Friday, November 27, 2009

Pluralitas Non est Ponenda sine Necessitate

For those non-Latin speakers out there, you are asking yourself right now, what the hell does "pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate" mean? Literally, it means "plurality should not be posited without necessity." It's a theory made popular by 14th century friar, William of Ockham, and is better known as Ockham or Occam's Razor.

Why am I thinking about 14th century friars and Latin phrases about plurality and necessity on the day after Thanksgiving you ask? The short version of the story is that my friend, Kyle Flaherty, recently shared a great post with me by analytics wizard, Avinash Kaushik. Avinash writes a well known blog called -- get this -- Occam's Razor. After reading his lengthy, but thought-provoking, post on social analytics, it got me wondering about the inspiration for the name of his Avinash's blog.

Now I think it's mandatory that we all learn about Occam's Razor at some point in high school or college but of course that, along with billions of other pieces of knowledge that don't fit into our everyday lives, somehow fell out of my head along the way. But after reacquainting myself with this concept of seeking the "simplest answer," I've been thinking a lot about streamlining my work and personal life these days. In particular, slimming down my information sources and my day to day work flow.

I wrote about taking steps in this direction several weeks ago following my brief retirement from Twitter. But the place I've really fallen down is on keeping up with my Google Reader. I know some people like Bob Scoble have abandoned their readers altogether but I realized the other day that there are a dozen blogs, mostly written by friends, that I haven't been keeping tabs on as closely as I would like. And the reason was because their quality content was getting drowned out by the 50 plus other blogs that I was keeping in my Google Reader, many of which contributed to my reader consistently registering 1,000 unread posts mark.

Maybe I'm unique in this fashion (although I doubt it) but thinking about 1,000 unread posts is just too daunting. Instead of going in and chipping away, I tend to ignore my Google Reader and thus miss out on dozens of great posts by people like Kyle, Peter Kim, Rachel HappeTim Walker, Greg Verdino and others. So in a fit of "pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate" (which is really more about the concept of "the simplest solution is usually the correct one), but inspired me to "simplify" or slim down my reader to about 15 blogs.

The result is a much more manageable, 137 posts, all of which I was excited to read. The downside is that I will miss out on the good posts on ReadWriteWeb, and the HBS blog. But the way I look at it, it's better that I read a few blogs all the time then have lots of great blogs that I never look at.

What about you? Are you able to keep up with it all? If so, how?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Hootsuite: Morphing from Twitter Client to *Badass Social Media Dashboard*

While I don't personally use social media dashboard/tool, HootSuite, I have a number of friends and colleagues who do. At some point, I plan to give it a try. To that end, I do take a personal and professional interest in knowing as much about the spectrum of social tools and networks as possible, particularly since I'm on the hook for staying on top of these things for work and for the weekly podcast I do with Jennifer Leggio of ZDNet (note: live interview on the Quick-n-Dirty podcast show coming with Hootsuite founder, Ryan Holmes, on January 14).

When I found about some of the latest features that Hootsuite was announcing this morning (9 AM PT), I couldn't resist at least spending a couple of minutes letting the folks that read this blog know about it. For a more thorough review, you can check out Hootsuite's blog or Mashable, but for the "quick-n-dirty version, see below...

What's new:
  • Integration with Facebook, LinkedIn &
    • Users may now update Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn profiles from one location
    • According to HootSuite they are the only Twitter client which allows you to schedule updates for these individual social networks
    • Users may manage social profiles for multiple accounts
    • Users can now read your friends' Facebook and LinkedIn updates and view in-line Facebook comments within HootSuite
  • Direct integration with LinkedIn (this is a big one in my mind)
    • As a result of LinkedIn opening their developer API over the weekend (more on this from Jeremiah Owyang here), HootSuite jumped in (and to my knowledge) is the first to have integrated direct LinkedIn status updates
  • HootSuite is one of the first clients (I believe that Seesmic is the other) that allows users to manage lists. Users may now:
    • Create lists by dragging and dropping users into columns
    • Import lists you've already created & save them as a column in HootSuite
Clearly, Hootsuite is working hard to stay in front of the everchanging landscape of social tools and functionality. For that, they are to be applauded. How long can they keep up with this frantic pace? Who knows, but I like the way CEO, Ryan Holmes thinks. When asked for a quote on Hootsuite's latest release, he replied...
This update sees HootSuite morphing from Twitter client to badass social media dashboard. We're constantly listening to our users to hear what they want. Beyond that, we're thinking about what they might want that they haven't even imagined yet. We think about these things and then try to make them a reality.
Anyone that knows me at all will recognize that Ryan's words are music to my ears. Congratulations to the folks at Hootsuite. I look forward to hearing more!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Crowdsourcing 2.0: Is it Ready for Primetime?

Over a year ago, I participated in a charity auction for my good friend (and now podcast partner), Jennifer Leggio. Also taking part in the auction were social media smarties, Chris Brogan, Geoff Livingston, Greg Verdino and Joe Jaffe. The goal of the auction was to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society with the five of us offering up a variety of speaking/consulting services to the highest bidder. In my case, a company called Genius Rocket ended up being the highest bidder.

I'll spare you the details on the back and forth discussion that the EVP of marketing at Genius Rocket, Peter LaMotte, and I had over how I would make good on my engagment but the net net was the video below (and a wrapper post) so that you would have a little context.

To Peter's pleasant surprise, I've spent quite a bit of time thinking and engaging in the art of crowdsourcing based on my participation in the We Are Smarter Than Me project. To that end, I was quite at ease sharing my opinions of how crowdsourcing can benefit business -- especially when it comes to outsourcing some elements of the creative process.

During the video, I cover the following topics:
  • Why I'm bullsing on crowdsourcing
  • Companies that are doing a good job at crowdsourcing
  • Reasons why crowdsourcing is becoming more mainstream
  • Considerations for doing crowdsourcing right
  • Reasons why I would consider using companies like Genius Rocket

[Update 11/23]

Following the interview that Peter and I did back in March at SXSW, Genius Rocket announced the launch of a new offering called GRSelect. What I like about this new product is that it addresses the issue of quality when it comes to crowdsourcing (something we covered during the video interview). You can see the details on how this works in the diagram below but the essence of GRSelect is that it brings the customer into the production process.

From Genius Rocket's blog announcing the product...
The new model answers the most common requests of the creative crowdsourcing world; higher awards, more feedback, and less risk. No artist that participates in a GRSelect project will go uncompensated for his or her efforts. At the same time, clients will now be active collaborators in the creative process.
While I haven't seen GRSelect in action, I like this approach a lot.

So what about you? Are you using crowdsourcing in your business? If not, what's holding you back?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Day Trippin': An Interview with Tripit Co-Founder, Scott Hintz

For folks that read this blog regularly (yes, all 3 of you), you might remember that I did an interview series earlier this year called Experts in the Industry. My goal was to get forty five smart people -- authors, marketers and entrepreneurs -- in the forty five days leading up to SXSW with a goal of gleaning insights on the future of social. Not only did I end up with 75 interviews but I was lucky enough to have enough blog fodder for over two months.

Since then, most of my interviews have been saved for the weekly Quick-n-Dirty podcast I do with my partner (and blogger), Jennifer Leggio. To that end, Jennifer and I normally spend a few minutes during the show on a "featured social network. Three weeks ago, we happened to pick social travel site, Tripit. The reason I mention this is that the marketing folks over at Tripit (yes, this is a hat tip to you Angie) had their listening ears on and reached out to me once I tweeted out the URL for the weekly wrap up post on my blog. Angie was kind enough to thank me for the mention and offered up and interview with one of the two Tripit co-founders. A couple of e-mails later, I had my interview with Scott Hintz.

1. How did Tripit get started?

Gregg Brockway and I were part of the team that launched discount travel website (sold to Expedia in 2003). Gregg had since moved on to run Expedia’s luxury travel business (Classic Vacations), while I stayed at Hotwire for a couple more years. But both of us had the itch to start something again, so we decided to get the band back together. We both had a lot of ideas for new businesses in travel – there are so many problems to solve in our industry! – so we started working through them and we found a few that we were both passionate about.

We chose the TripIt concept because it addressed a problem we’d both encountered routinely in our lives – that drill of going through your inbox right before a trip and hunting for all those purchase confirmations, printing them out, stuffing them into a manila folder, hand entering and printing maps and directions you would need on the trip, etc. There had to be a better way, and we thought we could develop some technology that would make that process a whole lot easier. We also felt that there was a need for a traveler-centric travel site, one that was really focused on making the travel experience better, rather than trying to selling you more plane tickets or hotel rooms. Travel booking sites are great, but they are always a little bit biased because they want to sell you more stuff.

2. For a while, it seemed like Dopplr started off as the "travel social network" site of choice and then all of a sudden, Tripit makes a sudden surge. What happened?

I think TripIt has done well because we provide so much value to the traveler once he sends his booking emails to us – and that includes both social utility and personal utility. TripIt is unique in that it builds rich itineraries full of all the detailed information you need on a trip. We invented the “Itinerator” that processes booking confirmation email from over 800 websites (and growing every day), and that’s what enables us to piece together every detail of your trip.

With that as our foundation, we have all the data needed to power social features (like detailed itinerary sharing, our Who’s Close feature that tells you when you’ll cross paths with someone you know, and our LinkedIn application) as well as personal features like detailed calendar synch, mobile access to trip plans, automatic maps and directions, etc. We also have an API that allows TripIt users to share their itinerary data with third party applications, and that enhances the value of storing your itineraries in TripIt. With over 250 developers (and growing) using our API today, the value proposition of TripIt just keeps getting better. TripIt users can link their accounts to apps like USA Today’s new travel app Auto Pilot, top iPhone app FlightTrack Pro, expense solution ExpenseBay, and so many more.

3. I see that Virgin is a sponsor. Any plans to create a one click option where you buy a plane ticket and it automatically updates Tripit?

Yes, the TripIt API makes it possible for any site to hook up directly to TripIt and seamlessly transmit booking data into the traveler’s itinerary. We get TripIt users asking for this all the time, and we know that innovative and customer-focused booking sites will start addressing those requests soon. Go Airport Shuttle (which books over 2 million airport transfers a year) already offers an “add to TripIt” button on their site, allowing their customers to zap ground transportation details directly into TripIt. We’ve publicly announced a deal with Hotwire where they’ll be adding an “add to TripIt” button on their confirmation page, as well. And BCD Travel, the third largest corporate travel agency in the world, will soon be delivering its itineraries directly into TripIt on behalf of its corporate clients. Several other travel sites are currently working on direct connectivity with TripIt, so look for more announcements soon. And, as I said earlier, the TripIt API is open to any travel site that wants to hook up to us, so travelers should encourage their favorite sites to take advantage of that.

4. I love the ability to e-mail in itineraries and have them populate trips. Even more powerful with the iPhone app. What technology did you use for this? Home grown or existing?

Thanks, we love it too! Honestly, one of the best parts of working at TripIt is that we get to read thousands of emails every week that praise us for the ease of use of getting booking data into the site. We invented the “Itinerator” technology that processes those emails, 100% home grown. We have a team of engineers that is fully dedicated to enhancing the Itinerator, adding support for new booking sites, and generally keeping everything humming along every day.

5. Which super hero did you want to be growing up?

Definitely Green Lantern from the Sunday-morning Superfriends cartoon. As he was depicted on that series, he could do anything with that ring – whereas all the other Superfriends had very specific powers. I always found it odd that he wasn’t the star of the show, since his powers were greater than all the other Superfriends combined!

6. Where does Tripit go from here? Maybe the "Friendfeed" route?

Boy, there are so many ways to answer this question, where do I begin?! The key is that TripIt has a comprehensive view of you as a traveler – we know your trip history, all the things you are doing on a trip, and where you are planning to go in the future. That give us the data we need to solve so many problems – like providing recommendations for things you might like on the trip, or alerting you when the price drops on a flight and you might be eligible for a refund, or making it easy to access your travel information on different types of mobile devices. There are also many needs we could address in the area of corporate travel, like helping your company locate you in an emergency, making it easier for your admin to plan and manage your itineraries, helping companies schedule internal meetings, or giving them data that helps them negotiate better deals with travel providers.

I think anyone who travels a lot will tell you that there are so many frustrations you encounter along the way, and so many of those are opportunities for TripIt to build features that ease the pain of travel. And we don’t have to build all those features ourselves – our API is open to all kinds of third parties who want to build apps that solve travel problems, and we’re seeing plenty of great innovation happening there every day. For example, one of my favorite new apps to use our API is FlightCaster, which is a new app that is trying to predict flight delays before the airline even recognizes that they might have a problem. Pretty cool, huh?

7. Assuming your answer to the last question is "stay the course," what future features/functionality to you have planned?

Well I can’t share our product roadmap, but I will say that our list of features is very long and there is no shortage of great ideas. We get so much feedback from our travelers every day telling us how we could make their travel experience better, so that’s a great starting point for us as we prioritize what we do next. We really try to listen to travelers and build what they want, so that feedback plays a critical role in our business. I’m so grateful that we have so many engaged users who take the time to send us their ideas – and I think they do it only because they know we listen, they already get so much value out of TripIt, and they have a vested interest in seeing it get even better. It’s really humbling to see how many people out there are relying on TripIt every day as they venture out into the world, but it’s also a lot of pressure to live up to their expectations and keep finding ways to delight them. But our killer team here at TripIt is definitely up to the task!

8. If you were stranded on a desert island and could only read one blog, whose would it be (and please don't say Techmeme - Scoble tried that with me and I had to hit him with a tazer)?

My guilty pleasure is Brett Snyder’s blog, The Cranky Flier, which I read in my Google Reader. I can’t help it, I’m a total airline geek and so is Brett, so it’s like candy to me to read his musings on the airline biz.

9. What's the ONE pearl of wisdom that you would like to share with other entrepreneurs who are just getting started?

If you’re considering ideas for a new business, make sure they are based in utility and that you can get users to form habits using your product. Utility = value = revenue. And habit forming = mindshare = free marketing. You need to find low cost ways to grow your business, and it doesn’t get any better than free marketing. And if you have real ways to generate revenue once users make it to your business, then you have the ingredients for success.

If you want to know more about Tripit, we'll have VP of Product, Will Aldrich on the Quick-n-Dirty podcast show this Thursday, November 19, at 6 PM ET / 3 PM PT.

The Start of Something Bigger?

Last night, I caught wind of some exciting news which has me jazzed for two reasons. First, I believe is the start of a larger trend i.e. the beginning of consolidation in the world of social. This morning, Jake McKee and Sean O'Driscoll of Ants Eye View announced this morning that they have acquired talented authors, Jackie Huba and Ben McConnell of Wabash & Lake to expand their professional services portfolio. This announcement comes on the heels of Altimeter Group's organic additions of three heavy hitters and Dachis Groups' announcement of their acquisition of HeadShift.

Second, I happen to know Sean, Jake, Jackie and Ben and I can vouch for the fact that not only are they good people, they are smart and possess some serious social chops. To that end, it sounds like in addition to expanding the Ant’s Eye View professional services portfolio, McConnell and Huba’s initial focus will be the creation of programs and services that help companies improve the customer experience and create customer evangelists. McConnell and Huba will serve as public representatives of Ant’s Eye View in their work as business bloggers and keynote speakers, as well as consulting with the firm’s clients. To me, this is smart business.

In Sean's words (he's the CEO of Ant's Eye View), by “adding two of the world’s foremost experts in building word of mouth and customer loyalty programs, Ant’s Eye View has built the industry’s strongest lineup of proven social media and customer experience practitioners who have led customer-focused changes at large brands.”

Bottom line, seeing friends join forces to create something valuable is always exciting. Seeing an emerging trend of smart companies like Altimeter, Dachis Group and now Ant's Eye View grow and consolidate is equally exciting. To me, it means that the market is starting to demand a higher level of strategy and service from their partners.

The big question is who will be next?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Quick-n-dirty Podcast Recap 22: It's Been a While

It's only been four weeks but it seemed like forever since my co-host, Jennifer Leggio, and I teamed up for our weekly Quick-n-Dirty podcast show. After two guest hosts (Cathy Brooks and Greg Matthews) and a week off, Jennifer and I were ready to get back into the saddle and I think for the most part, we succeeded.

Having guest, Jeremy Pepper, on the show didn't hurt. Jeremy is not only smart and insightful (sometimes inciteful) but not afraid to "call 'em like he sees 'em." Both Jennifer and I appreciate this in a person, especially when they came from a background of "Big PR." During the show, we had a chance to ask Jeremy what the "new" PR looks like which lead us down a path of the "do's" and "don't's" of relationship building. We also did a lot of laughing (apologies to the audience for that).

Beyond that, we covered off on social video hosting site, (no relation to Jennifer hadn't used it before so she didn't have much to say (even if she did - her verbose co-host probably woulnd't have let her) but I liked it. Bottom line, when you have a video that's over 10 minutes long, this is a great alternative to Youtube.

We gave props to writer, podcaster and entrepreneur, Jeff Cutler. If you don't know him, check out some of his work here, here and here. I have to say, many of our "featured Twitterers of the week" are usually happy to be featured but Jeff's Twitter response once he found out he was the guy was hilarious...
@AaronStrout: How? Why? #notworthy #blushing #thanktheacademy #ifnotforthehardworkofothersIwouldn'tbehere
Jeff, we're glad to have made your day!

We wrapped up with our signature point / counterpoint focusing on the increasingly important topic of "is everyone on your social network a friend?" In this case, Jennifer summed it up by saying, "you're just nicer than I am Aaron." Her point was, I am friendly with (and follow back) a lot more people than she does. This was true but I also pointed out that at least the people that she did "connect" with knew that they were really in Jennifer's "friend" bucket. Bottom line for me, I've seen that the serendipity of connecting with tons of people has outweighed the cost of managing those same relationships. But of course I totally respect Jennifer's position. See, we just agreed again. Damnit!

If you missed the show, you can check it out here. You can also read re-caps of the show on Jennifer's blog and here on Be sure to tune in next week!

Social Media Revolution (video)

Two of my colleagues Jenny Olender and Matt McDougall just reminded me of one of my favorite videos on the Interwebs. It's called "Social Media Revolution" and has some absolutely amazing stats (not to mention some sweet background music). If you haven't seen it before... or even if you have, take the 4:22 to watch. It's worth the time:

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Notes from the Desert: 5 Key Take Aways from ANA's Masters of Marketing

Prior to last week, I had not had the pleasure of attending the ANA's Masters of Marketing Conference. That was a mistake as this is obviously where the creme de la creme of the marketing/advertising world comes together for four and a half days to learn, network and golf (not necessarily in that order). In case there is any doubt, this is the list of speakers from the event:
  • Mark Addicks, SVP, CMO, General Mills
  • Frances Allen, Brand Marketing Officer, Dunkin' Brands
  • Cynthia Ashworth, VP, Consumer Engagement, Dunkin' Brands
  • Diane Brink, VP, Marketing, Global Technology Services, IBM
  • Brad Casper, President and CEO, The Dial Corporation
  • Joan Chow, EVP and CMO, ConAgra
  • Andy England, CMO, MillerCoors
  • Neil Golden, SVP, CMO, McDonald’s USA
  • Jeffrey Hayzlett, CMO and VP, Eastman Kodak
  • David Jones, Global CEO, Euro RSCG Worldwide
  • Barry Judge, CMO, Best Buy
  • Michael Keller, Chief Brand Officer, Dairy Queen
  • Richard McDonald, SVP, Global Marketing, Fender Musical Instrument Corp.
  • Stephen Quinn, EVP and CMO, Walmart U.S., Walmart Stores
  • Eric Ryan, Chief Brand Architect, Co-Founder, Method
  • Jonah Bloom, Editor, AdAge
Over the course of the three days that I was there, I had the opportunity to find out what was on the minds of the chief marketing officers (CMOs) and CEOs at some of the world's preeminent brands. I captured these learnings via video (using my newly purchased Zi8), Twitter and hand written notes. Obviously it's not easy distilling all the pearls of wisdom from such a smart group of people into one readable blog post so I'm breaking these learnings into three sections:
  • Ten Twenty of my favorite quotes as captured via my (and others') Twitter streams
  • Video and audio interviews with several industry luminaries.
  • My five key take aways from the event
There were literally hundreds of tweets from the event so picking just ten is not an easy task. Fortunately, you can look back in the stream yourself at all the updates that were tagged with the #ANAMarketers hashtag from the event. I also went in and "favorited" about 50 of the best tweets so you can see that longer list of good tweets here. If there are tweets that you liked that I missed, feel free to add them in the comments below:
  1. dwied 2.5% of shoppers make up 80% of most CPG volume. Note the 80/20 rule... no longer rules. #anamarketers (quoting Jeff Hayzlett, CMO of Kodak)
  2. irinaskaya RT @ANAmarketers: DQ has built an online consumer following with its Blizzard Fan Club, Facebook page, Twitter & DQ blog #ANAmarketers
  3. Hillary_Ashton @Fidelity CMO James Speros: set aside a portion of budget to experiment: [i say: this is just so key to innovation] #ANA #ANAmarketers
  4. AaronStrout @BestBuyCMO says that employees are the differentiator. Products/prices are relatively equal. It's why they use 'em in ads. #ANAMarketers
  5. nancyleibig #Fidelity's Speros-economic tsunami has fundamentally changed way that mktrs need to execute-fast & insight-driven #anamarketers
  6. evantlevy Forget the 4 or 5Ps. I like this better: RT @melindabluett Kodak 4E's: Engage. Educate. Excite. Evangelize. #anamarketers
  7. nancyleibig 1/2 of #kodak biggest products are new in the last 2 yrs. All are top 3 in their category. Biggest business turnaround. #anamarketers
  8. AaronStrout Love it. Eric Ryan @MethodTweets jokes that the way businesses can manage "Twitter Effect" ala movie Bruno is "to make a better product" #ANAMarketers
  9. dwied Competitors spent $15MM on toilet paper. Method spends $5.1MM on advertising. Brilliant assessment. #anamarketers
  10. AaronStrout Schwab is sitting w/ SEC to figure out how to ease themselves into social media (still great hesitancy based on regulation) #ANAMarketers
  11. MarthaAYoung David Jones, CEO of Havas Worldwide: The new world of marketing is open source. #ANAmarketers
  12. MWellsatForbes #ANAMarketers Miss the ANA conference? Read about today's discussions here on
  13. maadman123 Wow! From Google: 5 exabytes is the amount of ALL info we produced from pre-history to 2003. Today, we produce this in 2 days. #ANAmarketers
  14. Hillary_Ashton Google CEO Eric Schmidt realtime feedback / openness creates a constant battle AND an opportunity #ANAmarketers
  15. prnaylor @JonahBloom from advertising age says crowdsourcing displays that brands are owned by consumers. #anamarketers
  16. Hillary_Ashton @JonahBloom, Advertising Age editor says trend in marketing - radical transparency see social media #anamarketers
  17. AaronStrout Andy England, CMO of Miller Coors talks RE what sells beer. It's not sex but 1) segmentation 2) positioning 3) Execution #ANAMarketers
  18. melindabluett RT @bwiener: Mc'D's guiding principle "Market what we serve rather than execute what we market".. authenticity is big theme #ANAmarketers
  19. bwiener Verizon CMO "Brand marketing needs to reflect fundamental truth about brand"....can't hide behind advertising anymore #ANAmarketers
  20. AaronStrout Walmart CMO's parting thought: Marketer's job is to get our company focused on creating true value for customers. #ana

Now for the multimedia portion of this blog post. Below you'll find interviews with AOL CEO, Tim Armstrong, Kodak CMO, Jeff Hayzlett and Method co-founder, Eric Ryan.

VIDEO Tim Armstrong, CEO and chairman, AOL

VIDEO Jeff Hayzlett, CMO, Eastman Kodak Company

SIDEBAR: As promised, I mentioned to a few of the folks following my tweets from the event that I would share the Zi8/video tips that Jeff offered up prior to our interview. He uses his Zi8 quite a bit so I trust that he knows of which he speaks.
  • Get an external mic (one of the best features of this camera). He said that you can get a wired boom mic, a wired lav or wireless lav. I think I'm leaning toward the last as it will be the least intrusive.
  • If you do get a wired mic, that you get one with batteries so that it doesn't drain the rechargeable battery on the camera.
  • Definitely use a tripod if shooting interviews. Although the Zi8 has an anti-jitter feature, it can pick up hand/arm movement, especially if the interview is longer than just a few minutes.

AUDIO Eric Ryan, co-founder and chief brand architect, Method (from a guest interview I did with Eric on Susan Bratton's Dishy Mix podcast show)

Last but not least, here are my five key take aways:
  1. While the social web appears to be gaining in importance, it's still not one of the top three things that most CMOs are focusing on.
  2. In spite of many pundits (myself included) declaring that the world of advertising is dying a slow but painful death, the heads of marketing from the companies represented at this conference all show no signs of slowing down their ad spending. In fact, many mentioned that they plan to spend more next year.
  3. Segmentation and a "back to basics" approach to marketing ruled the day. I heard several CMO's mention that their advice to other companies was to "simplify" and and "focus on what they did well."
  4. I heard a lot less about measurement and ROI than I anticipated.
  5. The speakers that did mention "social" spent more time focused things like Youtube videos, Facebook Fan pages and more campaign-oriented approaches than longer lasting, programmatic approaches (a mistake in this marketer's humble opinion).
All in all, I was encouraged by the positive tone of the conference and heartened that at least some of the marketers at the event (Kodak, BestBuy, Fidelity, Method, Dunkin Brands and Schwab to name a few), have "social" on their radar. I do predict that next year's conference will be much more "socially aware" and fortunately I plan to be there -- hopefully with Powered Inc. as a sponsor.

Have you been to a "marketing" conference recently? If so, what were some of your key learnings?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Content is Still King: Interview with AOL CEO & Chairman, Tim Armstrong

If you're following my tweet stream, you might know that I'm at the ANA's Masters of Marketing Conference (more blog posts/interviews coming - you can also follow conversation here). This morning, I had the opportunity to spend a little time with my friend, Tim Armstrong, CEO and Chairman of AOL. During our conversation, we covered topics like content (and why it is so vitally important), the future of advertising and how AOL plans to capitalize on these two areas.

NOTE: I apologize for any camera shakiness. It's my first time using Kodak's Zi8 hand held. I love it but still getting used it. And I could REALLY use a tripod.

Other interviews coming in the next 24 hours:
  • Barry Judge, CMO of Best Buy
  • Jeffrey Hayzlett, CMO of Kodak
  • Eric Ryan, co-founder of Method

Interview Like a Pro: Lessons from Maestro, Susan Bratton

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Susan Bratton, the co-founder and host of the successful, Dishy Mix Podcast Show [listen to our podcast here]. I've known Susan for just over a year now and what I can tell you is that she is the MASTER when it comes to podcasting. Why I say this is that I enlisted her help during SXSW last year to do a series called Community Powered. The series focused on some of the "smarties" in the social space like some amazing folks like Lee Odden, Professor Henry Jenkins of MIT and authors Chris Brogan & Patricia Martin sharing their wisdom on the social web and how companies big and small could tap into its power to transform their business.

As a fellow podcaster, I was amazed at the thought and preparation that went into Susan's invite, prep and interview process. I am fairly thorough myself but Susan takes this stuff to a whole new level which is part of the impetus for this blog post.

Prior to my interview with Susan a few weeks ago, she sent me a list of questions to answer before we did the show. In addition to doing a lot of podcasting, I've also been interviewed a fair number of times by bloggers, podcasters and members of the traditional media. What I will tell you is that this list of questions was second to none. Of course I couldn't resist publishing it as it really got me thinking about myself, my job and my priorities in life. I'm including a link to some of Susan's other successful interviewing tips (if you currently interview or ever plan to interview someone, this list is a must listen).

Here are the questions she asked along with my answers. In the spirit of transparency, I promise that whether you like it or not, you'll know a lot more about me after you read this:

What do you want my listeners/viewers to know about you?
That I’m a smart marketer that is helping Powered and it’s customers tap into the power of social. If you can work in “funny” and “authentic,” that works too. ;)

What is your plan for yourself 10 years from now?
Retired. And I’m not kidding. That won’t mean that I won’t be working but rather that I can blog, travel, spend time with my family and do a little consulting on the side as appropriate, especially for non-profit companies.

Who I admire people who ______?
Work hard AND smart. Dave Evans is one of these people.

What has been your most positive speaking experience to date and why?
Two – one was a panel I did at a LOMA | ACORD event. I led a panel in front of 3,000 people from the insurance and financial services industry. Total adrenaline rush. The second was keynoting at the Inbound Marketing Summit in Dallas. I hit the timing perfectly and had several people come up to me after to learn more about Powered (that’s always my goal with speaking).

If you could keynote any conference or event, which one would it be and what would the title of your speech be?
TED – I’m not holding my breath on that one. One that I might have a shot at is the DMA. While I don’t love the conference itself, those are the people whose minds I need to change. Title of my speech would be “When Will You Understand that Today’s Advertising Models are Broken?”

What is one of the most outrageous things you’ve ever done?

Ummm, do you really want me to answer that? From a professional standpoint, it was announcing my departure from Mzinga to move to Powered on Twitter. On my 10,000 tweet no doubt. On a personal level, peeing on the Kremlin back in 1991 (oops, did I just write that?) LOL

In what area do you feel superior to most people? What talent or capability of yours is remarkable?
I don’t feel comfortable using the word “superior” because that makes me sound arrogant. I do feel like I have two great abilities however:
  • like you, I am an uber-networker. I’ve been doing this long before the SocNets were around 
  • I’d like to think that I bring the right mix of humor, authenticity, how to and creativity to teaching people how to use “social” to improve themselves and their businesses. I do this on my blog, on Twitter, at live events and podcasts.
What dark or traumatic event has actually had a beneficial impact on your life?
About 2/3 of the way through my stint at Fidelity Investments, I got myself into some hot water that nearly put my job in jeopardy. While many of the issues leading up to this “low point” weren’t my fault, I shared some of the blame. This ended up being one of the most humbling experiences I’ve ever had.

What is your life purpose?
To be a great husband, dad, brother, son and co-worker.

Name your single most amazing personal gift/talent.
As I mentioned before, I am a MEAN networker. I can also throw a nasty curve ball. ;)

Describe a time when you felt like a failure and tell us how you dealt with it.
Covered this earlier in my “most traumatic experience” but instead of jumping ship and leaving Fidelity, I stuck around, built myself back up and was actually about to be promoted to Vice President two weeks before I left to go to Mzinga. I learned a TON about the importance of being humble during this process.

Who has been your greatest teacher?
I’ve really had five (sorry, can’t pick just one). My 11th & 12th grade French teacher, Ms. Latin, my dad, Rick Lyman at Fidelity, Barry Libert at Mzinga and Francois Gossieaux who kicked off my “social” career in earnest.

If you could work for another company, which would it be?

If I could wave my magic wand and make one thing work better in your business or career, what would it be?
Believe it or not, you’re “waving” it right now. We just need greater awareness and your inviting me on your podcast (among other things) is key.

If one press outlet (Internet, TV, Radio, Anything) would feature you, which would it be and what would the headline or story be?
I’d pick either NPR or the Wall Street Journal. Those are THE places to be featured in my mind. Title would be “Game Changer” and it would be about me helping Powered change the game for big companies using social.

What are the three actions you’ve taken in the last 2 years that have had the most positive effect on your bank account?
  • Ha! Well, coming to work for Powered didn’t hurt. 
  • Signing on with a financial advisor kept my wife and I out of trouble during the most recent downturn 
  • Moving from Boston (expensive) to Austin (inexpensive)

What is the specific area of knowledge where you think you know more than anyone else in business? For what are you the penultimate expert?
I’m not sure I know more than anyone else here but I’d say I’m probably in the top .1% in the country when it comes to combining the power of traditional marketing and social. As for penultimate area where I’m an expert, I’m a pretty darn good photographer with my iPhone.

How do you keep up with and consume industry-related news? RSS Reader, email, surf sites?
Twitter (following specific folks as a filter), Google Reader, Yammer and a strong network of smart people in Austin that keep me abreast of what’s important

What’s one efficiency trick you use that you can share with us?
Find GREAT filters and use them as a cheat.

Describe your vision of personal success. When will you KNOW you are successful?
When friends and family can say to me, “oh yeah, I’ve heard of your company.” Secondarily, financial independence.

What’s one thing you are doing right now to change or improve yourself?
I’m constantly working on my listening skills and attention to detail. I try and be conscious of these two “areas for improvement” on a daily basis and work iteratively to improve these two areas.

Is there a place in your life where you are not walking your talk?
Not always as good a dad as I could be. I tell my kids not to yell and find myself doing that to them more often than I’d like. From a professional standpoint, I need to do more on the measurement front with our own business.

Describe a major change in your life you navigated successfully.
I’d say my move from a “digital” marketer to a “social” marketer back in 2006 was pretty successful. I’m also proud of the fact that I played a large roll in transforming Mzinga from a non-entity to one of the top 2-3 players in the social space back in early 2008.

Describe an experience that moved you to tears.
The birth of our first child — this was on two fronts. One, she was emergency c-section. Two, holding your child for the first time is beyond words.

If you could spend your time any way you wanted, without any financial worries, what would you do?
Traveling, playing with the kids, having dinner with my wife, on the beach, scuba diving, taking pictures.

What is your favorite conference to attend and why?
SXSW – best networking around (oh, and some pretty decent parties too).

What book you most recommended to your friends? Or Have you ever bought multiple copies of a book or music to share because you were so moved? 
From a business perspective, I liked Groundswell a lot and have recommended it to a number of friends. On the personal side, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road was a pretty freaking amazing book. Can’t wait for the movie.

Who is your mentor?
This is somewhat ever changing right now. Let’s say that I more influenced by folks than being actively mentored. People like Todd Defren (Shift), Peter Kim (Dachis Group), Jeremiah Owyang (Altimeter), Bert DuMars (Newell Rubbermaid), my fellow podcast host, Jennifer Leggio (ZD Net), Rachel Happe & Jim Storer (The Community Roundtable), Tim Walker (Hoovers) and Kyle Flaherty (Breaking Point Systems)

What is the axiom by which you live your life?
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” That and “Pay it forward.”

How much do you think luck has played a role in your success?
Zero. I have hustled, worked hard and made my own luck.

Who are three of the most amazing people in Advertising and Web 2.0 and why?
You would be one of them. You’ve done a gorgeous job of combining the two. Barry Judge of BestBuy and Tim Armstrong, now at AOL.

Are you on the boards of any companies or charitable organizations?
I am. I am currently on the advisory board of BuzzGain,, Social Media Marketing Institue and Dialogue. I also sit on the interim board of the Social Media Club. I need to get on the board of a non-profit or two [post script: I am playing the role of team leader for Team Austin raising money (for) and awareness of men's health issues. This is for a project called Movember].

What is the one thing people misunderstand most about you?
Good question. I guess it’s them thinking that I’m “social media” guy when I’m really a marketing guy. Social media is obviously a big part of marketing but it’s not the only thing I do.

For what do you want to be remembered professionally?
The fact that I helped 3-4 companies get achieve success through digital and social marketing efforts. That and the fact that I know my shit and that I’m always happy to help others learn.

The worst “fork in the road”-bad-decision that you regret.
I wish I had gone the startup route earlier on in my career. That’s no disrespect to Fidelity because I loved my time there but I see friends like Tim Armstrong who went startup and is now running AOL after being the president of sales at Google.

Your most sinful, decadent, guilty pleasure?
A good slasher movie. Lots of blood and guts.

The thing you did that pushed your edge the hardest in your whole life?
Definitely grad school. Balancing working 30 hours a week, paying for school and trying to keep up was A LOT of work. It didn’t help that I was only 21 at the time.

If you could change one thing about the business world it would be ______?
To make it more innovative and less fearful of change.

Where will social networking evolve from today?
Like the internet, I think social networking is just going to become like electricity over time. It will be ubiquitous and people won’t even think of it as social networking.

How do you chill?
I love to grill, have a few beverages with my wife and/or friends. Take in an occasional ball game. You know, guy stuff.

Your greatest achievement?
Landing meetings with the Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, Dan Rosensweig, COO of Yahoo and Jeff Jordan, President of eBay within a three hour window back in 2003. That was pretty cool.

What do you value in your friends?
Humor, authenticity, reliability.

Who is the wisest person you've met?
My friend Mukund Mohan is pretty damn wise. Tim O’Reilly also fits this bill.

Where were you born? Where were your parents born? Where were your grandparents born? Where were your Great Grandparents born? 
Portland, ME — Portland, ME — Various parts of Maine — Scotland, and various parts of Maine.

Where were you and what were you doing:
12 minutes ago?

Austin, TX — answering these questions

12 hours ago?
New York City, NY -- sleeping

12 weeks ago? 
Lots of places including San Francisco, Atlanta, New York and Boston (but living in Austin, TX)

12 months ago? 
Melrose, MA

12 years ago? 
Boston, MA

24 years ago? 
Amherst, MA

What travel experience changed your life? 
I spent to summers in Russia. It was amazing.

What is on your bucket list? Top 5 things on you would like to do?
  • Scuba dive in the Blue Hole in Belize 
  • Open my own restaurant or cafĂ© 
  • Climb Mt. Everest 
  • Write a book 
  • Spend a winter (summer there) in New Zealand 
What are you doing now as a hobby? 
I love to cook (beyond just grilling) and I love to take photographs.

What activity could you do all day long without getting bored?
Ummmm... other than “that” thing, I think the other thing I could do all day is to cook. Yup, I really enjoy cooking. I could also preoccupy myself once in a while on Twitter. Perhaps you’ve noticed? ;)

What community groups do you belong to? 
On LinkedIn, I’m part of the Social Media Marketing and Community 2.0 groups. As I mentioned earlier, I’m also a board member of the Social Media Club. And I’vs sort of unofficially become part of Bryan Person’s Social Media Breakfast organization (although my roll is minimal).

What is your favorite source for news?
NPR and ReadWriteWeb

Have you ever witnessed a perception-changing event in your life? 
Visiting a maximum security prison in Washington DC when I was 22 was pretty perception changing.

Who defines greatness for you?
A commitment to excellence

Have you changed your lifestyle since the Global Warming issue hit the world stage?
Yes. I’m driving a more gas efficient car now and we do a lot more recycling now.

What is your big wish, idealistic or otherwise?
That my children grow up to be happy, well-adjusted adults. On the big picture front, I’d like to see us eliminate civil war in places like Africa and the Middle East.

Where do you draw your strength and inspiration?
My wife to a great degree. My parents are also quite inspiring.

What do you think are the key issues for business professionals in the 21st Century?
Green, social and adjustment to the Age Wave.

From Bernard Pivot: If you were reincarnated as some other plant or animal, what would it be?
Either a shark or an eagle.

From Marcel Proust: What is your most marked characteristic?
My dark, dark, dark sense of humor.

Two questions a la James Lipton:
What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
I love nature – particularly the ocean which is one of the reasons I love scuba diving. Jonathan Livingston Seagull was also a pretty inspirational book.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
I’ve always thought about being a college professor (and might someday).

No kidding, right?

A few weeks after I did my interview with Susan, I had a chance to be the guest host on her DishyMix show and chose to interview my friend, Eric Ryan, who also happens to be the co-founder and chief brand officer at Method. While I did not put him through the same set of questions that Susan put me through, I tried to channel my inner "Bratton." I'll let you be the judge of how I did.

Thanks again Susan for teaching me so much. I can't wait to get back at it with you next March at SXSW. We are going to rock the house!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

EDR's Community Wins Groundswell Award: An Interview with VP Mark Wallace

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of working with my friend, Mark Wallace, at a company called Shared Insights (subsequently merged with Knowledge Planet and became Mzinga). At Shared Insights, Mark was the head of sales, our mutual friend and colleague, Jim Storer, headed up product/community management and I lead our marketing efforts. The three of us were not only lucky enough to get into the social/community space well before the social web started to gain critical mass but we also had the benefit of working with some smart companies like Deloitte, Webex/Cisco and Environmental Data Resources (EDR).

Since that time, we've all gone our separate ways with me heading to Powered Inc., Jim co-founding a company called The Community Roundtable and Mark jumping over to EDR to run their community. I mention this only because the three of us stay in semi-regular touch and of course I've taken more than a passing interest in Mark's social and community efforts at EDR. To that end, I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that EDR's community, Commonground, had just won Forrester's prestigious Groundswell Award for Best B2B Support Community.

As someone that likes to know about these things and is always interested in sharing great case studies, I couldn't resist asking Mark to do a quick e-mail interview with me:
  1. Tell us a little bit about EDR and what they do?
  2. Environmental Data Resources, Inc. is the leading provider of environmental risk information services and related workflow applications in the United States. As the innovator of the most comprehensive database of environmental and historical land use information, the company provides reports, subscription services and other solutions to help its customers reduce environmental risk.
  3. How did you come to work at EDR?
  4. EDR was one of our early clients when I led sales at Shared Insights. When SharedInsights was recapitalized, I worked with them from while I was with Mzinga. Shortly after I left Mzinga, I was attending the Community 2.0 Conference in Las Vegas when Rob Barber, CEO of EDR, Barry Libert, CEO of Mzinga, and I started talking. Next thing I knew, Rob and Jay Gaines, CMO of EDR, created a position and I joined the company shortly thereafter.
  5. Talk about how the commonground community came about?
  6. EDR has always prided itself on innovation. We believed strongly in the importance of social networking and the value it would have for businesses moving forward. EDR invested resources to build commonground to enable our marketplace to harness the power of social media to improve customer loyalty, educate our marketplace, improve our web presence, expand both vertically and horizontally, and ultimately generate new sources of revenue.
  7. What role do you play in the EDR commonground community (strategic and day-to-day)?
  8. My title is VP of Social Media for EDR. In that role, I am responsible for leading social media strategy and monetization efforts. I do whatever is required to deliver a valuable experience for our members while focusing on achieving the objectives outlined above.
  9. So you just found out that you won Forrester's prestigious Groundswell Award for best B2B support community. Who was your competition?
  10. That is a great question. When we saw the other submissions from SAP, Aflac, Chicago Mercantile Exchange, Pitney Bowes, NetApp, we were pleased just to be in the same category as those market leading companies. When we found out from Josh Bernoff that we won, we were absolutely thrilled as it validated all the hard work of our members, partners, and staff.
  11. Why do you think that Forrester picked you?
  12. I think Forrester picked us because we were able to share real success metrics on the true business benefits to both members and EDR. Plus we have an extremely high customer satisfaction rate.
  13. What are 2-3 lessons that you've learned that you might share with other companies thinking about community?
  14. The three most important lessons I can share are a) Before you select technology, make sure you have a clear and concise strategy with defined metrics b) Content, either user or expert generated, or both, is the key ingredient to a thriving community. c) Many companies fail at building communities. It is not easy to build a thriving community. Therefore, set reasonable expectations up front and make sure you have the proper senior management support, resources, and organizational commitment to realize them.
  15. Thoughts on "build vs. join" i.e. do you feel like you've got all your bases covered with your community? Or are you a believer in participating in 3rd party social networks?
  16. I believe in both. It depends on your goals and objectives. Those will drive what makes the most sense. Often times, both in tandem are the best option. As the leader in our market, we decided the best approach was to build commonground. We also have a LinkedIn Group and a Facebook Fan page.
  17. Freestyle - give me any other pearls of wisdom or color commentary you'd like to share here. If you feel like you've answered everything you can skip this.
  18. When building a community, it is way too easy to get distracted. Focus is critical if you want to be successful.
NOTE: I interviewed both Mark this year in my Experts in the Industry series. If you want to learn more about him, head on over and have a look see.

Monday, November 2, 2009

So What's the Deal with Movember?

A number of folks have been asking me about what this Movember thing is all about. I included a brief overview in my earlier post on Three Worthy Causes/Events but promised that I would include additional details in a separate post. Consider this that "separate" post.

The essence of Movember is for gents to grow a mustache during the month of November for the purpose of raising money and increasing awareness in the name of "Changing the Face of Men's Health." The 30 second video below gives a good description...

There are five rules of the movement (although I've been told that there is flexibility since the name of the game is raising money for a great cause).

Fortunately, we've enlisted the help of both some gents AND ladies to help us with our team. And to that end, to make things more interesting we are going up against some of my former mates in Boston. I know I'm going to split some allegiances because many of my Boston peeps are going to be secretly cheering for me and Team Austin but will be guilted in sticking with their home team alliances. Sobeit!

I've set up a Flickr group so that you can see the progress of all the "Bro's" on our team as we "get our 'staches" on. The "sisters" that are participating will be getting creative in terms of how they decide to manifest their fake 'staches so keep an eye on their Twitter activity.

In the meantime, here are the three ways you can support Movember and Team Austin
  1. Join our team and help us raise money.
  2. Donate to our team (we'll take any amount - $1 up to whatever you feel comfortable with).
  3. Pass the good word along about what we're doing via tweets, Facebook updates and blog posts.

For those keeping score at home, here are the folks that are participating on Team Austin: