the antidote to improvement – and that “C word”, change. Their moat makes it appear that they fear change and the future because the future often brings changes to “the rules” (you know – “the rules that got us here”).

Working together

Many companies design interoperability features into their product.

In other words, they make their product easy to integrate with other products or standard services. In the software world, interaction with systems like Growl (a universal notification system) or SOAP (a web-based way to send data in the context of a description of that data) are a good example.

They make their product “talk to” and/or “listen” to other products.

Interoperability (making stuff work together – even with *competitor’s stuff*) is a bridge.

Others are in their own little world and refuse to interoperate, or do so far less than most. They sometimes ignore standards or recreate their own because they think they know better (and sometimes, just sometimes, they *do* know better – but do they share that knowledge?).

In most cases, refusing to make your product interoperable is a moat.

Communities have bridges and moats too

When the investment in participating in user communities becomes so frustrating that it isn’t worth it anymore, who suffers?

The company. Long time community members. New members of the community. Everyone, really.

Without a community tie-in, there’s less inertia to keep you from trying other products, much less switching to them. Kennedy talks about “putting an iron fence around your herd” – meaning keep your customers close by doing things that prevent them from even *considering* using another vendor.

Community is a big part of that.

Different companies handle this in different ways.

These days there are web forums, community-building environments like Ning.com, social media tools like Twitter and Facebook, old-school newsgroups, Google groups and many other options that allow you to build a place for your customers to meet and talk shop.

Once you get them there, then the challenge really begins. Do you encourage it to take on a life of its own, or do you spin it, control it and stunt its growth? Are the members of the community like a herd of cows, moving where you drive them, or are they gazelles?

Enable and Empower

Back in my software biz days, there was no social media other than BBS systems or email lists. Most customers were non-technical and spending more time on the computer didn’t interest them (there were exceptions, of course).

We saw a substantial uptick in sales, referrals and hard-to-measure/value “customer goodwill” when we started having day-long training sessions at trade shows. We’d just stick everyone in a room and go over what was new, what the group wanted training on and more often than not, the day also turning into a rich interactive resource for everyone in attendance.

There were benefits for us as well, but that’s not our topic for today.

How you manage – no, no – how you *enable and empower* your user community to become an asset to themselves, your services, your products and your business is critical. How you view that asset (the group/community) and how you nurture it says a lot about your company.

It’s not just a community for now, it’s a sales tool, a testimonial and many other positive things…if you allow it and encourage it to be.

What’s yours?

In your world, is that asset being used as a bridge or a moat?

The mindset of digging a moat around your business infects your staff, your services and your products with thoughts like “We know better”, “We don’t need you (or them)” and “We can do it all ourselves.”

Even if true, the deeper and wider the moat between you and your customers become, the easier it’ll be for someone else to convince those customers to head for a bridge.

The problem with moats is not just that they keep others out, but that they keep you trapped inside.

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Seth, Harvard and understanding social network users

Today’s guest post comes from Professor Mikolaj Jan Piskorski from the Harvard Business School.

HBS’s Sean Silverthorne summarizes of the article:

Many business leaders are mystified about how to reach potential customers on social networks such as Facebook. “Understanding users of social networks” provides a fresh look into the interpersonal dynamics of these sites and offers guidance for approaching these tantalizing markets.

Key concepts include:

  • Online social networks are most useful when they address failures in the real world (Mark: Note the city pairs mentioned in the article).
  • Pictures are the killer app of social networks.
  • Women and men use these sites differently.
  • Businesses shouldn’t consider social networks as just another channel.

The biggest discovery: pictures. 70% of all actions are related to viewing pictures or viewing other people’s profiles.

Knowing that (you really should have known that already, think about it), how does this alter how you present yourself online?

That it isn’t just another channel is something that even some legendary marketing experts still don’t seem to get.

What do I mean? You’ve probably noticed it before but you (like me) maybe didn’t think to say anything about it. 

As you might expect, Hildy said something.

Earlier this week, she commented that even Seth Godin, the Seth that we’ve all learned so much from, doesn’t allow comments on his blog. How is that serving his Tribe?

Even Seth should know (and I’m sure he does) that it’s a conversation, not just a broadcast channel.

Which makes the situation even more curious. Do what Seth says, not what Seth does – at least in this instance.

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Pardon the effs, but what the eff is social media?

Today’s guest post is a great powerpoint from Marta Kagan describing why you should care about social media.

Don’t get distracted by the eff word (all full of *’s) or the big numbers.

Get the message.

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Being unsociable is a poor choice for the SEC

Night Train
Creative Commons License photo credit: dickuhne

Yesterday’s heads up from Mashable about the Southeast Conference’s (SEC) proposed new media policy had the social media world (among others) buzzing in a hurry.

The bottom line? No social media usage will be allowed at SEC sporting events.

What exactly does this mean?

It means no Tweeting from the stadium to your buddy 1500 miles away just to annoy him (even more) about missing the game due to an out of town meeting.

It means no Posterous live blogging from your phone by email.

It means no bouncing, fuzzy YouTube video of your team’s band playing your favorite song (see below), no LSU dance team shots on Flickr ( not even to your daughter who is trying out next year) and absolutely, certainly no pics or video of the Texas Luvs on your Flickr page or photoblog when UT visits your SEC school.

We just talked about the SEC and their new network on ESPN last week, using them to illustrate a lesson for competitive strategy, so it’s interesting to compare that to this because they’re both about competition.

“Protecting the brand”

The spokesperson will talk about how they’re protecting their brand and that their TV network has exclusivity and so on.

And I can understand that. Really, I can. And I understand what happens if you don’t protect and defend your trademarks.

But it’s still a bad idea because it doesn’t build the brand. It doesn’t build fans. It doesn’t engage your fans.

Instead, it ticks them off.

Some would say that the SEC is protecting their members’ brand, but they are already well in control of that.

Don’t believe me? Just try putting a Gator, “‘Bama”, the LSU Tiger or a Razorback on anything for retail sale without an explicit license to do so.

Some would say that social media will cause TV coverage to “leak” viewers (and thus money due to ad buys, etc). While I disagree, it’s easy to see how the SEC would view that as diluting their brand if they approach this from the wrong angle.

Fact of the matter is, it *strengthens* their brand by being everywhere, increasing the ability of fans to become rabid fans by consuming even more information about their team. For rabid fans, its one more way to attempt to satisfy their need for info.

A reader over at Examiner.com hit the nail on the head, noting “This is another case of big business not “getting it”. This reminds me of when the sports venues freaked out about televising sports events because they thought no one would come to the stadiums any more.” (the rest of the comment can be found at the Examiner.com link).

529,000

If I’m SEC Commissioner Mike Slive, I don’t want to find 529 Google hits on “LSU band neck site:youtube.com“, as I found today.

I want to find 52900 or 529,000.

If I stumble across a YouTube video of rural village kids in Ghana calling the Hogs, I’m not furiously dialing the YouTube CEO to complain, instead I’m thrilled that our fans are so rabid that they are spreading the word – even in Africa. I might even have someone dig around and find similar things to show off to the press and fans.

If I’m the SEC commissioner, I want the entire South er no, I mean Nation planet to eat, drink and sleep my conference’s sports.

I want to walk into a street cafe in Paris and hear someone talking about last weekend’s Georgia-Florida game – with a French accent.

I want people clinging to SEC football and basketball long before they start clinging to guns or religion.

And as a little side benefit, I want the other conferences to go to sleep at night dreaming they could do what my conference does.

Jealousy

When we went over the story about the new SEC/ESPN network last week, it was clear that other conferences are ticked off. Even Notre Dame seems torqued, perhaps because they’ve enjoyed that level of exclusivity for years.

The rest of the gang? They wish they had the same “problem” that the SEC has.

Now imagine that you’re the Big12 or PAC-10 commissioner.

First thing you do the day that the SEC announces that wacked-out social media policy?

Fly in GaryVee, call a press conference and have Gary announce a new Big12 social media contest, website, program and what not. We’re gonna show the best ones at halftime and on tv so you can enjoy them as you munch on a big bag of Doritos. Maybe you even come up with a way to get the crowd fired up during the game with crowd-created videos – even those made earlier in the game.

Use your imagination. Remember our “go after their strength” discussion.

Think long term

Perhaps the biggest problem I have with this is the long-term damage that this could cause to SEC schools.

If I’m the guy looking for endowment money or selling season tickets, the last thing I want to hear about is a stadium cop tossing a fan out of a game because they are filming a jerky, not-exactly-1080p high-def video of the Razorback cheerleaders on their iPhone.

If you do that today, that fan will remember that for the rest of their lives.

It is entirely possible that their memory will likely be strongest when you call to ask for endowment/scholarship money, season ticket renewal or when their kid starts talking about going to your school.

A prime example: Former Arkansas athletic director Broyles made numerous and valuable contributions to the rise of Arkansas sports during his accomplished tenure.

Despite that, you don’t have to look far among Arkansas alumni to find someone who vividly remembers the student body being yanked around by Broyles during the last 30 years. Some still stew about it after 2 decades.

So when you find that SEC school’s potential booster and you ask them to help out your school, what kind of memory do you want them to have?

A Frank Broyles moment? A stadium cop moment? Probably not.

Engage and Enable

The SEC should be encouraging discussion and interaction about SEC sports.

They should be engaging new fans and enabling their fervor to grow, rather than finding a new way to tick off an entire generation of college students – the same folks that your successor will be looking at for high $ donors 20-30 years from now.

UPDATE: Seems the SEC has been a tad surprised by the substantial negative reaction to their proposed social media policy. As a result, they’ve relaxed things a bit (Twitter and the like are OK now), but video is still off the table.

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Don’t miss a chance to connect

Today’s guest post from Jeff over at BrickandClick.com has great timing, as I’ve discussed this very topic with two different clients in the last two days.

I love it when I can find someone else to do the nagging for me (as he laughs maniacally).

Seriously, Jeff’s talking about making sure that there’s an opportunity to tell your clients that they can connect with you via Twitter, Facebook etc by making it obvious to them that you even *exist* there to begin with.

Simple, obvious, yet easy to overlook. I just thought of one prominent place where I’m not doing exactly that.

See, it isn’t just you.

Go see Jeff’s take on the subject.

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What do a Nebraska farmer and Paypal Australia have in common?

For one, both are using various forms of social media to expand their business, find new customers and communicate with existing ones.

In some cases, they might never have communicated directly with the customer who way down the commerce chain actually consumes their product. Now, they can and do – even while settled into a tractor seat in their Nebraska croplands.

Meanwhile, a programmer acquaintance in Australia recently talked about how social media connected him and a global corporation, making him feel like more than just a number and engaging him to develop software using their payment systems.

What would reaching out would do for your business?

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Tampons and Your Business

Yeah, I said tampons.

Today’s guest post comes from Forrester social marketing expert and author of Groundswell, Josh Bernoff.

As the post title hints, Josh has been known to open a speaking engagement with “Let’s talk about tampons” (which he explains in his post).

Once again, Robert Collier’s “Enter the conversation already going on in the customer’s mind” is front and center.

Read Josh’s angle on talking about the problems you solve for clients rather than your boring products (boring is OK, really).

The Ad Age clip of his talk is here.

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15 percent of sales from a zero cost Twitter promo? Tweet-za, Tweet-za!

A New Orleans-based pizza chain using Twitter-only specials to attract new customers in real-time?

You might guess that it’d never work.

Twitter’s just a toy that people use to share what they had for lunch.

More accurately, Twitter offers a way for a pizza restaurant to give people a reason to visit their place to eat lunch.

Result: 15% of sales resulted from the Twitter-only campaign.

FIFTEEN percent of daily sales from a zero-cost promotion.

How creative can you be?

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Good enough for the Pope. Good enough for your business?

hoje é quinta
Creative Commons License photo credit: Ana_Cotta

Yes, I’m talking about social media.

Think about it. The Pope has a new website dedicated solely to connecting people to the Catholic church via social media.

The key part of that sentence is not website or social media. It’s “connecting people to the Catholic church”.

It’s another media and they’re doing more than dipping a toe into it.

But why?

Despite having all these “stores” (ie: churches) that “sell” the Catholic faith, they felt that it was worth the investment to create a Facebook application, an iPhone application, a Catholic-specific Wiki and a YouTube channel.

Communication – maintaining a connection with your clientele – is what social media is all about.

Silence is what sends customers somewhere else. Not knowing what’s new in your business and why they should know about it is what makes customers fall asleep.

Do you really want your customers hearing about that great new thing from your competitor?

Meanwhile back at the ranch, there YOU are. What will you do next? Who will know about it?

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Social media and customer service

Not just a pretty face..
Creative Commons License photo credit: law_keven

Today’s guest post from Todd Defren over at PRSquared takes the conversation we’ve had about CRMs to the next level (remember the Mackay 66 that no one thought they needed in their CRM?)

Does your CRM /customer account management software or customer service software include contact fields for a Twitter ID, a Facebook URL or (isn’t it a little late for this…) an email account?

Be thinking about it. Be doing something about it.

And when you read Todd’s comments about integrating social media into your customer service infrastructure, be sure to check out that comment at the bottom from C.C.

That’s really what this is all about.